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Nigerian Bar Association election is a failure, says Olumide-Fusika

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Olumide-Fusika

The dust raised in the aftermath of the just-concluded election of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), is yet to settle, with threats by aggrieved members to create a parallel Bar. Vocal lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika in this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE AND SUNDAY AIKULOLA described the electoral process as flawed. He warned against ignoring the drawbacks that dogged the process and called for a united Bar.

What is your reaction to the just-concluded NBA election? There are issues about irregularities, and some people even want the election canceled and a rerun conducted?
When we are celebrating victory in an election or complaining about a process, we should not let our emotions get in the way. My general view is that I do not believe that success should come at the expense of one’s country or organisation. I am a SAN but if Nigeria is not functioning well, I will be a SAN in a system that doesn’t function. Being a SAN is a good thing, but if Nigeria is a failure, then I am a Senior Advocate of failure. If I succeed in an election that is a failure, what kind of success is that? There is no point pretending everything went well. You accredited 30,000 lawyers eligible to take part in the election and over 14,000 didn’t get what they required to vote—would you call that process successful? To me, that election is a failure. So if you have somebody successful in a failed election, it raises a question mark. These are the issues we must interrogate because I’m sure if the shoes were to be in the legs of the other person, he would have made the complaint and if he refuses, it would be a disservice to the body.

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What do you think the NBA needs to do to get the electoral process working? If the NBA is not getting it right using electronic voting, what do you think needs to be done?
That is why I say you have to interrogate what happened. Why didn’t we get certain things right? Was it deliberate or just something that happened despite our efforts? Unless the electoral body explains to us, how do we perfect the process to ensure that areas of human intervention are reduced to the lowest extent possible? No man interferes with the computer because if you programme it properly, it works well.

When you talk about finding out what happened, who starts the process?
Our outgoing president Paul Usoro (SAN) issued a statement that was not his responsibility. If you set up an electoral body that is constitutional, allow them do their work. He should have allowed them to clarify to members what happened, instead of issuing that statement in respect of the conduct of the election. I think that was hasty. Can you imagine the president of Nigeria defending allegations against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)? It doesn’t sound well. We don’t want a Bar that is divided, so we need to be honest. One of our problems is dishonesty. If something happens and we benefit from it, we close our eyes, and that is wrong. You benefited today, but you may be the victim tomorrow. That is why you must interrogate the process to ensure that what benefited you today is corrected so you don’t be a victim of it tomorrow. You are to send emails to about 30,000 voters only 16,000 voted. What kind of procedure would have led to that? If I had contested and won that doesn’t make me blind to see the laws. How do we know that Mr. A voted for candidate B, and that his vote is not counted for candidate A? How are you sure that the vote went to the people they are meant for? I emphasise again that the mere fact that a process has benefited me should not blind me to the fact that such process is wrong. I can be a victim tomorrow. This situation deserves honesty of attitude to know that something went wrong and we have to correct it. That kind of self-centered attitude does not build a nation and doesn’t build any institution. What builds a nation or institution is honesty—whether or not it benefited you, you should be able to come out and say—look, there’s something wrong with this system. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in power for so long doing all sorts of things. APC is in power now also doing all sorts. Who does it benefit in Nigeria? We must think of our country if we are patriotic in our attitude. If we rate the profile of NBA more than our profile, then when there is a problem, we will identify it and address it.

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If the interrogation of the process you called for does not happen, what do you think might be the likely outcome because this is not the first time we are having this experience. It was similar to the election that brought the outgoing president?
The way Nigeria is now, some people are enjoying, but it is foolishness on their part. You are benefitting now because you are in a vantage position in the rot. Do you ever give any thought to what would happen to your children? Would they also be in the same vantage position? I didn’t belong to the electoral body; I don’t know what challenges they faced, but keeping quiet in this situation is not a solution. Everyone of us complaining about the situation of our organisation or country has a role to play. It isn’t the devil that kept Nigeria where it is today. We are the ones to address our issues, but if you are benefitting from corruption or political brigandage today; it is because you are shortsighted. If you have an eye for the future, you’ll know that this is not the thing you should encourage. It may turn around tomorrow and you may be a victim.

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Away from NBA matters, some lawyers are saying the sovereignty-waiving clause in China’s $400m loan to Nigeria may result in China taking over some national assets. What is your position on this?
I have learned in my short time practicing law not to comment on things I’m not involved in. Although I am involved as a Nigerian because it is about legal agreement, I don’t want to get emotional in my response. I cannot give an opinion on a document I have not seen. It may be correct the way those lawyers see it. I heard the minister, Chibuike Amaechi and other people trying to rationalise it. But for China to take over Nigeria, are they coming with arms or we are going to handover ourselves to them and become their colony? It is unlikely. But in practical reality, you don’t need to physically take over and be the one running the country. If you give me a loan to buy a phone and I’m using it for business, the terms of the loan may be that if I default, the phone becomes yours. It is mine but in practical reality, it belongs to you. If they take over our railway assets in practical terms such that they are now owned by China, what does that mean? It means that a part of us is owned by China. Those taking loans for 20 years tenure cannot predict what Nigeria would be in 20 years, whether we would be able to pay back or not. So Amaechi cannot assume that we will pay back when we are very good in embezzling money. It is more reasonable to assume that we will not be able to pay back. You heard the story of building a fence in the University of Maiduguri for N64billion or that of the National Assembly renovation. You see what is going on in Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). That is even small compared to what you will see if we investigate Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Nigerians will die of shock if they know what is going on in those institutions. The argument that we are planning to default does not lie in the mouth of the minister. It is more reasonable to admit that we will default and what are we taking the loans for, in the first place? Saying that Nigeria could not develop if we don’t borrow—coming from somebody of the caliber of a minister is shocking. If they stop stealing, we need not borrow. Money flows around the country to harvest. There are no effective checks on how we spend public funds. If there were, how can you just wake up and say you want to build a fence for N64billion? If you invest that money in teaching and human resources of that university, do you know the impact it would make?

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You talk about corruption in NDDC, but that of the EFCC is even more shocking for some Nigerians. The expectation is that operatives in such an office should be above board in every ramification. What do you think about this development?
When you say the one of EFCC is shocking, what is shocking? You journalists are also responsible in some ways because Ibrahim Magu would arrest somebody, lock the person up, and would use journalists to release information, thereby conducting media trial. I agree with you that anybody holding such an office must be upright, but there are certain things that you don’t expect of certain individuals or a certain institution.

For instance, if a lawyer or judge is involved in buying and selling justice, it is desecrating what that institution stands for—or you take your money to the bank to keep and the bank manager is the one stealing it; it is contradictory. People may say a thief is a thief, but a banker whose job it is to secure money kept in the bank, who steals the same money is not just a thief. He is rubbishing the institution he represents. EFCC officers under Magu are no better than an ordinary police station—so what is the essence of having EFCC if the officers would not behave better? We need to properly investigate and establish that such degeneration happened under that gentleman. There is another thing we need to emphasise. As bad as Nigeria is, there are still people in government today that are good and not corrupt. There are people in the police who are only interested in doing their work. When you say you are suspending a chairman because you are investigating him, then suddenly, you say 12 other persons are sacked and there are no allegations against them, you are sending a wrong signal to those in the EFCC who are genuinely trying to do their job. I think you journalists should emphasise this. Why were they suspended? If we want to fight corruption, we must not discourage the good ones. Whoever made that decision has done a great disservice to this country. What you are telling those who are doing their job well in EFCC is that there is no job security. And there are people who are doing their best to ensure that they fight corruption in the Agency.

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But what do you have to say about judicial corruption? Some say it is not true but mere perception?
It boils down to what I said earlier—when a person is benefitting from a situation; he is blind to that situation deliberately. I’m not that kind of person. If you are a service provider, you are not the one that will judge yourself, but you listen to what those consuming those services say about it. We don’t serve ourselves as lawyers and judges; we serve the public. If those you are serving have no confidence in the system we are running, then we are giving ourselves pass mark, which is foolish. When I started to practice over 30 years ago, young lawyers worked on debt recovery. Now if I owe you N10, 000 and you sue and it takes 30 years in court, would you not prefer to go to Babalawo that will do juju for you? EFCC and police stations are now debt recovery places. Debt recovery is none of EFCC’s business but people prefer going to EFCC instead of lawyers and you say there is nothing wrong in the system; we need to engage ourselves in that kind of talk. Our system has a problem and we need to think about the future of our children.

How do we make the system work?
The first thing to do is to stop denying. That is, if you say the problem does not exist, you can never solve the problem. Let us first admit that the system is not operating at an optimal level. It is not fit for purpose. We see an obvious problem and deny it because you are benefitting from it. The second thing is to think beyond yourself. Think about the fate of your children and grandchildren and your generations unborn. What legacies do I want to leave for them? The third thing is to think about the future, plan for tomorrow. It will be selfish to think about today only because if we have the opportunity after dying, to look back and see the consequences of our behaviour on our children, I’m sure we will weep. Once we get this right, we will address the problems honestly. No one has the solution, but what we need to solve the problem are those three things. The problems only exist when we are the victims. You will solve nothing with that attitude. Let us admit that everything about the country has failed and let us address it.

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Recently members of RevolutionNow protested against insecurity and other issues, which led to their arrest by law enforcement agents. Don’t you think it violates their fundamental human rights?
The current regime, from the president engaged in one protest or the other in the past and they were not arrested. Part of their promise was that when they got to the office, they would change things. They are hypocrites and I have nothing to say than to encourage our young ones and everybody that has concerns about this country not to be afraid. Femi Adesina said they were few because he was blind. It is physical blindness. Revolution is not an event, it doesn’t happen overnight. When the situation does not improve and people continue, 10 will become 20, 20 will become 30, and 30 will become one 100. When Nigeria police and the so-called law enforcement agencies see that they have a stake in Nigeria beyond carrying guns and obeying silly others, then things will fall into places. When they begin to question the things that have befallen this country—then the revolution is at hand. The people holding Nigeria to ransom are not super humans. For someone to sit somewhere and call himself presidential spokesman, talking nonsense because he is benefiting from the rot, I am telling him that the few will become many. They are already many; it is only fear that is holding them back. Nobody in Nigeria will tell you he is comfortable with what is going on, but they are not expressing it yet. The day Nigerians overcome their fears like Fela advised, then Femi Adesina would understand what a revolution is.

There are emerging technologies, how do you think Nigeria’s legal system can position itself to benefit from these disruptive innovations?
If technology comes, we will all make use of it. There is nothing special about law and technology. There was a time when we had a television that was regarded as Devil’s box, and today, they are using the television to preach. There is no significant improvement in technology that mankind has made that was not opposed, just like the 5G today. Law is just an aspect of it. You either adapt, make use of it or you perish.

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