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‘Nigeria’s legal education system has collapsed’

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Francis Dike, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is a professor of law at the Imo State University, Owerri and former Attorney General and Commissioner for justice in Imo state. In this interview with COLLINS OSUJI, he speaks on the judiciary, legal education, politics, creation of special courts and Supreme Court decision on Imo governorship seat among others.

What is your reaction concerning the recent Supreme Court decision on Imo State governorship election? 
I am a lawyer but more of an academic lawyer. If you look at the whole legal system, historically, the quality of our judgments is now crumbling. You are just talking about the Supreme Court, what about what happened in Kano State? Well, you can see that the doctrine of lis pendens have been thrown overboard. Is it not also in this country that you had a case of a judge trying to overrule the Supreme Court? Let me tell you, the whole system of appointments, recruitments and even legal education in Nigeria have collapsed. They have all collapsed. So, talking about the Imo case, when that judgment was given first, I said when we were in England, in America, in New Zealand, in Ghana, in South Africa, in Australia, we had law journals. You know in medicine, you have medical journals, keeping people up to date and criticising opinions. In Nigeria, there is no legal journal to tell us about whatever happens. The only basic thing that happens in Nigeria today is ‘as the court pleases’. That is the legal journal every lawyer knows and that is all. In England, in the case of Dann against Hamilton, a judgment was given on drunken drivers. The Judge was so criticized that he had to write a rejoinder in a law journal to explain what informed his judgment. But we have a situation where Nigerian bar journal that use to be the journal of criticism of Judges has gone. That of the University of Lagos has gone. There is nothing anymore and that is why we talk about final and finality and all that.

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What is your reaction to the dissenting judgment of Justice Cletus Nweze? Do you share in his view that the judgment would hurt the judicial system in the future? 
I agree. Nweze’s judgment was key. Forget about the politics. I could be a member of All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or as a non-card-carrying person but I am talking like a lawyer who has taught law for over 50 years. On September 1, 1968, I took up a lectureship in England. And between 1969 and 1972, I wrote and contributed to Smith and Maxwell Students’ Law Report. That is commentaries on cases. What I am trying to say is that if you look at the judgment and considered what Prof. Herbert Hart of Oxford University said; you will realize that you cannot give finality certain things. This is because legal concepts are never final. They are merely divisible. Facts will always emerge in the future. And that is what Justice Nweze was trying to tell them. Well we will meet in the future. There would be another day when another man will come. There have been instances where they have said things are not final. So the question of finality is not final. Finality is just an apparent statement. Words take meaning from their context. And let me say this, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa himself never said the Supreme Court is final. He never said, “we are final.” He said they are human beings, bound to make mistakes. According to him, if they make mistakes, a bold lawyer should have the courage to point out those mistakes and they would correct them, for it better to correct mistakes than to persevere in error. That is what Justice Oputa was saying within the paragraph in his judgment. The French said that it is the exception that confirms the rule. Is that clear? So for the rule of finality, you must look for the exception. I am not saying that the judgment was correct or wrong but uncomfortable with their saying that they are final. That was what Justice Nweze was telling them. There is always an exception to a rule and it is that exception that confirms that rule, which is the ratio of the case. 

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Do you subscribe to the call for the creation of special courts to ensure speedy dispensation of justice? 
Yes. When I was the Attorney General of Imo State, I suggested it. I said cases should be heard from day to day until the case is dispensed. Quick dispensation of justice may not make sense if the justice system is already corrupt. As an Attorney General, I was trying to institute or commence verbatim recording in courts to help the judges. Quite frankly, the act of allowing an appeal on every matter to climb to the Supreme Court should stop. For some interlocutory appeals, they should end at the Court of Appeal level, so you don’t congest the Supreme Court. As a result of these, if you file an appeal to the Supreme Court, it can lie there for ages. If we have our system like in the United States, these problems we are now having, might not have arose. In Nigeria, we don’t solve a problem by facing it frontally. We go through the back door or by the sideway or we shoot across the bar and say we have solved it, but nothing has been done. In all, what I am saying is that quick dispensation of justice is okay. Setting up of special courts is also okay. That is where the late Gen. Sani Abacha’s constitution was far better than what we have now. I think it is the 1991 constitution. It was far better because it had some constitutional courts that were set up. I want us to practice a federal system of government such that every geo-political zone has its own Supreme Court. By so doing, only matters of constitutional importance would go to the Federal Supreme Court and they can hear them expeditiously.

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How do you view the non-inclusion of the South East States in the sharing of the $22.7 billion dollars foreign loan?
In the first place, I think it is misnomer to say we are in a federation. We are not in a federation. We are in a unitary government that is governed by a group of people who have no interest for the development of Nigeria. You can say we are governed by a group of people who believe that what is theirs is theirs and what is ours is negotiable. In fact, to use the word negotiable is even mild. It is what is ours belong to them and from there, they can throw the crumbs to our people. Every body knows that the South East is not regarded in the equation of this President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. It is not regarded as part of Nigeria. But what comes from the South East goes into the federation. And it is used for the benefit of those who contribute less to the federation. I am not shocked.

In fact, I would have been surprised if a good share was given to the South East. There have been deliberate policies to marginalize the Igbos. And our kinsmen within the South-South and the riverine areas are joining these people to marginalize us. And this loan issue is just the manifestation of that policy and it will still continue. We all saw the question of tollgates. It will cost more to build a road from one point to another in the north than it will cost in the South-East even when it is the same mileage. And yet you have fewer tollgates in the North than in the South East. Let me just put it this way. I think it was Fani Kayode that was talking about restructuring. I want to talk as elder statesmen. There is a saying that we, by our own hands precipitated that which we have feared to come to past. And what is happening today is that we are now tying the Gordian knot and the question of untying it would be totally impossible. Does it look fair? By any stretch of the imagination, it doesn’t. But what is annoying me, is the fact that only very few people want to talk about what is going on. The South Easterners are not an ethnic group, but a nation. They are a concentration of people. And the only way you can try to subdue them against their will is by committing genocide. I think you understand what I am saying? You can only overrun them as they are doing to Kurds in Syria now. You can overrun the Kurds in Turkey because they are not one concentrated nation. But in Nigeria, you can never overrun the Igbos.

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On the issue of how Nigeria should be run, the Igbo’s are just like the voice in the wilderness. Today, you have groups, even among the Yoruba’s unhappy with the marginalization in the country. I remember there was a time some boys from Edo said, if they do, they would join Independent People of Biafra (IPOB). Some of them now want to form their own group. So you don’t because of what the Igbos’ are saying, hate them. But they hate themselves and not the Igbos. This is a pure manifestation of hating a nation and it is not a nation that is localized. The Igbo’s are scattered all over the world. I was in England when the war started. A book, called New Africans was to be published with the photograph of Ojukwu on the cover, but Britain refused. I will say that I am very proud that I am Igbo man. And you

Do you subscribe to the clamour for Igbo presidency come 2023?
I have always said it is rubbish. It is shear stupidity. What do we want an Igbo presidency for? Okay, when we get it, we become like the other people and attract all the wealth to ourselves? In fact, it is an anathema to an Igbo man. Let us face the truth. People might say it, but a man who leaves his home to build in another person’s home does not feel so much passion about narrow-mindedness. Of all the Nigerian nations, it is only the Igbo man that leaves his home, goes to another place, builds, lives there and has more stake there than in his home. If 40 percent of Igbo’s wealth outside Nigeria were repatriated, Igbo land would be like Dubai tomorrow. When Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi was killed, Ojukwu asked for Ogundipe to become the next Head of State. Was that not? When it happened to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was one of the finest presidents we had, it was the late Dr. Dora Akunyili that moved for Goodluck Jonathan. The Igbo man has always risen to the occasion when it comes to the general interest of Nigeria. But if you insist on Igbo presidency we have 90 percent likelihood that they will impose on us an idiot. Why do we ask for Igbo presidency when the better thing is for us to restructure? Let us restructure this country! 

Recently, the former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon affirmed that the Igbos’ are actually the most marginalized in the country? Does that validate your views?
It is just like a musical chair! What did he do for Nigeria as a president then? What did Olusegun Obasanjo do? What is Muhammadu Buhari doing for Nigeria? So you cannot say that because somebody is the president, therefore his people will benefit. And let me tell you again, what he is saying is a smokescreen. The people that have ruled this country are very cunning. Because of the things that are apparent, they are now dashing the Igbo presidency like carrots and getting everybody talking Igbo presidency. I will prefer they say the presidency should come to the South, instead of talking about Igbo presidency so that Edo man and Cross Rivers man will stand a chance of clinching the office. I will not mind if it even comes from the middle belt. The whole question of an Igbo presidency, I am sorry, I may be wrong but I have never subscribed to it. I don’t need it. Give us an opportunity for us to compete on equal terms; for us to be treated equally and for us to have a federation in which the South East has its own constitution, its own Supreme Court, the west has its own Supreme Court, the North has its own Supreme Court, the Middle Belt has its own Supreme Court, every person has its own Supreme Court and then we go to one court to decide like the Americans, matters of very high national importance. 

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