‘There is no honesty of purpose in anti-corruption fight ’
Most times, the public wants to see maximum punishment handed out to those convicted of serious financial crimes, without taking note of what the law prohibiting such offences provide. As a result, they criticize the judiciary and accused it of abetting corruption by giving light punishments to high profile offenders. But in this interview with GODWIN DUNIA, a senior advocate of Nigeria, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe, believes that the public needs to know that the duty of a judge is to interpret the provisions of the law and not to make laws. He also spoke on other national issues.
Responding to such criticisms, he said the judiciary has been a subject of regular criticism because the critics do not appreciate the fact that judges do not make laws, but only interpret them.
He said: “In a recent interactive programme or so, people were condemning the judiciary for awarding six months imprisonment for a particular offence. I think we should endeavour to look at the law under which an individual is charged. A judge cannot because of public perception create new laws. If the law prescribed three years punishment for a particular offence, that is all, the judge cannot do otherwise. If an individual steals a goat and got life jail, it is for the judge to implement what the law has prescribed and not public perception.
“It has become so worrisome that the judiciary has been unfairly singled out for criticism, but the sector is the only arm of government that has disciplinary mechanism. People often write petitions based on rumours, the NJC sets up committee to look at such petitions and when the matter comes up and you request for facts, there would be none to buttress the claims. And when the case is dismissed they claim the judge had been bribed, that they are corrupt.
“Again, most supposedly literate individuals often say some senior advocates aid corruption. If you know a corrupt SAN, while don’t you single him out with facts or evidences so that such SAN could be sanctioned? I think we must discourage this, otherwise we will destroy this most viable institution in Nigeria.”
Commenting on the competence of prosecuting agencies in investigating crimes, he said: “Else where, before a police will arrest an individual or suspect, they must have got necessary facts. But here, you will be arrested before they start looking for evidences to prosecute you. And in most cases, the relation or accomplice of the suspect would have obliterated the evidences that might be available. Then when they get to the court, you will see they are ill prepared and it is not the duty of the judge to now provide the missing links.
“There is also the question of how well trained are the prosecuting agencies? It is inconceivable that you sent a lawyer of ten years experience against a seasoned litigator of over three decades. There is no way you can beat experience so easily. And the judge are been overworked under very uncomfortable condition and for this reason, there is an urgent need to modernize the system.”
On crowded court dockets, which could be as a result of some lawyers filing indefensible suits/cases, he said it is an area that needs improvement, may be by way of legislation.
His words: “A lawyer will know that he will not win a particular case, but he will still go to the court to buy time and three to four years, the matter will still be in court. Therefore, if there will be reform in the judiciary, such lawyer and client must be made to pay for abuse of judicial processes.”
Speaking on the recent killings by herdsmen in some part of the country, Adedipe said he expected the president as the leader of the country to address the nation.
“Usually in a situation like this, where we have killings in Benue, Taraba, Kaduna and others, we expected the President to address the nation and spelt out steps that have been taken to curtail such events and how they would bring culprits of the heinous crime to justice. But rather, what we hear are worrisome and condescending commentaries. For instance, the one allegedly credited to the Minister of Defence, saying, anti-grazing laws caused the crisis. What then are the functions of government? Is it not to make laws? So, the failure of the president to call him to order makes one wonder if Buhari understands the depth of revulsion in the land,” he declared.
Adedipe believes there is a powerful interest behind all those attacks and killings. “You don’t get an AK47 gun off the shelves and again, who trained these individuals in the use of these arms and how come they go to villages, communities and set them on fire and forcefully evict them? I think there is a touch of ethnic cleansing in the whole scenario; an attempt to take peoples’ land on the pretext of grazing cattles. And if they invade farmlands and the farmers see them with guns, are you saying they should fold hands or clap for them? Naturally, they will want to defend themselves by fighting back.
“We have also heard irresponsible, provocative and treacherous statements from the Miyetti Allah group threatening fire and brimstone and they got away with it. It is the inability of the state to protect the nation that has led to all these. I have also heard the Minister of Agriculture talking about cow colony. It is not the duty of the state to provide land for business. It is up to the federal government to know what to do about this. The conduct of the President in the face of this ugly development is that of a king and we did not elect him as a king, but a president. You ask, when last did he spoke with Nigerians? Look at American President, he is always talking either in conference, interview or press conference,” he pointed out.
On the economy, Adedipe said: “We have heard figures reeled out daily but we have not seen any impart or improvement in terms of the effect of these figures on the populace. The value of the naira is still on downward trend and there is no money in circulation. People are complaining, people are lamenting and groaning, so of what importance is the professed growth in our economy?
“Although, in the area of infrastructure, there are one or two things the government is doing that are commendable, like rehabilitation of roads, there is a marginal improvement in electricity supply and the building on the railway project which was actually started by Obasanjo administration”.
The SAN regretted that as the preparation for 2019 elections are underway, the political temperament of some governors is becoming worrisome. He cited as example the conduct of the governor of Kaduna State in demolishing in a rather cruel manner the house of a Senator of same APC party. According to him, that is a peep into what would be obtained in that state.
His words: “Also, in Kogi State, the juvenile governor there is always talking before thinking. Imagine him insulting the Catholic priests just because they visited the President. This was the man who never won an election, but made governor through the ruling APC politics. He runs from one place to another just to identify with Buhari and kiddnappers, arm robbers seems to have taken over the state. Whether he likes it or not, the president will be adjudged based on the merits and demerits of how far he has actualised his political promises and how far he has delivered to the people. Same thing will apply to him in Kogi.
“Look at Kano State, where teenagers are voting and the governor is threatening to deliver five million votes. Is he telling us other political parties will not have any votes? The governor of Imo State has also decreed that his son in-law will be the next governor. These are the greatest challenge to the survival of our democracy.”
Asked if the fight against corruption is still on, Adedipe said: “What has the government done about Babachair Lawal? What has they done with Maina, NIA corrupt cases and other major cases directly indicting those in the government? Until the government take steps against these officials, then we can say they are fighting corruption. The government has been talking about how PDP funded 2015 election, have they talked about how APC funded the same election? Or I am to believe APC only raised money through voluntary donations and they elected Buhari? So far, there is no honesty of purpose in the fight against corruption.
“It was the (PDP) Obasanjo administration that created EFCC, ICPC and we know how he used these agencies to fight corruption against his own officials. He made it national issue, encompassing every Nigerians. It is not the way it is been done now that a Secretary to the government was caught hand deep in corruption and up till now, nothing has been done. Recall that Obasanjo handcuffed the IG of police during is tenure as president over cases of corrupt practices. The same Obasanjo refused to brook a former Senate President and even dismissed a Minister right on national TV over issues of corruption. I am not saying Buhari should act in similar manner, but his indifferent attitude while all these happen under his roof is worrisome for a president who claims to be fighting corruption”.
On the disclosure of salaries of senators by Senator Shehu Sani, Adedipe said he should be commended for the courageous disclosure and conviction to bring to the public domain what our Senators earn after several years of debate and controversies.
“The amount is quite huge. We are talking of over N14million per month, if we should go by Sani’s disclosure in a country where workers hardly get N18, 000 as minimum wage per month, I don’t think this is justifiable for any reasons. Even the USA, the system is not like this. I know of a QC who is a senator and he only collects sitting allowances. That means, if he did not sit, there will be no allowance. Meanwhile, USA almost has 50 percent of the world wealth and they are highly productive, yet they don’t earn half of what our senators earns,” he stressed.
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