Ayoola: Nigeria cannot be great unless we come together
Justice Emmanuel Olayinka Ayoola is renowned for his campaigns against corrupt practices in the judiciary and in the larger society. Thus, he was chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) in 2005. In a chat with The Guardian, the eminent jurist said the task of building a strong country rests with everyone.
Nigeria is going through difficult times and most and there seems no end in sight. What are your feelings regarding the state of the nation?
Believe that what is happening to Nigeria now should be taken as good news, good news in the sense that it has given us an opportunity of facing the realities of life. We were living in a dreamland, and however much you dream, the dream must come to an end. You will be a foolish person if you take a dream as a reality.
The truth of the matter is that we now have an opportunity of facing realities. And if we face realities, we will develop the strength and wisdom to rebuild ourselves, we have the opportunity to have a nation filled with wisdom, knowledge and courage. That is the way I see where we are now.
Are the concerns of persons who think things are not adding up under the present government misplaced?
They are not justified; I think it is foolishness to think that a tree will ever make a forest. It is foolishness to think that a single person, call him President, call him Governor, call him King or call him anything, can translate to a nation. A nation consists of people, people, every individual citizen must see himself as a nation builder, a nation builder who stands on what he believes, whose belief is the progress of the nation. If you sit in your corner, lazy, un-enterprising and expect the leader to do everything for you, then you are not a good citizen; you are not the tool people need for nation building. Every Nigerian must see himself as a nation builder; every Nigerian must see himself as contributing to that nation building. Instead of doing that, people continue to criticize a single individual. There is no way that a single person can become almighty. A president is not an almighty; no individual alive anywhere in the world is the Almighty. God is the only Almighty. But we are not God, we are only individuals, it is a challenge for each of us to contribute to that nation building in whatever area you find yourself, I think it is time we stopped criticizing.
When we were young, we believed in ourselves as instruments for nation building, but now that we have tasted the dream, the emptiness of a dream, we refused to go back to reality. And that is where the criticism comes.
I think I must give credit to Nigerians, Nigerians are survivors, and we must continue to build that survival spirit. If you study Nigerians, it is amazing that even in the midst of want, scarcity of things, Nigerians are a happy surviving people. Many Nigerians have translated themselves into good things they did not believe they are capable of doing. I have so much confidence in individual Nigerian. I also know that, since we grew up to know Nigeria as Nigeria, Nigerians never gave up, even if Nigerians complain, we know that they complain for the sake of complaining but still strive to succeed. Nigerians are people meant to be successful.
What do we need to get it right as a nation or where did we get it wrong if you like?
My own suggestion is that we will get it right when we think collectively, when communities can get together to fashion a way out of difficulties of the present day. We should not be individualistic; we should look at Nigeria we can identify with outside individual successes. But when we look at Nigeria as a community, we find that Nigeria celebrate collective failure. We must transform collective failure to communal success. Until we come together as a community, with the same aspiration, with the same endeavor, Nigeria will not be great.
With the kind of strategies the federal government has adopted, which are strictness and austerity. Do you sincerely foresee hope at the end of the tunnel?
I think much more have to be done, you cannot fulfill the dream of people through harshness, you have to mix harshness and understanding for you to succeed in getting people out of their tribulation. Strictness is good, but we must embrace a stick and carrot method, to get people to have hope in the country. But if the news is always bad, it fills the hearts of people with despondency, and if there hearts are filled with despondency, then they just don’t perform.
As a judicial icon that grounded in the rules of the judiciary, what is your take on conflicting judgments emanating from courts of coordinate jurisdiction?
Well, I think it is time we look into it, and study the situation before one can come to a conclusion. We cannot rely on arguments in the newspapers because unless you look at those judgments and really determine whether they are judgment dealing with the same issues, you cannot say they are judgments and really determine whether they are judgment dealing with the same issues, you cannot say they are conflicting judgment. There are practices and procedures in the rules when you are likely to have a different issues addressed in several courts, the law is clear as to what you should do; you should give way to one of them, you cannot have the same issue being argued in several courts. The law is clear as to that.
The ordinary man on the street feels that this type of scenario is embarrassing to the judiciary; don’t the NJC and people like you feel concerned?
Of course, the NJC should be concerned, but it is not always the way people think that it is. You know in Nigeria, without studying the judgment, people jump to conclusions. There are cases even where people misinterpret judgment, and see conflicting judgments where there are no conflicting judgments. So, in every situation, those concerned should really take time to read the judgment, anlayse the judgment and see whether the judges are talking about the same thing; or they are dealing with several issues. But everybody wants to behave like a lawyer without being a lawyer, so they get things mixed up.
Where do you place politicians in all these, those who seem to be stampeding judges in order to secure favourable judgment for themselves?
I think a strong judiciary will not even have any regard for politicians because they are doing their own things and judges are doing their own thing. A good judge and I believe all judges are good, doesn’t see anything but the law. A good judge does not think about politicians, politics and law are two different things and if you are a politician, why don’t you think about politics and allow the judge to think about law?
Are you saying there have not been occasions where politicians have influenced or stampeded judges to secure favourable judgment?
It has never been in my personal experience, a politician doesn’t get near judges to be able to stampede judges. And I don’t think politicians stampede judges. If anything is there to criticize, it is the fact that sometimes lawyers behave like politicians. And when lawyers behave like politicians because they hold the brief for politicians, you begin to wonder whether there is a difference between the lawyer and the politician and that is where the difficulty is.
A lawyer should face the law, a lawyer should discard political sentiments; because you have been engaged by politician doesn’t mean you should act like a politician. If you are lawyer, you are supposed to enlighten and educate the politician. As a good lawyer, you don’t set out to assure a politician that he has a good case when he doesn’t have a good case. So, for the leadership to lead the country forward in terms of transparency and orderliness, the responsibility rests very heavily on lawyers and of course all the judges, but more on the lawyers because if we have a well-behaved legal profession, we will have a well-behaved judiciary. No judge stands on his own, without a lawyer arguing cases before him. A professor in the University can write wonderful articles expressing his own individual opinion. But a judge does not have that liberty. A judge pronounces on matters argued before him. And if the argument is tilted in a way that looks like playing politics, a judge should be able to call the lawyer to order.
So, lawyers have so much to do in this matter?
Certainly, lawyers have a lot to do in the way they comport themselves and lawyers should educate politicians when it comes to matters of law. Where politicians sentimentally and emotionally want to have something, which the law does not permit them to have, I think the lawyer should educate him instead of castigating judges. The lawyer should educate him and let him know what the law says about specific issues.