‘Nigeria is just a federation only in name’
• NJC is an aberration in Nigeria, says Akintola
Chief Niyi Akintola was the Deputy Speaker of Oyo State House of Assembly in the short-lived Third Republic. The legal mind who was a governorship aspirant in the last election on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Oyo State spoke with ROTIMI AGBOLUAJE in Ibadan on the 59th Independence anniversary of Nigeria, xenophobic attacks and restructuring. He says NJC is an aberration in a federal state. Excerpts:
Nigeria at 59, is there anything to celebrate?
Yes, there are. If you don’t appreciate what you have, when you lose it you will appreciate it. If you have been to countries like South Africa, or Congo or those countries that surround us, you will appreciate that we have something to celebrate.
When Nigeria became independent how many universities did we have? How many do you have now? Again, to God be the glory; the economy of the country is in the hands of Nigerians unlike in South Africa where they have legal (political) independence without economic independence. That’s why there is xenophobia that they have now. It is a form of transferred aggression. People they should be attacking are not the ones they are attacking. The whites still control the economy. They were told that everything they are trying to protect is owned by the whites. He was telling them that even these Nigerians and Zimbabweans are even better than you are because they are going to be your employers very soon. Zimbabwe had to wait until South Africa obtained independence before seizing the land from the whites; if they had taken it then, South Africa wouldn’t have been independent. Unfortunately, the uninformed South Africans don’t appreciate this. They’re attacking the Zimbabweans.
We have so much to celebrate, even though we have a leadership problem. We are not operating the system we should operate. We can’t be operating this kind of system and expect things to work. And that was the point being made by Professor Seth Banji Akintoye.
You see, let everybody work for his or her living. The question is, how many Nigerians are actually living now? Some of them are just existing, and not living. So, when you start earning your living as against receiving it, you know that there is a difference between the two. Those who are working hard are the ones earning their living. But you see, where everybody sits down and depends on oil money…; there are some states in this country that will not survive if they don’t get an allocation.
Prof. Akintoye has called for restructuring or dissolution of the union. Is it the way to go?
Of course, yes! Let’s face it; Nigeria is just a federation only in name. Nigeria is the only federation in the world without state police. Even the unitary state of Britain has so many police formations. There are over three thousand police formations in the United States of America. Even universities have their own registered police recognized by law; so also the communities.
In fact, people feel at home more with the federal police than state police. You will prefer to be arrested by the federal police to the state police in the United States. Take the case of motor licensing and number plate, they are not uniform in the U.S. Nigeria is the only country where we centralize licensing authority. It doesn’t work that way!
What type of federalism will you recommend for Nigeria?
I will recommend that of the United States of America where every state will be allowed to develop at its own pace. You have your own constitution. Of course, where there is a conflict between yours and the federal constitution that of the federal will prevail. But there are certain things you cannot do. For instance, in the U.S., some states have legalized abortion. Some states said ‘no’; some states have legalized gay while some states haven’t. You see if we adopt that system those who want Shari’a in their states will be free to do so.
For instance, in Oyo State, we have a Customary Court of Appeal. Ogun and Lagos States don’t have it. Ondo and Osun States have it. Plateau and Benue States also have Customary Court of Appeal; they don’t have Shari’a Court of Appeal. That’s how it should be. The same provision should be for the police. Any state that can afford it should be able to accommodate one.
Take the issue of salary structure; Nigeria is the only country in the world where you have a uniform salary scale. In the U.K., professors are not paid the same salary. It is paid according to your terms of employment and productivity. But in Nigeria, somebody teaching at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology will want to have the same salary as his counterpart at the University of Lagos. It doesn’t work that way.
We, the elite, are really part of the problem. Our friends in the Nigeria Union of Teachers will want uniform salary for all the teachers across the country. Those in local governments want the same salary across. There can be a standard, of course, the minimum wage to which no one should go below. You don’t put everybody in the same level. It doesn’t work that way. There are some states that can pay as much as N100,000 minimum wage in this country. So we should not just benchmark those states to N30,000. Some states like Akwa Ibom, Lagos will be able to pay; Bayelsa and Delta also. Why are you pigeon-holing everybody?
Where did we get it wrong?
We got it wrong from the type of leadership we had. One, the military came and derailed Nigeria. Don’t forget that this part of the country, the West, here had television before France. Some of you might not know this; we were far ahead of Singapore. We were exporting palm produce to Malaysia then. There was a groundnut pyramid in the north. There was massive cultivation of palm produce in the East. So, the whole world looked up to Nigeria but the military came and destroyed everything and since then things have never been the same with Nigeria. That was where we got it wrong.
What can be done to change the narrative?
We have to go back to our former way of life with some modifications. Most of the newfound freedoms of some states now will not allow them to go back to the new regionalism thing. There should be a form of restructuring. God, Himself has restructured this country for us. Look at the map of Nigeria: River Niger and River Benue are in the north. The natural division is there; linguistic division is there. Nigeria is not a nation; it’s a country of many nationalities.
To the extent that even outside, they know about our differences. Over this issue of xenophobic attacks, a police chief was saying that when a Nigerian is arrested for credit scam (Yahoo Yahoo), he is a Yoruba man. When a Nigerian is arrested for drug and robbery, he is an Igbo man. Those are the record before them. He said when a Nigerian is arrested for foreign exchange and money laundry, that’s a Hausa man. Those ones are very easy to catch because they operate mainly in hotels and at airports.
So, rather than seeing us as Nigerians, they see us as Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo to the extent that even Britain had to advertise three years ago that they wanted to recruit Nigerians as police who speak Yoruba. They have to recruit Yoruba-speaking police which means they know that we are not one.
Go to the United States of America, if you speak Yoruba or Igbo carelessly, believing that they are cab drivers you will be in trouble. If you go to Harvard University now, go to the Department of African Studies, a European, a white man heads the Department of Yoruba Language – where Professor (Jacob K.) Olupona works. So, if you enter their cab from the airport and you speak the language carelessly, they are watching you because they understand. So they know that we are not one and we’ve not projected ourselves as one.
Which political model would you recommend for the country?
We just have to restructure. Let everybody go his or her own. You can’t sit down in Abuja and you want us to implement the same primary school education system. It can’t work. We are not one. In the First Republic, primary school education was seven years in the north and six years in the West. Things were working. But some people will want us to eat the same food, wear the same clothes, breath in the same air; everything in uniform. It can’t work.
What is the way out of insecurity in Nigeria?
Again, it’s restructuring.
Although the legal profession is regarded as a noble one, there has been some criticism in the public domain regarding its conduct. What is really happening?
Well, we are going through a process. Nigeria itself is a work-in-progress and so also is the legal profession. Nothing is static. Only God is constant and people must appreciate this. Things are changing; technology has brought about so many changes and, over the years, the constitution has been a very conservative one. But things are changing. Even the western world from where we copied the legal profession, they are now advertising. People now advertise their services. We still retain those anachronistic rules where we are not allowed to advertise here. But over there, even in cars, you will see I’m an expert in immigration, an expert in an accident. They even have billboards where they advertise their services in the U.K., Europe, and America. The reverse is the case here. So, we are undergoing a kind of reform and metamorphosis and it is just normal.
What can be done to strengthen Nigeria’s legal system?
Well, there are a lot of gaps and lacuna that have to be filled in our legal system, especially because you see, people, out of ignorance, go out there to be blaming and just blaming lawyers. They don’t blame the legislature. They are the ones that made the law. The judge is there to interpret what the law is. He is not expected to impose his own will and wish but to interpret the law. If the law says you are a man, but you are now a woman. The judge cannot say you are not. And the judge is not allowed to use a sentiment or his knowledge in judging a case.
Do you know that if the judge is passing by and the crime is being committed in his presence that will not be enough for him to base his judgment on what he saw? The mere fact that he saw it doesn’t matter. It still has to be proved before him that that thing actually happened.
That’s where the issue of public perception about the judiciary comes in. The public tends towards morality, on what ought to be and morality is an unruly horse as Lord Dennis (Stevenson) said. It takes you to where you don’t expect. For instance, it is morally right in some communities in Nigeria to use your wife to entertain your visitor but it is not in Yoruba land. So, morality is not something that is universal.
But unfortunately in Nigeria, especially members of the press, expect us to behave according to their wish. Even as lawyers and judges, they expect us to do our job according to how they feel. It doesn’t work that way. Our legal system is accusatorial in nature. Its justice according to the law, not justice according to how you feel or according to your emotion. No!
Has the Administration of Criminal Justice Act helped our legal system?
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) is not new. It started in Lagos State long ago. We only copied what Lagos State has put in place under (Vice President Yemi) Osinbajo when he was the attorney-general. But it was badly copied. So, every other state has been enacting its own, just copying and doing what we call ‘cut-and-paste,’ just reproducing what Lagos State has put in place instead of improving on that.
If you look at the Administration of Criminal Justice Act critically, there are quite a number of sections that are in conflict with the constitution. That’s why when you look at the Child Right Act, it’s not all the states in the federation that have domesticated it. It’s only about three or four states in the entire North that have domesticated it. Even states that domesticated it is having problems now with the people saying it’s against their culture and religion. So, it’s not something you put in the straightjacket.
You just appreciate the fact that Nigeria is a federation. So, we still need a lot of reforms to make things work. Some have made a case for the decentralization of the Supreme Court. What is your take on this?
Of course, yes! I’m a federalist and that was something we ought to have done long ago. The federal system of government entails that every component part is allowed to develop at its own pace. Even the judiciary pace of Britain is going federal now. Courts have their own parliament. They have their own judiciary now and it is supposed to be a unitary state. Nigeria is about the only federal country in the world where judiciary is centralized. As a matter of fact, the National Judicial Council (NJC) is an aberration in a federal system of government.
It was something that was imposed on us by the military. It was the creation of the military. Why should somebody sit down in Abuja and be dictating to me who to appoint as a judge in Oyo State? Or someone sits down here and be dictating who to appoint a judge in Gombe State? And that is why we have somebody who is learned in Shari’a law and being posted to Lagos State to sit in the Court of Appeal in Lagos. He will now sit on marital issues. What does he know about that?
Three years ago, there was an issue of inheritance that came up at the Enugu Judicial Division of the Court of Appeal. And unfortunately, all the four justices that were their none of them was an Igbo man. So, they were now looking for an Igbo man who will assist in interpreting the case. You take five Justices to Enugu, none of them is an Igbo man! You take five Justices to Owerri Division, not one of them is an Igbo man. You take seven Justices to Lagos without a Yoruba man. It’s not well thought. I remember some of the justices in Enugu were contacting us on who will help over this. It’s only in Nigeria that such a thing will happen.
You will take a judge of Oyo State origin to Sokoto to go and be sitting in the Court of Appeal in Sokoto. What does he know about Shari’a? We are trying to force ourselves together by force and fire. It cannot work.