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‘Single term of six years will get the best out of president’

By Muyiwa Adeyemi (Head South West Bureau Ado Ekiti)
04 June 2016   |   4:46 am
But at the risk of repetition and for the sake of emphasis, I have always said that four years, as provided for by the constitution, is too short for anyone to make any serious impact ...
Babalola

Babalola

For foremost legal luminary, Aare Afe Babalola (SAN), one year in office is too short to assess the performance of any President. The founder of the highbrow Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti (ABUAD), in this exclusive interview, calls for restructuring of Nigeria to allow for strong regions and weak centre, fiscal federalism, parliamentary system of government and the need for the country to invest heavily on education.

As one of the respected elder statesmen in Nigeria today, how would you assess the first year of governance of President Muhammadu Buhari?
Frankly speaking, there is nothing to say that has not been said or to write that has not been written.

But at the risk of repetition and for the sake of emphasis, I have always said that four years, as provided for by the constitution, is too short for anyone to make any serious impact as the President of a big country like Nigeria.

My belief is predicated on the fact that in this country, the first year of any administration is usually devoted to assessing things and settling down, while the last year is spent on campaigning for re-election.

So, in reality, a President in Nigeria has just two years to work and so for me, it will be unfair to return a verdict that President Muhammadu Buhari has not done well or has not fulfilled the promises he made while campaigning for election. Certainly, one year is not enough to assess whether the President has done well or not.

That brings me, once again, to my age-long advocacy for a single term of six years. I have not repented on this, because after spending the first year to assess things and settle down, the President will be able to work effectively till the end of his tenure.

In any case, many countries of the world have changed to single term of six years for their Presidents. There is no earthly reason why we cannot join the queue, particularly in a country like ours that is still experimenting with democracy.

In assessing how the President has fared in the last one year, we just have to look at what was bequeathed to him by the last administration. We must take certain parameters into consideration in judging whether he is doing well, bearing in mind that many factors have conspired against him for him to be able to make any serious impact within the first one year in office.

Buhari had in the last one year had to contend with some local, national and international issues that are honestly beyond human powers.

At the local scene, he had had to contend with the problem of Boko Haram, which has been getting worse with the incursion of herdsmen into the polity and the attendant bloodbath they have consistently inflicted on the country, as well as militancy in the South-South of the country.

At the international level, the price of oil, the only source of our national income, has fallen drastically.

Where and how then does he get money to run this government? If he knew that these elements would conspire against him, perhaps he would not have contested.

And of course, we have the constitution that allows politics to be the only lucrative business, whereby people go into politics to fend for themselves, instead of using their high offices to make things better for the country.

This brings me to the emoluments of our lawmakers. At some point in the life of the immediate past National Assembly, Nigeria’s 469 legislators assigned to themselves the stupendous allowance of over N70 billion in a country where 61.9 per cent of its 160 million people live in abject poverty.

The jumbo allocation allowed each senator to draw an obscene N180 million/annum (at N45million/quarter), while a member of the House of Representatives drew a handsome N144 million/annum (at N36 million/quarter), either of which is higher than the N91.04 million total annual emolument of the American President.

These are the kinds of things the country needs to address. Too much money is being spent on legislation. There is no reason why legislation cannot be on part-time basis.

I still stand by my earlier position that we should run a parliamentary system of government, as we did immediately after independence in 1960.

For obvious reasons, the parliamentary system of government is cheaper to run. It will checkmate the scandalously and damnably high cost of governance for which Nigeria has earned the notorious and unenviable accolade of being the most expensive democracy in the world.

During Nigeria’s First Republic, legislation was part-time and cost of governance was minimal as legislators only went to the centre for meetings when the need arose.

The same could be tried again with the cost of the princely accommodation, exotic automobiles and frivolous allowances freed for use for some otherwise worthwhile and beneficial programmes to the people.

The totality of it is that things have gone worse, but mark you, this is not the making of Buhari; the roads are bad, the issue of Boko Haram is becoming more endemic, while the economy is in a bad shape.

That is why we have to revisit and revise our constitution, which gives us what can be described as semi-unitary government. We should go back to what it was in the post-independence era, where we had strong regions and a weak centre, a development that allowed each region to develop at its own pace and the attendant healthy competition and rivalry.

This time around, the six geo-political zones in the country should be allowed to develop the resources in their respective domains and used the proceeds to enhance the development and welfare of their people, like it was immediately after independece.

The deregulation of the downstream of the economy has been a subject of controversy since 1987 and given how it was vehemently opposed in 2012, what is your view on this matter? What is the solution to the crisis, considering the just-suspended strike action by the organised Labour?
Our major problem in this country is that we have depended on one product, oil, for too long to the extent that we have become lazy and complacent and abandon agriculture, which was fetching us a fortune before the advent of oil in the 60’s.

Everywhere in the world throughout the ages, the place and import of agriculture have always been on the front burner of national priority. And this is not for nothing, as agriculture does not only provide food, employment and security, but also reduces the prevalence of poverty, promotes self-sufficiency and reduction in crime rate.

Apart from according man the opportunity to eat fresh food, agriculture allows man to stay close to nature. The excitement that accompanies planting maize, for instance, and seeing it germinate, tassel and eventually mature for you to harvest is better imagined. It is always a beautiful, fulfilling and an almost indescribable experience.

In the pre-oil era in Nigeria, there was abundance of food items and no one lacked food. Many people were gainfully employed. But with the advent of oil, which some people derided and cynically dubbed oil doom, scarcity of food, poverty and unemployment, as well as inclination towards crime crept into the fabrics of the Nigerian nation to the disadvantage and consternation of all.

The above carrots/goodies about agriculture notwithstanding, Nigeria has pitiably abandoned agriculture for oil, as a result of which many able-bodied youths, who should naturally opt for agriculture to make food available round the year, have raced to the urban centres, looking for white-collar jobs that are in very short supply.

Because of this unfathomable and condemnable abandonment of agriculture, the groundnut pyramids of the North, the cocoa and perm kernel of the West, the rubber of the Midwest and the coal and palm oil of the East have gone into oblivion, at best into obscurity.

But all has not failed. There is a way out. We should retrace our step and go back to agriculture and become rich and relevant once again.

As one of the foremost legal luminaries in the Nigeria, are you not concerned about the rate of flippant injunctions from the courts and wide spread allegations of corruption in the Judiciary?
I am not only concerned, but also worried. I am concerned and worried because it will be pretentious for anyone to say or think that all is well with the Judiciary as it is today, both in the quality of appointees and the judgments they deliver.

Lawyers who qualified in England know how Judges are appointed and what the community expects of a Judge.

Up to the late 1970s, lawyers were invited to the Bench based on quality and competence of such lawyers, but nowadays, all that is required is that you must have 10 years post-call and nothing more. We are not likely to get the best through that way of appointing our Judges.

Today, many extraneous qualifications have crept into the appointment of Judges so much so that people working in public limited liability companies have been appointed Judges to satisfy geographical spread.

Mind you, these are people who have not been to court before, who have never practised and yet they are being appointed Judges only to satisfy some interest alien to the administration of justice.

With this type of people on the Bench, there have been numerous cases where Judges have adjourned ex-parte motions because the other party has not been served. This is a ridiculous situation indeed, because ex-parte motions do not involve lawyers on the other side. Lawyers have been faced with the ridiculous situations where ex-parte motions were adjourned because there is no evidence of service in the file.

The quality and pedigree of appointees to the Bench today is a sure recipe for frivolous and flippant injunctions. Don’t forget that no one can give what he doesn’t have.

No doubt, Nigeria has been blessed with a plethora of upright, downright and forthright Judges in the mould of the late Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN); the late Justice Teslim Olawale Elias (former CJN and president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ); the late Justice Kayode Eso; and Justice Mustapha Adebayo Akanbi, former president of the Court of Appeal and later Chairman of the ICPC, who are not only legal icons of unquestionable integrity, character, industry and dignity, but also jurists of honour with impeccable world class erudition.

But the above luxuriant and lucent picture notwithstanding, the Nigerian Bench today, on the other hand, appears to have been blemished by some judicial officers who are imbued with the exact opposite of the sterling qualities that brought the world class jurists mentioned above to limelight and for which they are still well respected today, whether alive or posthumously.

The decadence and unenviable spate of corruption on the Nigerian Bench today is so prevalent, alarming and worrisome that the late Justice Eso, at some point, had to stoke the fire of the despicable cankerworm by branding some judicial officers ‘billionaire Judges.’

The issue of corruption in the Judiciary may persist unless and until Judges are well and timeously remunerated, while the identifiable bad eggs on the Bench are dealt within the ambience of the law.

A situation whereby Judges are owed seven months’ salary is certainly not acceptable.

You have invested heavily in education in Nigeria. Why this and would you say there is hope in our education system?
Thank you for that question. Let me remind you that for me, growing up in Ado-Ekiti in those early days was not a joke at all.

The first vocation I knew was farming, since I started going to the farm at a very young age. Like you all know, life itself is an unstoppable mélange of ups and downs.

You see, I have been facing and solving problems all my life, problems of lack of funds in the beginning, as a result of which my formal education stopped at elementary school, because my parents could not afford to see me beyond that level, and the problem of being denied scholarship in the then Western Region, among many others.

But the beauty of it all is that through determination, hardwork and the grace of God, I was able to surmount all these problems, obtained GCE Ordinary and Advanced Levels and B. Sc. (Economics) by private study, after which I was offered employment by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Mobil and some other reputable organisations then, but I turned them all down, despite the accompanying perks, and proceeded to study privately for the LL.B degree of London University.

Later, I went to England to study for B.L, as there was no Law School in Nigeria then. I then returned home in 1963 to commence legal practice, first under the pupilage of the great Ayoola Brothers in Ibadan, before I set up my own practice.

As they say, one thing led to the other and we are where we are today. But before one thing led to the other, it is natural for me to work hard, which had been part of me since I was going to the farm with my father, and I want to tell you that hardwork pays.

For instance, I work for about 18 hours a day. For me, there is no alternative to hardwork, because he who fails to plan (by working hard) is only planning to fail. It is that simple.

Now to the second leg of your question. I cannot but be passionate about education and invest in good quality and functional education, because I know more than most people that education is a potent weapon with which one can fight disease, poverty, ignorance, lack, want and extremism, among several other ills of society.

Let me give you the background to the establishment of ABUAD. During the second coming of former President Olusegun Obasanjo as a democratically elected President of Nigeria, he was miffed with the way the University of Lagos (Unilag) was being run, as a result of which he appointed me as its pro-chancellor and chairman of Council, to straighten things out.

I went headlong into the assignment, committing my God-given resources, connections and goodwill to build new structures and transformed Unilag to be the best university in Nigeria then.

Following my performance in office, I was appointed chairman of the Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigeria and was twice honoured by the NUC as the Best-Pro Chancellor in the country, as well as being appointed vice president of the Club of Rectors of Europe (EBA).

It was during my sojourn at Unilag that I saw the rot in the country’s educational system, which gingered me to establish the now wave-making, model and modern, ABUAD, in 2009, which commenced academic activities on January 4, 2010.

Today, the university, which was established in fulfillment of my dream and vision to reform functional education by providing and leading others in quality education, service, industry and character, as well as discipline, has been commended, eulogised and celebrated by national and international educational stakeholders, including UNESCO, which acknowledges the young, but trail-blazing institution as a world-class university.

I must not forget to answer your other question by saying that there is hope in the country’s education system, but that hope rests squarely on the shoulders of private universities, which will not go on strike, which have predictable academic calendars, are able to hire teachers of international standards and who are able to provide state-of-the-art facilities for teaching and research.

Please don’t forget that the best universities in Europe and America are privately owned. Ours can therefore not be different.

As an octogenarian, what are your wishes for Nigeria?
In answering that question, let us bend back a little bit. In 1960, we were all very happy that Nigeria was going to be an independent nation, our currency was very strong and employment was available everywhere.

At that time, there were very few roads that were tarred, but the few ones tarred were very good and solid. We had a very good rail system (they were in first class, second class and third class). We had our own airline and in addition to that, we had our own shipping line.

Electricity was not common then, but wherever they had electricity, it was very good. Then too, life was safe. In fact, it was better to travel at night at that time than during the day.

Today, what do we have? The naira has been very badly devalued and now one dollar to about N320, whereas at that time, ours was stronger.

The airline we were proud of is gone, the shipping line is gone and all the ships belonging to the country are all gone.

The rail line is virtually not in existence, the roads are very poor and education, which was very solid then, is now very bad. Life, which was safe then is not again and light, which was stable where they had it, is no longer the same as it was then.

You see, the best way to decide whether you are doing well or not is to compare the past with the present and that is what I have just done for you. When you put what we had then as against what we have now, I will say we have not fared well at all.

The way to get out of this quagmire is to address the issue of over-concentration of power and resources at the centre and return to regionalism, which allows every region to develop at its own pace.

In those days of regional government, the West was doing so well that it did not only become the clear leader and the envy of its other peers

Before the advent oil in the 60’s, agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, like in the United States, Canada, Argentina and Australia, and I begin to wonder why Nigeria should suddenly turn its back on this otherwise lucrative enterprise.

In addition, I have been talking about national conference since 2003 and I had written papers, delivered lectures on it.

To solve the problems of employment, devaluation, fallen standard of education and virtually everything, we now need a national conference. The Sovereign National Conference (SNC), if it is held and whatever decision made there should not be subject to any amendment by any Assembly, because it will not be good for all of us to agree to something and say this is what we are going to do and somebody somewhere says you cannot enforce or exercise the decision all of us took together.

We should do all we can to restore the lost glory of Nigeria.