Judiciary is under siege —Akintola, SAN
The Bashorun Bamofin of Ibadanland, Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN), doesn’t take prisoners when he feels strongly about issues. He was his combative self in dissecting thorny national issues with LANRE ADEWOLE.
With an unprecedented assault from the public and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is this the most trying moment for the judiciary, particularly the inner bar?
Certainly not. We have passed through this route before. This isn’t the first time we have faced unjustifiable criticism from ignorant folks out there. And if you ask those who are criticising the Bar and the Bench to substantiate their allegations, you find them wanting. I remember vividly that at one of our NEC meetings in Port-Harcourt [Rivers State] some years back, during the reign of [Nuhu] Ribadu [as EFCC chairman], the [Nigerian Bar Association] NBA took him up and one of our respected senior colleagues, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), took on the NBA and of course, we gave it back to him. In fact, he threatened to resign from the NEC, even though he was not even a member of the NEC in the first place and I remember that it was my lot to move a motion against the position of the EFCC then, because the EFCC started derailing then and we saw it coming and we took our decision.
We don’t bother about the comments of the ignorant. There are three sets of criticisms going on out there. There are those who are criticising us out of ignorance of the position of the law. There are those criticising us out of mischief and there are those criticising us for selfish reasons and that category includes some of our own members. For those criticising senior members of the Bar over representation of accused persons by counsel, we can only pity them. They don’t appreciate the fact that the constitution guarantees every litigant the right to choose their counsel. He has the right to determine how many lawyers will represent him in court.
And if you look at the trend since the beginning of this dispensation, in 1999, you will discover that most high-profile cases were manned by seasoned lawyers. Nobody has ever raised any eyebrow. Some of us have taken up high-profile cases that involved top politicians, top bank executives. SANs, in their scores, have represented them and there has been no outcry because the law allows that.
But what are we seeing now? Because scores of senior lawyers represented one of their own in court, some people, out of ignorance, are asking, why should it be? And I ask them, those politicians we have defended before the Code of Conduct, how many senior lawyers represented them? In the last administration, when the powers-that-be wanted to prevent Buhari from contesting election at all costs, how many senior lawyers came to the aid of Buhari? Are the ignorant out there pretending not to know that many senior lawyers represented Buhari at no cost? Many out there think all the representations are done because of fees, how ignorant could they be? When the struggle started to emancipate this country through the legal system, when we were in the trenches, those who are opening their mouths wide now were nowhere to be found. You can’t find their names anywhere for making any meaningful contributions.
It was some of our colleagues like Chief Wole Olanipekun and Lateef Fagbemi who went to court to make oral applications before the Federal High Court to maintain the status quo so as to allow Buhari to contest the election. There was nothing the [Peoples Democratic Party] PDP government didn’t do to stop him from contesting the election. How many SANs were there? Why are people behaving like ostrich? They should credit some Nigerians with some level of intelligence. Some of us keep records, because memory is very short in this country. How many SANs defended the governors at the election petition tribunals? Because they were politicians, they are entitled to have 50 or 100 lawyers, but a member of the Bar isn’t entitled to the services of his colleagues, is that what they are saying?
The EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu, said the show of solidarity was designed to intimidate the commission and court, tagging it ‘corruption fighting back…’
I read in the papers today where he was apologising for making blanket statements. Now, who is intimidating who? Is it the suspect who is presumed innocent and decided to engage a number of counsel he could through goodwill or he himself who decided to go to court with over 150 armed policemen to intimidate the judge? That is why I was talking about ignorance a little while ago. Has he forgotten that every judge, every magistrate, has sworn to do justice to all manner of men, without ill-will, affection or favour? No judge worth his or her salt will be intimidated by any prosecutor or counsel.
But the presiding judge actually said…
(Cuts in)… No, no, no. That was the interpretation given to it by the press. You know the Nigerian press, when they want to slant things to suit a particular purpose. Look at this, for example: a case was withdrawn from court and some newspapers reported that the matter was dismissed for being incompetent.
Ricky Tarfa’s suit?
Yes and that was Nigerian press for you. What happened was that there were two similar actions and he decided to withdraw one in order not to make them an abuse of court process. But those who wanted to sell their newspapers slanted it. Most times, when you read the headlines of some Nigerian newspapers, they often commit fallacy of accent. The headline will convey a particular meaning but when you read the content, you see a different thing.
Are you calling the media a collaborator in this EFCC onslaught against the inner bar?
The truth of the matter is that we are in a country where the illiterate govern the enlightened. It is a country of the illiterate by the illiterate for the enlightened. Many of us, including my humble self, are not literate enough to appreciate certain things. We have those who are legal illiterates, political illiterates, economic illiterates, medical illiterates, media illiterates. I admit my limitations when it comes to media operations, perhaps I’m an illiterate in that area but I was taught in my philosophy class that when the content of the story doesn’t reflect the headline, it is called fallacy of accent. That is what you find in some newspapers.
But the media has also been criticised by Magu…
Of course, nobody is immune. The impression being given is that we are all saboteurs; blanket condemnation. In this country, we use one bad apple to describe the whole. It is called fallacy of hasty generalisation. Even the EFCC, about a month ago, one of them was found collecting $150,000 from a suspect. Shall we say because of that, all EFCC operatives are corrupt? Magu is passionate but he has not been able to draw the line between what ought to be and what it is.
Is Magu going about his job the wrong way?
Certainly, yes. When you look at the statement credited to him talking about the number of lawyers, what about politicians who had, at different times, scores of senior lawyers defend their cases?
But the public is applauding Magu…
…out of ignorance. And again, who are these members of the public? We are talking of media trial, mob justice. If you have been following the trend of the investigation of EFCC, you will see that there is nothing for the public to applaud.
They have been doing shoddy investigations, shoddy preparations. I don’t want to comment on Dasuki’s matter because it is pending in court. Again, that boils down to the issue of the illiteracy we are talking about. When a matter is pending in court, you don’t comment on it.
But Ricky Tarfa’s case is also in court.
I have refrained from commenting on what is before the court in Ricky Tarfa’s case. I frown upon any attempt to undermine the integrity of the judiciary and legal profession. When the judiciary is disrespected, it is the society that will suffer for it. Some lawyers now stay on the TV from Monday to Friday, even citing authorities. What kinds of lawyers go to the TV in the morning quoting the constitution, which is unethical, unprofessional? Many don’t even know about the cases they are commenting about. They have no contribution to the anti-corruption war or how this government came to be, but they will be the first to go on television condemning their colleagues who have toiled day and night to have a government that goes by the rule of law in the country.
Don’t you think they are contributing their own quota to national debates?
By dishing out rubbish? You can add your voice to national discourse but you must speak from the position of fact and logic, not of sentiment or morality. Lord Denning said morality is an unruly horse which takes you to where you don’t expect. You don’t run government on the basis of morality or how you feel. It must be by rule of law.
But it is said that Magu is being advised by some senior lawyers.
It is one thing to be advised, it is another thing to take the advice. There is a case of a senior lawyer advising the National Assembly and what they would bring out will always be different from his advice. I remember when a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, challenged us that we weren’t doing enough to assist the National Assembly to generate quality debate on constitution amendment. We went to Uyo [Akwa Ibom State] for 10 days under Rotimi Akeredolu’s leadership, dissected the constitution at our own expense and put up a draft for the National Assembly. We assembled again in Abuja on the bill of the Bar to prepare a draft for them, but they threw it aside and brought out something else. I know the inner workings of the EFCC. Nobody gets to prosecute without higher approval. There are a lot of things that are shrouded in secrecy from the members of the public.
Do you support the prosecution of indicted judges and SANs?
Yes, of course. Nobody is above the law.
So, why are you leading the defence of Ricky Tarfa?
Every suspect is entitled to the services of a lawyer. In fact, when he fails to get one by himself, the state is under obligation to get him one at tax payers’ expense. In our profession, we have a code of conduct on professional ethics. It is an offence for any lawyer to refuse to defend any suspect except if the fellow can’t pay your fees or if you have personal interest. Just like doctors who are under obligation to treat patients under whatever circumstances, especially discrimination. It is same for a lawyer who refuses brief due to discrimination. He will be guilty of misconduct.
Will you accept Dasuki’s brief if he approaches you?
It depends. I will not now because I have advised the power-that-be on how to go about it. So, it would be unethical on my part to now step forward again and argue against what I have advised.
What about Diezani Alison Madueke?
If the conditions are right, yes. A lawyer is like a cab driver, whosoever flags him down with correct fare, so be it.
Will this not justify the lamentation of President Buhari that judiciary is his headache in the anti-corruption war?
That statement coming from Mr President is rather unfortunate. There are certain statements that should not be credited to certain classes of people, including little me. The oath taken by SANs is the same taken by governors and the president. Everyone is sworn to abide by the provisions of the constitution, which emphasises rule of law. If he spoke about the judiciary being his headache, is it not the same judiciary that saved him from the hands of his traducers? If not for the judiciary, would he have contested that election? For those of us who put our lives on the line for him, it is very demoralising. It was a blanket statement. I would not want to use any strong language because he is the president.
Is the president’s mindset not a manifestation of what is being witnessed in the EFCC?
The judiciary and the legal profession are under siege now, but a leader is as good as his subordinates and aides. Where the leader is going overboard, it is the duty of the aides to pull him back by advising him to take the path of rule of law.
Are you talking about the Attorney-General of the Federation?
Yes. The truth of the matter is you don’t even know who is in charge now. The AGF is to be seen or heard but not Magu. For crying out loud! Magu is heading an agency under the AGF. But what are we having now? I said a little while ago that judiciary is under siege. Do you know Magu has been going around courts, gathering judges like school pupils together, promising to send them abroad, give them incentives and retain them and what have you? If that is not inducement, what is it? And he was complaining about inducement, about intimidation. Last week, Magu was in Oyo State and the judges didn’t even sit for that day. The members of the Bar complained. I understand that he had done a similar thing in Lagos. That is intimidation of the judiciary. Magu can fight this battle with the instrumentality of the law. He only needs to be creative and think out of the box. But he is playing to the gallery. He talks too much. I believe the AGF should rise up to the challenges ahead of him.
What role is the vice-president playing in all of these as a member of the inner bar?
I wouldn’t know because I’m not in government. I wouldn’t know the template of their operations. The only person I can comment about is my colleague, the AGF, who should rise up to the challenges and ensure that things are done the rule of law way. In our own way, some of us have been assisting behind the scene. We have given them position papers but the society expects us to be flippant. It is not everything you know that you say in the public but the Bar has been playing beautiful roles to ensure things are done properly. I know some of our senior colleagues who have given position papers that are serving as templates even on this issue of corruption. [Professor Itse] Sagay even said I should send some of these position papers to him. You don’t need to go to the marketplace to announce what you have been doing behind the scene. In fact, my position is stronger than Magu’s position because if I have my way, these corrupt elements will be executed.
That is, when they have been found guilty?
But you don’t need rocket science to get them convicted. It is the inability to be creative that is putting Magu in this state of quagmire. Let me give you an example. We all know from experience as a prosecutor for the EFCC and a defender of suspects that what most Nigerian public officials do is anticipatory declaration of assets. We can meet them at their doorsteps and there are enough laws in our statute books to deal with the situation. I remember that a governor upon being sworn in, in 1999 put in the asset declaration form that he had a house in London when he had none. He never bought one until 2003 when he was going for second term but he had declared that. If they had called him for his tax clearance certificate when he made that declaration, he would have been guilty of perjury and go in for 14 years and still face the issue of corruption. Do you need an expert from the United States to do that? All the AGF and Minister of Finance need to have is synergy, the finance minister making available the tax declaration of these people and the AGF comparing and contrasting the asset declaration form and they [corrupt officials] will be walking straight to jail. At the national confab, I said that if that is implemented, 90 percent of public officials will be in jail. They declare what they don’t have as assets and they will now be stealing towards meeting that target. I sold the idea to two prosecutors of EFCC. They are talking about legal fees. If that is the agreement you voluntarily entered into, they can do nothing. But why bother their head about lawyers’ fees? Just ask them for tax payment on the fat fees like it obtains in the United Kingdom. If you have collected $5 million for recovering money for Halliburton, how much tax did you pay? It is so simple, they will just be railroading them to jail, not questioning what can’t be sustained in law court.
With your insight, what do you think Buhari wants from the judiciary?
I am sorry to say this but President Buhari is the only one fighting corruption. Give it to him. He has no comparison among all our public officials today. One can understand his anger from where he is coming from but I want to assure him that he can carry out the fight successfully using the instrumentality of the law, rather than resort to jackboot tactics or blackmail. But the statement on judiciary is very unfortunate.
Given your support during the poll, are you having buyer remorse now?
I am not regretting my actions over [former President Goodluck] Jonathan. If Jonathan had remained, the situation in Nigeria would have been worse than that of Greece. We started the campaign of Jonathan-Must-Go in 2012 and I didn’t regret it, because the man was clueless. I was one of those who saw to his coming to power but I have no regret seeing his back and if the opportunity presents itself again, I will do the same over and over. With Jonathan eased out, all hands must be on deck to ensure that Buhari does not take us back, because there is no point digging one pit to fill another because a pit remains and that is what is happening now. Things are not working the way we envisaged, because the man seems to be the only person who knows which direction he is going. The rest of us don’t seem to know and he alone can’t do the fighting in a country of 170 million people. We must harness all resources. We have left Egypt but still wandering in the wilderness. At our NEC meeting, two of our colleagues accused us of bringing Buhari and I admitted it but I have no regret whatsoever. When the election was approaching, there were more than 13 cases against him and many of us defended him at no cost. Some of us started this struggle in 2012, courtesy of Senator Bola Tinubu, who recruited many of us.
Are you worried the president is now turning on his die-hard supporters like you and the inner bar?
I am not worried. We only need to keep educating and guiding him. He may have good intention but good intention isn’t enough. We must develop a template and be pragmatic in approach. We have been speaking to some of his aides behind the scene before coming out publicly like this.
What exactly have you been telling them?
Well, things that are not for public consumption. My worry, really, is to ensure we don’t go back to Egypt, by Egypt I mean 1984, when Buhari came in as military president. He was interviewed as he said he would tamper with press freedom and the resultant effect was Decree 4. When he now said abroad that the judiciary was his headache, my mind quickly raced back to what happened in 1984. Just like the press had it rough after the statement, are we sure the judiciary is safe after the statement? Are we sure we don’t have fifth columnists in his government now like it happened in his first coming, because they ruined his good job then. He was derailed by fifth columnists; innocent people were being arrested, blanket allegations were being made, people being jailed for 350 years and the entire team lost focus. We don’t want him to lose focus this time. We want him to keep his eyes on the ball, because he must not miss the ball. He should not go for legs, but the ball. That is our concern because we sacrificed so much.
Are the signals worrying?
Yes, of course. Look at that type of statement. You just said possibly, statements like that emboldened Magu and I could not agree with you more. A situation in which an agency of the executive will be going round intimidating judges, dictating to them how to conduct cases in their courts, dictating to lawyers what case to take and not take, that is not in accordance with the rule of law.
But isn’t the judiciary overdue for purging?
I wouldn’t know what you mean by purging. In every profession all over the world, you have both the good and the bad, including in the United States of America. Even the press, we have seen through what happened now. At least judiciary has not been indicted like the media in Dasukigate and I don’t know why people expect to find a virgin in a maternity ward, because that is what the press is expecting of the judiciary, when we are all operating in the same society. We should not expect all to be above board but one bad person should not be used to make the profession bad. Instead of talking about professions, we should talk about the individuals doing things inimical to our common goods and be named and shamed. It is not about their profession, it is about their person. People should draw a line between the two. Morality is an unruly horse but the rule of law is certain. You do things according to the rule of the land and if you don’t want it again, jettison it but as much as we have adopted constitutional governance, we must rule by the constitution. Anything outside it won’t be acceptable.
The NBA NEC communique appears more like a call to arm.
No. You know, the judges can’t speak for themselves. They are to be seen and not heard. No judge should be flippant but they are suffering in silence and it is the duty of the Bar to come out and defend the integrity of the judiciary and that is exactly what we have done. All we are saying is that any judge that conducts his duties in accordance to the dictate of the law and ethics of his office has nothing to fear and they should refuse to be intimidated. It isn’t a call to arm. Just do your job according to the oath you took and once you do that, you have nothing to fear from 100 Magus. We also called on our colleagues to come to equity with clean hands. We told them that if they soiled their hands, we would be at the vanguard of prosecuting the culprits. Let Magu give us facts about any lawyer if we won’t prosecute him. We won’t shield anyone but we won’t also allow jackboot tactics.
Is it likely that the outcome of governorship appeals at the Supreme Court is a message to Buhari and his party?
I wouldn’t know about that but I know the judiciary is doing justice according to the law of the land and the dictates of the constitution. There are rules of procedures and those making insinuations against the judiciary are ignorant of how the law operates. The law isn’t about morality or about how you feel. Nigerian politicians are not to be taken seriously when it comes to the issue of the judiciary. All of them make blanket allegations against the judiciary. The PDP was up in arms against the judiciary when they lost at the tribunal and the Court of Appeal and the APC was praising the judiciary. But when the pendulum changed, the APC made similar allegations, so, they are all the same. It isn’t about party, it is about their mindset. They want justice according to their own dictates. If possible, they want to be writing judgements for judges from their party secretariats but unfortunately that can’t be.
You led anti-Jonathan campaign because of alleged marginalisation of the Yoruba race, where is the race now?
We are yet to take stock. What happened under Jonathan is better forgotten. We distributed a pamphlet in Ibadan on how Jonathan marginalised the Yoruba. I remember Senator Adefuye calling high-profile Yoruba persons supporting Jonathan bastards. Do you know why Dr Christopher Kolade resigned as SURE-P chairman? Find out why he left. A minister came to the aviation ministry and ensured that all top Yoruba officials were eased out. At the confab, I was against southern solidarity meeting because there was no basis because a hungry dog doesn’t play with a well-fed dog. I remember we addressed a press conference in Abuja disowning some of our elders who were hobnobbing with members of southern solidarity movement, because it was only the northerners that shared the sympathy of the Yoruba. Under Jonathan, from number one to 25, there was no Yoruba there.
But they said our own cost us the speakership?
Forget about speakership. Dimeji Bankole was the speaker, was the way to Abeokuta tarred? Etteh was the speaker from Ikire, people are dying every day in her town because of gullies on the road. When you are talking of marginalisation, it is beyond that. Look at the parastatals. The speaker is as strong as members of the House want him to be. The vice-president is as strong as the president wants him to be. It is beyond elective offices. We will still take stock under Buhari but I can tell you that in Yorubaland, we have no regrets for what we did.
The race went into the election divided, began this Republic divided. A leader, Senator Femi Okurounmu, says peace isn’t on the horizon. Will it ever be?
With due respect to him, he is living in the past.
Are reconciliation talks going on?
Of course, we are making efforts.
I want yes or no.
Yes. His position is understandable. There is this misconception with our elders that anybody not with them must be with Senator Tinubu. At the confab, they thought some of us were being tele-guided by him, which wasn’t correct. I am from Oyo State. I take instructions from the people of the state, including the Alaafin of Oyo, the Olubadan of Ibadanland, the Soun of Ogbomoso, the Aseyin of Iseyin, the Okere of Saki. I don’t take instruction from outsiders. The day of ‘baba so’pe’ is gone. People who don’t have the attributes of [Obafemi] Awolowo can’t expect the respect accorded him. At the confab, there was a clear-cut line between us and these elders. None of us from Oyo State attended their Southern solidarity meeting. Ditto the people of Osun State. Would you say [Rashidi] Ladoja is being controlled by Tinubu? The truth is that we had our own agenda, which was to fight the marginalisation of Yoruba, which they didn’t believe in. We nominated General Alani Akinrinade to be the leader there.
Okurounmu said General Alani Akinrinade can’t be Yoruba leader because past leaders weren’t appointed but evolved. Why are you forcing things?
With respect to him, he should go and read again how the sage, Awolowo, emerged. He should go and read Osoba’s book. General Akinrinade never put himself forward but we the younger elements at the confab saw in General Akinrinade a principled, bold man who is not a sell-out. He has no inordinate ambition.
But they said he is also Tinubu’s man.
That is a blatant lie. The [Action Congress of Nigeria] ACN then didn’t support the confab. There was a day my friend, Yinka Odumakin, who is in the camp of Senator Okurounmu’s Afenifere, called me to attend a meeting and as he was speaking with me, I was on the phone with the Alaafin and I put him on speaker and asked him about the invite. The Alaafin said to go and do what there? Was that Tinubu? We also felt that it was high time the leadership of Yoruba moved round. How many of these elders have community value at home. Awo had community value. But these elders are climbing the tree from the top. They have lost touch with the reality.
You just confirmed that ARG and Afenifere are in talks.
Of course yes, but there are some hawks like him that do not want it to be.
So, where is the place of these elders in this new unity configuration?
They are our elders who must be respected but their overbearing attitude must be curbed. Feudalism is alien to us in Yoruba land. We have the Omoluabi concept. There is a very thin line between honour and dishonour in Yoruba land. You cross it and you are a goner, no matter the deepness of your pocket. We don’t worship money here.
Will this your tough talk help the peace process?
It is God that crowns a leader. Time is a healer of wound. We are doing everything to bring everybody together but everybody isn’t bound to accept. It is the constitutional right of Senator Okurounmu to say no, but if the majority say they want Tinubu, can he stop it? If the majority say for now, we want Akinrinade, can he stop it? Go and study the evolution of politics in Nigeria, you will discover that anytime the North wants to forge an alliance with the Yoruba, they do so through the Oyo-speaking.
In plain language, who is the leader of Yoruba race now?
Now, it is General Akinrinade. He is the one that can summon a meeting and all of us would be there. The Odumakin people are also free to come.
Buhari has called an economic conference. What are your expectations?
I want to commend him for listening and the conference is overdue. It is so unfortunate that we had an economic illiterate that misadvised Mr President over the issue of forex and domiciliary account and the damage done by that singular decision of banning the operation of domiciliary account cannot be rectified in a jiffy. Whoever sold that idea to him should be in jail. I don’t know of any country in the world that bars people from operating their accounts, especially foreign exchange account. There are millions of Nigerians that earn off-shore income in terms of services, rents and they repatriate their income in foreign exchange back to Nigeria and that has been stabilising our Naira. I have a client with about 38 properties abroad who was bringing his money back before the ban. The moment it happened, he simply went to Ghana and opened domiciliary account, just like thousands of Nigerians, to the extent that Ghana Central Bank advertised for Nigerians to come and open domiciliary account. By the time it was reversed, the damage had been done. Buhari should keep that bad adviser at army’s length. Buhari should stop keeping the recovered looted funds in CBN’s vault, because it is losing value every day. Two weeks ago, I wanted to buy a generator and we got the invoice. When we went there to pay yesterday, the price has gone up by N680,000. Their reason was exchange rate. The president must continue on the path of curtailing our taste for foreign goods. He needs to be holistic and creative. He should spend money before inflation would render the value useless. The economists must help us out but we don’t need the Harvard-trained economists who don’t understand our economy. I am not anti-intellectual but we have seen where importees led us to. We need home-grown economists, not the World Bank people.