By Innocent Anaba
Mr Olasupo Ati-John is the Secretary of Section on public Interest and Development Law, SPIDEL, a section of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA. In this interview, he noted that for corruption in the judicial system to be adequately addressed, the entry level of the profession must be restructured to curb the menace of corruption.
On the on going constitutional amendment, he said that the concept of citizenship, indigeneship, settlers theory, naturalization principle, among others should be looked into objectively, adding that true federalism should be reflected in our constitution. Excerpt:
What is SPIDEL doing to promote the development of law in the country?
SPIDEL is a sub unit of the NBA. This section regulates novel and untapped areas in the practice of law in Nigeria. In its bid to promote the development of law, SPIDEL has vigorously pursued its aim of contributing to the development of appropriate legal and policy framework and promote development and practice of public interest law and litigation as well as ensure access to effective remedies for victims of violations of the laws and abuse of power.
For instance, in the last five years, we have been consistent in programming. The section held four annual forums in four different zones of the country on topical issues. Recommendations from the forum have served as reference point for government at all levels, the private sector and the civil society.
The impact of the 2007 Annual forum of the section on Electoral reforms deserves special mention. The forum’s position about the flaws of the 2007 general elections inspired the take-off of the on-going current reforms in the electoral system.
At NBA level, the working sessions of the section at NBA anual conferences have been credited as having high quality in every standard. Also, the practice of Notary public in Nigeria is also under strict scrutiny by the section. We are at present looking at how to address the inefficiency and lapses manifestly seen in the practice.
What is your section doing to also promote public interest litigation in the country?
Though SPIDEL is not one of the prosecuting agencies or a human rights agency in Nigeria, it has to a reasonable extent promoted public interest litigation in Nigeria. We have always advocated for the protection of rights and property in the six geographical regions of the country. Our pursuit to promote public interest litigation is done on daily basis by our members and the entire section.
We also encourage our members to prosecute and defend matters with public interest content probono. We have tried to create awareness through seminars and workshops on protecting the interest of the masses with the ultimate aim of achieving justice. In SPIDEL, it is our position that justice ought to be done in the public interest, if at all.
Do you agree that lawyers are to be blamed for the delay in matters in court with their filing of all manners of applications, instead of facing the substantive issues in cases?
Apparently, justice cannot be achieved within a twinkle of an eye. The principle of justice is not magical; neither is it a scientific theory nor could be likened to the fictitious story of Alice in the wonder land. In other words, the principle of justice can only be cogently arrived at after a thorough legal analysis of the fact in issue or facts relevant to the issue.
As a matter of fact, delay in matters may occur as a result of multifaceted factors which could be positive or negative as the case may be. Lawyers should not be consistently blamed for the delay in prosecuting matters. There are several factors which could possibly occasion unnecessary delay in litigation; these factors inter alia include re-assignment of matters by the administrative head, crowding of courts, transfer of judges from one division to the other in which case some of the matters pending before the judge may be commenced denovo – that is starting a matter afresh, lack of service of originating processes, unavailability of witnesses Etc.
Importantly, for speedy and effective disposal of matters in court to be achieved the whole judicial system must be completely overhauled to reflect our contemporary challenges.
How do you think the issue of corruption in the judiciary can be addressed?
Corruption is the bane of our micro and macro entities. In other words, corruption as a vice has its antecedent from our various communities and institutions. It is my personal opinion that for corruption in the judicial system to be adequately addressed, the entry level of the profession must be restructured to curb the menace of corruption.
For instance, how can a prospective law student be compromising with the special center syndrome –quite pathetic indeed. As a matter of fact, this would – be law student without much ado must have internalized this cankerworm thus making it almost impossible for the student in issue to divorce this mentality of “sorting” to excel in his subjects.
Hence, the philosophical principle of tabala rasa (mind in the clean state) has suddenly vanished into thin air. In the event that this mentality either by commission or omission is eventually harvested as a legal fruit to be enjoyed in the legal world, this cankerworm at this level is already full blown, and then emerges the problem of judicial corruption.
Mind you, this menace was only imported into the profession. Having said this, the secondary level of corruption as a matter of fact is already embedded in the legal profession hence needs contemporary approach to fight the virus. Contemporary technical gadgets may not really be the solution to this menace but attitudinal re-orientation could drastically reduce this virus.
Let all the stakeholders be re-baptized into the values of transparency, good conscience and honesty. This I personally believe will sanitize the system.
Will terminating some cases at the Court of Appeal help ensure speedy completion of cases?
Of course to an extent it should be able to bring litigation to an end within a reasonable time but what about the justice of the case. If manifest justice is secured at the Court of Appeal, that suffices. So terminating some cases at the Court of Appeal is a welcome development.
What areas of the constitution do you believe requires amendment?
I wish to commend the Government of Nigeria for the recent call to amend the 1999 constitution. In my opinion, the 1999 Constitution was not the will of the Nigerian people. The preamble therein is of course an aberration since it was not the people’s wish.
I would have maybe suggested the making of an autochthonous constitution that is home made or home grown to reflect the power of the people. Be that as it may, there are areas I will speedily recommend for amendment. As a matter of fact, The Land Use Act of 1978 is not supposed to be a constitutional matter. Every state should have its Land Use Law.
Again, the concept of citizenship and its related siblings such as indigeneship, settlers theory, naturalization principle etc should be looked into objectively. True federalism should be reflected in our constitution. If I may ask? What stops us from enforcing and giving more life to fundamental objectives and directives of state principle? It can be done.