By Abdulwahab Abdulah
Senator Sikiru Shitta-Bey, a seasoned lawyer and a former Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is our guest for the week. In this interview, he bares his mind on some national issues, particularly on how the country can move forward in its struggle to attain genuine democracy.
He was of the view that unless the political class and Nigerians take it upon themselves to shun godfatherism,Â electoral fraud and are allowed to determine who govern them, the country cannot move forward.
Some lawyers had called for the abolition of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), an issue that has generated much controversy.Â What is your position on the matter?
I am not in the support of the abolition of the rank of SAN. I think what should be done is to review the rules guiding the appointment. The first thing is to give the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) more role in the appointment of lawyers as Senior Advocates. They should be givenÂ prominent roles in the process.
Another thing that should be done to ameliorate the controversy is to ensure that the Judges of the High Court are given a roles in the selection and final approval of those to be awarded the silk. This is because it is before these judges that real advocacy starts from. So, some of these Judges know majority of the lawyers too well and their capabilities to do a thorough advocacy.
At the Court of Appeal, mostly you write your appeal, which can be done by somebody else who will carry out the research and the appeal for you. So, the High Court Judges are to comment or judge the competence of the lawyers. So, if they are part of the committee, or were given the opportunity to contribute to the process, it will help the situation so well.
I think the Chief Judges across the country can perform this role, which will in turn get the list of the prospective applicants and pass them to their brother Judges for consideration.
Recently, some members of the House of Representatives moved to grant themselves immunity fromÂ police arrest, particularly while carrying out their legislative duties. What is your reaction to this development?
There should not be any law protecting them from arrest or trial in court, especially on criminal matters. The constitution is clear on the issue of immunity, which is extended to the President and the Governors. In spite of the immunity granted them by the constitution, they were not shielded from investigation.
I donâ€™t see reason why they must be asking for shield against police arrest or trial. In the U.K, if a member of the parliament drives recklessly, he would be arrested and also face prosecution. So, I do not see why our own will be different.
Do you support the calls for the job ofÂ ourÂ lawmakers to be part-time, instead of being a full time one as we have at present?
In the parliamentary system, the job of the lawmakers is part time.Â Some of the lawmakers have their own professional job. But in the Presidential system, the job is permanent or a full time job.
To me, the country must go back to the Parliamentary system of government. This Presidential system is too cumbersome and expensive. Unlike the Parliamentary system of government, under the Presidential system of government, the Ministers, the Commissioners and others do not get the mandate of the people to be in office.
They are in the office at the mercy of the executive and they are just part of the department of the Presidency or the Governor. They are bound to be loyal to the President or the Governor that appoint them.Â However, in the parliamentary system, they have the mandate of the people and it is not as expensive as the Presidential system.
There are agitations for the review of the 1999 constitution, while some want a new constitution written outrightly. What is your view on this?
Talking about the constitution, we are talking about democracy and the rule of law.Â As I have said before, we are not practicing internal democracy.
Without internal democracy, there cannot be real democracy. We will just be building political thugs; we cannot get things right in the country. For instance, why are we running away from having an independent candidate in the country?
We need to amend our constitution to allow independent candidate during our elections.Â In England, you can stand up as an independent candidate, in America you can stand up as an independent candidate, why are we running away from it here? This is because; some people, the political Lords want to ensure that if you do not go through them, you cannot contest election in the country. They are the people behind the delay in the amendment of the constitution.
We have to be realistic in this country. Such people in this country are dictators. They will be the one to select who contest and who do not contest.Â That is why we cannot have the ears of the lawmakers for the amendment of the constitution. They should allow the political parties to function; this will eventually translate into good governance in all sector of our democratic life.
The constitution must be amended to show that a person who stands to contest for any political office is a product of party primaries, who has contested and win the primary within his political party. If any party is not producing a candidate that pass through the primary, the electoral body must reject such candidate. This is one important area that needs to be looked into. The situation whereby somebody cannot contest for an election if some individual does not like your face must be condemned. So, a contestant must be a product of a primary election. So, we only need to amend our constitution to reflect and correct the grey areas.
The political situation in Anambra State is becoming a national problem and there are arguments that lawyers areÂ contributing to the political problem,Â byÂ filing papers on issuesÂ that are not realistic in law in courts. How do you react to this?
To me, all the appeals terminate at the Supreme Court. Any matter taken to the Supreme Court, the appellant may be asking the apex court for a review of its decision. In most cases, the Supreme Court refused such entreaties.
What does it portends for the practice of law and the rule of law,Â when lawyers approach the Supreme Court asking for a review of what is obvious in its judgment?
Those lawyers are just making attempts, but they have failed. There is what we called binding authority, all decisions of the Supreme Court must be obeyed and implemented by the lower courts.Â Whenever, the apex court delivered its judgment on any issue, you can only appeal to God.
Our government, particularly in this democracy seem not be developing infrastructures in the country. What do you think is responsible for this?
Anywhere and anytime you did not allow things to work normally; it will definitely affect such system. At such level, there will be dictators. Anybody elected into public office or holding a political office cannot govern or perform very well, because those who appoint them there will not allow them to function. He (the political godfather) is holding the belt, the moment you intends to move forward, he draws you back.
So, to tackle our deficiency in political and economic development we need to remove godfathers in politics. We should make sure that whoever is contesting an election is a product of a well conducted primaries and also enjoy the mandate of the people to be in office.
If the party primaries are not held, the electoral body should ensure that such party forfeits their right to feature any candidate in an election.Â All these must be written in black and white.Â Where a primary is not held within the party to select the candidate in an election, the candidate cannot be that of the party, but the candidate of the godfathers.
He cannot represent the people, but those who put him in office. We have to realize that we have to allow individual candidate to emerge and contest for election. Individual persons exist before the parties, so why canâ€™t we allow individuals to contest privately without going through the machinery of a political party, where candidates are handpicked?