Mr. Wahab Shittu is a legal practitioner and a law lecturer at the University of Lagos. In this interview he spoke on some national issues including corruption in the judiciary and how to secure the country using legal mechanism.
How do we stem the tide of corruption in the Judiciary?
One fundamental problem is the undue delay in the administration of justice and that can be addressed through a qualitative reform process that is tailored to address both the systemic failures and the question of integrity. We need to undertake holistic review of the institution and structures that constitute the administration of justice in order to block all loophole or leakages.
I would also recommend the establishment of the Judiciary Performance Monitoring Committee to monitor and assess the performance of judges, both in terms of their professional commitment and ethical integrity.
We also need to monitor the activities of our lawyers to ensure that those who violated ethics are brought to book. Another way to address the problem is to ensure that only people with proven track record of excellence and integrity are appointed to the bench. The bench should also be adequately remunerated in terms of welfare packages.
What is your opinion on the call for the reformation of the National Judicial Council in order to reduce the power of the CJN?
The best way to appreciate the issue is to look at the faceoff between the former Chief Justice of Nigeria and the suspended President of the Court of Appeal and then use it as a test case to be able to pronounce on the unsuitability of the present arrangement.
I also understand that the former CJN also raised concerns on the lopsided nature of appointment into the NJC. I think all that should be addressed as part of the holistic reform package in order to ensure that no one individual is, by virtue of his position has overriding influence on the activities of the commission that is charged with the responsibility of ensuring this orderliness, integrity and discipline in the profession. NJC should be constituted in a manner as to guarantee its independence and impartiality.
As a law lecturer, do you subscribe to the view that the quality of our legal education is declining?
It depends on the perspective under which one is looking at the issue, on the present generation of lawyers who are being trained, are they exposed to far more materials in terms of the technology revolution that has taken place like ICT as evinced in the internet and allied facilities. This of course is an advantage over the lawyers of the past generation.
If you use that as assessment, you would say that the present generation should rank higher compared to older generation. However, given the culture of erosion of values which I referred to in the past and the fact that the present generation of the students is reluctant to embrace pupilage, you may count that as some deprivations and disadvantage against the present generation.
The older generation understudied the senior colleagues for 10, 12, 15 years before setting out on their own. The trend this day is that lawyers hardly want to stay for up to two or three years. The mentoring system has a lot of role to play in churning out quality lawyers. To that extent, one can say that the old “brigade’ seems to be better than the present.
How will you assess the Nigerian democracy from 1999 till date? Are we getting things right?
I think any assessment of Nigerian democracy has to be based on certain underlying fundamentals. It is after assessing the said fundamentals that we can be able to arrive at correct assessment of our journey so far. The first fundamental is constitutionalism.
Secondly, adherence to rule of law, others are respect for fundamental rights, respect for due process, due and fair electoral process. Zero tolerance for corruption, transparency and accountability and above all, good governance. Of course, all these are interrelated.
These are the fundamentals of a good democratic tradition. The assessment of our democratic practice must be based on how we have fared on all these parameters.