Prof. Epiphany Azinge, SAN is the Director-General Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. The institute is the apex body for legal training in the country. Recently the institute decided to mount a specialized judicial track training programme for lawyers desiring to seek appointment to the bench.
In this interview Azinge bares his mind on calls for State Police, amendment of the constitution, legal education and sundry national issues. Excerpts.
There have been persistent calls for State Police as a solution to the incessant killings and wanton destructions of lives and property in the country. What is your reaction to this?
The call for establishment of state police in line with the principles of federalism is theoretically unassailable but pragmatically flawed. Interestingly, this is not the first time in the history of this country that we have experimented the idea of policing at local levels. It need not be overemphasized that the first experiment was a colossal failure.
Does it mean that we cannot try it because the first experiment failed?
Many, rightly, seem to argue that we have since move on as a nation and the mistake of the past cannot becloud our vision towards realizing our full potentials as a people and a nation.
At present, all security challenges in the country find solution in the introduction of state or community policing. Be it kidnapping, Armed Robbery, Cultism, political violence, banditry, breach of public peace or any other offence known to law, the simplistic proposition is that the panacea lies in creation of state police.
So, what is your position on this matter?
My position is that the Nigeria Police as presently constituted has not been optimally positioned to realize its potentials. Stripped of all parameters of achieving excellence, it is illusory to expect outstanding policy from the Nigeria Police force.
It is my considered view that a supremely motivated, properly remunerated, well respected and decently quartered Nigeria Police Force can rise to the Security challenges of our time. Let the truth be told, Nigerians still see the Police as a profession for school drop outs.
That used to be the perception of members of the Armed forces. But that has since changed, we must treat the police exactly the same way we treat members of the armed forces.
How do we change the perception of Nigeria Police?
What they need is good education and capacity building, well structured method of employment, modern barracks, satisfactory life insurance scheme, and excellent facilities both in terms of equipment and office amenities, general welfare and prompt payment of salaries, allowances and retirement benefits.
These are the factors that drive policy all over the world. Absence of these factors is a police force that is non –committal, disconnected and grossly inefficient. We must first experiment with Nigeria police force, put all these factors in place and watch for the results.
If things fail to change, then we will be justified to canvass for state police. But until then, any argument in support of state police is merely an escape from reality. I need not add that most states of the federation cannot fund and equip the police independently. That again is a serious factor for determining whether or not to establish state police at this point in time.
Legal education, like other sectors in the country has been on the decline, how has the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) improved on this as it pursues its mandates?
I am not inclined to the view that legal education in Nigeria has been on the decline. Rather, I accept the view that there has been explosion in the number of people admitted to the Bar in recent times and the law faculties are churning out graduates in very large numbers.
In such circumstances, you are bound to have the good, the bad and the ugly. Perhaps, reference to decline is attributable to interaction with the not so good lawyers amongst the large number of very good ones. From my vantage position I can say unequivocally that there are many young talented Nigerian law graduates who can hold their own anywhere in the world.
In spite of this observation, NIALS has continued to deliver on its mandate of continuing legal education. There is always room for improvement in legal education and NIALS is ever prepared to assist in this regard.
How do you achieve this?
Our programme on legal writing skill, legislating drafting, specialized judicial track training programme, Advanced Course in Practice and Procedure amongst others have helped young lawyers to consolidate on what they learnt from the university and the law school
Nigeria States has faced the problems of serious flooding across the country, how do you think we use the law to address this?
Let me firstly sympathize with Nigerians on the sad incident of the flood. It is highly regrettable that lives were lost and properties worth billion of Naira were destroyed. It is most unfortunate. I must however commend government for the measures taken to assist the displaced persons.
The lesson to be learnt is the rude realization that climate change is real and not a fiction. It is something we have to grapple with for a long time to come. Furthermore this is an incident that is widespread enough and devastating which should be properly considered as a national disaster.
Giving this background, it is expected that Government would have gone further to declare emergency in the areas badly affected by the flooding. The constitutional provision on state of emergency clearly provides for disasters of this nature and it is based on the premise that government can rightly invoke its authority to release money for the victims of the disaster.
Is there no way we can use laws to regulate environmental issues?
Going forward, Federal and State governments must take seriously the town planning laws of various parts of this country. It is within this consideration that people must be directed to know where to build and where not to build. Also, arising from this experience, there should emerge legislations directing persons affected by the flood to relocate to new pastures.
Ancilliary to this, is a law that will enable Federal and State Government dedicate enough money annually to fighting disasters of this nature. This could be either in the appropriation laws or any other new legislation dedicated specially for this.
The truth which must be told is that there is bound to be a reoccurrence. This is the sad but obvious reality. Our Demographers must be trained to read the flow of tide and be knowledgeable enough to warn of impending flooding early enough to warrant prompt reaction.
How would you appraise the judiciary with respect to the reforms embarked upon by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Musdapher?
Fortunately I was a member of the Judicial Reform Stakeholders Committee and I was privileged to be part of the body that made far reaching recommendations for the reform of the judiciary. Happily, the erstwhile Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Dahiru Musdapher, GCON was able to submit the recommendations to the National Assembly for Constitution amendments. I am supremely confident that if these recommendations are incorporated, the Nigerian Judiciary will certainly become the reference point for judicial integrity and activism.
What reforms would you like the CJN, Aloma Miram Mukhtar to pursue given the fact that she has only about two years to stay?
Time is not the parameter for determining how far one can go in bequeathing lasting legacy to successive generations. My Lord, Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Miram Aloma Murktar, GCON was an integral part of the reforms proposed by the Supreme Court and therefore can effectively drive the process of reforms.
Happily she touched on the most intricate issue that Nigeria populace will want to be addressed, that is corruption, when she unequivocally asserted that she will lead by example. So, if she is able to entrench judicial integrity, speedy dispensation of justice and information technology driven Administration of Justice, then she would have left a lasting legacy for all times.
My Lord, enjoys tremendous goodwill for many reasons and the expectation is that all men and women of goodwill will strive to ensure that her two years in office is as remarkable as it is successful. I want to enjoin members of the bar and bench to give her all the support she deserves to make her tenure a memorable one.
The Institute recently mounted this programme on Judicial Tracking, what is the essence of purpose of the programme?
Well this is an innovation of the Institute and we consider it trail blazing and ground breaking. After an exhaustive consideration of the challenges of performance by judicial officers, the Institute came to an inescapable conclusion that a good number of judicial officers appointed to the bench were neither prepared nor mentally or physically equipped for judicial service.
The Institute is of the view that there is need to create a specialized judicial track training programme for lawyers desiring to seek appointment to the bench. This specialized judicial track training is designed to fully prepare them mentally and otherwise for the journey on the bench.
What is the nature of the training?
The training will encompass auditing over 30 courses within a period of four months. Within this period, there will also be practical exercises involving judicial writing, spontaneous ruling and test of endurance. The third segment will include attachment to the chambers of judges where by the candidate will learn the rudiments of art of judging.
There will also be opportunity to expose the candidates to practices in other jurisdictions and to the experiences of distinguished judges both locally and internationally. The highlight of this novel programme is the admission process that will require a background check on the family, schools attended, employment and general suitability of the candidate to pursue a career on the bench.
The Institute recently moved to restate our Customary Law, what is this programme about and how do you intend to use it to enrich our legal jurisprudence?
The whole essence of restatement is to develop a body of jurisprudence on Customary Law that will be easily accessible and authoritatively cited in our courts. Though restatement may not have the binding force of law, all the same, it will be documented that a law is codified.
Undoubtedly, this will be a milestone contribution to our customary law jurisprudence and will clearly elevate our customary law to a pedestal that will give it respectability and recognition all over the world.
What amendments would you like to see in the Constitution to guarantee true federalism in Nigeria?
As it has been repeatedly pointed out, the term “True Federalism” is a political jargon designed to satisfy the thinking of those not properly grounded in the principle of federation.
Each federation has its own peculiarities and each country determines the basis of its federalism. Constitutionally, the 1999 Constitution has encapsulated the ingredients of Nigeria’s federalism. However, there is the thinking that the centre as represented by the federal government seem to have cornered more powers than the federating states.
Consequently, the proponents of devolution of power have argued for redistribution of powers in a manner that will rework the exclusive legislative list contained in the Constitution. I support the removal of prisons, railways, weight and measures and marriage from the exclusive legislative list. I do not subscribe to any argument for establishment of State Police for now. But I support fully the total restructuring and rebuilding of Nigeria’s Police Force for efficiency and effectiveness.