By Onozure Dania
Prince Segun Ajibola, SAN, is son of former Attorney- General of the Federation, Prince Bola Ajibola, SAN. In this interview, speaks on the conduct of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA election, insecurity in the country, some recommendations of the national conference among others. Excerpts:
The NBA recently held its national election. Do you agree with some of your colleagues that the delegates’ voting system adopted by the association disenfranchised many lawyers?
In any process, there must be an order and there must be method of doing things effectively and doing it positively. I dare say that before the idea of the delegates’ approach came to being in our elections, there was the approach, where it was an open door for all comers, which seemed to cause a lot of problems.
It was a situation where every lawyer, who calls himself one, just strolls in on the day of elections and vote. It created a lot of problems. I think one of the problems I witnessed many years back, was in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, when the NBA was almost moribund for few years. As a matter of fact, these days, in most of our elections even at the branch level, they ask you to come with the receipt of your annual Bar branch dues, your NBA annual due receipt and a copy of your call to Bar certificate.
I think it was in a bid to manage the whole thing, to say let us know ourselves, let’s be sure of who we are and ensure that our affairs are dealt with by those who are our members and not to cross check your personality or credentials, before the elections. But, when you have the issue of delegates system, it narrows down the situation.
Again, the quacks and hoodlums, disrupting the process, will stop. Yes, I think it does disenfranchise some lawyers, but I still think that there is merit in the idea, but how it is carried out, is now the issue. There is no need bringing the entire members of the NBA from the 36 states, to Abuja. It is an association and there must be a degree of trust and confidence.
I have observed that since the introduction of delegates system of voting, only Senior Advocates of Nigeria have been emerging as presidents of the association. What is your reaction to this?
I am worried too, it is not the exclusive preserve of the SANs. Yes, it has happened that way over years, they (SANs) feature more prominently in the contest and when that happens, you can well imagine what the result will be, which is what we have been witnessing over the years.
But, I think the process itself, the financial implications are quite high. Before you mobilise yourself and create awareness about your desire, go about your campaign around the whole country and sensitize your supporters, there are a lot of things that needs to be done to prepare yourself generally for the elections.
We all know that there is hardly any serious election you do in this country, that there are no financial implications. Perhaps, those with financial ability are within the ranks of the SAN. However, I know quite a number of lawyers who are not SANs and they are doing very well and are quite wealthy.
But, I won’t mention names. Some of them are even doing better than some SANs. But, it is not a criteria or a requirement that those who want to become President of the association must be SANs. You can only vote for those who present themselves as candidates, so if people are complaining and they are interested in that position, they should go beyond their complaints and present themselves. Once you meet the standards set by the regulations, for that process, you are eligible, but you can’t be on the sideline and complain that the SANs are taking over the position. The reasons why the SANs always emerge in that position, is because most of the time, they present themselves for elections for the position, that is why they are very prominent in that position.
Alao Aka-Bashorun was not a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and many others were not and they won and they were successful. So, if you have the time to spend and the money, find your way there for the elections.
In the past, NBA used to be very vibrant, but it seems that the Bar has lost its voice in recent times, most especially on issues concerning the judiciary and the nation as a whole. Do you agree?
I don’t think that there has ever been a time that the NBA has refused to speak up, but what you will find out now is that the voice of the NBA is lost in the cacophony of voices, if I may use that expression.
You open the papers now, they are filled with various societies, groups, organisations and associations that you can never imagine.
So, everybody is jostling for space now and I dare say that the NBA is not left out in that jostling to speak out on matters of importance affecting the country.
Perhaps, what we need is a change to enable us to be in the fore front of vanguard and crusade of speaking up and speaking out against the ills in the society for now.
They can’t do more than what they have done, if there is anything to be done beyond that, the association will have to come together as a body and decide on the best way forward.
But, I think the association itself, has become more democratised in the sense that for you to take any decision on any matter, it requires that more of our members take time out to contribute toward the shaping of opinions to be presented by NBA, so that we can have a uniform view.
In the past, there was a situation where the national body will make a point and some branches will say they don’t agree with the position of the national body, but we have been able to do away with that part.
What is your reaction to the recommendations of the National Conference Committee on Public Service that legislators at the National Assembly and State levels should be on part- time basis?
I think the reason is well- informed, but there is a danger. Once you begin to have part- time legislators, you have part-time commitment and even with the present arrangement, we still have people who are behaving like they are working as part-time anyway.
They hardly come or attend sessions and even when they attend, they make virtually no contribution throughout their term. Of course that arm of government is quite enormous and that is why many people feel, why should we be spending so much money just on a few of them who show up, and make any contribution, if at all meaningful.
The issue of law making is a very fundamental in any country. It is a very serious matter and we should not therefore throw away bath water with the baby as well.
There are some people that will still be unserious even and as uncommitted even when they were on full- time, believing that all they need to do is just to show up, collect allowances and go back to enjoy.
This type of attitude makes a mockery of the whole situation.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mukhtar had advocated the amendment of the constitution to the effect that election disputes involving governors should terminate at the Court of Appeal. What is your view on this?
I have thought about that suggestion, even though people defer in opinions, as to whether it’s proper or not. But, before now, that was the position of the law, governorship elections dispute ends at the Court of Appeal. Generally, it is a very serious one and is a very touchy and highly sensitive.
I think perhaps, one argument going for the idea, is that we should allow the contest to be tested at every level available under the rule of law and for the Supreme Court to put it to an end. Otherwise, there would always be something left in the minds of people that something has been left undone. But, the point is, we still find situations where after the Supreme Court has given judgment, some of us still go and interpret their own judgments in a rather very unpleasant manner.
My take on this issue is that the Supreme Court should not always be the court, where all kinds of matters should go to. We need to ensure that the Justices of the apex court concentrates, because the court is already congested. They are human beings also.
Do you support the suggestion that retired judges should handle election petitions?
My view is that the reason for this is to allow the functioning judges to have time to attend to their regular matters in court. Because, once you take away a judge from a court, a number of cases there are abandoned for quite some time.
But retired judges whose functions had been dispensed with statutorily do not necessarily mean they have lost their ability to perform judicial functions effectively.
That is why in some quarters, people have argued that the age for retirement for judicial officers should be extended.
The appointment of retired judges to handle election matter is to fill the vacuum of taking away serving judges away from their regular functions. But, in the choice of retired judges, the requirement must be strict.
The intention is not to bring on board retired judges who do not have the flair and should be done for favour. It is not for those who have lost their judicial wit who might not be at home with requirements which that office imposes on them.
I think a number of retired judges are still relevant; a number of them are useful.
The Rivers State High Court has experienced bomb explosions on two different occasions. How do you see this trend?
The situation as it is now, calls for a holistic appraisal of the entire court system. I think for us to single out the high court is to rob ourselves of the opportunity of seeing the entire picture, as it really is.
Granted, it’s unfortunate and it is quite disheartening, to imagine that such an event can take place in the court of justice, the last place and last hope of the common man being desecrated and lives are being put at risk.
It tells and shows us clearly that we are heading for calamity, if I may use the word, very loosely there. I think we have more problems than we envisaged, it is now getting to the part and areas of our lives and affairs, where if immediate and very surgical, fundamental steps are not taken, to arrest this continuous grief, I think we would all wake up and be sorry for ourselves.
As you said quite rightly, it is not the first time that we have heard of such attacks on one court of law or the other. But it looks like a new dimension, increasing the spate of it, has been added to the problems that we have.
Kidnapping in one hand, yet we have bombs exploding here and there and it seems the courts have been added to it. Its baffling where are we going. Where are we? Where are we coming from and how did we come to this sorry part in this country?
It is mind- boggling and I think that, it seems as if we have lost a clue as to how to handle our affairs in this country, we have lost grip, that’s the way it seems to me.
We don’t seem to have solutions to our problems, because it seems to be worsening, the situation is getting worse by the day and people are taking laws in to their hands.
There is a lot of political instability and there is a lot of crime, we are now in the ranks of Pakistan’s and Ukraine. I never for once believed that Nigeria will get to this stage that is unfolding before our very eyes now.
We seems to have lost total control, everybody is just like well, let us see what happens next, I think once you succeed in making the court, a place where people cannot come and confidently achieve justice, or seek redress, then we are heading to a state of anarchy.
At the end of the day, when the problem, now comes, everybody will be affected.