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May 29: Legislature, Judiciary in the eyes of Clarke

•Admitting there are bad eggs in the judiciary is a landmark achievement
•Demands reforms, constitutional changes

By Ishola Balogun

Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Robert Clarke  (SAN)  and Principal Partner, Clarke Paiko & Co law firm says the present legislators have not done anything more than just passing the budget. The Septuagenarian in this interview with Saturday Vanguard insists that the number of legislators is a burden on the tax payers, saying that they should be reduced to three from each state. Excerpts

What is your view of this government in the last one year looking specifically at the legal structure of both the Legislature and the Judiciary?

Robert Clarke
Robert Clarke

It is one year after Nigerians voted for a change in governance, in probity, and change in respect of virtually all aspect of our lives. As far as the legislature is concerned, there has not been much difference from what has been happening in the Legislature since 1999. Actually, If I am to assess the present legislature, they have not done anything more than just passing the budget. Even the budget by itself, has so much controversies surrounding it. If not for the grace of God, there would have been implosion in Nigeria going by the issue of padding or no padding.

Outside the budget, I do not see anything the legislators have done during the year under review. They have used their time to settle internal quarrels, to fight for who will be chairman of one committee or the other, and using most part of the year mending rifts between them and even up till moment, the rifts remain unresolved. It does not augur well for this country that a parliament that has already done one year out of the four years has nothing to show for the period more than trying to patch up differences. They need to do better. Nigerians are looking at them to reflect the change that this new government wants. I am sorry to say that we are not seeing that in the legislature.

On the judiciary, one has to give credit to that arm of government. It appears that the heirachy of the Judiciary knows that there are some judges that are corrupt. When a man accepts his faults and decides to work on them to improve, you need to give him credit. So, I give credit to the judiciary firstly, for identifying there are bad eggs in the system and secondly, making efforts to clear those bad eggs. But the supreme Court must be reformed. For instance, that this year, over 1,004 cases have been filed in the Supreme Court and you have only 17 judges. The work load has been aggravated by political cases.

So, 80 per cent of the work of the Supreme Court judges are on political matters. Politics in terms of legal dispensation is only about 10 percent work load of the Supreme Court. You can see that they don’t have time. Within the last 4-5months, the Apex Court have been bogged down by gubernatorial, senatorial, inter-party cases, appeals and appeals. It was only last month the Supreme Court sat to look into cases other than political matters.

You wont believe that there are appeals still pending since 2006 and 2007 that have not been attended to till today. The problem is not with the Supreme Court, but the problem is that there are not many judges. So, we should amend the constitution to increase the number of judges from the 17 to 30 where you can have six or seven panels instead of the three or four panels they used to have. Better still, we can remove political matters away from them and set up special courts where political matters will be handled thereby making the Supreme Court free from all political matters and concentrate on admiralty, commerce, criminal and civil matters. This will make for clear and easy dispensation of justice.

The same goes for the lower courts. Eighty per cent of the judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal in last eight months have been political. And as you know, Nigerians never accept election results. We strongly believe that we can fight and win in the court, what you cannot win through the ballot. The court of Appeal is okay in its nomenclature and jurisdiction, but they should take political matters away from it. For the High Courts, things are getting on, but then, corruption is affecting the whole system in Nigeria, not singling out one sector.

Even the people who work as civil servants are corrupt. If you want to file anything in Lagos state, you cannot get it done if you don’t pay extra. As a lawyer, if you want a date and you don’t pay your way, you may not get it. So, we need to look at this aspect and see what changes we can bring into it. Hopefully, I think, with Buhari and his anti-corruption stance, there will be changes. Apart from recognising there are bad eggs in the system, what landmark achievements do you think the judiciary has made in the year under review to deserve commendation especially when you consider some conflicting judgments from the bench?

One thing that I can say is a landmark, to use your language, is that they have admitted they are bad eggs. Again, the CJ has agreed that the conflicting judgments coming from the court of Appeal must stop. When you look at these conflicting judgments, they do not relate to civil matters, they don’t relate to admiralty matters or criminal matters. All laws in these areas are well settled. It is only in political cases that you find conflicting judgments. In other areas of law, there are no conflicting judgments. So, we should look at it, why should there be conflict if there is one judiciary.

You can have conflict in the lower court, but not in Court of Appeal and the Supreme courts and the presidents of those courts and the Chief Justice must ensure that when a judgment is being delivered, enough research would have been done to know the elements and issues involved in a particular case and since this is the age of computers, you will know what case have been decided or not. But I am sorry, as you can see from what happened from the gubernatorial election cases riddled with conflicts. The Supreme Court judgments on some gubernatorial election cases have taken Nigeria back twenty years in our legal developments. We need to look into those areas.

Reformation of our laws amidst internal wranglings of the lawmakers

There are too many legislators in Nigeria, the 90 Senators and 370 members of House of Representatives are too many for the country. They are all doing nothing. Every one of them is either a chairman of a committee or a member of a committee. They are all there to get their daily bread and nothing is being done in terms of legislative work in which they were voted for, instead they concentrate on oversight functions. When you look at this oversight functions, nothing comes out of them other than to satisfy their interests. In the last 7thAssembly, there were well over eight committees that were looking on oversight functions and nothing came out of it. The number should be reduced and they should be looking at ways of redefining the laws. There are many areas that need to be reformed.

I believe any meaningful reform must come from the minds of the legislators. If we impose any reformation on them that will reduce their powers, and monetary allowances, it may not work because they will resist it. Therefore there must be a consensus between the executives and the legislature that a reform is necessary either in the reduction of number of the members or representations because we cannot afford the number of legislators we have now. That is why we are not progressing. The legislators are taking a great chunk of Nigeria’s money. Each of the legislators has five to six special assistants. It is too much a burden on the tax payers. It will be a great step towards development, if we reduce the number of these members of the National Assembly. We don’t need more than one Senator and two members of House of Representatives from each state. The total which will now be 72 will be well affordable.

Except for one or two, all of them have been serving in one capacity or the other in governance within the last sixteen years. In the senate today, each of them has four to five cars, so why were they clamouring for cars. It pains me because these are people who have been feeding on Nigeria for the past sixteen years. Some of them could not feed themselves in the late 90s. So, my take is that they are not entitled to it because.

Legislative and Executive row

Before this present administration, the budget had been a money spinning machine for legislators and the executive. We know that when a Minister comes to the Senate to defend budget, envelope must pass round before budget is approved. In this present regime, this area has been blocked. The padding thing has also been a tradition. I believe that if the government can get the budget ready by October as promised, there is no reason the budget will not be passed and ready for assent by December. I think it is possible.

Scoring the government

It is too early to score a government that has met huge problems like this. The two refineries that have not been working for the past seven to eight years started working within six months of this government. But what happened thereafter? These efforts have been sabotaged and we have fallen back again, yet people are complaining. You can’t place it at the door step of this government. Our society is so complex that the common men are being used to sabotage government’s efforts so that the common man continues to suffer. There are interest groups. There are those importing generators because 80 per cent of power used in Nigeria are through generating sets. Why should we continue that way? Most of the sabouteurs might not be unconnected with people importing generators. May be if we just stop the importation for three months, we may have headway on power problems.

 


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.