By Innocent Anaba
Mr. Bukhari Bello was former Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC. He was a former Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, during the annulment of June 12, 1993 elections. He was also instrumental to drafting the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, ICC. In this interview, he spoke on why high profile corruption cases drag endlessly in court and the low conviction rate recorded in prosecuting such cases. He also spoke on the state of legal education in the country, Child Rights Act and other national issues.
Looking back to when you were called to the Nigerian Bar, how would you compare and contrast law practice between then and now, considering the generally held belief that the standard of legal education and practice have greatly fallen in the country?
You see, the standard of education in Nigeria generally speaking, has gone down. It is not only in the legal profession. Both
primary and secondary
education standard has drastically fallen because that is the foundation for tertiary education and other professional studies.
The standard is very low, this is very unfortunate. That is where we have found ourselves even though we have more universities in the country now and more enrolment in tertiary education and it is very unfortunate.
The standard is very low, I remember when I was in secondary school, I spoke better English language than most of the graduates I see today. This is a general phenomenon which needs to be addressed in totality.
What do we do now?
We need to go back to those days when education was given its prime place, when teachers were highly respected as professionals in this country. They were respected and were well paid, and recognised for who they were. People who don’t have interest in teaching are now teachers because the original teachers have left teaching and gone for corporate jobs.
How does this affect the legal profession?
The reason it looks worse in the legal profession is because in law, people have to be meticulous, people have to get a good command of English language which is a vital tool in the trade.
They have to express themselves well before the courts, in drafting, and so on. In some countries such as the US, you don’t go to study law until you have a first degree. But here you can go and study law even without a first degree in another discipline.
When I was studying law, I had always felt that law is a field for matured minds. You even need maturity to understand a lot of things in law profession. Even in ordinary law courses such as evidence, criminal law, equity and trusts etc, you need to have some maturity to understand some logic in the courses. That is why I still believe that one needs a first degree in another discipline, especially in humanities before studying law.
It is on record that the NHRC was raised from grade C to grade A under your watch as the Executive Secretary of the Commission. How do you react to the current status of the Commission?
The Commission was established under the military rule of General Sani Abacha. So it was graded by the United Nations then as grade C. But when we came in, there was democratic government in place in the country. We did what was supposed to be done and gradually, people appreciated our efforts because human rights work was for everybody in the Commission.
They appreciated our efforts to the extent that we were moved from C, B and up to grade A. By 2004, we were recognised as one of the most active human rights institutions in the world to the extent that by 2005, I was elected as the Chairman of National Human Rights institutions in Africa. I was elected and not appointed because of the activities of the NHRC then with a very weak law.
What is your reaction to some states that are yet to enact the Child Rights Act?
When you talk of the Child Rights Act, you are talking about the development of your children, the future of the country and the leaders of tomorrow. You’re talking about our children, our brothers and sisters’ children, and everybody’s children. So I cannot see why anybody should be against the development of the child. And if you are, something is terribly wrong with you. Child Rights Act is one of the fundamental international conventions that was domesticated. by Nigeria. It was part of our mandate and we did it well.
I am aware that some states are yet to enact the Child Rights Act. I think this is purely because of ignorance because they have not read the act. They don’t understand its content and provisions and what it entails. We must fight against this ignorance by educating them on why this right is very important because we are doing it for humanity, for the development of human capital, for children, for us, for our grand children and great grand children. I see no reason why anybody would be against it.
You led the Federal Government delegation to the UN preparatory to the drafting of Statutes of the International Criminal Court. What is your reaction to the refusal of countries to submit to the jurisdiction of the court?
Well, I think that is wrong to say that the court was set up to target African leaders. With the benefit of hindsight, I had some misgivings at some point because this is a statute I participated in from 1995 to 2008. Every year, I would go to New York about two times every quarter because we were doing the real drafting of the Statute. By the time we were doing it, we had a lot of multilateral agreements which meant that everybody must be accommodated. A lot of things were watered down because of some countries such as the USA which didn’t even adopt the Statute.
Do you think that the ICC is
living up to its standard as the watch-dog of the international community?
Actually, it has not met the expectations I had of it. Some people may be right when they say it was tailored against African leaders or leaders of developing countries because we also have that propensity of dictatorship. Even when we have constitutions, we don’t want to follow the rule of law. We have more people going against the crimes contained in the Rome Statute of the ICC but the body should also focus more on other regions where these actions are equally obtained.
For example, see what is happening in Myanmar. Look at what is happening in Palestine, Syria, Albania. These are places you can focus on. What about America threatening to go to Venezuela? What about what happened in Crimea? All these are issues that need to be addressed and put in the context of crime against humanity and against the Statute of ICC.
As a former staff of the Ministry of Justice where you served as Director of Public Prosecutions, what is your reaction to the low rate of convictions we have recorded in prosecuting high profile corruption cases in the country today?
The issues are: One, investigation of a case. You must have people who are good in forensic investigation of cases and we lack this. Before now, we had a lot of well educated policemen who were highly knowledgeable in forensic investigation. Now, I don’t even know whether the police go for such trainings any longer. Most cases are very poorly investigated. In this era of cyber crimes, we need to have people who understand what the issues are. I wonder how many of our policemen or people in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, or the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, have the requisite education to rely on when they go to investigate such cases.
When you put people who don’t have the requisite education and skills at the helm of affairs, some of them don’t even know or understand the issues of investigation and prosecution yet, they are at the helm of affairs, we need an effective and efficient investigating system.
How do you feel about the honour given to Chief MKO Abiola as the winner of June 12 Presidential election?
I am really gratified and extremely happy by this development because it is the fulfilment of our expectations that one day, one of these governments will right the wrong done against Nigerians generally by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election. It was the greatest injustice done to Nigerians. But thank God that this government has come to right that wrong and has come out publicly to apologise to Chief M.K.O. Abiola, his family and the generality of Nigerians for this wicked annulment of the will of Nigerian people.