Law & Human Rights

December 27, 2018

Government not serious about funding Judiciary- Sowemimo, SAN

Government not serious about funding Judiciary- Sowemimo, SAN

Sowemimo

By Onozure Dania

Mr Seyi Sowemimo, SAN, is the Secretary of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria.  In this interview, he spoke on various challenges facing the justice sector and how they can be tackled.

Excerpts.

Sowemimo

Some senior lawyers have called for the resignation of Paul Usoro, SAN, as President of NBA, over allegation of fraud by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC against him. Are you in support of this?

I think it is a bit premature given the fact that everybody who has been accused of an offence is entitled to presumption of innocence. Normally, when you have this kind of serious allegation against somebody, you will expect that maybe the person will step aside while investigation is going on. I think this is a decision of the National Executive Committee of the NBA.

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I haven’t seen details of the charges except for the arguments I have heard over the fees he charged being excessive.

That is the much I know about it. If that is the case, maybe we should allow events to unfold more before we ask for his resignation. Why I said there is need for more events to unfold, is that there is not much in what has been put into the public domain to probably confirm a position that maybe this money was paid while services were not rendered. I am not too clear about what has taken place that’s why I’m not too quick in saying that he should resign. I think we should allow more facts to emerge before we come to any conclusion.

Do you think the NBA needs some kind of reform?

I think the NBA needs a lot of reforms, particularly in the way the finances of the NBA are managed. Sometime ago, they called Pricewaterhouse to advise the NBA as to how improvements can be made in the management of its financial affairs.

They came up with some recommendations which I think should be implemented.

There have always been problems with how we conduct our elections. We usually have all this claims of malpractices and others. I think those are the things we need to look into.

There is a general notion that law practice today is not what it used to be. Do you agree? If you do, what in your opinion has gone wrong?

What I find is that a lot of young practitioners these days are not as committed to the hard work and undivided attention that legal practice should entail.

It is not really just a problem with the legal profession, but a problem that has affected the whole society.

There is now that tendency for young people to be too eager to have financial gains of their endeavors, without really thinking that there is a period for making a lot of sacrifice.

I think it is telling on the standard of practice. For instance, in the few times I have gone to libraries like you will find at the Institute of Legal Advanced Studies, you will hardly meet young practitioners coming there to devote time just to educate themselves and enhance their knowledge of the law. You find that it is only in those

engagements that will facilitate quick financial gains that tend to attract their attention. This lack of

commitment is what I feel is beginning to manifest in the younger generation of legal practitioners.

Do you share the thought that anti-corruption war in this country is lopsided?

I actually don’t think it is lopsided because what you find is that when a particular Government or party is in power and they are the ones who are in charge of Government, of course when they leave the office, and corruption allegations are made, it’s quite likely that the brunt of the allegations should be hurled by that party because they quite largely occupied the Government.

I agree that more needs to be done, because there are still a lot of people who have this reputation for corruption but who are not being investigated and we also have situations whereby some of those who are being accused of corruption, find it easy to cross carpet, and move to the Government and party in power, in expectation that the cases against them will not be seriously prosecuted.  But I believe that the war against corruption is now being more seriously fought than was the case previously. I think more needs to be done. Government needs to be encouraged to do more.

The Chairman of EFCC has a very big responsibility to ensure that this allegation and discrimination is removed. The commission needs to be more sensitive to how the war is being fought.

The EFCC recently said it will monitor election expenses by political parties. Do you think this action is within the commission’s power?

Yes, I think so because there is supposed to be limit to spending on elections.

The way elections have been carried out in Nigeria is such that shows that public funds are diverted to electoral campaigns.

There is certainly a need for the EFCC to monitor how these funds are donated and how they are spent. You will find that presently in the US, there are a lot of ongoing investigations against President Donald Trump over his election expenses and source of fund.

There is also the allegation that in order not to have some adverse publicity, he made some secret payments to some women, so that they would not come out and disclose details of the sort of relationship he had with them. These are electoral offences in the US, and there is no reason why we should not be strict as regards the expenses that are incurred or made in the course of our elections, especially where we find that a lot of the money that goes into elections are monies that people cannot legitimately account for.

As the nation heads for general elections in 2019, what do you think would be the biggest challenge for the umpire, INEC?

The issue really is about how to ensure that the elections are conducted freely and fairly.

The electoral body must provide a level playing ground. Any attempt to favor any of the parties would give rise to some kind of violence. So what one will expect is that the electoral body will be very sensitive to the situation and not allow matters to get out of hand.  The involvement of the military and the police in monitoring next year’s elections should be such that it does not give the impression that government is using these agencies to gain any advantage.

Do you believe the NBA is playing its role effectively on issues of good governance in the country?

The NBA is playing some role, but I think we need to have the NBA being more actively engaged in what is going on. The internal crisis within the NBA in recent years has also militated against how effective it ought to be. You just mentioned for instance the crisis that has arisen because of the prosecution against the NBA president. In this kind of situation, it is going to be very difficult to have an effective engagement with the Government.

This current Government has been accused of disobeying Court judgments. What is the implication of this on our democracy?

Well what I would say is that it is a condemnable act for Government to disobey court orders. You will recall that when in August, the President at the NBA conference, tried to say that security considerations will over ride any other considerations in relation to the judgments coming out of the courts, there was an outcry and he was roundly criticised. I will not support a situation in which government does not obey court orders.

What I will say is that if Government is not happy with any decision, it should appeal against those decisions and put in proper applications to the court. If there are any grouse of having the execution of such judgments stayed, it is for the court to now consider whether any judgment or order made by the court ought to be stayed while the Appeal is going on. But the Government cannot have a judgment against it and simply fold its hands and refuse to obey the court order. What they must do is to appeal against that order, approach the court on stay of execution on such matters and abide by whatever decisions the court makes.

The world recently celebrated Human Rights Day. How would you assess Nigeria in terms of compliance with Human Rights?

The problem I see is that the law enforcement officers still need to be properly educated as to how they should interact with members of the public. They need to have greater

supervision and measures need to be put in place to ensure that their excesses are curbed. I remembered that not long ago there was a directive by the Chief Justice of Nigeria to Magistrates to routinely monitor the activities of the police in order to halt the arbitrary arrest of people. I think more of this intervention is welcome.

Funding remains a major challenge for the judiciary. How do you think this problem can be handled?

Well, the best way is simply for the government to make more funds available to the judiciary. The kind of funding we have for the Legislature is such that you would begin to wonder whether they have a superior claim to being funded than the judiciary. You find that senators earn so much that they have refused to let us know how much they earn. We are being told of scandalous amount they take home every month, whereas you have judges who apply themselves more to work but are not receiving such attractive remuneration. I think it is just a case of Government not giving the deserved attention to the justice sector.