By Innocent Anaba
Mr Hannibal Uwaifo is the President of African Bar Association. In this interview, he speaks on challenges facing the Nigeria legal system and the role of legal practitioners in tackling the challenges.
THE situation in Edo State House of Assembly assumed a dangerous dimension recently. What do you think is the way out?
According to our constitution, everybody is under the law. The president, the National Assembly and governors are under the law. Once there is a crisis, everybody subjects his interest under the rule of law. That is how our democracy can flourish. The matter concerning the Edo State legislature is before the court and the court made a proclamation that if the governor inaugurates the House afresh, it would prolong the tenure of the Assembly in clear violation of the constitution. Politicians should have resolved the problem amicably. If 14 members of the House claim that they are in the majority, they should go to the House and impeach the speaker with their numbers. Things must be done legitimately. We cannot be forming factions and expect that the party will grow.
How would you rate the current government in the area of its fight against corruption?
On the anti corruption fight, yes we have seen few governor’s gone to prison for their past misdeeds, but the system is too slow. And I want to say that Nigerians also encourage it. We need to understand that corruption is inimical to the development of the country and if we don’t follow due process, we will never get out of the mess we are in. Is it not too much for the National Assembly to earmark N37billion for the renovation of the National Assembly in a country where workers are demanding N30,000 minimum wage and the country said they cannot pay?
Even though I can give a good mark to the government for the anti corruption fight, but there are so many areas where they are failing. It is true that a lot of the members of the ruling party have not been touched. The chairman of the ruling APC, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole has a mountain of petitions against him. Has he been summoned by EFCC to answer to the petitions? Is it not a stain on Mr. President to be harbouring a man who petitions have been written against? Those who are accusing the president of being selective also have a point. The petitions are many.
When I visited the EFCC chairman last time, I mentioned it. If the Buhari government says they are not selective, let the EFCC start the probe of the petition against Oshiomhole, the chairman of the ruling party, and then we will know that they are very serious. We know that there are so many other cases, but that is the chairman of a ruling party. Mr. Ibrahim Magu is one of the most effective EFCC chairmen I have seen in recent times. I give him kudos, but he can no longer continue to keep quiet over the petitions against Oshiomhole.
What do you think is the problem of Nigeria’s legal system?
The legal profession in Nigeria is passing through its lowest ebb. We have lawyers defrauding clients and forging affidavits, taking matters to clog the courts, swearing false affidavits for clients. Even senior advocates and senior lawyers are involved. The legal profession has not risen up to the challenges of modern day criminality because a lot of us who become lawyers nowadays are not vetted. We have people who went to night school, motor park touts, people who were bricklayers and drivers, people of shoddy characters all becoming lawyers. The legal profession ought to raise its bar with a view of checking these emerging trends.
Of recent, the bad eggs in the judiciary are beginning to buckle up because they are quite fewer than those who are good. My recommendation is that the general bar council, with a view of arresting the emerging trend, will need to redo our rules of professional conduct in such a way that it teaches you why you are picking up a case. That is how it is in every country. I can’t see what I’m telling you happen in Zambia, South Africa or Lesotho. But here, lawyers commit all kinds of crime everyday and we are not bothered. So how do we want to get good judges because it is from lawyers you get the judges and some lawyers become politicians?