By Onozure Dania

Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yemi Candide-Johnson, in this interview, spoke on how the poor remuneration of judges poses a grave danger for the country’s justice system. He also spoke on 2023 election, human rights record of the FG, domestic violence and other sundry issues.

Excerpt:

How well has the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari fared in terms of protection of the rights of Nigerians?

The government has failed to protect the lives of citizens. Nigerians can’t move about freely in the country, they don’t feel safe in their homes; they feel victimised by Police and threatened by security forces.

I don’t believe the government has made law and order a priority. I also don’t believe that the officers of the government, who represents the administration of justice, recognise their functions as an arm of governance for the necessity of delivering justice promptly, effectively and efficiently.

On basic socio-economic level, Nigerians are actually poorer. They are actually more hungry, desperate and afraid and there is insecurity across the land. I think that on every possible index of human progress, the government has failed.

How important should the issue of zoning be in choosing the right president come 2023?

I think zoning is a red herring but it has been activated because people want to use it as an opportunity to galvanise their rights. These rights as referred to earlier are the obligations of government. It is clear that people feel that the only way they can be protected is by having somebody that they can recognise, somebody from their zone, area, tribe and religion being in power.

Of course, this in itself is a mistake because it is not about who occupies a position from your small social cultural ethnic group. It’s about what are the rights that are guaranteed to you by the community of Nigerians.  The fact that you appoint an Igbo man president gives no guarantee to every single Igbo that they would have right to education, health, and welfare state and security.

The fact that you elect a Fulani man as president does not mean that Fulani aren’t being killed every day and aren’t suffering from hunger and they don’t have low access to education. So, it’s not about representation but we use red herring because we are afraid and think that if somebody who is like us is in power, that will make things better for us.

What is your take on the forthcoming NBA elections and do you have any candidate?

When I get to the ballot box, I would decide who my candidate is but I can describe the kind of candidate I want. I want someone who has maturity judgment substance. I want someone who has a record of achievements in the legal profession; somebody who understands the traditions, norms and the values of the profession. I want somebody who recognises the dignity, authority and power of the legal profession and therefore social justice arise from the behaviour of those who occupy the office of the lawyer.  That’s the type of person I am looking for. If you can point me to somebody who will promote those ideas then that’s the person I will vote for.

What is your view on the presidency of NBA being exclusively for SANs?

I think Olumide Akpata has conducted himself in exemplary way as the president of the NBA and his tenure proves or disproves the thesis that the office must be occupied by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. In fact, I don’t understand what even that means.

Senior Advocate of Nigeria is a mark of distinction in the practice of law.  The president of the Bar Association is meant to be someone who organises lawyers and their activities and regulates their profession in a way that a non-lawyer can do.

After all, the law is a service provider to the public and the public has enough capacity to regulate the quality of the output as anyone else. So it doesn’t really matter. You cannot put a tag on somebody and say because of the tag, he is entitled to leadership. Leadership is an act, not a rank. It is what you do and prove every day, by the way you behave.

People have been clamouring that higher position like the vice-president position should be given to women, that they can run the affairs of Nigeria better than men, do you agree with this?

I think women run homes better than men. They also run businesses better than men. I think women in positions of authority and power tend to be more responsible, more thoughtful and tend to reflect on the future more than men.

Men tend to be driven by more presence and instinctive desires. The next problem for me is that political power is not about gift, it’s about seizure. If you want political power, you have to take it. I believe that women are better able to run many of these affairs.

I believe they will run these affairs more ethically, more responsibly and more cautiously with a better height in the future. I believe also that they have political power which is unactivated.

Women have to activate their political power and take control. Most African societies are not paternalistic. Women control economy and politics; even the appointment of kings in many parts of African traditional culture, were dictated by women because they were the victims of incompetence and corruption.

A retired judge recently sued the Lagos State Government over unpaid pension and gratuity; similarly, Sebastian Hon, SAN, just this month sued the AGF, NJC and NASS over poor salaries for judges. What is your view on the poor salaries for judicial officers?

I don’t know much about the case filed by Sebastian Hon, but as you may know, the case filed by the retired judge of Lagos was filed by me. I think that the idea behind Sebastian Hon’s case is powerful because judges are underpaid and not cared for. This is a problem because you cannot poorly pay a public servant with a huge responsibility. 

If they cannot survive by their honest labour, they will survive by dishonest efforts. As for judges who have retired, it was a matter of great disgrace. Since we filed the suit, the Lagos State Government has made efforts to resolve the matter.

There are other states like Ogun and Bauchi where judges’ pensions have not been paid. Some judges have also died without receiving their pensions and gratuity. What this signals to other judges is that they will not be protected in the long-term and the only way they can save themselves is to be corrupt.

So how can the welfare of judges be improved?

Well, everything has value.  In our country, we think that the governor is more important than the judge.  The country thinks that a house of representative member, who has one tenure, is more important than a judge and this is because politicians who control the government don’t understand the importance of rule of law.

They don’t believe in the rule of law. As a matter of fact, if they do and recognise that this tool of governance which affects day-to-day operations and every single piece of human activity, then they will know that they have to prioritise the value of judges. They will do two things.

They will ensure that those appointed to the bench are effective and efficient ministers of the law. And secondly, they will ensure that their integrity and their African perspective are protected by the appropriate remuneration.  So the best comes to the bench. In many other countries, the best goes to the bench in England, the best lawyers go to the bench, that is standard, they don’t go to academia, from the bar they go to the bench.

Every lawyer who has been in the Supreme Court of England was at the top of his profession at the bar before he went there.  We have to choose the best. We have to secure them by paying them the best and something needs to be done to stop and ensure that judges are immune to economic frustration and temptation.

How do you see the delay in the extradition of the suspended senior police officer, Abba Kyari?

I think it’s a joke. I think that much of the public prosecution in Nigeria is purely for political theatre. I believe the forces behind this event generally feel that the public will be amused by the drama and that the public will soon forget.

I don’t understand how a man can be arrested for offences, which has not been investigated, which has not been proved. If you arrest somebody and you detain that person for prosecution, you need to be able to tell the public that this is why you are charging him for the following offences.

In this case, what should happen is that you build the case so that when you present the indictment, it becomes obvious both to the accused and to those who will consider whether he should be extradited that a case had been made against him.

So, if you are jittery about this at this stage without having acted on his extradition, then it means one or two things, there was no sufficient evidence or there was no intention to extradite him, and it was merely a ploy to satisfy the curious public.

The recent death of popular gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu brought attention to the prevalence of domestic violence. How can such incidents be curtailed through the law?

Gender-based violence is an aberration and should be resisted, prohibited and punished efficiently and relentlessly by law. Our daughters, sisters and wives, are in danger across the world, from men who think that their power resides in the ability to create sexual violence on the opposite sex.

I think that it’s dangerous and highly regrettable. But to answer your question, directly I think that it’s a culture that has to be resisted, it is something that has to be shamed; it’s something that has to be exposed.

A woman who is a victim of sexual violence has committed no crime, she need not be ashamed. A man who has committed sexual violence should be ashamed, should be apprehended and should be punished. That is the fact you need, to have a zero-tolerance to certain  things and those in authority need to send a signal in the way they conduct themselves that this is unacceptable.

There is no member of the House of Representatives, or the Senate or the Cabinet, or the government who doesn’t have a daughter or a wife. If not for compassion for their own offspring, then for basic humanity they should recognise that they have a responsibility when they hold positions of authority to send a signal across the nation, that this sort of behaviour is not acceptable.

Disclaimer

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