•Kalu, SAN

By Ise-Oluwa Ige

In  this interview with  a respected member of the inner bar, Prof. Awa Kalu, SAN, advised that the relevant authorities should address comprehensively the welfare and wellbeing of all categories of judges, judicial staff as well as judicial apparatus and infrastructure in the country, warning that failure to so do would demote justice to ‘merchantable commodity’. He also spoke on other issues including placeholder in politics. 

Excerpt:

A retired Justice of the Supreme Court raised the alarm last month that heads of courts were and are still mismanaging their budgetary allocations, leaving judges in abject state. How do you feel about the revelations on the welfare of Supreme Court justices?

I was personally present at the Valedictory Court Session for the Retired Justice of the Supreme Court you have in mind. He made a very brilliant speech, and apart from giving a penetrating insight into the totality of his career at the bar as well as on the bench, he made it clear that “Heads of Courts in the Federation have enormous budgetary resources from which they can improve the welfare of serving judges.”

It was suggested elsewhere that the judiciary should “allow its books to be opened by the relevant authorities.” And that that would not compromise the independence of the judiciary. 

Damningly, he stated categorically that: “In most jurisdictions, the Chief Registrars regard themselves as direct subordinates of even the spouses of Heads of Court and allow themselves to be directly involved willy-nilly in the vandalisation of the judiciary budget.”

The use of the word, vandalisation is an indictment of financial management that no one can ignore. So, we all need to lend our voices in the condemnation of any encouragement of judicial discontent. As things stand in Nigeria, we must support our judges so that they will probably remain the pillar that holds our roof. What is heartwarming is that the memorandum from the Justices of the Supreme Court to the Head of that Court is that the memo was measured and comprehensive in the problems that it addressed, in that there were issues concerning justices’ domestic accommodation, their official vehicles, training and capacity-building, appointment of legal assistants, their health and wellbeing, epileptic electricity supply and also to the improvement of the apex court’s procedural rules. 

It is my hope that it is not a finger pointing to a major crisis brewing in the judiciary, but a humble attempt to advocate an improvement in judicial performance. It needs not be gainsaid that in this country, the judiciary cannot be ignored and their welfare must therefore be seen as a priority.

Flowing from 1 above, what do you think can be done to arrest this ugly situation?

When you talk about “this ugly situation”, I understand you to be addressing the obvious and general concern about the degeneration in the overall performance of the star-studded Nigerian Judiciary. It has to be borne in mind that when reference is made to “Heads of Court”, it is an acknowledgement that there are different courts in the land, that is to say, the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court, States High Courts, the National Industrial Court, as well as Courts such as the Sharia Court of Appeal as well as the Customary Courts of Appeal at the state level. Mind you, there are other courts of inferior jurisdiction such as Magistrates Courts, Customary Courts, and so on, dutifully engaged in a concerted effort to determine the inevitable disputes that must arise in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural environment like ours.

For cohesion and for the purpose of doing substantial justice, all these courts must be attended to. On that account, I consider the memorandum from the Justices of the Supreme Court a wake-up call and indeed, a clarion call to comprehensively address the welfare and wellbeing of all categories of judges, judicial staff as well as judicial apparatus and infrastructure. Failure to do these would demote justice to “merchantable commodity.” 

There have been cases of Law lecturers impersonating re-sit students to write law exams in the Nigerian Law School. 

How was it during your days and what is your position on the present situation of things?

I recall that the late Fela Ransome-Kuti (later Fela Anikulapo-Kuti) in one of his epochal and memorable songs asked: “When trouble sleep, yanga go wake am, wetin e dey find? Palava. When cat dey sleep, rat go bite him tail, wetin e dey find? Palava, Tenant lost him job, him sit down for house, him dey think of job, Mr Landlord come wake am up, He say “Mister, pay me your rent” wetin e dey find? Palava, e dey find, palava e go get e o.”

Flowing from Fela’s wisdom, it is not difficult to conclude that when a lecturer translates himself to an examinee, the result must be palaver. If my memory serves me right, I took my qualifying exams for the purpose of being called to the Nigerian Bar as far back as 1978 and I do not recall any of our lecturers at the time imagining himself as a student, talk less of agreeing to sit an examination for a student. You cannot be a teacher as well as a student. And so, it was not within the contemplation of any right-thinking teacher or lecturer to form the habit of masquerading as a student. Even now, I remember teaching at the university level myself, and I still consider it impossible to see myself as a student. 

The question is: how will it work? Because in my time, the lecturers supervised examinations and were very well known by students. So, how can a lecturer become incognito and sit comfortably and write examinations without being seen, noticed or recognised? 

It is an infamy and should be specifically handled without kid gloves. From the tenure of military regimes, examination malpractice was considered an abomination and there are vestiges of decrees promulgated to deal with the malignant tumor. Any person who wants a degree, diploma or any insignia of being learned or educated must be willing not only to acquire it, but to thereafter, defend it. 

If you cannot defend what you have learnt in an examination hall, how then can you defend it in the larger society?

The Senate recently passed a bill for the establishment of six more branches of the Nigerian Law School in the six geo- political zones in the country. A lot has been said on this. But what is your position on the creation of more Law School Campuses?

I know that at this time, we have different campuses of the Nigerian Law School in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Enugu, Yola, Yenagoa, as well as one that is upcoming in Port Harcourt and I cannot therefore understand what you mean by “six more branches of the Nigerian Law School in the six geo-political zones in the country.” 

I must say that in this country, we have a way of overdoing things. If, therefore, there is an attempt to open up six new campuses, then that would be putting our legal education in overdrive. Too many cooks, they say, spoil the broth. In that connection, we must appreciate and this is very well understood, that we already have a discernable drop in standards, quality, as well as a degeneration in the ethics of the legal profession. Accordingly, let us not hire more cooks.

A couple of political parties submitted some names of their candidates for the 2023 presidential election to INEC in the name of placeholder. 

In law, what does placeholder mean and what is its place in our relevant laws, particularly, the electoral law?

 To put it mildly, there is plenty that is wrong with our politics. The rise in the use of Placeholder is worrisome, and I do not see it as a problem arising from the law. Our political environment obviously indicates that our politicians, as seasoned as most of them are, are not willing to address what in other places, they call the sociology of politics. In this country, ethnic tensions are very high, religious sentiments are forever soaring. 

Of more concern is the forgetfulness of practising politicians that morality and social ethics should be at the core of political movements. Therefore, it is difficult for those of us who are pedestrian politicians to understand why the practising politicians can hug controversial issues such as “Muslim-Muslim ticket, Christian-Christian ticket, Igbo-Igbo ticket, Yoruba-Yoruba ticket, Hausa-Hausa ticket, Hausa-Fulani ticket, Southern-Southern ticket or Northern-Northern ticket” and such other confusing duopolies as have led to placeholding. 

As soon as we rid our political system of frustrating combinations, which only have the tendency to up the antenna of pressuring our system, we will still be marching without movement. Having created a democracy day, we ought to imbibe the spirit of Rotary’s four way test; that is to say in all you think, say or do, Is it the TRUTH? Is it FAIR to all concerned? Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? Will it be BENEFICIAL to all?

In my view, real politics would include the avoidance of erecting unnecessary obstacles to the development of our nascent democracy. We also need to reduce obfuscation and learn to create a level-playing field. Afterall, the extant Electoral Act has made a meaningful attempt to improve our political topography.

Section 31 provides; “A candidate may withdraw his or her candidature by notice in writing signed by him and delivered personally by the candidate to the political party that nominated him for the election and the political party shall convey such withdrawal to the Commission not later than 90 days to the election.” In addition, Section 33 is to the effect that;”A political party shall not be allowed to change or substitute its candidate whose name has been submitted under section 29 of this Act, except in the case of death or withdrawal by the candidate: Provided that in the case of such withdrawal or death of a candidate, the political party affected shall, within 14 days of the occurrence of the event, hold a fresh primary election to produce and submit a fresh candidate to the Commission for the election concerned.”

These two sections have provided for a practical leeway to replace a candidate who has died or voluntarily withdrawn from the contest. To purchase an aspirant as a placeholder should be banished from our political system. Why do we then not allow the contemplation of the Electoral Act to prevail? The availability of aspirants should make it easier for our political juggernauts to be able to choose viable candidates rather than placeholders. I would think that if I had instructions to hire a lawyer, it would be unreasonable to hire a journalist in the hope that when an Inspector arrives, the journalist or such other person that does not have the credentials of a lawyer, would go into a toilet to hide. 

Politics requires courage and our politicians, certainly, do not lack courage. They only delay the inevitable.

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