Law & Human Rights

April 18, 2024

Our best brains not in Supreme Court — Enweluzo, SAN

LGs autonomy

By Davies Iheamnachor

Cosmas Enweluzo, SAN, is the Managing Partner of Liberty Chambers. In this interview, he x-rayed some of the problems in the justice sector including corruption, remuneration, flawed and inconsistent judgments, irregularities in appointment and political influence; and proffers solutions.

Excerpts:

The President recently approved the review of the salary of judicial officers. How significant do you think this measure can go in tackling corruption and low motivation in the Bench?

A judicial officer that is corrupt will remain corrupt, increment in salary or not. I say so, because  judicial officer,s particularly in Rivers State, are well remunerated. How many judicial officers can buy a brand new vehicle and and how many lawyers can buy a brand new vehicle other than Tokunbo? But some of these judicial officers are having four brand new vehicles given to them at different times.

The National Judicial Council, NJC, pays them; the government of Rivers State pays them. Wardrobe allowance is paid, research allowance is paid, and entertainment allowance is paid. Staff working for them are also paid by the government; they don’t pay any person. They are well remunerated and that is why every person who is at the top echelon of the judiciary is making arrangement for their daughters or sons to be there.

If you see the number of people applying to be judicial officers, it’s because of the fact that there is good welfare package. If you are an honest judicial staff, you will remain so. If you are a dishonest one, you will also remain so. Even if you like, increase their salary 1000- folds, the bad ones will remain bad.

But, don’t you think it would improve their motivation?

It has nothing to do with motivation. Contentment is the wealth of nature, not how big the money in your bank account is. A judicial officer that has motivation with the work will do excellently well. There are many who are there but are totally incompetent. Otherwise, how can a judiciary staff, after final adoption of written addresses, not be able to deliver a judgment as provided in the provisions of the constitution?

I have an instance where a judiciary staff has not been able to deliver a judgment for more than eight years. We have abandoned that case eight years after final adoption. It is as a result of incompetence. This is happening here in Rivers State. We don’t just want to write the NJC.

How do you think this kind of situation can be tackled?

I think the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, has a role to play. But the best way to tackle it, is for the politicians to stop meddling with the appointment of Judiciary Staff. In fact, there should be an embargo on that. Let me give you this example. If you are a politician, and you have a company in Mobil, you are blacklisted. You cannot secure any contract in Mobil Oil Company, except you leave that political position. So, if you want to do favour, then give appointments in other areas not in Judiciary. It is not meant for whom you know; it is meant for who is qualified for that position and who has flair for it.

So, you believe there is much interference of politicians in the appointment of judges?

It is bleak like British weather’ it is clear and glaring. There is so much interference and that is the problem we are having. When proper judgment is not delivered, its the people that suffer. They may end up taking laws into their hands.

Despite the clamour for changes in the appointment of justices of the Supreme Court, the old order of choosing from the Bench remains in practice. Why do you think this is so and how can it be stopped?

My learned brother silk, Olisa Agbakoba, has given the answer that the mafia at the Supreme Court will not allow the people to enter the Supreme Court. The truth is that, the best brains are not in the Supreme Court.

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There are very good justices of the Supreme Court, but it is not having the best brains. I believe that in the appointment of the judges particularly that of the Supreme Court, the NBA should contribute to that appointment and those who are experts in certain fields should also be taken directly from the bar to the Supreme Court. A good example is somebody like Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN. Don’t forget that Chief Idigbe is an expert and he applied to be a Justice of the Supreme Court. Now he is not there. When we talk about company cases and stocks worldwide, he is well known for that. It is a sour taste in our mouths that Chief Idigbe is not at the Supreme Court. Even those who are selected, what is the quality of the interview they were subjected to?

How can you learn at the Bench? The Bench is not a place where you start learning procedures, especially at the Supreme Court. Anybody there ought to be grounded in procedure. Either you have appeared several times at the Supreme Court as a practising lawyer or you have also been a judge of the Court of Appeal or a High Court. Justices like Justice Oputa went straight to the Supreme Court from the lower bench and they excelled at the Supreme Court.

Some people have been clamouring for a holistic reform of the Federal Government structure to allow the states to have their Supreme Court as is practised in other jurisdictions. What is your take on the issue?

It will bring about contradictory decisions, which is what has happened in our Corpus Juris. Take Court of Appeal for example, there are many contradictory decisions there because of the fact that Court of Appeal is sitting in different divisions.  The Supreme Court should be one all over the country. This is because it is a policy-making court. The decisions of the Supreme Court are the laws we have. Even if you like, let the legislature make the law, it is the pronouncement of the Supreme Court that makes the law what it is. I do not advocate for different divisions of the Supreme Court. If the states have their own, it will not give certainty to what the law is. If you look at the judicial precedent, something has been decided before, then the next case must be done the same way the former was decided. Locus Classicus is mainly decided by the Supreme Court.

When locus classicus is set as a decision, every other case like that must be decided the same way. There has to be stability and certainty as to what the law is. If you look at the last dispensation, there was no certainty. First example is about who is a subpoenaed witness. A subpoenaed witness is a witness of the Court. Court is giving you subpoena to come and testify. If a WAEC official is subpoenaed, I don’t know whom they will send, rather it is that subpoena that the registrar of WAEC will hand over to a staff and say, ‘go and represent us.’ But the person subpoenaed will only do summary of evidence. But what happened in the last dispensation was that they said the subpoenaed witness was not frontloaded. They said, “Oh, you have no witness,” and discountenanced it.

But this is a witness that came from the court. That is not the law. The law is that, the person is the court’s witness. Whenever he comes and shows himself, you can prepare his written deposition. At that point, nobody will talk about whether same has been front-loaded or otherwise. That decision brought about inconsistencies in what the law is.

I give you another example as par evidence given by a police officer that has to do with election matters, those who voted, and the result counted. Evidence given by a police officer is a documentary hearsay because a police officer cannot give such evidence. It is an INEC official that can give such evidence particularly, the Commissioner in Charge of a State or the Returning Officer. But you remember what happened in the case of Hope Uzodinma.  Documents tendered by a police officer were countenanced and they used it to say that somebody who was number four became the winner of the election. These kinds of judgments bring about a lot of inconsistencies. Then, in a situation where you now have every state having their own Supreme Court, what happens?

Do you think the case of Uzodinma has set a precedent that onward statement from a police officer can be countenanced and relied upon?

Has there been precedence set in election matter that has been followed by the Supreme Court? Look at the provisions of the Electoral Act that says that the condition under which a person can question election of a particular person, first and foremost is; is he qualified? What is that decision on qualification? If you look at the case involving  David Lyon, the Bayelsa APC governor-elect that was removed, because his deputy was not qualified, what is it that should be looked into by way of qualification? What you look into is the papers submitted to the electoral body, INEC.

And then you find a situation where somebody with his eyes widely open, submitted NYSC certificate, which NYSC rejected that it is not from them and you now consider it as a pre-election matter, instead of one of the conditions to say that somebody is not duly elected. I am praying that the next President of NBA will take it up and call stakeholders to say let there be certainty of what is required in our election. Are we going to rely on IReV? If we are not going to rely on it, let it be clear. Like Peter Obi was questioning the last time, if you knew that you would not rely on it, why emphasise and call International Conferences and say we are relying on it.? Why not say everybody do whatever you want to win the election?

The perception of the judiciary has been very low in recent years. Why do you think this is so and how can the judiciary regain its lost glory?

The perception has been very low, but the Judiciary can redeem itself. Let me quickly take you down  memory lane. When Tom Ikimi was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, during late Gen. Abacha’s regime, he was tackling embassies. Whoever that speaks, he will fight back eloquently. That is what he was doing, but lo and behold, when Abdulsalami Abubakar became the Head of State, he calmed the state down with apologies. He sought for unity. I am telling you that thing calmed the whole nation down. I don’t expect the Chief Justice of Nigeria to think that there is no problem in the judiciary.

If not for anything, the eloquent decision of the Supreme Court over the House of Assembly in Plateau State is enough testimony that things are not well with the Judiciary because the Justice Okoro panel condemned the decision of the Court of Appeal in respect to Plateau State. So, we will not just look at the claims that the social media is doing this, we cannot be intimidated. The CJN should admit that something is going wrong, then calmly bring stakeholders, have a discussion and think on how to move the judiciary forward.