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‘Cases that border on misgovernance and corruption should be exempted from immunity’

Ali

Ali

The president and governors of various states enjoy immunity from prosecution while in office. Ironically, many never get to be prosecuted when they leave office and when they are, its never concluded. To forestall such, some believe immunity on sleaze should be removed.

It does appear that anyone who would be appointed Attorney General of the federation must be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). Why is it so?

You see, when you are setting up a team, you look for the first elevens; you try to put up the best. As far as legal profession is concerned, the attainment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is the epochal thing and every legal practitioner craves the rank. So, you don’t want to put up someone who would not give you the quality of service needed to be at your best.

You won’t get someone who though is occupying the position, you still feel something missing. Never! Truth is that being a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is the highest honour. So, when you want to appoint an Attorney General of the Federation, you ought to put somebody who would not be unduly intimidated by other people. If you put any other lawyer who is not a SAN, he would be ambitious to become one and in the process, some critical things could suffer because of his ambition. It is like somebody in the university system; if you are not a professor, there is limit to what you can do. For example, if you are not a professor and become the Vice Chancellor, it means that for the time you are the Vice Chancellor, nobody would be promoted to the chair of professorship because you cannot sit at a meeting or chair a meeting of professors and you are not one.

The Vice Chancellor is the chairman of promotions committee of universities. So, that is why if you want to appoint a Vice Chancellor, you appoint a professor so that there would be no problems, as other things will follow. So, it is the same thing. We’ve produced many SANs since 1975. Now, there is no reason for you to think you want to produce somebody that is not a SAN to become the Attorney General of the Federation.

You want to put a lawyer that could be a match to any lawyer in any part of the world in terms of attainment. This possibly informs the decision to always have a SAN as Attorney General.

What is your view about the deficiencies in the 1999 constitution?

Constitution ‎is a living document. And, like humans, it is not a perfect document. You can’t have a perfect constitution. Constitution usually develops and evolves. Let’s take the American Constitution, for example. It is usually the interpretation by the courts that engenders amendments.

A constitution cannot contain everything that you think could be in a document; otherwise it would become an encyclopedia. And, it is the interpretations of the provisions that would flesh it up. They would form the body of the constitution as you go on. For me, the present Constitution has lots of issues; the issue of devolving of power in the tiers of government. I want a situation we had in 1963 Constitution where we had three items on which each levels of government could legislate upon. We have issues on the Exclusive, Legislative and Concurrent lists that would spell out things and then, the issues that would be on the Residual Legislative List. I have always advocated and supported the call for the abrogation of Section 308 that talks about immunity for people in public offices. All I am saying is that it should be whittled down.

How do I mean? Cases that border on mis-governance and corruption should be exempted from immunity. That is, if there is a valid allegation of corruption, nothing should stop the security agencies from proceeding to investigate either a sitting president, vice president, or a sitting governor or deputy governor. If a prima facie case is established to which it can be taking to court, immunity should not cover that. I say that because I’ve discovered in this country that immunity is not suppose to be forever.

It is supposed to cover you while you are in office, but I know Nigerians suffer general amnesia. Once somebody has spent his term and he leaves, nobody seems to remember he has committed any offence. So, that problem remains there. That is why we ask for review. And of course, my immediate constituency, the judiciary. I advocate for a better provision to ensure the independence of the judiciary. Public servants in Nigeria do not resign their appointments even in the face of strong allegations.

But overseas, they quickly resign and won’t meddle with investigations? That has to do more with our public moral. In those other countries, it is because they know their people will not agree to a lower moral level behaviour from their leaders. Nigerians condone and as often is the case, encourage their leaders to act irresponsibly while in office. The bitter truth about it all is that most Nigerians do not have proper moral and social orientation on how public office should be or how a public servant should carry him or herself. This is so sad. I have been pointing at this behavioral flaw and I will continue to say it that the average Nigerian public servant is corrupt, because people make unnecessary material demands from them.

Nigerians have this notion that public office is an avenue to live large! To be uncountable and to do what you ordinarily can’t do as a private individual. If it is about comfort arising from property acquisition, say, cars, they should get as many as they have no need for! For example, if your brother is a minister, things you are not entitled to or sometimes, have no need for, you would begin to make requests for them. God save him or her if he or she did not respond to the request. Often, a report is made to the Elders Council in the village. And, rather than look at what is right, they would say, look, give him what he wants, after all, this or that person was there and look at what he did for his family members or his community and all that. So, in days, people begin to think that public office is a place of harvesting more than you sowed. It is this same reason that is accountable for why the society celebrates those doing wrong today – The tout, rascals and people who have no qualms about their public image are those celebrated.

Nobody cares how people make money, all that matters is that they have money to throw around. Unfortunately, even those who claim to have good education and exposure are also doing same thing. So, we have gotten to a level where we celebrate corruption, inefficiency and tribal jingoism. Nigeria is probably the only country in the world where corruption has race, gender, religion and all that.

If an Hausa raises alarm over missing public funds against a Yoruba person, they will say no; stop that- is it because he is Yoruba?

If a Christian raises alarm over stolen money against the Muslim, they will say, never, say is it because he is a Muslim? We have gotten to that level.

The level where our public morality is so low that there is no compelling reason for our leaders to resign when they do something wrong. Whereas, in other places, there is common agreement on what is wrong and what is right. Therefore, it does not matter whether the offender is Yoruba, Ibo or Hausa. What is good is good and what is right is right. In Nigeria, anyone who has done something wrong in public office would readily ride on sentiments -tribal or religious. We are to blame. Nigeria is a funny place where it is only in public office that people become relevant. It is the office that promotes them, whereas very serious offices should be given to people who will come to dignify those offices, not for the offices to dignify them.

These are the problems. People are going into government to make money and you can only imagine what will happen when you ask such a person to resign when he feels he has not stolen enough! No one who has a name and reputation would stand and watch anyone destroy a name that took years of hardworking to build. It is only when you have such persons in public office that you will begin to see public officers resign over allegation. We have made public office a place to make quick money and live as if there is no tomorrow. A place where you are not accountable to anybody. If people see public office or where it is the only place where one has made or made the highest money, it will be difficult to ask such a person to resign, because he sees the office as his best thing in life and opportunity to make money.

That is why I am subscribing to the appointment of people with integrity into public offices. Not people whose known public image is rascality or thuggery. To such people, appointment as minister or commissioner is a call to steal. Still on corruption. Plea bargain is believed to be a way corrupt persons escape punishment. What is your take on that? Corruption is already here; you must look for all legitimate means of ensuring that all our monies that have been stolen is brought back.

Let us face it, there is nothing evil about plea bargaining once you have the rules that will guide it. Our major problem is that we simply jump into it without any rules guiding it. That is why people are saying it has been abused and so on. For me, it will be difficult to prove that someone stole N5billion, because those who commit such crimes are people who are well connected. They have the resources to fight to the end, and because of the uncertainty of litigation everywhere in the world, when the matter goes to court you cannot say this is the way it will end until it finishes.



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