‘Buhari should not compensate those who worked for his victory with appointments’
The election was fierce and tensed. But all that ended when the former president, Goodluck Jonathan called to congratulate the winner, President Muhammadu Buhari. Last Friday, Buhari assumed office and pledged to tackle the problems confronting the country. To get this done, a Lagos based senior advocate of Nigeria, Olu Daramola in this interview with GODWIN DUNIA advised the president to jettison political jobbers and go for technocrats in his cabinet. He also expressed views about the constitution amendment, death sentence, fake lawyering, VAAP act among others.
One of the contentious issues in the fourth alteration of the 1999 constitution is the separation of the offices of the Attorney generalfrom that of the minister of justice. Do you agree that the office should be separated and who in your own opinion should be the number one law officer at federal and state level?
To me separating the office of the Minister of Justice from that of the Attorney General will not change anything. It does not make any of them to be more effective. On the contrary, rivalry can develop between the two officers as to their respective functions and powers. What is important is to appoint a credible lawyer as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General. If we have two people who are not credible occupying the two offices, I don’t see how they can make any difference. Meanwhile, the country would be saddled with maintaining the two of them when no effective services are being rendered. The problem with us in this country is that we run away from addressing the real issues. We look for ways to avoid confronting a problem headlong. For instance many people without thinking will tell you that it is the immunity clause that is responsible for the pervasive corruption in Nigeria. This is a laughable proposition.
If immunity clause is responsible for corruption, how many ex-governors have been jailed or effectively tried since they left office? All those public officials whose terms expired, how many of them are in jail? Mind you the only persons who are entitled to immunity from prosecution under the Constitution are the president, vice-president, governor and deputy governor. None of them signs government cheques. If a governor perpetrates fraud through his commissioners and accountant general why are the law enforcement agencies not going after the officers? After all, they are not covered by the immunity granted to the governors. The immunity granted to the governor is only for the period when he is in the office and there is no limitation of time in prosecution of crime. Separating the offices of the Minister of justice from that of the Attorney General will only lead to duplication of offices which create more financial burden for the government. It is not the way to go with our dwindling resources. It is high time we began to merge some offices to reduce cost of governance.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria recently, said that there are too many fake lawyers in the system, how do you think this issue can be addressed?
It is unfortunate that there is no profession in Nigeria including the medical profession that deals with human life where you don’t have fake practitioners. In England you cannot hear of fake lawyers because proper records of practitioners accessible to the public are kept. Until we begin to keep proper records, the issue of fake practitioners will continue to plague the system. I am aware that NBA is presently addressing the issue by trying to establish a data base for all lawyers enrolled to practice in the country. They are also working on seals. The Supreme Court should create on its portal a section where members of the public can access the name of all lawyers in the country. If this is done, it will be difficult for fake practitioners to have easy ride on the system.
As a lawyer, how will you advise Buhari’s administration to improve the judicial sector?
First and foremost, the government must ensure that judicial officers are well paid. This will attract the best legal minds in the country to the bench. Secondly, the president must appoint credible lawyers to the Federal courts as judges. He has the power to appoint Judges on the advice of the National Judicial Council. He must use this power effectively and ensure that only credible persons are allowed to mount the judicial saddle.
What should the government do to address corruption in the country?
The main reason why the electorates voted massively for Buhari was because he was seen as a man of integrity who would deploy all necessary arsenals to fight corruption and restore the integrity of the country. He cannot afford not to deliver on the promise. Happily, he has an eminent lawyer who is well respected for his integrity as a deputy. The war against corruption must be fought centrally from the presidency to the local government. There are many States where no single official has been prosecuted by the State Governments since 1999. Does that mean we do not have corrupt people in the State? The anti-corruption agencies must scrutinise budget implementation at all levels of government to see areas where contracts are inflated or not executed at all. Several means have been devised to steal public funds and make stealing look legitimate. Many government officials use companies where they have interests as consultants to perform the very tasks they were elected to perform. Security vote is another means through which public officials steal public funds. As a first step, all public officials must be made to do open declaration of assets. Jonathan lost the moral battle against corruption when he refused to follow his predecessor in declaring his assets publicly. Many states made laws where they awarded jumbo terminal benefits for some selected officials which include annual overseas medical check-up and treatments. This is another area of corruption because such laws guarantee a permanent life of obscene luxury for political office holders while the people continue to wallow in misery and poverty. What is the morality of allowing a president or a governor who cannot build functional hospitals for his people to be given the privilege of overseas treatment even when he has left office? I have never heard that the president of America, the chancellor of Germany or British Prime Minister travelled to another country for medical treatment but here, Nigerian public officials take it as a pride and status symbol. To sustain the confidence of the Nigerian people, the new government must depart from the ungodly and sadistic trend of spending the bulk of the nation’s resources only to secure comfort for the tiny minority of politicians in public office.
President Buhari must resist pressure to use political appointments to compensate those who worked for his success at the polls. He must appoint credible persons who can help him lift Nigeria to the first world. This is his chance and he must utilise it so that history can remember him for good. With the resources we have in this country, there is no basis for mass poverty and suffering. He must ensure that only those who want to serve are in Government and not the political merchants who have held the country down by their greed and callousness. The cost of running government must be reduced drastically to discourage profiteers from seeking public office. There is no reason why a senator should earn more than a professor in a university. It is only in Nigeria that all categories of political office holders can be clamouring for life pension. If his anti-corruption crusade succeeds, he will have enough money to provide infrastructure across the country. In fact, his economic and political programmes will only succeed to the extent of his success in the anti-corruption crusade. For me, he has started well by refusing to be drawn into the controversy of selecting or nominating leaders of the National Assembly. It is not the business of the president to nominate or even advise the National Assembly on who should be their leader. The due process office must work to prevent fraud in the conduct of Government business and not function as a clearing house of corruption. He must devise a way of watching the watchers. The anti-corruption officials must be strictly monitored in the discharge of their duties and must not be allowed to operate as loose cannons. The cleaning exercise must start with the law enforcement agencies or else no tangible result will be achieved.
A bill on Violence Against Person’ Prohibition that had spent almost 12 years in the National Assembly had just been passed and signed. How do you react to this?
All these issues are already in the criminal code, so also are issues relating to corruption. There is nothing in the EFCC Act that is not covered by the criminal code. It has always been the law that violence is unlawful, so I do not see any new thing the law is bringing on the table. Rather than enforce existing laws, we keep on making new laws in the vain hope that the new laws without more will prevent the problems we are seeking to address. It does not work that way. No matter how good a law is, unless it is properly enforced, nothing will change in the society. The point is that we like multiplying things and all these will not change anything. All that need to be done is to amend the criminal code to bring it up to date and not creating new laws to address issues already covered by the law.
Recently, eight drug offenders were executed in Indonesia, and the development has brought again desirability of death sentence. What is your position on this?
Personally, as a pacifist I don’t subscribe to death sentence for any crime but in saying that, we must not loose sight of the damage being done to the society by drugs. Drug pushing constitutes a serious risk to the health of any society and any responsible government cannot fold its arms and allow the it to continue unchecked. When Buhari executed three drug pushers in 1984 most drug pushers avoided Nigeria because they knew that the implication of being caught was death sentence. If you are issued visa to some of the countries that retain death sentence for drug pushing, it would be clearly spelt out in a booklet given to you that the offence attracts capital punishment. A person who knows the implication of taking drugs to some countries but decides to take the risk can only blame himself. It is tragic that most people become wiser after the event. It is no use claiming that you have become born again Christian after you have been sentenced to death. Many countries will not grant pardon on that basis. The proper thing is to avoid any conduct for which you may go to prison or be made to face capital punishment.
The multiplying effect of crime are so much that one may not blame countries who still execute criminals for certain offences, after all, you are aware of what the law says.