I was once an apprentice mechanic Justice Olaifa
One of the longest serving judges of Oyo State Judiciary in recent times, Hon. Justice Waheed Olaifa bowed out of the Bench recently, having served in the temple of justice for almost three decades. In this interview, he says the application of the controversial plea bargaining, especially in the trial of high profile cases, is a dangerous trend capable of corrupting legal officers in Nigeria, if not checkmated, among other issues. Excerpts:
To start with, sir, could we know your antecedents?
I am from Ibadan, with my roots at Idi-Aro. My immediate senior brother, Dr. O. O. Olaifa, former Presidential Adviser to ex-President Shehu Shagari was also a consultant when President Olusegun Obasanjo was a military Head of State. He is currently the Ashipa Balogun of Ibadanland, third to the throne of Olubadan.
Like I said, I was born and bred in Ibadan. I went to the primary school at Oja Igbo, Ibadan. Shortly after leaving the primary school, I lost my mother. And, as you know, in a polygamous house, once your own mother is not there, some things will definitely elude you. In effect, therefore, I had no opportunity of going to secondary school.
In fact, I have never seen the walls of a secondary school in my life. I only went to a modern school called Methodist Secondary Modern School, Elekuro, Ibadan.
In the first place, what actually attracted you into the law profession?
May be, you should have asked what actually motivated me into reading. It was the University of Ife that did the magic. The next question is what attracted me to read Law? Anytime I see any Judge or Magistrate or these legal practitioners, I usually admire them. So, I determined in my mind that one day, I pray I would become a Judge. Even at the time I was practicing at Akinjide & Co., I told them I would want to opt for the Bench and after about five years, I was even invited by late Chief Fakayode who facilitated my appointment into the lower Bench. At that time, not many Ibadan people were on the Bench. And that was how we started.
How exactly did you surmount the teething problems, much more so, when you told us that you lost your mother at a tender age?
I give glory to God and to my immediate senior brother, Dr. Olaifa, who himself was in class four when our mother died. He even tried to arrange a secondary school for me. There was nobody to really help initially as my brother who would have assisted was himself handicapped. So, what we did was that I was formally staying with one of my sisters – the first born of our mother. Fortunately or unfortunately, she could not do much for me. She only opted to send me to a mechanic as an apprentice. Anytime I pass through that Oke-Bola here in Ibadan, I still see the workshop and recollect with nostalgia my days there. In fact, I was there as an apprentice for about one year. As God would have it, I just ran away from the place, went back to my father’s house. It was then that my brother picked me up and said if it was, at least, the secondary modern school, I should go. And if he finished, he would be able to help. I was offered admission at the Methodist High School. I eventually settled at the nearby Modern School at Elekuro, Ibadan.
However, as a Judge, at what time or when did you experience the greatest shock in your life?
If I tell you the greatest shock of my life, you will laugh. It was when the late Governor Lam Adesina and others were brought before me during Abacha regime. I was the Chief Magistrate (Admin). So, at that time, I sent them to the police station at Iyaganku. To my greatest surprise, (it was during the military era, I even thought they wanted to praise me), they just asked me to come upstairs. So, when I went there, I was shocked to meet my CJ, then Hon. Justice Adekola, whom I owe much. In fact, but for God and for him, I would not have been a Judge, because the then Military Administrator, that man from Kogi, had even written the letter and just asked the CJ to ascent it for suspension or retirement. But the gentleman refused saying “No. Ah! Ah! You must hear him. Let’s give this man due process. He has been on the job for quite some time.” So, he asked me questions, took my record and they checked everything. They did not find anything detrimental there.
They just found out that I used my discretion to put them at that place. That was the greatest shock of my life. I thought what they actually expected was that the accused persons would be incarcerated in the Agodi Prison.
People have been complaining, and are still complaining, about the slow pace of dispensation of justice in our courts. What is responsible and what is the way out?
Let me explain that. Luckily, at least, I can probably say I can say something on that. Let’s start from the slow rate of justice dispensation in the Judiciary. Before, we were using some of these old rules. But the National Judicial Council (NJC) has done a lot in new rules.
But we have a different scenario when you are doing criminal cases for two reasons. Three segments are involved in criminal cases – the Police, the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary. From the police side, immediately they bring in those suspects, they always find it difficult to bring in all the witnesses to the court. The blame is not for the judges or the magistrates.
Then, for speedy trial of some of these cases too, especially all these ICPC, EFCC case, I think there is nothing wrong in distributing these cases to almost all the judges so that they could be taken quickly.
Specifically, in your own opinion, what major reforms would you want to be carried out in the nation’s judiciary? And secondly, how are you planning to spend your retirement?
The NJC has been doing its best on these reforms. On my retirement plan, now, I am collating some of my judgments. Those that went to appeal, I want to hear what the Appeal Court will say. Those affirmed by either the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court, I will pass on to generations coming to read to learn from them. In this regard, I am trying to put up a book by getting together my contested cases.
Please, let’s have your view on this raging issue of plea bargaining?
If you ask me for my personal opinion, I am not really happy about it. In fact, plea bargain is even not in our own law, in the first instance. So, I support the position of the former CJN on the matter as the idea of plea bargaining is not good enough.