People are not punished for corruption - Umar Malik Kuliya
The Chambers of the Attorney General (AG) Kano State, Umar Kuliya is reputed for training lawyers and has about 107 lawyers. Between June 2011 and now 35 new lawyers were employed. The AG himself started his career at the state Ministry of Justice about 25 years ago, left for the banking sector and returned to the same ministry after 23 years. In this interview, he speaks on constitution amendment, courts, corruption, the bill boards crisis in Kano state and sundry issues.
What was the physical situation of the courts in Kano state which you met about a year and half ago when you came into office?
Our courts structures were so woeful and they were built many decades ago, so we had to make them fit for judicial functions. Many of our courts particularly the area court, one was operating from a garage – very small and unsuitable for courts. So when we came we decided to put a stop to that. We have constructed 27 new Magistrate Courts across the state and 28 other courts. So under one and a half years we have 53 new courts, fully furnished and quite conducive to be used as a court. We have renovated other courts across the state.
Up till June 2011 when we came into office some of our courts were still using manual typewriters so we have put a stop to that and we now use computers, each fitted with printers. Also the welfare of judicial officers is being catered for.
What are your challenges so far?
The most important challenge is to change the way people work. Civil service is about service but people take civil service as a place where you go and just sit down and gossip without doing any work. People should do service the way it should be, they should come regularly and perform their functions efficiently particularly when where what you do will impact on the life of the people, so that we don’t allow people to languish in prison.
Would you support the move by the EFCC that lawyers should be made to disclose financial transaction by their client when the amount is above certain limits just like bankers do?
I will not support this because in our profession there is absolute privilege between a client and his lawyer, and just as you cannot tell a doctor to come and disclose the illness of his patient.
How can you tell a lawyer to come and disclose what he has discussed with his client?
Certainly no lawyer will do that and it is not done anywhere so it cannot happen in Nigeria. Whatever communications you received from your client is privileged, not even a court can force you to disclose it so EFCC cannot. Let them go and concentrate on their investigation of crime and leave lawyers alone.
Can we say that Kano state government has finally resolved the bill board crisis with the Outdoor Adverting Association of Nigeria (OAAN)?
We are in the process of resolving the crisis and we are happy that parties are now planning out of court settlement. What brought all this is perhaps our desire to force sanity on the environment because when we came in we found bill boards all over the place, secondly is the revenue drive and thirdly is the quality of the bill boards. Some are ramshackle bill boards which turned into an eye sore because they are unfriendly to the eyes. Bill boards should improve the beauty of the place. You would have noticed that we are expanding major Kano roads so some of the bill boards will have to go.
The 1999 constitution is currently being amended and this has engendered a lot of criticisms. Some argue that the problem is not about our constitution but implementation, but some people say we need a brand new constitution and not amendment. What is the Kano state government stand?
Our constitution is okay, we don’t need to do any amendment. Kano state position has always being that nothing needs to be amended. The constitutional amendment ab initio was used for other interest being pursued. Starting from the National Assembly for example who needs a new state now? Who needs new local governments now? Who needs even state police? We are saying that we are not ripe for that. Most of the key things that are being proposed for amendment are simply outside our concern, what we need to improve our society is good governance, transparency and accountability and war against corruption but all these additional structures are unnecessary burdens on the treasury. So we should concentrate on strengthening the institutions.
Why is it that we find it difficult to fight corruption to a standstill?
That is because people are not punished for corruption. Look at the high profile cases all over our courts; tell me a single governor who has been convicted out of those that are being investigated, not a single one. For everybody it is business as usual and people steal so much money. From the inception of the EFCC to date what have they done? Most of the people that are being punished, if you look closely you will find some political undertone. It’s a shame, people steal in Nigeria they are not punished but they are arrested abroad and they are punished. So how can we say that we are fighting corruption, so we should sit up and punish corrupt leaders.
In view of the recent conviction of John Yusuf, would you support harmonization of the penal and criminal code in Nigeria?
In crimes you cannot harmonize the laws. There are some crimes that are peculiar to some states. Take the criminal code, you have bigamy which says that you cannot marry more than one wife, in the North almost everyone will be liable. That is the beauty of a federal set up; you are free to look at your peculiar circumstances to tackle peculiar problems. If you are in a place where there is so much armed robbery for example what you do is to take care of that.