The Administration of Criminal Justice Bill has gone into the last stage to become law at the National Assembly. What is your take on that?
I can say that indeed there is need for some reforms in the criminal justice administration in Nigeria because as it is now, you have so many cases pending in court with so many people awaiting trial. I think there is need for government to pay more attention to that because the trickle effect is very clear. Because of the many cases of personnel and the system, you find that sometimes, criminals are released on account of the failure of government to try them within a reasonable time. It is also not good for accused persons to be treated as criminals. The constitution says you are innocent until proven guilty. Here, once you are apprehended for one crime or another you are put through what I call ‘trial by ordeal.’
I was in court today and I saw people who said they’ve been in underground cells for the last two years; they are being brought to court for the first time today. So by every standard of justice, that is very wrong and I don’t think such a standard meets the average standard of justice. Mind you criminal justice is the foundation of social interactions. The penal system is not just about punishment but also reformation. Very recently, they released the statistics of persons awaiting trial and it was very alarming, so every effort to improve the system should be welcomed.
Recently, the Federal Executive Council adopted the document from the National Conference. What is your opinion on it?
I think that it is good intentioned; it is good that monies and efforts expended at the confab are not thrown overboard. But I think for us to attend to it at this election time is a distraction. Let us be done with the elections first before we face those issues. I am not saying it is not good for the president to accept and implement its recommendations; it is his duty to do that. So let’s wait and see if it is not just about politics. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt that it is not about elections. Believe me even from their campaigns and the way they have polarised the country, there is need for Nigerians to continue to talk beyond what we feel we have spoken. Meaning there are still some live issues about Nigeria’s unity, the responsibility of the state to the individual etc.
What are your thoughts on the transfer of political matters to the courts in the light of the warning by the CJN to judges not to be used to truncate our democracy?
It is normal that people are exercising their fundamental rights where they feel they have been infringed by some other persons. It is about the adjudication of such conflicts. It is positive that people are surrendering themselves to the authority of the courts for the settlement of such conflicts. Before now, people were killing themselves. I think we are moving beyond that to due process. As a lawyer, the more of them we have the more positive I see it. I don’t see how matters that arose from primaries, which are pre-election are dangerous to our democracy. I think it’s healthy.
For other cases such as eligibility against Buhari or Jonathan, or card readers, those are not pre-election matters. Those matters are always live and not time-bound. Those matters are part of the political process. I don’t think they are made malafide, but my suspicion is that it is being used to give the opposition some distraction.
So it is a strategy. I don’t seriously see these cases getting the results they want. I don’t think they are meant as a platform to further shift the time table. Because the dangers of that for the polity are not what any reasonable person would want to ignite.
I have always asked the ‘comfortable elite’ who don’t mind and care about their actions to go and watch the titanic because of its clear lessons about the realities of life. It is that in times of peace, you can enjoy your upper class status; society is stratified. But in times of war, there is no class and most times, the upper classes are the worst victims.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has warned it would prosecute persons who incite violence in the country. Is it not novel that punishment for such breaches could now transcend our jurisdiction?
The world has long gone beyond us. We can no longer segregate ourselves; we live in a global village; what affects you affects others. I bear no grudges when supranational entities try to bring sanity to people like us who are below the average world standards. What is the political campaign about? There is clear demarcation between campaign and propaganda. You don’t use the opportunity and platform for campaign to abuse the sensibilities of people; to create room for violence. And if your national laws or correctional agencies are not strong enough to bring to book or allow the law to take its course over such people that maliciously ignite violence, I would be happy to see a body like the ICC get in at the right time. The issue is that if you have surrendered yourself to a body, you are bound by it. You cannot pick and choose which aspect you want.
So until you have external bodies to say come and give account of what you did yesterday, I will say hurrah! So let it be PDP or APC, they would be lucky if after the election there is no fight. But if one person dies they must face the wrath so that we don’t have these reckless comments. You should address your campaign to what you will do to make my life better.
Do you support the use of military for the elections?
I don’t think those who are saying don’t bring out the military are saying so out of malice. We have an experience, look at the Ekiti State tape. That thing should have been investigated by every serious government. The army can provide second line of defence during polls. Even the police is not first line. It is purely a civil affair.
It is the failure of the state to buy people into a disciplined project; the state has failed to dissuade people from the primitive instincts of beating the law or using violence to get what ordinarily they could get in peace. Why are we talking about this? In other places, you vote and go about your normal business. The state has failed in its duties that is why the army has to come in. I think it is a shame that the military is being used for all this, and it has to work hard to redeem itself. I feel aggrieved and I think it is our duty to ensure that the military is not exposed to this odium.
Are you saying that their operational orders are influenced from external forces and not from command structures?
It is dangerous for us to speculate on these things. On whether or not the military was used to rig an election and nobody is doing anything about it, if it is so, then I have my fears. But the more you ignore it the more you start giving the impression that it is true. We cannot live with that trauma. The question is yes, the army is going to be in the elections because this state has failed, but what are they going to be doing?
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