You are a member of the 1984 Class of the Nigeria Law School (NLS). Incidentally, the school is going to clock 50 later this year. What is your take on this?
I think the Law School has come of age. Celebrating 50 years of its existence is something worthy to talk about. And when you look back and see the NLS from 1963 to 2013, you will see that the institution has really done exceedingly well. The crop of individuals that have passed through the portals of the Law School; the quality of the men and women who have been privileged to pass through that school, and the degree of their contributions, you will say there is something to celebrate about Nigeria Law School at 50. So I think that for us who are part of that great institution, we would do all it takes to ensure a memorable golden jubilee celebration.
Do you support calls for the scrapping of the Law School to enable individual institutions train students in the vocational aspects of the programme which is what the school does?
I don’t think so. I think that in the peculiar circumstances of Nigeria, the Law School still has a role to play. Except that we want to evolve into the English system where they have the Inns of Court where the various law campuses become the Middle Temple, the Inner Temple, and Lincoln Inn and what have you. If that is what people are advocating, it is the same thing – six and half a dozen.
The fact still remains that a law graduate is not a finished product; you need the finishing, which the Law School provides. So the idea of scrapping the Law School is simply neither here nor there.
What about the proposal for private law schools?
Why should there be private law schools? It is never done anywhere in the world. Anybody talking about private law school is simply being mischievous. If it is to liberalise education, you can go to a private university. But for any professional course, there must be certain uniformity in standards which will bring everybody at par.
An FCT High Court recently complained about the quality of submissions and written addresses by lawyers. What do you make of the dwindling quality of law graduates nowadays?
It is not peculiar to law graduates; it is the general quality of graduates due to falling standard of education in Nigeria that the graduates can hardly boast of any skill, either in writing or speaking. So there is no way those who are coming now out of Law School could be anything different because they are all coming from Nigerian schools. So one will see that there is depreciation in value. The government and everyone concerned must do something about the standard of education.
Today ASUU is on strike, they say that government reneged on their agreement. So if the universities are not properly equipped, they cannot produce any meaningful graduate. So it is not a matter you now say the quality of lawyers is diminishing. No. We have to take it from a holistic viewpoint. But that does not detract from the fact that the quality of practice is really getting low.
The Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee recently announced a new set of Senior Advocates of Nigeria. What do you think about the mode of selection?
Every organisation has a way of compensating and promoting its members. The legal profession will not be an exception. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing wrong with the way and manner the SANs are being selected. The only thing one will quarrel with is a situation where such a very serious position will be left at the whims and caprices of some individuals. But I think the process leading to the Senior Advocate of Nigeria is transparent. And if you get in there and you qualify they may make you. For you to be an SAN you must be a member of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), you must have contributed to it.
The allegations against the process are neither here nor there. Left to me, the library, cases in court are probably not any measure of erudition in law. Senior Advocate of Nigeria ought to be a peer review mechanism. We the peer group, we know who is who in the profession. Talking about requirements that ought to be done away with. If somebody feels he is worthy to take the silk, he can apply to the privileges committee and they can if they so wish, confer the person like it is done in England. The fact still remains that there has to be some minimum standards. As far as I am concerned, the hood does not make the monk.
The CJN, Aloma Mukhtar, is one year in office. What do you think of her tenure so far?
She happened to be the first judge I appeared before as a lawyer in Kano. So talking about her is like talking about my own call because I cannot see anything wrong in what she does. Over the years I have followed her. I have seen her comportment, erudition and delivery. I saw forthrightness about her being a woman of integrity and courage of conviction.
There are accusations she is a bit too harsh on judges?
If you understand the role of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the role of the Judiciary as the third arm of government, the hope of the common man, you must be able to see that the woman is doing the correct thing. The judges must be sanctioned. Imagine a situation where Nigerians lose confidence in the judiciary, that will be anarchy. I can imagine a judge condescending to receive bribe. For me who have no other profession excerpt law, I think Justice Mukhtar may even try to be harsher so as to safeguard what we have for ourselves and our children.
Doesn’t the indictment of a Nigerian judge in Gambia for bribery and another in Abia State for forgery bring her efforts to naught?
Why should it? What influence will her one year tenure have on Justice Wowor in Gambia and the Abia judge who falsified his age to remain longer on the bench? All these have not detracted one bit from her efforts. We will only be able to judge Justice Aloma Mukhtar after her tenure.
The NBA Onitsha was reported to have threatened to sue the Lagos State government over the deportation of 67 persons. Is it an enforceable?
I think it was a very irresponsible action by the Lagos State government. That you have a social responsibility to keep the streets of Lagos clean does not mean that you have to deport people. If you want to do it you can create a home. Every Nigerian in Lagos is entitled to a decent accommodation. If you want to keep people off the streets, you provide a place to keep them; you don’t have to deport them to Anambra, Kano or anywhere. These persons went to Lagos because they believe this is where they can find better opportunity, that they didn’t find it and ended up in the street, the government of Lagos State, which is taking taxation from other Nigerians who might probably be related to that man who is there on the street, the government ought to take responsibility; all the fingers are not equal.