Chief Emeka Obegolu, a former General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), is the new President of Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU). In this interview, he speaks on his agenda for PALU, executive orders, developments in Cameroon and other issues. Excerpts:
Do executive orders amount to abuse of rule of law?
Executive orders are not, generally speaking, abuse of the rule of law. It is the subject and/or purport of the order that may amount to an infringement on some fundamental human rights, the rule of law, or principles of separation of powers.
We had cause to issue a statement on Executive Order 6, and I took the view that the travel ban on persons already facing corruption charges is an interference with judicial process and violates the doctrine of separation of powers as same amounts to an executive affront on the judiciary by purporting to vary the terms of the bail conditions granted the affected persons by the courts.
Defendants, upon arraignment before a court on charge(s) of corruption already have their freedom of movement limited by law, and upon their application for bail, the constitution enables the court to assess their suitability for bail and determine the conditions for bail.
Part of the statutory criteria for the court to consider before making this determination is whether the defendant will constitute a flight risk. This explains why courts, in most trials of corruption cases, insist that defendants deposit their international passports with the court or with the EFCC, and where the defendant wants to travel for any reason, it is to the same court that they will apply for leave to travel.
After arraignment, the courts assume jurisdiction over the defendants and their fundamental liberties. When the executive suspects that a defendant is a flight risk, the duty on it is to convince the court to deny the defendant bail or to revoke bail where already granted.
The purport of the travel ban is that the executive arm of government is unilaterally varying the terms of bail granted by the judiciary. In other words, the executive sits on appeal over decision of the judiciary.
The travel ban violates the doctrine of separation of powers, usurps the powers of the judiciary and has no place in a democratic society anchored on the rule of law.
Is there anything wrong with nomination of candidates for NBA posts by regional groups of the NBA?
There can be nothing wrong with regional, or indeed any other group; be it ethnic, tribal, religious, class, law firm, etc., nominating candidates for election provided that the candidates so adopted or nominated will have to convince the electorate to vote for them in free, fair and credible election.
What is your agenda for PALU?
The Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) is a continental membership forum for African lawyers and lawyers’ associations. PALU was founded upon the dissolution of the African Bar Association (ABA) and other associations in Africa in 2002 by African Bar leaders and eminent lawyers to reflect the aspirations and concerns of the African people and to promote and defend their shared interests. It brings together the continent’s five regional lawyers’ associations, over 54 national lawyers’ associations and over 5,000 lawyers.
The agenda of my executive committee is to see a united, just and prosperous Africa built on the rule of law and good governance.
Our mission is to advance the law and the legal profession, rule of law, good governance, human and peoples’ rights and socio-economic development of the African continent. The new executive committee assumes leadership at a critical time in the life of the organisation as it strives to meet its members’ aspirations for a more effective and member-centred organisation.
We held a successful three-day conference this September in Tunis, Tunisia, with the theme: “One Continent, One People, One Economy: Developing Africa Through Continental Free Trade and Free Movement”, where we made commitments to support the ratification and implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the Freedom of Movement Protocol and the agreement for a Single African Air Transport Market (SAATAM). These commitments are in line with my agenda for the three-year tenure.
Cameroon has been ruled by Paul Biya for over 35 years. The Anglophone speaking areas are complaining that judges and teachers that were appointed for them cannot speak English; what is the way out?
Access to justice, teaching and ancillary matters are anchored on effective communication. There can be no justice where litigants or persons in conflict with the law or their counsels of choice cannot communicate with the court. There can be no learning when there is a language barrier between students and teachers.
If the purport of appointing judges to serve a people is for the promotion of access to justice and administration of justice, then common sense dictates that meaning should be given to the word access and relate it to communication. If the objective of employing teachers for a community is to impart knowledge, and we all agree that the vehicle for impacting knowledge is communication, then common sense dictates that the teacher and the students must have a fluent language of communication.
Going by the volume of appeals before the Supreme Court, do you share the view that it is overburdened?
Every court user knows that all our courts are overburdened. The Nigerian judiciary is crying out for technological reforms. These reforms will employ technology to assist judges in dealing with issues such as court recording, case management, etc.