Law News
‘Convicted corrupt judges deserve execution’

IT is very common to read and hear poverty-to-fame stories among lawyers.  Stories of men and women who faced hardship, penury, deprivation, lack and want, braved the odds and climbed the most cherished ladder of success.

But Honourable Justice Abdul Fatayi Demola Kuti, retired judge of the Abuja High Court is different. He was born with the golden spoon and he is happy to admit so with every sense of gratitude. He said: “I have never known lack since I was born. In fact, I was one of the privileged few who had car in secondary school. I used to pad my seat when I want to drive so as to see very well because I was very small. My mother, Inimota Oyedele was a wealthy woman.”

Justice Kuti can best be described as one of the incorruptible judges Nigeria has ever produced. Resolute, contented, vavivious, unassuming and industrious, he has served his fatherland as a judge, law teacher and diplomat in various countries of the world.

How did he come to study law? Read him: “I studied law well prepared. It was not by chance at all. My maternal uncle is late Dr. Teslim Elias. He was the first African ever to become the president of the world court in Hague, Netherlands.

“When I was very young if there is quarrel between my dad and my mum I settle them. I will tell my mother, ‘your husband is your umbrella, you have to obey him’. I knew I was going to be a lawyer, but I didn’t know I was going to be a judge or professor. I was very argumentative and just.”

He was born in April 16, 1937. He began his educational pursuit in Igbobi College Yaba, Lagos. He was there between 1949 and 1953.

This is what he said about Igbobi: “I went to the best in Nigeria – Igbobi college. Ibru’s went there, Otunba Balogun went there, professor Ade Ajayi from Ekiti went there. Professor Ayo Banjo went there. Professor Olumide went there. Those are vice chancellors. Just like Ekiti, we call it college of vice chancellors and professors. Igbobi was mentioned in the Whitaker almanack which contained the public schools in England such as Epson, Winchester and the rest.”

It was obvious that Kuti was not done with his education when he left Igbobi. Young Kuti had his eyes in United Kingdom. He therefore proceeded to London for further studies.

This is how he captured that experience: “I was an external student of the University of London in 1958. After that I did my LLB. Then I went to Hull University in the North of England. There were 78 whites and three Africans. I happened to be one of the three. There was election and I went to the students union with the late Chief Tayo Akpata who was a great educationist and come from the illustrious Akpata family of Benin. We where the two of the three Africans in 1961.

“After then, I wanted to do my masters for LLM in University of Manchester but in August 1961, I abandoned that to join the foreign service, though I later went to Makarere University for my postgraduate. I went for interview in London in August 1962 for foreign service. Fifty three people were interviewed and three was taken. I was one of those taken. The others were Benard Odogwu and Fred Enwuwu from the Eastern region of Nigeria.”

For his first job as diplomat, he was posted to New York. “When I got there, I was secretary and later became personal assistant to late chief S.O Adibo. After that, they took me away from New York and sent me to Makarere in 1964. I went to the department of Political Science and Administration. So I attended institute of diplomacy there. There I did my postgraduate and came back to Nigeria”, he stated. On arrival, he went to the Nigerian Law School for his (BL).

He didn’t stay long in Nigeria before they sent him to Ivory Coast as assistant secretary. Again he didn’t stay there for long before he was sent to Paris, France to go and open Embassy with late Chief Uwechue. “There again, I was made deputy permanent representative to UNESCO. So I attended the 74th section of UNESCO representing Nigeria.    I went and become Nigeria’s public affairs officer to the republic of Iran and Turkey. Before that I was the acting high commissioner in Kenya in 1969. From 1970 to 1974, I was in Saudi Arabia as minister chancery, next to the ambassador”, he recalled.

The anti-corruption crusader recalled his journey into the bench and described it as funny. He said: “It is a very funny story. I was in the foreign service and whenever they gave me money, I always return them. So I was told point blank that I don’t belong there. So I suffered a retirement in 1975 for no offense. While I was in Saudi Arabia, people were coming to me. I was living in a princes’ house with 24 rooms. I had 8 cars. If some come for hajj, I give them money.

“When I got retired from the foreign service, I went to the Lagos State. I met a permanent secretary, Alhaji Oshodi who happens to be staying with me whenever he comes to hajj. I say to him, look I have been practicing law for one year now and my practice is quite good that I want to join the Lagos State.

“He said to me Fatayi, you are a Lagos man . He asked what day it was and I said Friday. He said come and resume on Monday. That is how I started another career for 23 years on the bench.” Justice Kuti was appointed a chief magistrate and posted to Ikeja. Later he was made a resident chief magistrate at Épé.  “In fact they posted me to Ikorodu where I come from. Adefarasin was the chief judge then. I said I won’t go to Ikorodu because they would want to influence me, that is why he posted me to Épé”, he explained.

In no distant time, the integrity of justice Kuti came to the fore and earned him promotion. His words: “In 1983, they discovered that some people were given magistrates bribes and that there was one Kuti there who wouldn’t take it. They investigated it and found out. Then one head of state and one chief judge of Nigeria as well as one military officer said to themselves that it would be over their dead body that Kuti would not go to Abuja FCT as a pioneer judge.

“That was how in 1985, I went to the High Court of FCT. I retired in 2002. Two years later after I retired, I became an acting dean of faculty of law of University of Ado-Ekiti. I am a visiting professor to Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUTH) which made me a professor in 1996. I also became a visiting professor to the University of Abuja and a visiting professor to Novena University Kwale, Delta State. I became visiting professor to Ebonyi state university Abakaliki.”

To underscore the aversion he has for corruption, Justice Kuti said judges found guilty of corruption are worthy of public execution. He said: “Judges are supposed to be apolitical. They should have nothing to do with politics. People can try to influence you, but you must have the fear of God and the ability to resist temptation. You must have conscience as a judge. I had advocated that any judge that is found guilty of bribery and corruption should be executed. But since execution is no more popular, one will recommend life sentence to them because the bible said judge not, so you will not be judged. “It is a place of trust and so one should not mess up. My suggestion now is that in appointment of judges, we should not be relying on education alone but character. To be a judge is not a tea party. You have to be very sound in learning, incorruptible in character, very truthful and honest. A judge should do justice without fear or favour, affection or I’ll-will.”

He enjoined judges to learn from Bank cashiers who see money everyday but don’t steal it. “That is the way I can place judges. There was a time someone come with portmanteau of dollars but I refused. My background is such that I don’t worship money and materialism. The way I was brought up, I didn’t lack. The only thing I cannot do is to steal. My mother was so rich that when we rented a house, all the shillings would be put inside water and counted so it won’t make noise. That is how we avoided the envy and petty jealousy of our neighbors.

“When my mother returns, I will report to her that so, so person abused her to today. She will ask, where is his room, I will show her, then she will give me some tubers of yam to go and give him. I was surprised because I wanted her to quarrel with people. That was her life. And I learnt it”, he stressed.

Justice Kuti described himself as the first circuit judge in Nigeria. “I was in charge of miscellaneous offences. I cover Kogi, Benue and Kwara, going around to hunt for drug dealers to send them to jail. From 1985 to 1990, I was the chairman for armed robbery tribunal for the federal capital territory. I did it for five years without taking bribe. And I was acting chief judge in 1997 and 2001”, he said.

He pointed out that it is better for nine criminals to escape justice rather than punish one just person. He insisted that in appointment of judges, they must be proper scrutiny at the persons background, family root, efficiency and competent. He added that a judge must fear God because “a judge that has no fear of God is useless”, adding that God is the ultimate judge. “They call us my lord, my lord, it is a misnomer. There is only one Lord. So when they give you that name, you have to live up to expectation. If you don’t, then you should be punished”, he stated.

The septuagenarian maintained that a nation get the kind of leaders they deserve, adding that democracy is the government of the people by the people and for the people. “Greed should not be part of our system. People should serve selflessly. Mandela was very humble.     At no time during his life did he say I will be the president of South Africa. He set up five foundations and empower his people. “The problem we have is a generational defect. We don’t have to trade blames. Government must have the support of the people to succeed. We made the greatest mistake in this country by relying on only oil. Saudi has oil, Kuwait has oil, yet they conserve it for the future.

“We should have agricultural revolution in this country. The government can even begin to give some people allowance every year, maybe $500 from the oil surplus, send our children abroad on scholarship and give out housing loan without interest.

“Free education, free medical service are all the government is meant for. Government should do for the people what they cannot do for themselves or do so well. Let us stop blaming the military when they were there or the civilians for the period they held power, but let us look for a person who can fix the country, irrespective of his age, provided he qualifies.   We can take one of our royal fathers each from each state and send them to the senate. I won’t cost us anything. Let professionals be in politics so that by the time they lose election they would return to their professions and not those who are jobless who will go there and pocket all the money knowing that they have no other serious means of livelihood”, he counseled.

He warned that the gvernment should not tax the poor to pay the rich. He also advised the government to provide jobs because if you train people to become welders and they don’t have job, they will go and break into banks.

He is a member of Paul Harris Fellow Rotary International as well as member Royal Society of Literature Hyde Park Garden, London.

Justice Kuti is also a prolific writer. He has authored several books such as Law and Policey: the Supreme Cour Approach, Sentencing Principles, Practice and Prospects A man of his time, a biography of Justice (Dr.) Teslim Elias.

He is a member of various social organisations. Among them are the Club arcade, Kenya Press Club, Baikion Club Ikorodu. His hobbies include Caligraphy, Peotry, Motoring and Traveling. He is married to Mrs. Jaiye Aderemi. He is blessed with six sons and four daughters some of whom are lawyers.

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