Law News
‘Nigeria Needs New Constitution to Attain true Federalism’

Talking from point of law it is the responsibility of a lawyer to defend an accused person no matter the nature of the crime. A suspect has the right to hire a lawyer to defend him in court. That is the norm across the globe. Here in Nigeria if an accused person can’t afford to engage the services of a lawyer to defend, he has the right to apply to the Legal Aid Council to provide him a lawyer to defend him free of charge. A lawyer defending an accused in court is not aiding and abetting crime.

What is wrong is if a senior lawyer engages in efforts to frustrate the timely resolution of cases through frequent adjournment or using technicalities, though it is allowed in law, to prolong the trial. A judge is supposed to be in-charge of the case before him. No case submission is also part of law. But no amount of intimidation put up by a lawyer should stop the trial; the judge should not succumb to the lawyer’s intimidation. The practice whereby lawyers manipulate the court process in connivance with the judge is unethical.

The courts have also been alleged of sabotaging the anti-graft war by striking out some high profile corruption cases despite overwhelming evidence. What is your view?

One thing we must understand is that criminal cases must be proved beyond reasonable doubts. It is important that the prosecution must present the facts of the case with ingredients of crime committed by the accused. What convicts an accused person is evidence, unassailable evidence. We must separate investigation from prosecution. If you mess up at the investigation level, you have lost the case. That is why specialisation has to come in; you can’t lump investigation and prosecution together and ask the same people to handle both. We have to develop human capacity on both sides. It is necessary to get all ingredients of the crime at the investigation level to get conviction of the accused in court. The judge based his decision on the weight of evidence before him not on public opinion. It is not right to say the judiciary is complicit in the fight against corruption.

Let me also mention that we have not seen the end of those high profile cases because the plaintiffs have the right of appeal up to the Supreme Court that has the final say on any matter.

What do you think EFCC should do to win high profile corruption cases?

The anti-graft agency needs to be more efficient. It should tidy up its investigations and have all ingredients of offences in-tact to secure conviction. The problem with the EFCC cases is contradictory evidence given in court by its witnesses. When the witnesses appear in court they give evidence that favour the accused. Once the evidence of the witness in court contradicts his statement, the court has no option than to strike out the case. I think the EFCC has to shield the identity of its witnesses for security reasons. It is done in the United States. The identity of prosecution witnesses are protected for fear of being influenced or attacked by the defendants and their agents. Then, adequate funding of the anti-graft agencies is necessary.  They must train and retrain their personnel in crime investigation in order to develop competence and capacity.

What are the implications of National Assembly’s rejection of devolution of powers?

It portends great danger for democratic governance; it’s nothing to be cheerful about. From 1966 to date, the country has not been able to move to the level we want. Between 1960 and 1966, all indices of development were manifested in all regions. Each region was allowed to develop at its pace; there was competitiveness. The regions had more functions than the centre and got higher allocation from the Federation Account. There was development across the country. Unlike the unitary system of governance we are now practising. Everything is concentrated at the centre while the federating units have no significant role to play.

What is creating tension in the country is inequitable distribution of resources and this can only be addressed through devolution of powers and regional/state autonomy. There must be conscious efforts on the part of the elites to avoid things that could lead to war. We can’t afford two wars in this country. Let us resolve our problems on a round table; devolve some items on the exclusive list to the states to allow for efficiency.

What is your reaction to financial autonomy for local government proposed by the National Assembly in the Constitution amendment?

It is a victory against injustice being perpetrated by the state government against local government, particularly on the issue of Joint Account. Though local government is not a federating unit but the injustice in the system made some people to applaud the National Assembly decision. Financial autonomy for local government is welcome even though the recommendation still requires approval of two-thirds of 36 States House of Assembly. The logic behind it is to empower the third tier of government for service delivery at the grass root.

The National Assembly also empowered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to take over the conduct of local government polls. Is it right?

Legally speaking, it is erroneous to ask INEC to conduct local government polls. At a time when we are talking of devolution of powers, we cannot be adding more to powers of the central government. What might have informed the decision of the National Assembly is the failure of the state electoral commissions to be neutral in handling local government polls. The ruling parties in the states win overwhelmingly in every local government elections. Despite that, it is wrong to ask INEC to take over local government poll in a federal system.

What does restructuring mean to you?

The federal structure in Nigeria is defective. We are not operating federal system of government but unitary system. The 1999 constitution imposed on us by the military is unitary. We need new constitution that will be written by the representatives of the Nigerian people. For us to have a proper federal system in place, the centre must shed weight by devolving powers to the states. The centralisation of power in Abuja is not good for the development of this country.

Restructuring is to unbundle the Federal Government; transfer some functions to the federating units. For instance, transfer some items in exclusive list to states e.g. power supply. Each state should be allowed to generate power and distribute to consumers within its jurisdiction. This will improve power supply in the country.

Let each state control its resources and pay tax to the Federal Government. There will be competition among the states in terms of development. The federating units are more assertive, not Abuja alone. It will be a great mistake to ignore the agitations for restructuring.

 LEKE SALAUDEEN
The Nation News

 

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