Law News
‘Poor investigative mechanism aids graft’

Lack of modern investigative equipment and shoddy handling of criminal activities by the police has over the years posed serious threats to the war against corruption. Human right lawyer, Oluwole Kehinde in this interview with YETUNDE AYOBAMI OJO charged the Federal Government as well as the Chief Judge of Nigeria to ensure corruption is eradicated from the Nigerian system.

THE immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Aloma Mukhtar was credited with fighting corruption in the judiciary. Do you think corruption in the judiciary can totally be eradicated? 

Yes, it can be eradicated as long as the welfare of the judges are well taken care of. If lawmakers in the National Assembly could be taken care of adequately in terms of huge salaries, I do not see reasons why judges cannot be given adequate financial encouragement. It is not mandatory as a lawmaker that you must be there every day. Some lawmakers don’t attend sessions regularly. Rather than been in the chambers, they travel everywhere and only appear in the Assembly, maybe twice in a month yet they receive millions of naira in salary.

Judges are not like that. Judges are monitored every day. When you talk of National Assembly, everything is being taking care of but some lawmakers go there to sleep. The political will to get things done is not there. The former CJN cried out last year that with the way the budget allocation for judiciary is going, it will stifle the judiciary. The allocation is going down every year and we are appointing more judges. The cost of living is going up, so I wonder why we expect corruption to be totally removed in the judiciary. You will be surprised that at the end, people outside the system are benefiting from the system because the tools are not there.

For instance, sometimes, you find out that the bailiffs of the court are using thugs to effect execution of court judgment. When you use thugs, you will be made to pay for the things they destroyed in the course of executing the judgment. They can go away with valuable things, vandalized things that may be more than the judgment sum they want to get from the judgment debtor. There is a tout whom I met sometimes ago and he told me that EFCC case is what he does now. What they do is that they perfect bail for those who wants to get bail and you can imagine the way they do it. There is disenchantment among the staff of the judiciary in the system and the earlier government address this, the better for our justice system.

The courts ordered financial independence for the judiciary. What is your take on this? 

What it means is that they (judiciary) won’t be going cap in hand to the executive to beg for money. They can use their discretion to spend the money the way they like. They won’t need to go through the Attorney General to beg for money. This is because some governors do divert money meant for the judiciary to something else but now, the judiciary will be able to focus more on its own responsibility with financial independence.

What about the issue of accountability? 

They are bound to account for whatever they collect. They cannot run away from it. It is a duty that comes to being granted some privileges. They will not have excuse to blame the executive for not having money.

There are many prisoners who have spent many years in prison without being tried, what do you think is responsible for this? 

You should blame the system. The judges are not responsible. If you take an accused person to court today and the judges grant bail on terms that are considered too liberal, the public would say the judge has been compromised. In most cases, the accused person cannot perfect the bail condition if the bail is stringent. Part of the blame is that the police also do not conclude investigations on time. They don’t have laboratory. They go to South Africa when they want to do DNI. We only have few finger print machines, but you can’t enter a typical police officer’s office in developed country and you won’t find a finger print machine or biometric data which they use immediately a crime is committed.

After the recent riot in the United State, Obama proposed additional budget to provide mobile camera for policemen in spite of the fact that there are street cameras. If police over there want to arrest you, they take your data; upload it, such that what happened at that scene between the policeman and the person he wants to arrest is immediately transferred to the office. So even if a criminal destroy the camera, the incident is already in the hands of the police. This is a country where things work. But Nigeria police still uses pen and paper, gun and boot to search for evidence. Look at the embarrassing case of the guy they went all the way to Sudan to expatriate. You will be surprised at how much was spent to bring him back to Nigeria and to follow up investigation.

It was easy to get money to fly jet to Sudan, lodged in expensive hotel and bring him back but it is not easy to do the paper work. Most Nigerians are fed up with the system and is even affecting prosecution of offenders. That is why many people who are victims of  criminal act are not ready to come forward to give testimony in court. They feel there is no way they would get justice

Are the judges not to be blamed when people do not belief they can get justice? 

It is what is presented before the judge that they (judges) will rely on. A witness must appear in court and tender those evidences before the court but when all that is missing, what do you expect of the court? That is not to say there are no judges that kill evidence because they soiled their hands. There are cases that are also decided from the ‘top’ and make judges to compromise.

Recently, someone was killed in a political rally and a governorship aspirant and another person were charged to court. At that point, the Minister of Justice came and took over the case from the police. The police are not well motivated during investigation so they sell their conscience. The accused may buy the case and police would kill evidence. Another thing is that in most cases, the complainant has to pay money to motivate the police to do what they are supposed to do because the working tools are not there and some police are bad. If you hit my car and I report you to the police, both of us would want to get a favour from the police and in the process, we end up bribing the police. The complainant want to induce the police, the accused also want to induce the police and you need somebody to say no, so as to clean the system. It is a complex issue.

If you go to the prison, accused persons pay before the warders bring them to court. The prison has no allocation for fuel and if they don’t bring an accused person to face trial, the court will adjourn the matter. The prison is handicapped, the police and the system is corrupt and judges are disenchanted. We are all guilty. That is why I don’t support people heaping all the blames on the President. Is it President Jonathan that is responsible for traditional rulers turning themselves to terror in the society by grabbing people’s land? We have our own blames as citizens.

Since Lagos State government made the Tenancy law, we are yet to hear of cases of tenants taking their landlords to court for violating the law as regards rent payments and other issues. Does it mean the law is not operational? 

Has the government provided alternative housing for the people? What landlords do is that they write receipt for one year but they will collect the rent for the other year so that it won’t reflect on the receipt that they collected two years. Fashola recently launched three bedrooms flats for N3million but how many people can afford it not to talk of money you will spend to process papers before you get the accommodation. I bought a government land in 2007, got my papers and allocation in 2008 and they told me I should develop it within two years. I had assumed that within six months, I would get Certificate of Occupancy (C of O), survey plan and other things and commence construction but to my surprise, up till now I am yet to get none of those documents and I can’t commence construction work on the land. The same government is telling tenants not to pay for two years rent. The bush is there for government to clear and build houses for people but they are not doing it leaving the people to buy land from the omo onile (land owners). It is very unfair.

For some people, the law is working while for some, they go to court, come back and the landlord gives you quit notice after the expiration of your rent. Without adequate housing programme, you cannot control premises.

What agenda will you set for the new CJN? 

He should continue on the discipline of the judiciary. He should be very frank with the government. There cannot be discipline in the judiciary if there are no proper financial allocations to meet the essential needs of the judiciary. There is no way a judge would be sitting in the dark and the staff will not be tempted to collect money from accused person to buy fuel to power a generator in court.

On the part of the judges, they need to go back to the basics of law. There are many cases which some judges have allowed sentiment and emotion to determine their judgment.

Judges must sit up and face the business of law. They should be more conservative, not that they will not be open to new idea but should face what they were assigned to do. This is because many judges have become political agent of politicians to the extent that you will know that they are hobnobbing with politicians. There are some banks that feel there case should go to some judges because they feel the judge would be on their side. This is bad and must be discouraged.

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