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Senior Lawyers Should Be Appointed as Part-time Judges to Speed up Justice Delivery
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 J.K Gadzama SAN

The legal profession in Nigeria has made great strides in the past few decades, but some are of the view that a lot more still needs to be done to bring Nigerian lawyers at par with their counterparts in other jurisdictions. Chief J.K Gadzama SAN is the pioneer Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association’s Section on Legal Practice and has also won many laurels in golf turfs across the globe. Called to the Nigerian and English Bars, he fielded  questions from May Agbamuche-Mbu, Jude Igbanoi and Tobi Soniyi on a wide range of professional and national issues, including Nigeria’s fight against insurgents, the forthcoming general elections and the need for Nigerian lawyers to be IT compliant

You were a member of the Federal Government Presidential Committee on the Security Challenges in the Northern part of the Country. The security situation in the country is becoming very worrisome, what can the Federal Government do to make sure the situation improves?
Admittedly, I was a member of the Gaji Galtimari Presidential Committee on the Security Challenges in the North Eastern Part of Nigeria. The Committee did a marvelous job and submitted its detailed report comprising of some recommendations. Happily, most of the recommendations have since been implemented by the Federal Government but we need to go beyond that report in view of the exigencies of the moment.  Also, two or three similar committees were inaugurated after ours and I sincerely believe that what is needed is a synergy and cross-pollination of the ideas emanating from all such reports together with the recommendations. There must be an effective working interface among the various security agencies like the Nigeria Police Force, the Armed Forces, State Security Service (SSS) National Security Agency  (NSA), etc and of course the general public. Government must improve on its ability to gather intelligence. It is also very important that we get the much needed foreign assistance as it will assist a great deal in helping to stem the tide of insurgency. Above all, a good and transparent leadership that is founded on the rule of law enabling all accused persons have a fair trial.

Lack of tolerance and maturity among politicians appears to be heightening the tension in an already volatile situation. Is there anything politicians should do to make sure the situation does not snowball into anarchy?
All Politicians irrespective of party affiliations and differences in political ideologies must remember at all times that we do not have any other country but Nigeria. We must not throw away the baby together with the bath water.  A battle may be lost while the war is won. The fact that a politician shows interest in an election in an elective office and goes ahead to participate in the electoral process is evidence of intention to serve; but where the people or the system rejects one, one ought to be humble enough to give peace a chance as anarchy does no one any good. Politicians should also ensure that they put the interest of the people first and set aside their personal interest bearing in mind that their personal interest is not worth the bloodshed of any Nigerian. All politicians should adopt a nationalistic approach and be prepared to sacrifice personal interest for the greater good. When they adopt this kind of approach then it will help to douse the usual heightened tension we have when elections are approaching. Let’s eschew bitterness and practice the late Waziri Ibrahim’s “Politics without bitterness”.

Your home state Adamawa is still under extended emergency rule resulting from the unfortunate activities of insurgents in the North Eastern part of Nigeria. Many lawyers have lost their practices and livelihood in that area, how does this make you feel as a prominent citizen of the state?
I am not from Adamawa State although I was born in Mubi, schooled at Teachers’ College Song and married my late wife Janada (May her gentle soul continue to rest in perfect peace) from Gulak Adamawa State. I am from Lassa in Borno State. When a part of a nation in crisis, it affects every citizen directly or indirectly notwithstanding the state you come from. Indeed, l feel depressed and devastated when l hear from the news or read on the pages of newspapers of the lives lost. Not only the lives of lawyers are lost but the lives of innocent ones and l extend my heartfelt condolences to families who have lost their loved ones in the attacks and my deepest sympathy to lawyers who have lost their practice and livelihood. However, l endeavour to put them in my daily prayers as well as assist in the little way l can through substance, encouragement, advice etc. “where there is life, there is hope”. All hands must be on deck to fight insecurity and terrorism physically, morally, spiritually, financially and technologically. On my part, a major part of my early morning devotions and night prayers is for the insurgency and terrorism to end.

Political parties’ primaries always results in conflicts among politicians, is there anything the umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission can do to ensure that parties respect their Constitution?
INEC has to be seen to be maintaining a neutral position so that it is not perceived as interfering in the internal affairs of political parties. The courts are there for all stakeholders to invoke its jurisdiction on any political party which violates its own constitution. INEC can only issue guidelines and enforcement of same may be quite difficult because of the perception that it maintains its neutrality. It is in the light of that, perhaps it has summoned the courage to reject the imposition of candidates in the past where this has clearly gone against the constitution of the political party.

You are one of the lead counsels to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Given the challenges being experienced in the ongoing voters’ registration exercise and the Permanent Voters Cards, would you say INEC really has the capacity to deliver the 2015 general elections?
I used to be the chairman of the INEC Legal Team in the past when Professor Maurice Iwu  was the chairman but I have served out my term and the respected Chief A.S. Awomolo, SAN is the current chairman. I encourage people to always be positive about the country and have faith in INEC notwithstanding the challenges of registration and other challenges. I am still very much positive that the Independent National Electoral Commission would be able to deliver the 2015 general election.  During the years of our past general elections they have delivered, so l am affirmative that they would, in this coming elections. However, we as citizens should endeavour in our little capacity to encourage INEC in delivering by ensuring peaceful registration, avail ourselves for registration as well as voting. It is important that we shun electoral vices such as, multiple registrations, avoid violence during the elections as well as avoid all forms of bribery so that the elections would be free and fair.  The man of the people should emerge as winner at the end of the day.

INEC has refused to comply with the judgment of the Federal High Court on re-registration of the FRESH Political Party and it has also refused to pursue an appeal. What does this portend for Nigeria’s democracy and the rule of law?
INEC has in-house lawyers. It has a legal team. Any aggrieved party can go to Court for an order of Mandamus or initiate proceedings for contempt of Court. Two wrongs cannot make a right.

How would you advise politicians to approach the 2015 general elections?
I would advise that politicians flee from all forms of bribery and corruption, making of vague promises as well as tarnishing the image of rival political parties. They should rather embrace oneness in as much as the election is more of a competition, it is not a war, we are one people, one Nigeria and they should see themselves as servants of the people if elected. Whoever the people choose as their leader, they should take it to be for the greater good of the country. They should also ensure peaceful campaigning without inciting people to violence. The politicians should be guided overall by a sense of patriotism geared towards service. They should remember above all that the whole country is their constituency.

What can be done to ensure that the general election is not followed by violence?
Where the election results reflect the true choice of the people the chances of violence will be slim. We must embrace a culture where the loser must be quick to congratulate the winner and acknowledge that the winner is the choice of the people conversely, the winner must advance an olive branch to the loser. The contestants must not approach the elections as a do or die affair. It is also very important that we have adequate security in place to ensure that the electorate do not feel intimidated to express their will at the ballot box.

At the last annual conference of the International Bar Association in Tokyo Japan, it was noted that Nigeria has been removed from the list of developing nations and stripped of accompanying privileges. What in your view could have informed this move and what does Nigeria stand to lose as a result of that?
It is a sad development that we must all resist so that we can ensure that our ranking is restored. We represent one of the emerging markets in the world and choice destination for goods and services. I cannot readily tell what indices that they have employed in arriving at this decision.  We must fight back against this delisting. We must be global citizens in all respects and earn mutual respect as a people. Once again, l believe the economy of Nigeria has grown to be better. If it is true that we have been delisted as a developing Nation, the privileges which we enjoyed as a developing nation would be stripped offus and focus would be more on under-developed countries and developing countries.

You are one of the few privileged Nigerians who qualified as a barrister in England and with dual practice in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. If you are to give a comparative analysis of both jurisdictions, what would you say the profession in Nigeria needs to improve on to be at par with other advanced jurisdictions?
The main difference would be in the administration of justice. We have to deploy an effective case management system to check delays. I also strongly believe that judges should levy wasted costs and orders on Counsel found to be indolent. There are provisions in the Rules of Court for this but it appears that the will to implement them may be lacking.  We must ensure that our court rooms and buildings have all the trappings of modern day conveniences with robing rooms for lawyers. Also extremely important is the reluctance to deploy technology in our court rooms. I think that it is high time that Judges stopped taking down notes in long hand. There is technology now which has been tested in other jurisdictions for years that is very accurate in recording court proceedings, leaving the Judge to concentrate more on the finer points of the trial. I also firmly believe that our judges are seriously over burdened with cases most of which are unmeritorious. We could have a system in place where we have very qualified eminent senior members of the bar appointed as part time Judges, Recorders as they are known in England to deal with simple applications. This would assist greatly in decongesting the court rooms leaving the judges available for trials. I would also like to see a system where all the records are electronically stored such that when a judge is not available for any reason the next judge can take up the matter and conclude it. That would ensure that any day the matter is slated for trial it must go on.

It has been observed that a very high percentage of Nigerian lawyers are not IT compliant. Many have been found to lack basic computer skills. What can be done about this?
This is a pointblank assertion. Many of us do not have a robust modern practice. Most of us cannot even type not because of inability to do so but refusal to create time to learn. In my practice I have since the last 5 years implemented a paper-less policy. I think what can be done is including computer education as a compulsory course from elementary up to the territory institutions. Considering, we are in a Hi-Tech world now where everything can be done via internet or computer, however it should be included as a desideratum for employment, I am sure  this would encourage many to take the idea of computer literacy serious . The world is only but a global village so where you fail to embrace technology you end up placing a limitation on your ability and services.

The NBA has introduced a stamp and seal policy requiring all lawyers to acquire stamps and seals which is effective from April 2015, some lawyers have described this decision as arbitrary. What is your opinion on this?
It is not arbitral; we must support the current leadership of the Bar and ensure that this initiative succeeds. This policy has been there for ages and it is not something that was suddenly sprung on the membership of the NBA. I recall vividly that Mrs. Funke Adekoya, SAN did well as the then Chairperson of the Stamp and Seal Committee and the policy was unfortunately not implemented. Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN has committed to implementing this laudable scheme and I am indeed very happy that it is coming at a time like this considering the challenges that we face from imposters. I have since paid for mine, collected it and have started using it. It is a welcome idea and we should not be lazy about implementing this lofty idea in other to avoid intruders and quacks into our profession. The stamp and seal policy would control the fraud committed by persons who present themselves to be lawyers when they are not.

The NBA is in court to challenge the requirement by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission that lawyers disclose transactions above 2 Million Naira. The requirement is to check money laundering. But they have argued that this violates the duty to keep communications between a lawyer and client secret. What is your take on this?
The legal profession is governed by the Rules of Professional Conduct which regulate the relationship a lawyer has with his client. The rules specifically provide that the dealings between a lawyer and his client must be maintained under absolute confidentiality. It is so bad that it is almost forbidden to divulge anything even on the pain of death. So it is therefore very strange that the EFCC under its attempt to regulate and stem money transactions is asking lawyers to disclose transactions over 2 million naira. Any disclosure leaves that lawyer potentially open to proceedings that may lead to disbarment or some concomitant punishment. I think that there is an urgent need for that aspect of the law to be struck down as client confidentiality is the bedrock of the relationship with the lawyer.

The NBA does not appear to be doing enough to cater for lawyers affected by the crisis in the northeastern part of Nigeria. How should this be addressed?
It is a matter of serious concern; we can support materially, financially and prayerfully. I know for a fact that at a time this issue was brought to the fore and the NBA leadership did embark on a fund drive to assist our colleagues who were affected by the crisis. The leadership of Mr. Okey Wali, SAN, past President of the Bar engaged with lawyers in North Eastern Nigeria and tried to find ways of ameliorating their suffering from the crisis. I am sure that my classmate and good friend, Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN will follow Mr. Okey Wali SAN’s footstepsand do more where the need arises. I have always mooted the fact that it is time for us at the Bar to consider having a compulsory insurance scheme which would take care of situations like this.  There is always a welfare committee at the branch level which also assists on occasions like this. I am aware that my local branch, the Unity Bar Chairman U.M. Yamah has done very well in this regard.  We need to consider having an endowment fund at both National and Branch level to take care of this situation which will always arise.

Young lawyers are also not adequately being taken care of. How can the senior lawyers help them?
The senior lawyers can help the young lawyers by engaging them in activities that would bring out their skills. I think senior lawyers should be encouraged to have in place a scheme for mentoring young lawyers.  This is because unlike other jurisdictions where you must undergo compulsory pupillage, here you can get called to the Bar today and be in court the next day. A sound welfare package must be put in place taking into account the economic realities of this time. It is very unfair and exploitative for a young lawyer not to be paid a living wage in these times. Having said that I have found personally that it appears that there is a steady decline in quality of lawyers currently available. This gradual decline can be arrested by senior lawyers taking young lawyers under their wings and teaching them the sound traditions of the Bar. As a senior member of the Bar I have always sought to encourage young lawyers to engage in continuous education so that they can obtain more skills. This I have pointed out several times will place them in better stead where they seek to be in employment or even set up their own practice.

The Immediate past CJN, Hon. Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar has just retired. What is your brief assessment of her tenure? Also, Hon. Justice Mohammed Mahmud is the new CJN. What is your advice to him?
The Judiciary under the tenure of Hon. Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar achieved tremendous progress, moving the judiciary to greater heights. She is one of a kind, displaying a unique stand for courage, incorruptibility, good governance and sound leadership whilst sanitising the system and instilling discipline. We are all witnesses to the judicial reforms which she introduced under her tenure setting, a sound footing for the future growth of the judiciary. The Judiciary and the administration of justice under the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria Hon. Justice Aloma Mukhtar experienced a great turn around bringing it at par with best practice all over the world and I do know  Hon. Justice Mohammed Mahmud, the new CJN to be a fearless and incorruptible Justice who no doubt would build on the previous foundation to firmly establish the judiciary as the third arm of government. I sincerely believe that he is a firm judge and his leadership will experience the continued growth of the judiciary and administration of justice particularly in terms of its independent from political manoeuvering while fighting delay in the dispensation of justice.

You are an avid golfer and have won many local and international laurels. Would you recommend golfing to Nigerian lawyers, despite its huge costs?
One of my hobbies today is golfing. I was introduced to it in 2002 in Abuja and grew from grass to grace and eventually became the Captain of IBB International Golf and Country Club, Abuja and also won the International Bar Association (IBA)Golf Holmstrom Trophy in Prague, Czechs Republic in 2005, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Golf tournament in Enugu 2004,the Bar and Bench Golf tournament in 2013,among many others. As the Captain of the Nigerian Bar Association Golf, I have introduced several lawyers, our staff and my friends to the game. My firm has been sponsoring Golf Tournaments for the last 7years. Yes,I would recommend golfing to Nigerian lawyers because it is not only a sport to me but a means of relaxing the mind and exercising the muscles. It serves as a healthy distraction and is a way for de-stressing after a hard day’s work. It is also pertinent to remember that a lot of business deals are sealed on the golf course. It is a very useful business tool which I would recommend to every lawyer. Finally, the perception that the game of Golf is expensive is a misconceived one; any average income earner can equally enjoy the game.

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