Nigerian constitution grants nobody immunity — Justice Adebajo


14 Jul 2016

Nigerian constitution grants nobody immunity — Justice Adebajo

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Justice Ebenezer Adebajo

Justice Ebenezer Adebajo retired two years ago from the Lagos State High Court. In this interview with RAMON OLADIMEJI, he shares his thoughts on the ongoing anti-corruption fight, among other issues

What is your thought on the ongoing anti-corruption fight?

I find this so-called war against corruption a superficial exercise. I used the word superficial with reluctance and care because there are two professors in the committee appointed by the President on corruption. Does the prosecution of a handful of high-ranking officials qualify as a fight against corruption? It does not. If you fight against corruption, it is to eliminate corruption from our system. Corruption is a systemic thing. It is within the system of governance itself. That is where the fight against corruption should commence from.

In ancient days, when a man has worked for 35 years, and he retires from public office or the civil service, and for the next three or four years, he is not going to be paid his pension, he would, of course, look for extra while he is in service so as to guarantee his days after retirement. It is when we correct these anomalies within the structures of the system that we can say we have started to fight corruption. But taking some people to court, no matter how high-ranking, you have not taken everybody to court. So, those who are coming behind can say that we might be able to get away with it too because when you take some to court, you did not take everybody to court.    That isn’t war against corruption. We have to look inside the system itself. We have an Air Marshall in court, we have an Army General in court, we have this, we have that. That isn’t a war against corruption. We must look inside the system itself and the anomalies within the system, we should review them. Until we do that right, we are not going to be able to put aside corruption.

But right now, some people have been taken to court and they entered into plea bargain and opted to return some of the money they stole. Do you still say the government is not fighting corruption?

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Until you address the issues within the system that makes people prepared to lose whatever it is to take care of tomorrow after their retirement, whether extravagantly or otherwise, it would be regarded as if you are not fighting corruption. Going to court with some people, yes, they are like thieves taken to court every day. There is nothing remarkable in that and in prosecuting a thief.

Was the EFCC right to freeze the bank accounts of Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, when he is supposed to be enjoying immunity?

There is no immunity in Nigeria. We must first of all understand this, that our law does not grant immunity to anybody. Not even the President. What our law has done is to create a specialised procedure. So, bringing a person who sits in office as President or as Vice-President or as Governor or as Deputy Governor, the law has created a specialised procedure by which he would be brought to court. He must, first of all, face the House of Assembly or the House of Representatives. That House will look into their matter and will bring out an indictment against them. That indictment is what we called the impeachment of the office bearer. That indictment is like a charge. When that indictment has come out, when the officer is impeached, then the whole place will sit as a court and if they find the impeachment to be proper, they would, by their decision, remove him from office. When they remove him from office, he is now liable to face prosecution in the regular court. If you fail to prosecute him in the regular court, as was the case with Fayose, when he was impeached, there was no prosecution, so, the legal sequence did not come to its proper conclusion. So, there is no immunity. But in our situation, where we are governed by a sole party in each of our state, like in Lagos State, it is only APC in the House of Assembly, they would not impeach their governor. That is why the system we have adopted calls for multi-party governance not a single party governance. What we are going through now is leaning towards a state of affairs that will lead and end us up with a state of dictatorship because we have broken up into a one-party state.

At the beginning of this administration, the Attorney-General  of the Federation said there will be no room for plea bargain but of late we have seen a number of people opting for plea bargain and returning some of the money stolen. Is that enough to deter corruption?

When you enter into plea bargain, the attorney general as the prosecutor, he is a political person; he is holding a political office. If it is politically wise, whatever that might mean, he will decide who to enter into plea bargain with and who he will not enter into plea bargain with. But I believe that plea bargain, on this high profile cases is political. They are not judicial. I would ask Nigerians to appeal to the judges that the judges should impose their own sentences and not the sentences agreed to by the parties in the plea bargain because it is the judges ‘ decision what punishment or sentence to give.

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There is an award recently launched in honour of judges. Won’t such awards compromise their positions?

I think this is a thing that the judges should ignore. Those to be given awards, on what basis are they giving awards to them? Do you know how they put in their hours of work? I believe judges should just ignore such awards especially coming from that area, a private businessman, to say that he is giving awards to judges!  If the Bar association rises to the occasion, it would have put a stop to such a thing. The only awards judges are entitled to are national awards.

What’s your position on the emerging debate that the next Chief Justice of Nigeria should come from outside the Supreme Court?

It is a dangerous thing. It endangers the system and if you ask me, those who are flying the kite are flying their personal interest.  There is a culture of the court and the culture of the court can only be assimilated by having been within the system of the court. From the High Court to the Court of Appeal, straight to the Supreme Court. I can understand if they want to replicate, thinking that they can replicate the likes of late CJN, Justice Teslim Elias. But we should have no need to go looking for such trouble at this point in time. We have gone beyond that point. We have developed beyond that point. In England, when a lawyer takes on the office of a magistrate, that person, as a magistrate, will end his or her career as a magistrate. They don’t transcend to the high court. You have taken a line in the profession and you go on through that line. You do not criss-cross the lines. Some people have been able to do it. Niki Tobi of blessed memory, a remarkable man in every way, had the opportunity to do it. He was made a professor, a law writer, a writer of legal books as well as a highly competent judicial officer. We do not need anyone outside the system to come and say that I am the head of the system. The lines of the profession, judicial line and the advocacy line are there and you take your line and follow it through and the position of the Chief Justice of Nigeria is the pinnacle of that line. Why will somebody come from the outside and say that I am taking over? Are you better than those who are there?

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News Source: PunchNigeria, 9jaTales

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