You were in Aba, Abia State recently. How will you compare the Aba four years ago and the Aba you met recently?
You know I was a victim. As a matter of fact kidnapping was why I left Aba, because they came after me and after my wife in my residence. And I thank God because after we left, it became worse. But I am happy to say that this time when I visited Aba, it was cool. I didn’t see any signs of tension at all.
I looked at the citizens going about their business, it didn’t even seem as if they remembered that there was a time people couldn’t move about because of kidnappers. The only thing I noticed was the heat. Aba was so hot, there was no electricity supply otherwise Aba is a cool place now. I spent two weeks there without any tensions or any fears at all.
So, you can now return to Aba since the fear of kidnappers that drove you away to Abuja is no more there?
No, my opinion is that ones a vice begins, it is very very difficult to eradicate it. The peace we are enjoying in Aba now I can attribute to the fact that there are soldiers there. Soldiers were drafted into the place and they were ruthless. I am aware of the fact that quite a number of youths who were misguided into thinking that kidnapping was a viable criminal venture lost their lives. A lot of them were eliminated by the soldiers.
So the peace that we have now in Aba, I don’t consider as permanent because it will require for the army to go back to their barracks for us to be able to see whether the populace had learnt their lesson. Because it got to a situation where every little boy was a kidnapper in Aba. It is left to be seen whether that mentality has been eradicated totally.
So, your question whether I want to go back to Aba, I think I will tarry a while (laughter).
Governor T.A. Orji brought in soldiers and they were able to stop kidnapping in Aba. Why do you think is the reason why the Boko Haram has not been checked inspite of the presence of soldiers in the affected northern areas?
Once you get into a state of anarchy it is not easy to eradicate it. And I don’t think that the government is really sincere about dealing with the state of anarchy that has virtually taken over northern Nigeria. I know the issue is political.
The aspect of it that I find very painful is the religious angle to it. That these young misguided elements go to attack churches and mosques is something that should be condemned by all. I understand that a very very well known Moslem scholar and teacher was killed recently, with his wife and his child. And I read a commentary about it by some other Moslem who lamented that his only crime was that he wasn’t in support of the concept of Boko Haram, meaning that Western Education is a crime. He taught and preached that you need to combine Western Education with Islam if you want to progress. Was that a crime? For that they had to waste him, waste his wife and waste his son. That was a pity.
My request is that those who find it convenient to use Boko Haram as a political tool should think again. Let me repeat, once you start a vice, it is difficult to stop and you never know when you will become a victim of it yourself. The sooner we do something collectively, I mean we as Nigerians, represented by those who find themselves within political power today, until they do something about Boko Haram, we are going to have more and more militancies and it is not going to be in the best interest of this country. And even though military coups have become unacceptable in Africa, it is very tempting for some rascals in the army to stage a coup and give as their excuse the menace of Boko Haram
So those who are sponsoring it should be very very careful that it might plunge this country into a crisis worse than a civil war. And it will take very little to turn it into a religious war. And once you have a religious colouration in any conflict, in any nation, at any time in history, it is always devastating
Do you agree with those who say that the Boko Haram is lingering because President Jonathan did not sack governors and houses of assembly in his state of emergency declaration?
You know, we have a constitution, never mind the impunity in government, you must have to know to what extent you push your impunity. Because people are going to, when it suits them, use the constitution as basis to attack your activities. So, you want him to declare a state of emergency and sack governors, does he have the constitutional power to do so? People who are going to be affected by that kind of draconian measure are going to raise dust and might even go to court.
Look, I do not think that the problem with Jonathan’s government is one of not having options. I think the truth must be told that his government lacks moral legitimacy. That is the real problem. Some of the actions taken under his administration are so bereft of any moral justification and you begin to wonder whether there is any policy coming out of his government that is altrustic, that is aimed towards solving any real problem.
To me Jonathan appears to take political benefit out of every situation in Nigeria and that is dangerous. Why did he grant amnesty to Alamieyesiegha? This was a man found criminally liable for embezzling public funds, the most heinous crime you can commit in a polity. It wasn’t mere suspicion. He was found guilty, duly tried. In addition to that he is a fugitive from justice. And you grant him pardon. What message are you sending to the public?
Now, some one goes on air in a television house and boasts openly that if Jonathan doesn’t become president in 2015, blood will flow and that he will see to it that blood flowed. Nothing is done to him.
And then E1- Rufai simply warned that if you do not ensure peaceful, credible election, that anarchy will be the result. And that is considered offensive and for that, the law enforcement agents are sent after him. So there is no moral legitimacy in what this government does. The same situation that we found ourselves in when Obasanjo was in power. It does appear that from the reign of Obasanjo to the present administration, we have had this terrible situation of impunity in government, situation where government lays the worst examples for the polity and I don’t know where that takes us. I honesty believe that if a government with moral legitimacy wants to deal with any problem in the society such as Boko Haram, it could find an answer.
But I can’t see how you can find an answer to Boko Haram when your own man says in a television house that he is going to make blood flow and he is walking the streets free.
The person who made that statement didn’t mince words, he was categorical that if Jonathan doesn’t rule this country, whether we vote or we don’t vote, that if Jonathan doesn’t rule, that blood will flow. And he is walking the streets free. But some one else simply tells you, “conduct a viable election, if you don’t, the consequence will be chaos”. And you say he said something criminal and you arrest him. I am asking, “where is the moral justification?”
So, are you saying that 2015 election may not be credible?
If the things that have gone by are anything to measure by, and I have told you that my problem with the government of Godluck Jonathan is lack of moral legitimacy, if he continues to do things for the expediency of them and doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions, we won’t even have an election in 2015, and if we do, it will be no better than the farce that we have witnessed in the past.
We have just had an election in Anambra state. Look at what came out of it. It is just a pity but it does appear that this is a government that does not care about honour, only expediency.
Did you expect the government in power in Anambra to lose the election?
I know that there has been an election somewhere in Africa where the incumbent government did not win. The incumbent government need not win an election. It says a lot of the competence of INEC that the impression is now being created that it is no longer independent and that an incumbent government could have its way under its very nose. Here was an election in which it was declared that some parts of the constituency witnessed violence and voided the election by reason of malpractices. You don’t cancel that election. You say you want to run a bye election in only one part of the constituency. The constituency for governorship is the state. So if the constituency election happens to have a hitch of a nature that warrants your canceling the election, you cancel the whole thing. And you have sufficient evidence to cancel the whole thing but you didn’t, because of that lack of moral legitimacy that I am talking about, because of that impunity that has become part of our governance.
Do you think that if it was cancelled that either APC or PDP could have won in a fresh election?
No, no, no. I am not interested in who wins. That is not important to me. But one thing I thought we would have gained was cleansing of the political process. It would have sent us a message that rigging doesn’t pay and that you can’t get away with a rigged election. They pumped in a lot of money into rigging that election that money would have gone down the drain and then they would learn in future that that is not the short cut to power. That is what concerns me. I am not a politician so it doesn’t bother me who wins. But what teaching are we giving to our future generation? When are we going to begin to have free and fair election?
You have one of the most astute and upright intellectual in charge of INEC, supported by his team of fellow professors from various universities but these politicians just won’t let them be, they just wont let them do their job. Politicians go into their caucuses doing nothing but planning how to subvert the law, subvert the electoral process, subvert the constitution, subvert the best of the chief empire inspite of his very very outstanding credibility. I pity Jega because I happen to know him as a person and I happen to follow his track records. There are very few men like him in our country. But look at what the politicians have turned him into. I pity him.
If you were in his shoes what would you have done?
I don’t have that kind of staying power in the face of evil. It is either I am in a position to change it or I quit. So if I were in Jega’s shoes I could have gone long ago.
But Jega is idealistic. He is a highly regarded professor, an intellectual. He would probably be under the illusion that he could make the change but they are gradually eroding his moral high grounds by their conduct. There was a FEDECO Chairman, Ovie Whiskey, who was completely marooned by the politicians and then some one accused him of taking one million naira bribe to achieve a particular result. What did he say? He said if he saw that amount of money he would faint. That was amusing, because to those who carry the Ghana Must Go about one million naira was nothing. But here was a judge unused to bribery, unused to big money, and he told you that if he sees a million naira he will faint. It is that same kind of corruption and moral subversion that Jega is being exposed to. And if you can’t beat Jega, then you get at his lieutenants. That is the reason why an electoral commissioner in Anambra state could be found in a mess that he found himself. What could Jega do about a situation like that in a corrupt society like ours? If I were in his position I will resign. But I know Jega will not resign.
How do you see the forthcoming national conference?
You know, I could have told you that it is a very good thing except that I do not trust that the government is honest about it. I also do not think that there is the appropriate legal frame work for it and the absence of proper legal frame work is an aspect of the insincerity we are talking about. I don’t know how you are going to have a body come to terms about our rules for living together as a country and the product of such exercise is going to be left to these corrupt politicians who populate the legislative houses today. Because they are the legislature, whatever you have decided wouldn’t become anything unless they bless it. And they are not going to bless anything that is going to erode their standing, because as far as they are concerned this is their time. Men and women who are not ashamed, have no qualms whatsoever when it is said that legislators of a third world country like Nigeria earn more than their counterparts in America. They consider that some form of praise. Otherwise they consider it justified. These are people you are going to call upon to implement the recommendations of a serious national conference.
I can assure you that that national conference, one of the things it will start dealing with is the bloated nature of the budget of the national assembly. You are going to expect these men to make a yes vote over a finding that is going to nullify their benefit. They will not. Like Chinua Achebe ones put it, you will be assembling a group of avaricious landlords to determine rent complaints by tenants, (laughter). So, it is just one of those committees that Jonathan has become very well known for. For every little problem, he sets up a committee. So that is where we are.
What do you think should be done about this over bloated budget of the national assembly?
I don’t know. It will take a revolution to dislodge the squalor that we now have in the political field. It is a pity because the people who are there are looting the economy dry. Those who are not there are fighting to get in there and when they get in there they will do worse. Because every new generation of vice tends to become more potend and vicious than the previous one. So, my answer is, I don’t know. It will definitely take a revolution of some sort. I don’t advocate military revolution but I do not know when we can have non violent revolution that is going to address these vices. But until we have, there is no solution in sight at all.
The Ohaneze Ndigbo are of the view that Igbos should drop their presidential ambition and support Jonathan in 2015. What do you say?
You have asked me a very very sour question. Sour in the sense that I am ashamed of the Igbo political elite. They are just a shameful lot. So I don’t even want to begin to talk about what they say, what they want to do or what they don’t want to do. Because non of these things is based on any ideology, non of them can be founded on any philosophy. It has nothing to do with protecting the interest of the Igbos. It is only a question of what do I say in order to get into power. If I can’t make it to be president, how do I make it into the corridor of power. That has been the attitude of the Igbos in politics and it shatters me. When will it stop? When shall we become emancipated?
Because it is only in Igbo land that you can have a governor whose only interest is to perpetrate himself and his family first. Not even his community, but himself and his family. So when Mr. A becomes governor, his mother becomes Mama Excellency. Then when his mother is not good enough to play the role of Mama Excellency, he gets his son to become the little prince. How else do you explain the fact that for the first time in the history of Nigeria, the wife of the president is more famous than the president himself. These are the things that can happen when the Igbo man is in control. And then the Igbo man in control cannot do anything to stop a situation where churches are being systematically closed down, burnt and destroyed in a part of the country while the Moslems are doing everything in their power to Islamise the Igbo territories. And he can’t solve that problem. He can’t even begin to be seen to be solving it to start with. And you want me to begin to talk about Igbo politics and Igbo identity and Igbo agenda. As far as I am concerned it is all a farce. The Igbos have never been known to look beyond their noses and they will not learn it now. They will continue to play second fiddle.
I don’t know whether you are aware of the fact that in some states in Igbo land and even beyond, the governors are running their states without substantive Chief Judges, they run with acting Chief Judges. And the Judges, trained, qualified peoples, are no better than their political brothers and as far as I am concerned they are the goats that must follow the man with palm fronds. That is their policy. So every Igbo man believes that if I cannot be the one driving the palmfrond, let me be one of those eating the palm fronds. So you change your position from human being to goat. That is the way I can describe the situation of some of our Judges who cannot tell the governors that they can’t do it, that the constitution does not permit it. The Judges like the situation because they are appointed to act three months each as Chief Judge. Gradually all the Judges begin to look upon becoming acting Chief Judges as if it is an elevation. But that is not the anticipation of the constitution. So I don’t care whether any of them wants to be president or not, because at the very best of time, they are irrelevant in the equation.
But we hear that people like Orji Uzor Kalu has a presidential ambition and that even Ohaneze Ndigbo begged him to drop the ambition.
I wish him luck. He was a wonderful governor of Abia state. I hope his mother is still alive and is still struggling to become the mother of Nigeria. Orji Uzor Kalu was the gentleman who set up the mess that Theodore Orji inherited. The lack of governance in Abia state.
As a president he will perform just as much as he performed as governor of Abia State. And I am telling you that the legacies of his wonderful performeance are everywhere at Aba for you to see. I am told that there is no way an Igbo can become president in 2015 and Orji Uzor Kalu is a courageous man, I wish him luck. I hope he wins. I don’t know what party will field him. I hear he wants to get back into PDP. Others are getting out of PDP and he is going in. I wish him luck.
There was an opinion by one of his aides recently that he is the number one Igbo man around. How do you react to that?
Well, I don’t see what makes him number one Igbo man except when his cronies say so on his behalf, not when he has a newspaper to propagate himself. But in real terms, in real achievement, when you talk about real statesment, I don’t rate him in Igbo land. He certainly is not going to begin to claim to be any reincarnation of Okpara, Akanu Ibiam. Tell me who was a true Igbo leader that Orji Uzor Kalu can measure with. Is it Ekwueme? Where is his claim to fame? I want to see that concrete achievement for which people are lauding him. I can’t find it. May be I am blind. Show me what he has done. You know what Mbakwe did, you could see what Mbakwe did.
Apart from elevating his mother to a supper human stature in Abia state where anybody who wanted to be anything in Abia state must first go and get his mother’s permission and the jobless women in Abia state became the domestic house helps of his mother. Apart from that what else did he achieve in Abia state or in Nigeria? Is it because he built a football team? Tell me one single school, one single University that functioned successfully during his tenure? What legacies did he leave behind that children of Abia state still have to go to Ghana to acquire ordinary education? What hospitals did he either build or equip?
How really do we measure these achievements we are talking about? I am at a loss.
He wants to be president. Yes he is welcome. But I have told you the legacies he left behind. We elected him as governor and he surrendered the administration of the state to his mother. That is what he is going to do when he gets to Abuja. Outside that tell me any other thing that he left as a legacy in Abia state. I cant see any myself.
Some people talked about his having a link with Okija shrine.
No, I wouldn’t go into that but I can tell you as some one who was involved in election petitions in Abia state, that most of these things were false, then the ones that were true were exaggerated. I will tell you that when I was in Abia state, a very very important and wealthy business man came to me and showed me a letter of invitation to Okija shrine to answer to an allegation made against him by some business associates and he said what he wanted me to do was to arrest those people and subject them for intimidating him.
I give you this example for you to know that it was not only politicians that were going to Okija shrine. What happened was that the courts were failing the people and they were looking for alternative dispute resolution environment. That was why going to Okija Shrine came about.
Now, as for policians, they discovered, and I can tell you this because these were things that featured in my practice. A lot of financiers would come to my office and complain that they financed a politician but now the politician is not paying them and they ask if they could take a civil action in court to recover their money. And my advice is there is no provision in the law that allows you to do that. It is a fraudulent agreement (laughter), it is an agreement contrary to law. So you cannot go to court to go and enforce it. So some of these people then said, “okay, if I am going to lend you money to run for governorship and I am not going to get it from you, by due process under the law, you must have to come to go and swear for me before the Okija shrine.”
He himself turned to his commissioners and said, “If I am going to make you a commissioner, you must have to swear oath of allegiance to me personally and you have to do it before the shrine at Okija because if you just sign an agreement with me I can’t enforce it against you”. That is how Okija came into the picture.
I can tell you that I have seen a lot about politics as a lawyer and I know that on one occasion I had been called upon to go before a shrine to get my fee because it was thought that if I wasn’t bound over, that my honesty and confidence will not be secured, that I might switch sides. So to satisfy my client that I will remain loyal to his cause, he will put his money before a shrine and I will take it there.
Of course I said “go to hell”, (laughter). I said “go to hell” and because I am some one that likes to try anything once, on one particular occasion I was invited to a place in Oguta to go and take my money. Out of curiosity I said let me go and see what will happen. So I went there, it was a coffin, (laughter).
Hope you are not talking about Arthur Nzeribe?
(Laughter) And the money was put in a coffin and I was asked to take it (laughter). I just looked at the fellow who was talking to me and walked back, entered my car and drove back to Aba. Then I packaged their file and returned it to them and withdrew from that case.
So I know that these things exist but I know of an attorney general in Abia state under Orji Uzor Kalu that never went to any shrine. I can tell you authoritatively that he never went to any shrine.
But something very funny happened when we were doing an election petition for Theodore Orji. This evidence was given that there was no how you could be a commissioner under Orji Uzor Kalu without going to Okija shrine, that all commissioners under Orji Uzor Kalu went to Okija shrine. The attempt was to prove that Theodore Orji went to Okija shrine.
But this gentleman who I know could never have gone to Okija shrine was so annoyed when the evidence was given and he was a member of my team. He asked that I allow him to take the cross examination and I said he can take it. So he got up and looked the gentleman in the face and said, “You have just told the tribunal that every commissioner under Orji Uzor Kalu went to Okija shrine. So you mean I went to Okija shrine”.
I jumped up and said, no don’t do that (Laughter). The tribunal said, no, I won’t record that. So these things were not as serious as people thought and I knew it wasn’t everybody that went to Okija shrine.
There was a photograph published of Orji Uzor Kalu at the shrine. They wanted to use it against him when I was his counsel, they didn’t succeed, I blocked it. But then it opened the eyes of people.
So when it was the time of Theodore Orji, they went and faked a phototric or film in what looked like a shrine and they came and showed it to me and said, “you are finished, we are going to tender it to prove that your man went to Okija shrine”. But inside them they know that Theodore Orji didn’t go to any shrine.
Orji didn’t leave it in my hands. He decided to do something about it. So while I was doing my own bit inside the court, he went and got his men to produce his opponent in Okija shrine also (laughter). So you looked at both photographs (laughter). So you see these photographs are easily doctored and faked. So I don’t believe in Okija shrine.
What do you mean by saying that Orji Uzor Kalu surrendered the administration of Abia state to his mother? Why did he do that?
Impunity and ignorance of the essence of statesmanship. We do not understand what our relationship to power should be. A governor thinks he has become the god of the place and the people actually ascribe him the attributes of God. And tell me any God that you know that didn’t have a powerful mother. Jesus had one, (laughter). So, that is it for you. Superstition, ignorance, impunity, all put together. Obama did say that one of the problems with Africa is that we try so hard to build strong personalities and not strong institutions. If you have strong institutions, strong personalities won’t arise. Therefore any strong personality begins by trying to destroy institutions. Because if the institutions stand, you can’t stand. You will become the ordinary human being that God created you if the institutions hold sway. So the first thing that an ignorant person wants to do is to destroy the institutions. That is why the constitution is the enemy of any person in power. The only time that a person in power wants to have anything to do with the constitution is when it favours him, otherwise Obasanjo will tell you that the constitution is a straight jacket he never wants to wear.
That is the attitude of people in power in Africa. They don’t want to hear that there are things they cannot do.
What is the problem with the judiciary? People are saying that the judiciary is now very corrupt.
I must tell you that it is unfortunate that we have to be talking in terms of the rot in the judiciary. I have always believed that the one institution that should remain incorruptible if we are ever going to survive is the judiciary. But unfortunately evil men have found their way into the judiciary and it started as an avalanche under Obasanjo. It is now so bad that I look back in nostalgia at the days when I was a young lawyer and I could walk into the Supreme Court and talk about the law with pride. It is not now. Nothing is now certain.
There is a policy statement that says, “If you discard the law, you go astray, and everything will become uncertain to everybody”. We have succeeded in discarding the law in Nigeria and we are all going astray and nobody can now be certain as to what is right and what is wrong. It is a pity.
I am not proud of the stories that come out of the judiciary. I am not going to pick specific cases because it is dangerous to do so. Judges work under very difficult circumstances and they are supposed to declare the law according to the kind of advocacy they receive. I can tell you that there have been circumstances in which judges have made serious mistakes because they didn’t get adequate assistance from the bar. But I don’t know to what extent I can now exculpate our judges on that core. Afterall don’t we normally say that the law resides in the bossom of the judges? So to what extent really can a judge give as an excuse for bad judgment that lawyers did not educate him?
Some of the judgments are so scandalous that you don’t know what to say, whether this is just a case of crass ignorance, crass incompetence or just plain corruption. I don’t want to criticize specific judgments but some of the judgments leave one wondering.
There is another aspect of it that I must mention. The general decline in the standard of education. Our generation of judges that were trained overseas have virtually gone. In the Supreme Court at the moment you have judges who are products of the Nigerian law school. Some of them at the Supreme Court now are my mates.
And how did some of them get to the Supreme Court? It is not because of excellence in practice, it is because of either quota system, because you want to balance the ratio of men and women, or quota system because you want to balance one ethnic group and the other, or quota system because you want to balance one state and the other. These are the criteria for getting to the Supreme Court. Not because you have been shown to be exceptionally good with the law or that you have had exceptional experience in the law.
There are others that got there not because of any of these criteria that I have mentioned but even by reason of some other more dangerous criteria, example, that you did a wonderful job for the president and his party when you were in the election tribunal and then it was considered that you should be compensated, you are then elevated.
When they elevate you to the Court of Appeal, it is a stone throw to the Supreme Court. That is how some of them got to the Supreme Court.
So, when I look at the mode of ascendancy and then look at the quality of adjudications, compare it with what I used to know, I shake my head. I am coming close to my 50th year in advocacy.
There was a time I wore my wig and gown with pride when I walked into a court of law. There was a time that I could tell the litigant precisely what the outcome of the case will be, based on the certainty of law. It is no longer so now. If you venture to tell your client what the outcome of litigation is going to be, you will find yourself completely messed up.
And I had argued a matter before the Court of Appeal in which I was motivated by zeal to correct a legal error previously made by the Court of Appeal.
I was there trying to do something that was considered unimaginable, making the Court of Appeal to over rule its previous decision and agree that it was wrong.
After I had done the work in court, my client told me that it wasn’t what I did in court that will give him victory, that he was looking for a way to see the Judges, do I know them? I said of course I don’t know them but that I have given them some serious assignment and that I believe that I know what their verdict was going to be.
My client laughed at me and said, “well that is your own but I am not going to leave anything to chance” that he will look for someone who knows them. And whenever your client, an Igbo man in government tells you that, you can imagine what he is talking about. He is going to a particular part of Nigeria to go and get a lawyer because he believes that they know how to reach Judges. Eventually the Judges were courageous enough to agree with me on all grounds and alter their previous position on the matter.
My client didn’t give me credit for it. He believed it was the late night meeting he had with the Judges that solved the problem.
So, you see there are so many things wrong with our system. So I don’t know where to blame it but it is the corruption that is destroying this country, it is unimaginable.