Owing retired judges makes fighting corruption a mirage — Ojo, SAN

By Innocent Anaba

Mr Olalekun Ojo, SAN, in this interview spoke on the Court of Appeal’s decision on Governor David Umahi’s defection, non-payment of entitlements of retired judges, Supreme Court on INEC deregistration of political parties, among other issues.


The Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu,  had upheld the decision of an Ebonyi State High Court sitting in Abakaliki that Governor Umahi and his deputy, cannot be sacked over their defection from PDP to the  APC. How do you view this judgment?

The judgment is clearly in consonance with the provision of the Constitution of Nigeria. As rightly decided by the Court of Appeal, there’s no provision in the constitution to the effect that a governor and or his deputy shall vacate his or their offices if the governor or both the governor and deputy defect from the political party that sponsored them to another political party.

It is only in the case of legislators, at the national or state levels that the constitution has provided that defecting legislators shall vacate their seats unless their case can be brought within two or three exceptions stipulated in the constitution, one of such exceptions is where there is a division in the party which the legislature has defected. The decision is correct and sound.

The Supreme Court has upheld the deregistration of 22 political parties by the  INEC. What is your reaction to this?

The decision at the Supreme Court is a most welcome one in that the apex court has finally resolved the issue relating to the power of INEC to deregister political parties in the manner stipulated by law. Nobody can fault the decision of the Supreme Court on that. We don’t need mushroom political parties. When you have 25 or 30 political parties on the voters’ register, it inflicts financial burden on the electoral umpire to print ballot papers and so on.

Many political parties are yearning for rotational presidency. Does our constitution support rotational presidency? There is no provision in the constitution supporting rotational presidency. It has always been a political issue and it will remain so for so many years to come. Reason is that any constitutional provision for rotational presidency can be attacked for being undemocratic. In my view, it is better it remains a political issue to be debated and agreed upon by the people, the politicians and the voting public.

Speculation is rife that judicial officers are not paid their entitlements after retirement from the Bench and recently, a retired Judge of the Lagos High Court sued the government over his unpaid entitlement. What does this portend for the judiciary?

It is unfortunate that the entitlements of retired judges, who have diligently and creditably served at the state and federal levels are not paid on time. This is certainly capable of killing the morale of serving judicial officers. I read that of a retired judge of the High Court of Lagos recently took the Lagos State Government to court over non-payment of his entitlement. This is an unfortunate embarrassment and should be discouraged.

I am aware of cases of some judicial officers who were not paid their entitlements before they died. The state and federal governments should seriously address this issue. The government should not push serving judicial officers to do what they are not to do.  It portends grave danger to the judiciary. It will discourage competent lawyers from taking judicial appointments. It will discourage serving judicial officers from creditably performing their judicial duties.

The fight against judicial corruption will be a mirage if the welfare of judicial officers is not adequately taken care of either when they are in office or after they have retired from service.

What is your take on a court judgment deleting section 84(12) of the Electoral Act. Does the judiciary have power to make laws?

The judiciary doesn’t make laws. There is nothing like judicial legislation. The function of the judiciary is to interpret the laws and not to make laws. Diverse opinions have been expressed on the judgment. The judgment in my view, was based on a faulty and misconceived foundation. Should there be appeal against the judgment, it will be difficult to sustain that judgment on appeal.

In view of the insecurity across the country, stakeholders have renewed calls for the establishment of state police. Do you share this view?

I do; reason being that the central policing system has been overwhelmed. So, the creation or establishment of state police will no doubt go a long way in strengthening the existing national police with attendant advantages. For instance, Lagos  will employ its indigenes, who are familiar with the environment and this will booster their intelligence- gathering capabilities. Its advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Do you think that the six new law schools as approved by the Senate will deal with the exponential increase in the number of law graduates from our universities coupled with the backlog that existed over the years?

The reason for the approval of new law schools is no doubt to take care of the exponential increase in the number of law graduates desirous of going to law schools. I do not think we need 13 law schools in Nigeria. I would have preferred the upgrading of the existing ones, so that they can admit more law graduates.

My fear is that the proliferation of law schools may impact negatively on the quality of lawyers that will be produced by these law schools.I am aware that as at today, there are about 237 law schools in America. However, I do not think the way the American system nourishes and ensures quality assurance can be said about Nigeria. Do we have the infrastructure, the manpower, the lecturers to man these additional six law schools? I doubt it.

What is your view on the witness protection and management bill that was recently passed into law?

Witness protection law has always been a very laudable thing in the criminal justice system of any country. Some witnesses are classified as vulnerable witnesses and unless they are legally protected, they may not be available to give evidence in certain criminal cases.

Some vulnerable witnesses will not come to court out of fear, intimidation or inducement. Some may get attacked or killed by persons against whom they have been slated to give evidence in court.

Witness protection also extends to concealing the identity of the witness when giving evidence in court.

Some give evidence behind the screen, they give them a pseudo name, they give evidence and they are cross-examined.

Under the Terrorism Act, we have some provisions there relating to witness protection but, the new one is more comprehensive, it will go a long way in enhancing the criminal justice system in Nigeria.

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