Chief Robert Clarke is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who likes talking about the state of the nation and other issues. But in this interview, this senior lawyer who clocked 81 on July 11, revealed unknown details about his private life, the secret of his successful legal practice and also spoke on national issues, among other things. He said despite his old age, he is still feels like a young man because he can still do some things which young men are doing, adding that his advanced age has not stopped him from dancing, partying and drinking though in moderation.
How in your opinion has the Judiciary fared in the last four years?
The judiciary has allowed itself to be compromised by politicians since the advent of the fourth Republic in 1999. Prior to the so-called democracy that we started in 1999, the judiciary was perfect, even though there might have been some few bad eggs. We, lawyers, were happy at the judgments coming from the courts. We were sure when stepping into the courtroom that we were going to get justice. But since 1999, it has changed because politicians brought money – stolen money – to the life of every Nigerian.
The stolen money in the hands of politicians found its way into the judiciary through the hands of lawyers who specialise in election petition cases.
We now have a class of lawyers in Nigeria who are election lawyers and they make more money than any lawyer in Nigeria. And they are not fools; they see how governors are stealing money; so, when the governors have problems, they run to the lawyers, who bill them, and they pay.
Now, not satisfied with giving plenty money to lawyers, they have now gone to the judges. They would tell the lawyers: leave me with the judges. And then they have bastardised the judiciary. That is the problem that politicians have created.
But the judges brought the problems on themselves. When the constitution was written, it says election petitions for governorship and National Assembly elections will end at the Court of Appeal while only the petitions on presidential election will get to the Supreme Court.
When the Salami saga came, we started hearing about judges collecting N1.5bn and the judges in the apex court heard about it. Then the Supreme Court decided that election petitions would now be raised to the status where all cases now come to the Supreme Court. This is self-inflicted injury. Apart from corruption, this development also increased the workload of the Supreme Court Justices.
Can you reflect on your nearly 50 years of legal practice?
I had thoroughly enjoyed practice, but my lowest moments were the times when the Supreme Court, for political considerations, ruled against me in matters, I was certain to win. There are many times I have been at the Supreme Court in cases where I felt like weeping and there was nothing anybody can do; but I knew there was a political undertone. So, the sad period of my practice has been cases with a political undertone, which I know I could not change. But all along for the almost 50 years I have been in practice, I have enjoyed every aspect and I am still enjoying it
How do you cope with advancement in technology and still remain relevant in law practice?
If I can remember vividly, in our time, when we started law practice, whenever Rotimi Williams and others are in court, we do listen to their submissions, arguments and cases they cite and jot it down quickly , because then, there was no law report or facilities where we can rush to then, in order to aid our practice and that means hard work because if you are a young lawyer and you are flippant, you are not listening you won’t be able to get all these. Now technology change, Gani Fawehinmi, great respect to him, he started the law reports, and that was a very fundamental change to law practice in Nigeria, because what we thought we could never get, we got it, especially indexing side of the reports, then we metamorphosed from that to what we have now, that is IT. Now you asked how do I move along? Well adaptation in life is one of the necessity to progress, if you are not capable of adapting to given situation, you will never make progress, fortunately, I have junior lawyers who are very knowledgeable in IT, you won’t believe, I don’t know how to use mobile phone, I can only use it to receive call or make call, others, I have to call someone to help me, that is the area I have not met up technologically and it’s because it doesn’t cause me anything, if am earning from knowing it, I will have learnt it but I can assure you that I was moving with age.
Should the 9th National Assembly consider the agitation for restructuring?
Now, restructuring is different from constitution amendment but what will give power to restructuring is the constitution so, what I will first say is that let us jettison the 1999 constitution, set up a constituent conference where each local government will send a representative to an assembly where they will decide what type of constitution Nigeria needs, after they do it, restructuring will also be part of that exercise, when they have a package, then the president will now carry the package and ask for referendum: Yes or No, do you approve this constitution? Once the people say yes, it becomes the peoples constitution, then the president takes it to National Assembly, this is the voice of the people, pass into a law. The problem is this, the National Assembly today, consists of almost 400 and something members, with due respect to them, Nigeria is just wasting its money, we don’t need bi-camera legislature in Nigeria, we don’t need a Senate, we need one assembly: where every holder of elective office only canvasses for vote within his or her local government. If you want to be the president today, if you don’t have N10 billion in your pocket, you can’t even get nomination of your party, if you don’t have up to N20 billion you cannot transverse the whole country canvassing for vote as president, why do will have to spend such money? That is where our problem starts, allow everybody to contest election within his or her local government so that they don’t spend much money, then, after they are all elected, they all get to the National Assembly and among their peers they pick president which they already know in their various caucuses as it’s done in South Africa. South Africa is running presidential system of government which is akin to parliamentary system of government, the president in South Africa only contests within his local government, he doesn’t spend up to R10, 000 to campaign but here somebody has to first find backers who have monies to support him or her, as soon as he or she gets to office, must refund; all that monies are from the purse of the government and the constitution allows it, because he is the chief accountant, he is the commander in chief, he puts his hand in the purse of the government and spends it, as if it is his money. So, my view is that Mr. President should set up an assembly at Abuja and draft a constitution, restructure everything and have referendum, and bring to the National Assembly, which might not want to approve it because they wouldn’t want to destroy the house where they are eating.
What is your take on the debate for state police?
State police is nothing new in Nigeria. When we were growing up in the North, there was what we called Dan Doguard, the Serikis have their police, in the West, there was local government police, it is not a new thing in Nigeria, we have been using local government police or state police, in the past but the problem is that when the new constitution came, all that disappeared. Like I said, this unitary system of governance was trust upon us by the military, so you have one single command for the police force which is not good, that does not mean we should not have one command of police system but the state can have and should have their own policemen because you need policemen who are indigenes of the state.
What do you make of the recent Fulanisation agenda claim by former President Obasanjo?
I am always ashamed when an educated person talks about Fulanisation in that way. My mother is a Fulani. Hausa/Fulani has no culture more than Islamic culture. But what I am saying is that why do we think negatively? Can anybody tell you now that anybody can change you? No! Now let’s be honest, just by saying that you must be this. No!
It is not a fear, it is political gimmick. Let’s be sincere, politicians are the most dangerous people in any society. They are the people fanning this. Where will Islamisation come from? In Lagos today, half of some houses are Christian and half are Muslim.
Have we ever had any quarrel in Lagos for 100 years? In Ijebu Ode, half are Christians and half are Muslims. Have they ever had any quarrel on Islamisation? Abeokuta, Ogun state, half are Muslims, half are Christians, have you ever had it? It will never happen. They’ve been living together. People who are fanning this ember of Islamisation are people who have never known the other side of it.
No Yoruba man will talk about Islamisation. No Christian in Yoruba land will talk about Islamisation. But those who are fanning it are the politicians. They are using it to divide us. It is what the British colonial system used; divide and rule. They are relevant when there is division among the people. So, there is no fear of Islamisation.
How does life feel at 81?
I feel I’m a young man, because all the things young men do, I still do them till today. But, don’t asked me if it is all but I can assure you that I still get enjoyment of life in all its ramification; I still drink not excessively, I still eat not excessively, I still dance not excessively, I do everything with moderation. I think moderation in life is the key word. I am thankful to God that I have not been thrown down by any sickness or disease even though as an old man, the body talks to you but at 81, I still feel fit, I thought I would have left practice since last year when I was 80 but looking at myself and my body language, by the grace of almighty God, I think I can still practice for another four years.