“They (National Judicial Council) know what to do. The NBA should not take it kindly with lawyers who file frivolous cases in court.”
Dr Paul Ananaba is a consummate legal practitioner and Senior Advocate of Nigeria with passion in developmental law. He is the chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL).
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SPIDEL is the third Section which the NBA inaugurated on December 19, 2006, and which is aimed at becoming a tool for revolutionary change in the country’s legal and judicial system. With the kick-off of presidential and governorship campaigns, the legal luminary in a chat with Sunday Sun looked at the forthcoming elections and offered some profound opinions on the way forward on vital national issues.
Sometime before the 2015 general elections, a prominent personality in APC and now a minister in the Muhammadu Buhari administration was quoted to have said, in reference to the Goodluck Jonathan administration that a “serious government should be able to solve the power problem in six months.” We have now seen three and half years of this administration, how do you feel about the power supply situation in the country?
Part of the reasons Nigerians actually looked forward to the coming of this regime was the promise that there would be regular power supply. It was even promised that within six months there would be significant improvement in the situation. But that promise has not been kept. It may not necessarily be that the government did not want to keep the promise, but the fact on the ground is that the government has not kept the promise. As you are in my office now, you see that we do not have public power in this area; I am generating my own power. The road that leads to my office is in terrible condition, such that I have to pack my vehicle some distance from the complex and then trek to get to my office. Despite all these challenges, I still believe that there is hope for this country. We are generating a reasonable amount of electricity, but part of the problem is our inability to evacuate the captive power generated by the GENCOs (generating companies). The existing transmission infrastructure is not efficient, therefore, you find that most of the power generating facilities are not operating at full capacity. I will implore the government to improve on the power sector, which has impact on everybody: families, shops, mechanics, tailors, cold storage businesses, hospitals, small agro-processing/packaging entities and the large companies. When you consider the cost of fueling the millions of generators being used in the country, you will be shocked at the damage we are doing to the country economically, socially and in terms of environmental pollution. It is just horrendous.
First, you have to invest in acquiring the generator, fuel it, maintain it and then employ somebody to operate it. It is not just absolutely inefficient, it is purely wasteful. It is an unconscionable wasteful alternative, but this is what we have been doing for over 50 years since we gained independence. Nigeria ought to have solved the problem of power supply immediately after the civil war when the price of crude rose and we had so much money from crude exports, but we have been plagued by non-visionary leaders, who did not know how to make long term investments in the strategic sectors of the economy. Look at China today, the first major problem that Deng Xiaoping tackled when he came to power in China was energy. The combination of cheap energy and cheap labour helped to push China to become a global economic power. More than adequate power also underpins the success of Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Dubai (United Arab Emirates) today. In 1992 or there are about, a major European auto manufacturing company thought of establishing a plant here in Nigeria, but because of the issue of unstable power supply, it went to South Africa to set up the plant and now it exports to Nigeria, which is the major market. Unilever and Cadbury relocated the manufacturing of the flagship brands to Ghana, but Nigeria is the major market for the products in question. The fact that businesses – small and big – have to generate their own electricity is the reason that the cost of operations is very high. If there is steady electricity around the country, many people can stay in their villages and work. In the world today, thousands of activities are now based on the use of information technology; you can stay in your house in a rural area and work.
Are there still other areas you think that the government needs to improve on?
I was one of those who looked forward to the coming of the Buhari administration in 2015. The reason being that when he was a military Head of State from December 31, 1983 to August 27, 1985, and we had the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) and it was very effective. The moral rebirth it brought about in Nigeria was a good thing for us. Somehow, I don’t know…
Do you feel a sense of disappointment?
Well, I am not impressed with what I have seen so far. I believe that certain agencies of the government like the National Orientation Agency should be overfunded because if we don’t get our moral situation right, most of the things we will be doing will not actually work out well. When we begin to stay on queues, drive well, obey traffic regulations, follow due process and all that, then our country will begin to progress. I was in Rwanda recently and you won’t believe that they came out of a terrible war that was a devastating catastrophe. But today, when you get there you see order. We need to change the way we behave and do things. It is not so much about the government’s fight on corruption. Corruption is only one part of the malaise plaguing the country. That is why you cannot succeed in the anti-corruption war when the other vices are not attended to; people should know that stealing is bad, that they should be patriotic. If they are patriotic, they would not steal. Again, there is the worrisome issue of non-compliance with court orders and judgments. Perhaps, I am saying this because I am a lawyer. A lot of things are not done in accordance with the rule of law. I don’t know why it is so, but these are some of the areas I think that the government should critically improve on to sustain the goodwill that swept it into office.
Now that you have mentioned rule of law, we have had instances where the Buhari administration disobeyed court orders and some state governors have done the same thing; but now some governors want the courts to protect them. Should they enjoy such protection?
Yes, they should. The position of the law is not that they should not enjoy the protection of the court because they disobeyed previous orders. That is a moral question. The people that shun the courts are mostly the same people who benefited from the courts. Our nation must go back to obeying court orders and not just that – it includes obeying and giving due regard to court proceedings. If a matter is in court, people should respect the court and accord it dignity. That would strengthen our legal and judicial system.
Would you say that President Buhari has shown leadership in this regard?
I don’t really want to pontificate on this; I cannot say that the administration has shown wholesale disregard to the judiciary; they have obeyed some of the orders. Several state governments have been deficient in this area. What I want to see is a holistic demonstration of respect and regard for the judiciary. It is not a matter you can pick and choose which orders to obey and the ones to disobey.
Does that in any way show recognition of the rule of law and the supremacy of the law?
I believe you have heard the President say that national security overrides the rule of law.
But it is not a globally accepted concept that national security is above the rule of law?
Of course, I am reluctant to agree with the position of the president on this issue. If there is no rule of law then you cannot be talking about national security. National security derives its very authority and existence from the rule of law. However bad the situation we are in, there must be rule of law.
With the forthcoming election, the issue of restructuring has taken a centre stage. Again, former Vice President Abubakar Atiku and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had a media debate on the meaning of restructuring. As a senior advocate and constitutional lawyer, what is your own understanding of restructuring?
First, I believe in restructuring. The founding fathers of this nation (Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Michael Okpara, Herbert Macaulay, Akintola) were very intelligent and they came up with an idea that Nigeria would be better off as a confederation. At that time, without crude oil, the country had the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, University of Lagos, University of Ife, Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Go and look at the buildings they put up in those universities, they are still solid. Any concept of restructuring is the decentralization of power. It was the military that created the problem we have now, whereby everybody runs to Abuja every month for FAAC meetings (Federation Accounts Allocation Committee) to share national revenue. Restructuring entails having the federating units economically self-dependent, controlling their resources. I believe that the six geopolitical zones should be the federating units; they should have some degree of authority and autonomy. For instance, in the Southwest, you have six commissioners of education. One is enough for the Southwest. Then you will have directors for particular areas within the zone. This will save budgetary resources that would have been wasted on the other five commissioners, including their long chain of aides with different nomenclatural identities. What is saved from not having the five commissioners can be used to make a lot of difference in the lives of school pupils. It will significantly reduce the cost of governance. We are spending so much on governance. Restructuring does not mean that the country should break up. I believe in one Nigeria, where peace and justice reign, which is stated in the second stanza of our national anthem. Where there is no employment and the school system is not as good as it used to be, what will happen is that the mass of unemployed graduates and non-graduates will become amenable to crime and criminality. Restructuring will help the regions to discover, develop and build on their areas of comparative advantage. For example, if the North is the best in agriculture, people from the south can go there and invest in corporate bodies that operate large farms. When the geopolitical zones begin to develop areas in which they have comparative advantage, the whole country will grow. It will create regional cooperation and competition like the Lake Rice Project between Lagos and Kebbi State governments. If you have oil, you will soon find out that the oil is not everything. The man that has extensively developed the agriculture value chain to superlative level, like Israel has done, can overtake you in revenue generation. States that have solid minerals will develop the value chain. By then nobody will still be going to Abuja every month. One resultant effect is that corruption fall as the realities begin to checkmate it, because the money the person would want to steal is from his region and the people would not tolerate the stealing of their resources. The people will ask questions and rise to challenge it. The current mindset is that FAAC statutory allocations are still seen as part of the national cake. There will be no more need for the Ministry of Local Government as well as the state and local government joint account. Everybody will look inwards to identify what they have and find ways to develop it. Of course, that revives the issue of resource control because it is inextricably linked to restructuring.
One major obstacle to restructuring has been the demand for Sovereign National Conference. Can restructuring be achieved within the context of the existing Constitution?
The preamble to our present Constitution says, “We the People….” Therefore, we the people can also say how we want to stay together as one country under a new constitution, which will be passed by the people through our elected representatives.
Recently, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission lamented that the commission is contending with conflicting court orders and judgments, and said that the trend would hamper the timely and smooth conduct of the 2019 general election. He indicated that some lawyers do not properly advise their political clients, hence they file frivolous suits. Is that the case?
It is the case and also not the case. I will explain. It is the case and true that some colleagues do not advise the clients properly. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is taking steps to eradicate this. Some of such colleagues will be debarred. They will lose their license to practice. On the issue of conflicting judgments and orders, I think the National Judicial Council (NJC) should stand up to this this. They know what to do. The NBA should not take it kindly with lawyers who file frivolous cases in court. It is also the duty of a lawyer to draw the attention to a previous judgment. In some cases the judge may not know because there is no electronic database of previous judgments. That is why a judge that wants to deliver a judgment that touches on election should warn himself and do a thorough check. Some of these judgments may affect the foundations of this country.
How do you mean sir?
If you make a judicial pronouncement that will lead to riot or revolt and does not take into consideration the peace and progress of the country, that would be very dangerous. There is need for judicial restraint in making pronouncements, because they are not meant to destabilize the country.