By Chrsty Anyanwu
Boma Ozobia (OON) was the first female to be elected as the president of Commonwealth Lawyers Association in 2011 before she passed the baton to another person in 2013. Early this year, she became a member of the Body of Benchers. She has authored law books and is the Senior Partner at Sterling Partnership, a law firm based in Lagos and Abuja. She spoke with Sunday Sun about the State of the Nation at her Lagos office.
What do you feel about the present state of the nation and which way forward?
It’s a good time to look at the current administration from the perspective of a citizen because I’m a lawyer, I’m a citizen of Nigeria. The policies and actions of government impact on me as it does any other Nigerian and to that extent , one is interested in what they are doing, how they are doing it, and how, perhaps they can do it better and of course this is the half way mark. Come 2019, we are going to go to the poll again and when we go to the poll we will be deciding whether we are going to be voting for them to come back or voting for another change. Similar to what we are doing in England at the moment, they are going to the polls soon. The prime minister is campaigning, she is campaigning on her record and the promise she’s making way reposition her party.
So looking at the promises that they made to us, the fight against corruption that is on going, I don’t think at this stage it would be fair to attempt to evaluate the success of that fight to the extent that they have at least brought it to the floor and people are saying well, you can;t just get away with corrupt practices with impunity. I think that is a good thing. its not just a campaign. we have to see the result. and the result will take time. We are going to court, there are processes in court, some of those .judgements are coming in. EFCC regularly publishes its conviction and they appear to be achieving some measure of success but not so much in the high profile ones. I think there’s a lot of work to be done to ensure that they are not going to co-opt the cases that are not ready so that they can achieve the conviction when they eventually go to court. One thing is to suspect and arrest, it is quite another to go to the court and prove your case beyond reasonable doubt. I think they need to do more work on that aspect. There is wonderful news coming in, our Nigerian right was now the right of choice for Nigerians. Two, three years ago that was not the case. I think that is the major success on the part of government. Government has been supporting farmers. I certainly, I’m seeing the fruit of that in my house, I only eat Nigerian rice. When I started, people were saying local rice? It has sand etc. Tell them No. Now, everyone I speak to is eating local rice and they are understanding the benefits. it is fresh, it has all the nutrient. Unlike these imported rice they kept in the silo for 20-30 years. Dead rice I call it. Now, we have begin to appreciate our own and this has happened in the past few years because, we are creating jobs for ourselves. The time we are farming and feeding ourselves, there will be less demand on foreign exchange and we are creating jobs for ourselves.
Now, talking of foreign exchange, that is where they could have done far better. I think we have suffered lately because our policies and management of that aspect of our economy has been below par. You see naira going from one exchange rate to the other and back again and you don’t see what is causing these wide fluctuations. Perhaps, it goes in the direction that we could have managed things better.
Of course, at the moment, we have an acting President , the question is, do we have a right to know where the president is, when he is coming back, what are his health issues, and all these things? We have a right to some information in the sense that the president is a public figure. He equally has the right to sound silence in the sense that as a public figure he has a right to some privacy and family life. So, there have to be a balance. So, our freedom of information Act, I think is one of the most modern and well thought out act of freedom of information in any jurisdiction. It actually draws back time balance in telling us what we are entitled to know from our public officers and public institutions and what is not there you can treat as being private information. For instance, the president is traveling out of the country, there is constitutional time frame within which he’s out of a country for longer than that, he should transmit a letter to the National Assembly and the Vice President begins to act .The Vice president should always act in his stead naturally because thats why he is his deputy. whether or not he transmits that letter, that letter is a data point. He transmitted the letter, he’s done what he owes us, beyond that, he has a right to his privacy. Thats the fact. because theres no lacuna , theres no gap, government is running. Until such a time that he comes back and says I’m back to work. for me, that is not my concern. My concern now is Nigeria. Mr acting President, are you able to get on with the job, there are no constitution impediment to your ability to get on with the job. He travels out of the country as he did recently, what happened? If there’s a vacuum in the executive, the legislative arm can set in. Talking about the state of the nation I think those are my comment.
How would you assess Osinbajo?
Government is continous. These things that are coming to fruition are things that did not start in a day. its not as though the acting president being acting will start on a new project. NO. because they were elected together. They made us promises together, they had a one manifesto, they are a team and so whatever he’s doing is what he and Buhari committed to. And its the work they have been doing from day one for the past two years. To me there’s no difference. The only thing that has changed is one individual is out for the time for health reason and the other individual who has been his deputy is acting. If they were not aligned they would not have been a team, they would not have been working together from the start, they would not have campaigned together. The acting president as his deputy would have had a different manifesto but that was not the case. its clear to me that all that they are doing and what they continue to do is to deliver on the promises that was made to us. There’s something else a lot of people don’t know. It is that his portfolio as the Vice President he is in charge of the economic team so to speak. and therefore he was not sitting there as the president deputy doing nothing.
What’s your take about the 2017 budget?
I’m sad that the 2017 budget is taking too long. If you really mean well for this country, everybody should work together to ensure that the budget is carried out and implemented from the beginning of the year. I run a business. i run a law practice and the law practice is a business, so I consider my law practice an SME. I can’t start the year without a budget. Similarly for a country, it is unacceptable and its unfair on Nigerians and whilst we are looking at our executive arm we should also be looking at the legislative arm. These people have been elected as our representatives to represent our constituency. Who represents me as a member of House of Representative or as a Senator and what is he doing there? Does he or she truly represent my interest, what bill, what questions did he add, what role has he played, and if am unhappy with what he’s doing there I have a right to recall him. But we are not focusing on the individual members of the House of Representatives, or the individual senators who have gone to Abuja in our name and asking them questions. Hold each one to account for his or her record in the House of Representative or in the senate. Some of the things you see, you wonder, are they representing the people? that is the question and likewise at state level. If federal is too far from you, state is not. The same goes to local government. Local government is the most important tier of the government to the individual, to the citizen, my primary school where my child goes why have they not got money for capital development, put borehole, generator, additional classroom, why are teachers not paid? That’s what the Freedom of Information gives us. Don’t only think its just a journalist thing, it’s a citizen act . Use it and hold them to account at local government level, what did you do with the money? We know how much was allocated to you, how did you spend it? That is the question I have the right to ask and you must answer me.
Judges and lawyers are being accused for slowing down the anti-corruption battle
You see, anybody who is accusing judges of slowing down the anti corruption war is not knowledgeable about the processes, the way the court works. The court is neutral and therefore the judge is neutral. There is a court list, if its Lagos here 18 to 30 cases on that list, they will call the case. Are the parties present? If parties are absent, is there Counsel for the claimant? Yes, Counsel for the defendant? No. The judge is an arbiter. Do we go ahead or don’t we? In order for justice to be done i will give you time, let us see if the other lawyers will come next time, the case is adjourned. These are some of the things that cause the delay. I have this paper, I need this, my evidence is still incomplete. Then the matter is adjourned and the impression is given that the judge or the court is delaying. The court cannot adjourn on its own, except there is something, maybe ceremonial or whatever that means that date is vacated. Really, what tends to happen is that people are not ready before they go to court, they file and they are still gathering evidence. That doesnt help matter. What should be happening here and I have been advocating it is that the lawyers who represent these individuals, who come to this court and cause these interminable delays should be penalized. If I come to the court and ask for adjournment that I’m not ready, I see that this is unreasonable. I’m the professional, you cant blame my client who is paying me as a professional. Its like going to a doctor, you are going to rely on a doctor, by the time you make me pay cost for that day, the next time I will be careful not to slow things down and not delay the court.
The issue of whistle blowing, do you subscribe to it?
Absolutely. Even the freedom of information act protects the whistle blower to an extent. Theres a bill I heard that is being process which will provide even stronger protection for whistle blower. Whatever tool we can imploy to curb corruption and to ensure that those who have enriched themselves unjustly, illegally from our common wealth are forced to return our money then we should employ it. Half bread is better than none they say and I say 95 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing. I hear its only 5 percent they give the whistle blower. Give them the five percent let them blow the whistle.
What about the political participation of women in politics. How do you assess the women participation in Buhari administration compared to other presidents?
None of them have done well. In the course of this democracy none of the administration has given women their due. You can talk about elective positions where we contest, those positions the women are naturally disadvantaged because of the cultural norms, the fact that political meetings tend to happen late at night, its capital intensive to run for these elective position. You can’t blame any administration that women are not coming out to run for any election, but you can certainly blame the executive that is appointing, you appoint 30 ministers you cannot find 15 women. We are 50 percent of the population of this country. there are many competent women and there are competent men. Look at the newly elected president of France, Macron, he made sure its 50 /50. We are coming out of the university same as the men are, women are achieving in all fields so you cannot tell me you cannot find a competent woman to appoint to any position in the country. From the Obasanjo regime to the Jonathan regime to the Buhari regime they have all failed women and they can all do better.