From Wilson Okereke, Afikpo
A Law lecturer in Ebonyi State University (EBSU), Dr Donatus Ikechukwu Njoku has expressed doubt that the technologies recently introduced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will not totally eliminate rigging in the forthcoming general elections.
The principal of D.I. Njoku Chambers also spoke on other sundry issues including the condition of service of judicial officers. He spoke on various issues.
Some people are still entertaining fear that the newly introduced technological devices by INEC may disappoint during the forthcoming general elections; what’s your opinion?
I will simply say that INEC officials are on trial because we don’t know how effective and efficient their machines are including other logistics and security but let us watch and pray, though rigging can’t be stamped down because violence is also part of the rigging, destruction of polls is part of rigging, seizure and destruction of electoral materials are part of the rigging; what we have achieved is that the case of ballot box snatching is being tackled but there are other enormous ways the election can be rigged.
What is your suggestion?
The officials should do more on security and logistics to ensure that the servers and all the newly introduced technologies are functioning optimally, there should not be limited network during voting because such can lead to rioting; same applicable to a situation where a particular polling unit is destroyed by thugs, such polling unit is rigged mostly when a particular candidate has many supporters.
With some recent bold judicial pronouncements especially against government establishments and officials such as the EFCC Chairman, IGP and the cases of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu which the Federal Government had lost severally; do we say that the judiciary has stamped its independence?
The judiciary is the last hope of a common man because without judiciary, many things would have collapsed; the personnel adjudicate issue relating to individuals, same to the executive and the legislative arms of the government.
Ideally, it is created to be independent because it is a third arm of the government and it has many safeguards in the constitution, for instance, the removal of the officers is difficult, one cannot wake up and remove a judge, especially those in the superior courts as High Court, Customary Court of Appeal, Court of Appeal and others; their tenure is secured even in the retirement, their salaries are paid for life. So, they have no need to derail but because of human factor, at times, one will hear that a judge is indicted but under normal circumstances, it is not supposed to be so but notwithstanding, Nigeria Judiciary has come to stay.
There are so many landmark cases which are as old as Nigeria, when the military came into power with what is called Decree 4; it was challenged by a judge known as Lakemi (ie Lakemi against AG) that is to show how bold the judges ought to be, though, in the recent times, we have seen so many incidents where high ranking personalities are indicted as the case of Accountant-General of the Federation and EFCC Chairman and many convictions by those who were arraigned by EFCC.
Some generals had been arrested on ground of corruption; this shows that judiciary is no respecter of people, it does not look at the faces, the judges are supposed to be bold, that is why the symbol of judiciary is a woman with a sword and scale whose eyes are covered. This means that the judges are not expected to look at faces while delivering their services, that is the symbol of the judiciary.
In Abakaliki, the judges are good, there were so many persons being detained unlawfully who were released by the officers without minding the state government’s stand on those matters, though in every twelve, there must be a Judas. If people see one judge derailing, why won’t they look at many other judges who are performing well.
Concerning the safeguards of the judges as I earlier said, as the state governor will be doing his own in the executive arm, the judge is supposed not to interfere. When members of the legislature are doing theirs, we cannot interfere, thus, every arm is supposed to act independently. This is why they do run to us as the cases of election petitions; they will be struggling to either reclaim or fortify their mandates.
The judiciary is like a pig which everything can be thrown at, this is why at times, they will be trying to condemn us. In Ebonyi State, the judiciary is not financially independent, it is only when we can perform our responsibilities without applying for someone to give us money, that is when the system will begin to experience independence unlike now that we usually run to the government before we can do anything involving money as salaries.
Does the financial dependency affect higher courts?
No, at the Federal High Courts, there is financial autonomy and that is why they are giving robust judgments simply because they are independent; a careless governor may even starve the judiciary of funds knowing fully that the only thing which can guarantee the autonomy of the judiciary and boldness of the judges is for them to be financially independent; with such measure, some people would not derail.
What can you say about the customary courts and the dispensation of justice?
Customary Court is a court created to bring justice to the doorstep of the masses; that is why, if you look at the customary court rules, it is simplified in a way that the local and uneducated person can go there, file an action and do his case quickly without looking for help from anybody unlike the magistrate and high courts where there are proceedings.
In Ebonyi State, people complain that the dispensation of justice which supposed to be speedy since it does not require many things to be filed supposed to be speedy in such a way that one can file today and get judgment the following day provided all the parties are heard but the reverse is the case, though there are reasons behind that.
In Ebonyi, quite unlike the cases in Imo, Abia, Delta and Edo states, the chairmen of all the customary courts are mainly on part-time basis but in the places which I have mentioned, the chairmen of all the customary courts who are lawyers are on permanent employment and they do go to court everyday but in Ebonyi State, lawyers who are chairmen of customary courts are on part-time employment with their cases in other courts; they usually squeeze out one day or two at most to attend to court cases in the customary courts.
Other days, they use it for their individual matters at various courts and under such arrangement, something that one does on a part-time basis remains part-time; the second factor is poor remuneration, a chairman of customary court is paid only N30,000 per month and under such condition, the person’s spirit for hard work won’t be there. I can remember that most of those courts are a distance away from Abakaliki town; for instance, there is one at a place called “Ominyi” which costs about N2,000 from Iboko in Izzi LGA to the court and the chairman is paid the sum of N30,000 per month.
On this note, the person will only squeeze out one day in a month to go there and as a result of that, the administration of the customary court will be dull, slow and bedeviled with nonchalance.
What is the remedy?
Let there be a law to make the positions of the chairman permanent; they should be employed on permanent basis, by so doing, they can be queried. If they fail to be at their duty posts but the case of N30, 000 per month while their counterparts in Imo State and other places receive over N250,000 monthly whereas their engagement is permanent, it is on this note that the people are seen sitting from Monday to Friday. That is why I earlier mentioned poor remuneration as one of the factors, thus once they are paid high, with such situation, they will even allot their time as two days to their personal cases and three days to the cases at the customary courts; how can one pay a lawyer N30,000 per month and expect him to do his best? It won’t work.
Therefore, the solutions include paying them reasonably and making their positions permanent because without these, no one should cry wolf and expect them to be at their duty posts regularly. How can someone who receives only N30,000 be expected to have three days sittings in his court? Whoever that says that should first of all ask, how the lawyer feeds.
What is your view concerning the crisis rocking some political parties in the state?
Though, I am not a politician, so, I would not know that but it may not be crisis per se. Rather, people are trying to assert their rights or they want to secure their rights as recently the nullified candidature of “Anyichuks” which occurred simply because another group asserted that they ought to be nominated. If anyone who is aggrieved goes to court over his mandate, there is no crisis in such action.
I have not been a politician in my life, I have been a lawyer since the past 30 years, though I am not regretting not being a governor or other political office holder but that does not undermine the fact that I will not accept it, if it is given to me and I don’t envy them too.
What is your assessment of the government of Ebonyi State?
I am not competent to assess the government because I have a family to meet at the end of the day. Please, allow me to go quietly to my house, I do not want to assess the government though I have seen many flyovers, airport and many more, so the officials are doing well, the government is doing well, the “Ayee” has it.