Mr. Kunle Adegoke is a legal practitioner and right activist. In this interview, he speaks on recent conflicting courts’ orders which threw members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) into confusion and other sundry issues.
What are your thoughts on allegations of judicial corruption?
To a large extent, no one can claim that he is not aware of the allegations of corruption in the judiciary. Way back in 2007, a retiring justice of the Supreme Court mentioned it that corruption had eaten deep into the judiciary and had even found its way into the Supreme Court.
That doesn’t mean that all the justices are corrupt. We know of noble men and women who will never engage in corrupt practices. But there are bad eggs in the judiciary, we must acknowledge that.
Nevertheless, we must note that people have a tendency to level allegations of bias against a judge if a decision doesn’t go their way, and that is one thing that I normally run away from.
As a lawyer, if I lose a case and I disagree with the decision of the judge, I prefer to go on appeal. If (I lose) even up to the Supreme Court, well, that is how God wants it and I go home.
When you damage the reputation of a judge, he is not in a position to come out and say, ‘no, it is not like that.’ He cannot go to the press and you would have succeeded in damaging his reputation.
And in Nigeria, we are a nation of no consequences, nobody will even immediately arrest you for such a statement.
But if you have concrete evidence against a judge, a number of judges have been removed from the Bench on the basis of concrete evidence of having collected money or having been compromised.
What is your view on conflicting courts’ orders which rocked APC recently?
It is a lot of disservice to judicial integrity when courts of coordinate jurisdiction give conflicting decisions with respect to the same subject matter.
It is a great mischief on the part of a party that approached another court of coordinate jurisdiction to obtain an order in conflict with what he knew that another judge had decided. But that is a reprehensible lifestyle of some politicians who think they can manipulate every other institution to their crooked advantage. It is condemnable and ought to be punished.
This is one of the reasons the public tends to be suspicious of any decision made by our courts and that is how public confidence in a judiciary gets eroded gradually.
A sure way to destroy a nation’s democracy is to compromise its judiciary as there will be no impartial arbiter for disputes in which the court has jurisdiction by law, and any decision arising from any court would be taken with suspicion by the general public. Our judges have to safeguard their integrity, attend to cases with full cognisance of their judicial oath, protect the institution they labour to join and nurture the future of the country. Other countries we run to consciously developed their institutions and one of the factors killing development and fostering extreme poverty in Africa is absence of enduring institutions capable of alleviating poverty and protecting human rights.
It was not like this in the olden days when a mere cough from a judge would command silence from the Nile to the Zambezi. Today, people treat with disdain decisions of courts when they are shrouded in the mystery of suspicion.
The impression of the masses is that the judiciary is available to whoever can pay. Thoughtful politicians in sane climes do not destroy any institution for selfish purposes. In fact, the judiciary is too important for any ragtag politician to seek to destroy just to score some cheap political points. Our democracy is being imperiled by such political traders who do not appreciate the essence of rule of law and the centrality of judicial independence to the sustenance of rule of law. When the judiciary is destroyed, no serious investor would move near your country and no serious development can take place.
Politicians approaching the court to obtain favourable orders when they know that a pending order exists contrary to their interests in another court ought to be severely punished. When such is made a subject of punishment in judicial proceedings, I am sure such practice would be controlled.
Besides, the National Judicial Council ought to investigate such cases, make appropriate recommendations where anyone is found culpable.
What would you say to the judgements delivered by the Supreme Court on Imo and the Bayelsa states governorship tussle?
I have read the judgements and I want to believe that the Supreme Court is right. It’s not because I am a lawyer but I think the apex court is in order considering the facts placed before it.
If you look at the Imo case, the gentleman (Uzodinma) was only making a similar complaint that Adekunle Ajasin made against Omoboriowo in 1983.
In Ajasin and Omoboriowo, the case was that the result used in declaring Omoboriowo were cooked up and all the results were submitted to the Tribunal. The Tribunal looked at the result and came to the conclusion that indeed the results leading to the declaration of Omoboriowo were not authentic. It consequently did the needful by declaring Ajasin as the winner of the election.
So, at the level of the Supreme Court, it said yes, this is correct. They said if this is the authentic result and they used a fake result to declare someone the winner, it is the court’s duty to correct that wrong stance taken by INEC. It is the duty of the court to correct it. Nobody can now say how can the court be computing figures as some people are wrongly saying? It is the duty of the court to do electoral justice, to ensure that correct figures are tabulated.
Looking at the results, the guy said over 300 polling units were excluded, some were nullified. When the court looked at these documents all together, it saw that with the results that the man said were excluded, if you add everything, the number of votes in favour of the APC candidate was more than those gathered by the rest.
The case of Bayelsa was sequel to internal crisis of a particular party. Governorship is a bipolar structure; it stands on two legs – governor and deputy governor. The deputy governor is a governor-in-waiting, if anything happens to the governor. Let the governor go senile now, the deputy becomes governor. That is why the Constitution designs both offices differently.
The governor exercises nearly all the powers, the deputy governor is like ‘I’m waiting for you to die.’ So, without one, the other is a goner. Now, you must have competent candidacy, because the two of them are like one candidate, so, if one is incompetent, the other is not competent. The law is structured in a way that once the governorship candidate is elected (in a party’s primary) he will now choose the deputy and that is when he has a competent candidature. Without someone to run with him, he (his candidacy) is a nullity.
Can someone go into a marriage without a wife or a husband? It’s not possible. They cannot be said to be a couple if one is not a wife and the other is not a husband. That’s the case in Bayelsa. So, once the court nullified the candidature of the deputy, it will affect that of the governor, because that means he ran for the election without a deputy.
Concerns have been raised by some of your colleagues over applications by different political parties asking the Supreme Court to review its decisions . What is your take on this?
I stand to be proved wrong; it is not within the powers of the Supreme Court to sit over its own judgement just because a party is complaining. Yes, the Supreme Court has the power to set aside a judgement where it was obtained by fraud. But when parties come before the Supreme Court and argued that case to the best of their abilities, even if the Supreme Court comes to a wrong conclusion, it doesn’t have the power to review that decision. It is ‘functus officio’, otherwise, everybody will be going back to the Supreme Court for a review and there will be no end to litigation.
Note that it is a different thing for the Supreme Court to hear an application seeking a judgment review and a different thing to review the judgment itself. The PDP candidate in Imo approached the Supreme Court with an application for a review; whether rightly or wrongly, the court must hear that application. Hearing the application does not amount to reviewing itself.
How can judiciary’s intervention in the nation’s electoral process be reduced?
The populace should be more interested in how candidates of political parties emerge. They should not just wait for parties to produce just anybody, whether an idiot or a lunatic. Civil society organisations should also show more interest in the candidates of political parties.