Mansuma Issa is the Kwara state chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), and in this interview with Legit.ng in his office in Ilorin, the legal practitioner explained what could be done to reverse the decline in the confidence in the judicial arm of the government.
What are the contributions made by the judiciary arm of the government to the development of the state?
The judiciary especially in Kwara state has made many contributions to the development of the state and the judiciary has always been a stabilising factor in the internal security of the state as well as the political development of the state. The function of the judiciary unlike the popular assertion of Nigerians is not limited to trying criminals alone, we have chieftaincy disputes that come before the courts.
The courts in Kwara state have always performed beyond expectation because I must confess that there is an allegation of corruption in judiciary, but in Kwara state, we do not have such problems at all. We do not have problems of judicial corruption in this state. We have a first class judicial system in Kwara state manned by ably reliable judges especially the current Chief Judge of the state as he is a first class gentleman. So, the judiciary in Kwara state has made meaningful, positive contributions to the development of the state.
It is being said that the people have continued to lose confidence in the judiciary system, what do you think could be done to reverse this notion?
There are so many things that could be done to reverse the decline in the confidence in the judicial arm of government. The appointment procedure needs to be reviewed, it should not be given to somebody who is highly connected, it should be based to some extent, on merit.
The bar focusing seriously on the procedure of appointment of judges to ensure there is a level playing ground and that's only the best, not only in terms of academic performance, in terms of integrity too, they are appointed as judges, even as Magistrates too and Area Court judges because a court is a court, not minding the designation. After all, they have the power to remand people in the prison custody, which touches on the fundamental rights of subjects.
Secondly, the courts in Kwara state and in Nigeria at large needs to be given sufficient infrastructure to work with as well as equipment. If you go to the courtrooms, even sometimes in High Courts, the structures are quite embarrassing as you can see courts licking when it rains and sometimes when you are in the courtroom, you are looking at the sky inside the courtroom, especially the Offa High Court, Lafiaji High Court, they are not befitting of a High Court complex properly so called. They are mere international embarrassment to the image of the country.
The Magistrate Courts are nothing to write home about, the Area Courts are quite disturbing because they are worst in terms of infrastructure. Now the courts still operate as they were in the pre-colonial era because judges still write in long hands. If they have 20 cases on the list and they now have to write throughout the day; taking witnesses, the proceedings and the rest of it generally, when in advanced countries of the world, as far back as 1800, they were already using verbatim recording equipment machines.
You don’t expect optimal performance in such a situation, because of the advance and civilisation in the country. There are many cases in courts now, so you don’t expect a man to perform if he has to write proceedings in long hands. So, these are some of the areas the government of Nigeria should look at because no investor, I emphasise, in the world would take his money to a country where they do not have an efficient and effective judicial system. So a country must have an efficient and effective judicial system before prospective investors would make up their mind to invest in that country, so these are some of the problems that the government of this country needs to address.
What areas of the state government administration do you think the judiciary would desire improvement on?
There is this separation of power properly so called, and we have the executive, the legislative and the judicial arms of government. The judicial arm of government merely determines the extent of powers of the executive and the legislative arms of government, they interpret the law passed by the legislature and implemented by the executive. So, the judiciary does not have any interest as to what the executive is doing in terms of the development of the state, the development of the state is the discretion and prerogative of the executive. The place at which they want to go is purely the prerogative of the executive arm of government, but the judiciary interprets the laws and defines the extent of limit of the two arms of government.
Is it true that there is disunity in the legal profession?
I am not quite aware of any dis unity in the legal profession because the legal profession is more than ever before united now. We do not have factions at the national level of the Nigerian Bar Association, we have one indomitable and amiable President, A. B. Mahmud (SAN) and at the branch level here in Ilorin, we also do not have factions, we have a united branch under my humble leadership, sub-courted by eminent Senior Advocates of Nigeria and other members of the branch.
People have said that the Nigerian legal system is corrupt, what is your reaction to this assertion?
It is quite unfortunate that one could deny the obvious because the issue of corruption in judiciary has been a thing that the Bar has been addressing for quite a long time, in fact, not only the Bar, even the Bench too, has been addressing the issue of corruption in the judiciary. Mind you, sometimes in July, this year, about three judges were sacked by the National Judicial Council for corruption.
Just before the recent arrest of judges, a justice of the Court of Appeal and three other judges; a judge of the Kano State High Court and even the Chief Judge of Enugu state were sacked by the National Judicial Council for corruption-related allegations. So, the judiciary, among the three arms of government – the executive and the legislature – is the only arm of government that has internal checks on issues of corruption through the NJC. The Bar also has internal checks and balances on issues of corruption; we have the LPDC, Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee.
I was also a member of the LPDC at the branch level here between 2009 and 2016, and I know we have taken decisive actions where there were proven allegations of corruption, I don’t want to mention names but I can assure you, decisive actions were always taken where we have proven cases of corruption against our members.
How do you think the judiciary could be sanitised in the face of the prevalent corruption that has eroded the system?
Corruption is not peculiar to judiciary alone in this country, the Transparency International has identified three types of corruption in this country: we have grand corruption, we have petty corruption and we have political corruption, these are always common features of not only Nigeria but African countries generally, so corruption is not a judiciary, it is parts and parcel of Nigerians. We appreciate the approach the present administration is taking to tackle issues of corruption notwithstanding whatever side comments or objections people may have.
But the current approach; the recent arrest and detention of judges, the Bar is not complaining about the President fighting corruption, the Bar is merely complaining about the method. Nigeria is no longer a primitive society, whatever you are going to do should be defined by law, that is what the Bar is saying, we are not saying don’t fight corruption. The Bar wholeheartedly supports the present administration’s bid to tackle corruption headlong, but we are complaining about the procedure, that is the position of our secretariat and the members generally.
Speaking of the arrest and detention of judges across the country, what is your take on the crisis rocking the country’s judiciary?
The judiciary anywhere in the world, like I said earlier, determines the direction of foreign investments, it is more or less a factor of investment now because it determines the location or the direction of investment, so when you have serious issues of corruption in judiciary, it also lowers the direction of foreign investment into that country. It can as well lead to anarchy, so the judiciary is a very sensitive arm of government that needs to be handled carefully.
It is not a celebration galore but it is an issue that needs to be handled with care because once you say the judiciary, it means the SSS, the Army or whatever security agencies you call it, are not the end as far as the fight against corruption is concerned. They are just collecting raw materials for judiciary to determine whether those raw materials need to go into a finished product. That is, when people are arrested for whatever offences, they must be arraigned in court, that is additional factor, so there are so many things connected with judiciary, that is why we are saying we support the President, but we must proceed with caution so that the image of the country both nationally and internationally would somehow not be affected.
Do you think there is any similarity between what happened during Buhari’s military regime and what is happening now?
As far as I am concerned, what happened in 1984 when Buhari came into power was an attempt to establish good governance or control, so to call it, because the major problem we have in Africa and Nigeria in particular is lack of effective and efficient government because government without control, you don’t call it government.
There must be government with control, government with power to administer laws, it doesn’t matter what class of people are involved, so when you try to establish control in Africa, especially in Nigeria, it is always a problem. During 1984, Buhari tried to establish control that there must be government with powers and each time you try to do that in Africa, you get negative reactions.
But like I have earlier said, the Bar is insisting that actions must be in compliance with the laws of the land, if you are going to arrest and detain people, it must be in compliance with the laws of the land, we are not saying you should not fight corruption or because the people involved are our own, every person is subject to the laws of the land.
So I don’t think there is anything that was wrong even in 1984 when the man came into power because after 1984 when he left, things degenerated and that is why we have this grand corruption now that has negatively affected virtually every facet of our human endeavour, there is serious institutional decline in Nigeria now; both the executive, the legislature and the judiciary seem not to have a government because you will see some persons wake up somewhere as the Niger Delta Avengers or militants or whatever they call it, that if Buhari does this, they are going to launch a war.
Such provocative statement from individual members of a nation is contrary to the sovereignty of the country and there is nowhere in the world where such things are allowed. You will render the government ineffectual if you continue to say that if Mr President appoints somebody to certain positions, you are going to launch a war against the government, and they would actually do it. Things just get worst, and government must devise appropriate means and procedure to stop such provocative and irresponsible behaviour.
There have been speculation that the withdrawal of the forgery case against the Senate President and his deputy is a game of politics, what is your take on this?
Well, I am not a politician, I am a lawyer, so I look at issues from the legal perspective. Whatever is their politics, I don’t know, but as far as we are concerned in the legal profession, if the prosecution is of the view that they do not have a prima facie case against the Senate President, the most honourable thing to do is to withdraw the case from court and that is the point of view, from which I look at it. So if they feel they don’t have sufficient evidence that could sustain the charges before the court, the most honourable thing to do in every civilised country of the world under democracy is to withdraw such charges but if they have their own political arrangements, I am here at Ilorin, not in Abuja, I don’t know.
What is your assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration so far, considering how Nigerians are fairing?
Yes, I think wholeheartedly, like I said, before he came on board in 1984, things were dangerously bad, when he left after 1984, things were dangerously worst, so, to revamp, to recover, to rebuild or to reconstruct is always a difficult task, especially now that there is global depression in terms of oil prices and you know Nigeria is a mono-economy; the price of crude oil determines the pace at which we move in this country, once it goes down, the level of our economic activities also goes down. So, I think given chance and support, the man (Buhari) appears to me, to be interested in the development of this country and he needs our support.