Barr Frank Tietie is an Abuja-based lawyer and executive director of Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER). In this interview, he speaks on the welfare of lawyers, corruption in the judiciary and the appointment of the next CJN. Excerpts:
How do you see the ongoing NBA election campaigns?
Well, Ken Mozia (SAN) has been appointed as the chairman of the electoral committee. Last week there was an observation meeting with the opening of the Expression of Interest for candidates. It was transparent. Awomolo (SAN), J.K. Gadzama (SAN) and the representative of A.B. Mahmud (SAN). The last pair is the front-runners for the post of president from the North.
It is promising to be something novel in NBA elections and for the entire country because it is going to be done through e-voting. The platform as we speak is being demonstrated in Benin. I think it is very impressive and I am happy to be part of the association that wants to blaze the trail in transparent elections in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the reports coming to us on the Unity Bar have not been encouraging. There are two persons claiming the post of chairman and secretary respectively. That now brings to the fore the issue of leadership and whether it is for service or self-aggrandisement. People see the crave for leadership at this level as not being genuine. If you look at the national Bar, people like A.B. Mahmud and J.K. Gadzama, and the history of the leaders, you see that they go for it maybe for status enhancement or even a sense of achievement, that is we have gone to the point of leading the entire Bar.
Do you share the optimism that the presidential candidates have mouth-watering programmes?
I do not share in any of those excitements because right from mid-90s, since the revival of the Bar, we have seen a lot of promises on the improvement of lawyers’ welfare. None of them has been realised. Lawyers suffer poor self-esteem in this country. The proper description is that they are one of the economically endangered species in this country. The Bar as a trade union has done nothing to safeguard the economic welfare of lawyers particularly, young lawyers in this country.
As we speak, the minimum wage for lawyers that work in a law office at a time was officially N10, 000 and now still N15, 000. Most of them don’t even get the minimum wage. Most lawyers don’t have places to do internship when they get out of the Law School. And when they take them they are automatically promoted associates so that most chambers would avoid paying salaries. We talk about loans to enable lawyers get cars and law books. And the idea of Stamp and Seal to protect the legal profession from quacks and impostors who may want to take economic benefits especially, when it comes to franking conveyance of documents, started in 1997 under Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and took almost 20 years 2015 to actualise. The profession has been so bastardised it is not protected and standardised. It is a survival of the fittest. So there is no excitement over the promises because they will be jettisoned immediately after the election.
What is your take on the allegations that the judiciary is corrupt?
The reason we have these allegations is because the judiciary is manned by human beings. But the reason it is becoming rife is because we are operating a clannish and cultic approach to professionalisation, where if you don’t belong you don’t have favours. We have men of integrity in the judiciary, but their hands are tied when it comes to giving favours to the people they are either politically, economically connected to or by blood. So those are very difficult forms of inducement.
With the case the EFCC is trying to establish against Justice Yusuf, you do not think N750, 000 is significant enough bribe to influence a judge. But we have seen allegations of judges being paid N15 million to issue an injunction and counter injunction reversing the earlier one. While the case of Justice Yusuf can’t be a barometer to say that there is corruption in the judiciary but when judicial decisions are now made based on considerations other than law, that is when we can actually say there is corruption.
The accusations of financial inducement against judges should not be tolerated because there is no much evidence in that regard, but the confidence that the judiciary at all times are impartial, to that extent it is difficult to say that the judiciary is completely free of corruption.
What about allegations that senior lawyers aid their corrupt clients to evade justice?
The criminal justice system we have does not actually aid the fight against corruption. But our criminal justice system should also be praised for being unduly protective of the citizen. Our constitution favours the citizen more based on presumption of innocence. It guarantees the fundamental rights. Even the appellate process, which goes up to the Supreme Court, even when it comes to interlocutory applications, it is supposed to guarantee those freedoms. That is the essence of democracy. We cannot blame the constitution in trying to protect those freedoms.
Again, who is our DPP? Why can’t we invest more in the ability of the Ministry of Justice to prosecute? Why don’t we have lawyers in the class of Rotimi Jacobs and make him the head to prosecute corruption cases? You don’t have to have Rotimi Jacobs and Festus Keyamo as contractors. Advertise the job of the DPP and prosecutors in the Ministry of Justice and make it attractive and let lawyers who would want to fight corruption apply, in such a way that our hands will be seen to be clean. Because as private practitioners who have had some of the said corrupt persons as clients, you don’t expect us to do their cases in a dispassionate manner. Attorney Generals of the Federation and in the states should step up.
It has always been the problem of the civil service that people who are only interested in the salaries and the perks of the office are employed rather than those who are passionate and interested in making a career out of public prosecutions.
As the CJN retires in a few months, what kind of CJN do we expect to see in terms of judicial reforms?
The history of this country has recorded a progressive Supreme Court. Those of us in the legal profession pride ourselves in traditions. There is the Principle of Stare Decisis; that is judicial precedence. That is every decision in Nigeria’s justice system must be based on what has been decided before.
There is no contention whatsoever as to the process that will lead to the appointment of the next CJN. The tradition has always been on seniority. The most senior judge will be recommended to the president by the National Judicial Council. The president does not have the prerogative to look outside the senior judge in the appointment of the next CJN.
How do you view the anti-corruption campaign?
It has not been transparent and impartial enough. It has not been able to shake off the vestiges of vindictiveness. And the way and manner this administration has gone about it may end up being more destructive than restorative.