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Legislators Are Strange Phenomenon To Nigerians – Aniakor

Posted: May 14, 2015 at 3:31 am   /   by   /   comments (0)
• Aniakor

• Aniakor

Onyebuchi Aniakor is a commercial and a notable Constitutional lawyer who has secured many landmark judgments in various courts. In this interview with Senior Correspondent, TUNDE OPESEITAN, he aired his views on some recent national issues, including the refusal of President Goodluck Jonathan to sign the Constitutional Amendment Bill. Excerpts;

What is your take on the refusal of President Goodluck Jonathan to assent to the constitutional amendment Bill passed by the National Assembly?

Well, I think the disagreement there is that the President has said something and the National Assembly felt differently. The President now thinks he need to go to the Supreme Court and the court will now decide who is right or wrong. I think that is the civilized way to go about it. This is because the President has a reason for going to court and the National Assembly will also have a reason for challenging him at the court. The constitution allows the President to go to court. I hope you have not forgotten about the constitutional provisions that what goes to the Supreme Court includes any case between the Federal Government and the State or between one state and the other. Somewhere along the line, there was an amendment that now says if there is a dispute between the Executive and the National Assembly; it is the Supreme Court that has the original jurisdiction to entertain the matter. So, the Executive is appropriate in its right to feel that it has an issue with the National Assembly and it has gone to the Supreme Court where it should go. One thing we should also know is that going to court has never stopped any amicable settlement of any issue. Settlement can be done before parties go to court, it can be done when they are already in court, it can be done before judgement is delivered and it can even be done after the judgement. So, we should not foreclose the fact that the matter can still be settled out of court. At times, settlement is even quickened by the fact that somebody has gone to the court. That is why there is a provision at all the courts that parties should be encouraged on the need for amicable settlement of any dispute.

What is your view on the verdict of Justice Mohammed Liman of a  Federal High Court in Benin who gave Micheal Igbinedion, junior brother to former Edo State Governor, Lucky Igbinedion, an option of fine of N3million for a N25 billion crime?

I am aware that the law allows the judge to exercise his/her discretion when delivering judgement in a matter. Once you say the law allows somebody to exercise his discretion, the discretion we are talking about is not objective, it is subjective. It is now within the judge to use his own perception judiciously and judicially. This means there must be some materials available with which he can exercise the discretion. It means it cannot be done in a vacuum. If the law says the judge can give an option of fine and he went ahead to do so, then, there should be no issue. I read in the papers where the EFCC was saying that the fine the judge gave was rather on the low side. The EFCC was even trying to make a link about what happen to his brother, Lucky. But, the question is this, what are the minimum and the maximum fine recommended by the law? This is because the law will have placed a minimum or maximum of what the fine should be if an accused is convicted for such offence. The law does not look at the amount that was the subject matter of the conviction when placing the fine. So, the law should have specified that for this kind of offence, the fine should not be less than certain amount or not more than it. So, the issue there is that when the judge gave the option of fine, is it less than what the law says or more than it? If it is within what the law says, can we say the judge has not exercised his discretion judiciously and judicially? Most times when we are discussing these issues, we tend to forget that the pressure on us over these criminal matters should not really be on the judiciary but on the legislature. The legislature should begin to make these laws fall in line with the modern trend. There are certain instances of the Companies and Allied Matters Acts(CAMA) where they are talking about penalties. If a company does not do this, if it does not do that, it pays N1, N100 and so on. CAMA was promulgated in 1989 or thereabout. Then, CAMA was using the parity between the Naira and Dollar that was applicable then in placing fine on  companies. That law has not been amended up till today. Do you know that N100 in 1989 will have fed me with a good meal for the whole day? But, N100 today cannot even buy me tomtom. But, when you present that kind of law to a judge, does he has the power to go beyond the N100 that the CAMA provided as fine? Going back to the Micheal Igbinedion case, the law under which he was charged provided for a minimum fine of N250,000 and a maximum fine of N1million. So, the judge actually has no discretion to go beyond the N1million maximum limit provided by the law. In essence, the judge gave Micheal Igbinedion, the maximum fine. Now, is it the fault of the judge or the fault of the National Assembly that has refused to amend the law? The truth is that the judge has no power to go beyond what the law says. The judge was even too good because he could have given the convict an option of N250,000 fine as provided by the law. But, in the public eyes, the fault is with the judiciary. It is however not supposed to be because the National Assembly has done nothing to update our laws to be in line with the modern trend. Do you know that at the Federal High Court, we have a law that places a limit to number of judges that could be appointed there? It was only recently that the judges of the Federal High Court were increased to 100. The National Judicial Council (NJC) is even saying that the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court cannot appoint judges unless he can satisfy them that he has facilities to take care of them. When you are talking about facilities in appointing a judge, it means there should be houses and court-rooms. The point I am making is that, why should there be a limit to the number of judges that will be at the Federal High Court? It should have been that the court should have as many judges that are needed. The same thing is happening at the Court of Appeal in Lagos. In developed climes, you find out that judges have nothing less than four assistants. Among them, you have a research assistant, who is qualified to be a judge. He was actually the one writing the judgements and the rulings. The judge will also have another assistant that is of the rank of a Senior Advocate. He is the one that will be reviewing what other assistants are doing. That is why those judges in advance countries can sit down in court and overrule a lawyer without adducing any reason. He can do this because his assistants are perfectly working with him. Rulings are delivered without any delay. But judges in Nigeria are researchers and at the same time secretaries. What I am saying in essence is that our major headache is not the judiciary but the legislature. If that judge in Benin has given more than an option of N3 million fine, NJC will sack him. This is because the law did not say he should go beyond that. You see, in most countries of the world, change does not happen due to the mere benevolence of those that make the laws but when people start agitating. So, the change will happen when people are willing to start engaging the National Assembly. Till today, Nigerians have not pushed the National Assembly to tell us how much they earn. Legislators to Nigerians are like a strange phenomenon. Nigerians over the years will know the executive and the judiciary but the National Assembly to them looks like where people just go to relax. Nigerians till today do not recognize the enormous powers they have. They are the one that determine the power of the Executive and the power of the Courts. So, we should realize that the essence of governance is the legislature. For instance, everyone is complaining about governors getting huge retirement benefits. But, we forget that it’s not that the governors just get up and say they are going to get those benefits. They were able to get the House of Assembly members of their states to pass those laws which gave them those benefits. People are not even looking towards the various Houses of Assembly. We are more concerned with the governors. To me, that is a misplaced aggression. This is because how could we have allowed the Houses of Assembly to have accepted the requests of the governors. In the real sense of it, if the House of Assembly of any state passes a bill and it was signed by the governor, it becomes a law. So, I want to advice that our advocacy in Nigeria should not be mainly about the Judiciary and the Executive, but we should also be concerned about those who become legislators, in the sense that they are people who recognizes the enormous powers they have in shaping the society. In Nigeria, we believe the only power the legislature has is the power to impeach a governor. But, the biggest power they have is to define the laws that will govern us as a nation because no matter how smart a judge is, he cannot operate, interpret or work outside the laws made by the National Assembly.