Despite a national merit award of CFR, he deserves a Nobel Prize as a jurist with unquestionable integrity, one whose voluminous profile attests to a man of tested and proven integrity, an incorruptible judge and model per excellence. The, the first Wakili to His Royal Highness, Emir of Ilorin, Justice Mustapha Akanbi, retired President of the Court of Appeal was born on 11th September, 1932 in Accra, Ghana. He obtained the Senior Cambridge School Certificate in 1953 and later attended the Institute of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria. After these, he proceeded to School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and Gibson Weldon College of Law, London from 1961 to 1962. He was called to the English Bar at the Middle Temple, London on 9th July 1963. He did a post final course at the Council of Legal Education, United Kingdom in 1963. He is a holder of certificate for Commonwealth Law officer obtained between 1967 – 1968. He was Former Governor, the National Judicial Institute; he was Former Member of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Past Chairman, Nigeria Body of Benchers. Life Bencher, Body of Benchers. Former Member, privileges Committee Responsible for Appointment of Senior Advocates of Nigeria. He spoke to KEHINDE AKINPELU, in Ilorin over issues of national importance.
As Nigerians are rejoicing on the election of General Muhammadu Buhari, expectations are very high, what are your views on this?
To sum up all that Buhari said during his campaign; he said he was going to fight corruption, stamp out insurgency, insecurity and embark on economic transformation in the area of poverty alleviation and what have you; these are critical issues but I am particularly fascinated by the promise to stamp out corruption; I believe that if he is able to tackle this corruption, other things will be easy for him to do and he can only do that by putting the right people in the positions and the right people around him; But if he makes the mistake of gathering around him people who are not patriotic, not nationalistic, who are not honest, people who are corrupt then of cause no headway can be made, there is no magic he can do but I want to believe in principle. Though I never worked closely with him but I was a judge of the court of appeal when he took over government. Then he introduced the War Against Indiscipline, WAI, because they wanted a clean decent society, but unfortunately they were overthrown in less than two years. The issue is, where there is no discipline, there can’t be progress. So if he has this feelings and he stands by all he had said, he would make Nigeria a better place than it is now. Because everybody knows that looking at the caliber of most of the people that worked with the outgoing President, their body language, even the way they talk, what they talk, the language they apply do not show that they can assist the man to succeed and we all see the outcome. I was not surprised when he conceded defeat; I strongly believe that he never consulted those people before taking the decision or making the statement to accept defeat. So the change that we are having is good, we should experience what Buhari too can do differently. He has tried three times to be President of this country but failed but his doggedness, reticence and courage to persists brought him thus far and I want to believe it is the act of God for him to become President, so if he stands by all he had promised and with a free hand to operate; I say this because APC, to which he belongs now is not the party he formed long time ago, which is CPC; on board APC there are different types of characters, everybody will want to sell his own ideas but if he is able to imbibe a give and take approach, keep to his believe and principle. He must be able to conduct the affairs the best way he deems fit; then I think we shall make headway.
If you are opportune to give General Buhari some advice, what will you tell him?
The situation in which he finds himself now, it appears a lot of things had gone so bad; but he should not be carried away by the euphoria of joy and commendation, he should spend some time to see what is on the table, access the situation of things; acting in haste, he might do the wrong things. My advice is that he should not only access what is on the table, since he came in with manifestoes, he should stick to it. He said he would do just one term, by the end of one term people will begin to say he has not done anything, so since he has his own programmes, he must just follow it to letter, but most importantly he must face this issue of corruption because things has gone so bad. In the last days before elections we saw how people were spending Dollars, there was this programme where they showed the Governor of Central Bank releasing Billions of Dollars, all these must be looked into; anywhere he has to recover money back to government purse he should do so. He should let the anticorruption body work and be given target and that if they fail to perform, they would be sanctioned. If you starve an anticorruption body of money, they cannot perform. Development must start immediately; it must be a practical thing. All those around him must be given a target and in fact, anybody who he is going to appoint as minister must be given targets; they should present their proposal of what they want to do within six months in office and let such persons achieve that target. For every failure to perform there must be a punishment to serve as deterrent. What he told us is that he is not hungry for power or money and going by his track records, I believe he is saying the truth. All those who are following him should follow his example and he must lead by example. His Yes must be Yes, his No must be No. I want to believe that all those who are with him also want to cooperate with him. Happily, he has a Vice President who I know as a lawyer, a very brilliant lawyer, a committed Christian and a gentleman. And am sure if they put brains together, they would lead us to the Promised Land.
Are you saying that Nigeria now has a perfect combination of President and Vice that is needed for the desired change?
That is exactly what I am saying; I once delivered a lecture when Osinbajo was the Attorney General of Lagos State, I knew the cooperation I got from him on corruption, I worked with him, this is not a question of third party telling me about him, we worked together; Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu was the Governor then, I was invited. The lecture with Osinbajo and the stuff he delivered convinces me such that the day he was appointed, I was very happy. And as for Buhari, its not that I didn’t know him at all, he was in government with our man here, Tunde Idiagbon and we have a mutual friend in Nasarawa state, Ahmed Jubril, he is very sick now. He is a very straight forward man. If you enter his room, you will find Aminu Kano’s photograph and you will find that of Buhari. When Buhari was GOC in Jos, I’m one of the eight people invited for dinner to welcome him, but the relationship was not so cordial. However, I have APC confidence in him too. The two of them can do well.
Assuming you are invited to come back to ICPC would you want to render service to Nigeria?
Again at 82 plus! That would be unfair to other people; I can give advice, if my advice is sought but for me to take up a job again after I have established all these things I am doing. I am more into writing now, as you can see, this is a book that I am writing about the nation and things that would happen besides, I like my present stance, I am not under anybody’s control, Since I am on my own there is nothing that happen in the country that I don’t make my opinion known; Anything that will affect the destiny of this country, I will not be indifferent, I will speak out and give advice. If the conduct is right I will commend it, if it is going wrong I will criticize. I had the opportunity of doing a second tenure but I turned it down. I don’t believe in people sticking to the office just for the sake of it. There are so many other people, let them try it too and use their brain, but that is not to mean that if government ask advice on an issue, I will not give after all when I left ICPC Obasanjo sent an airplane to carry me about three times and he made good use of the advise.
Will four years be enough for Buhari to achieve all that Nigerians expect of his administration
Four years is alright, even if as a head he is to spend one year, since he has a target he would be able to achieve it. All he needs do is set his target within the limit of the time he has. Four years is good enough a period to work with. Late General Muritala spent just six months and his name remains on the lips of Nigerians ever since. So he must work with a time table and utilize principle of division of labour; the people he would work with must be men of honour and integrity; that is the first thing he must be sure of. Not that he should appoint people just because they are members of the party, square pegs in a round hole. He must look at the individuals who can work with him irrespective of the party affiliation; some may not even be apolitical.
You seem to have so much faith in Nigeria, can this country work again?
(Cuts in sharply) Nigeria can work and it will work. People think that things are so bad, that extreme position is that of pessimists, see me here, what I have achieved since I left government I didn’t even achieve them while I was in government. I strongly believe that there are crop of decent honest men here and there; some of them decide to keep quiet because of the fear of what can happen to them for speaking out, but like Shakespeare said “Cowards die many times before their deaths. The brave experience death only once. Of all the strange things I’ve ever heard, it seems most strange to me that men fear death, given that death, which can’t be avoided, will come whenever it wants.” The other thing Buhari should note is that in the Islamic teaching, a hypocrite can be known by three things; If he talks it’s a lie, if he makes a promise he would break it, if you give him trust, he would betray it. In the Bible Jesus said that some people honour me with their lips but their heart is far away from me; it is not all that call the name of the Lord will be saved; and my little knowledge of literature, Shakespeare said “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek, A goodly apple rotten at the heart. O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
Buhari should beware of those hypocrites, people whom Shakespeare describe as goodly apples rotten at the heart So once he knows the men to use, he can reach his goal in no time. He can achieve a lot. With that, in three years, the people will shout Hosanna or shout well – done. Only then he would know that he has done well. With the little I know about him, I think we can trust him. Let us flash back on Jega; when they were criticizing him, I stood firm, defending him because I know him when he was ASUU President, then I was in Abuja; everywhere he was, he demonstrated honesty. I know he is doing what he knows to do best, after much criticism, now people are praising him, so if you have a focus, if you have the determination and commitment, following it to the letter you won’t fail. Nigeria will not fail because Africa is looking up to us. Some people predicted that Nigeria will collapse in 2015 but it will not collapse. As long as there are few people like us who value dignity, people with respect and integrity, many of them are afraid to come out and talk but I can assure you that there are many people who still have integrity in Nigeria, by the grace of God, Nigeria will survive.
I am of the opinion that probing the outgoing regime of President Goodluck may take plenty of time, what is you view?
But Buhari has said that he won’t probe him and nobody is saying he should probe him because that will be a distraction, but wherever there is sufficient information that he got money illegally, Buhari should reclaim it by whatever means, but if he is to waste time on probing this and that, where would he have the time to do the job. Believe me that if he concentrates on probe, by the time he is three years in office he would not have been able to do anything meaningful. Leave those people, if you se them in three years time, they would have become wretched because the moneys they were stealing is evil money, blood money. If I have been a corrupt person in government, I won’t be making success out of government now. Look at my office; this is the first time I am fixing air-conditioned. It is not my money; somebody who thinks I have been a good person came to visit me. He knows that while in service I was doing the right thing and so when he visited me he asked why I don’t have air-conditioner here and I told him I do things at my own pace. When I have money, I will buy them, there are people in the village who don’t have air-conditioners and they don’t die, so why must I attach my life to air-conditioner. When he was going he called one of my boys to follow him and all these air-conditioners were from him. I have never done anything as a favour to him nor have I ever met him, my believe is that if you stand by God he would stand by you.
In view of Professor Jega’s conduct on INEC assignment would you recommend him for another appointment after this one?
Ha! I can’t answer for him; I can’t say yes or no; they say each man is the architect of his own fortune; If he feels he can go through the hurricane that he had passed through again (laughs) for me, I thank God, I have done my best, let the man answer for himself.
Are you saying that being honest in public service is not an easy task?
It has never been! Those who criticize honest public servants are the corrupt ones, sometimes when I see those people who criticize Jega, and I know them very well and their corrupt attitude, I simply pray that this man will not break down or give up. I once gave a lecture here at the University of Ilorin where I maintained that Jega must not resign. Look at what Orubebe did to him, you see? Jega has a good pedigree, his uncle who brought him up was a Permanent Secretary, an upright person, a very good man; and growing up he, Jega, too was President of ASUU during Babangida’s regime. Even when efforts were made to arrest him, he survived and he didn’t break down or succumb to the threats. With Orubebe’s behavior, they must have had a plan, a nefarious plan but God gave Jega the patience, the talent and instinct to restrain himself and at the end of the day, the table turned on them; did you noticed the man sitting on the table that day, Bello Fadile, was a military man, who ran into trouble during Abacha’s time. For him to go and sit in that hall was more than meet the eyes. I believe that the conspirators chickened out because God is with Jega, because if he had done otherwise, they would disorganize the hall and say the election is inconclusive. I am happy that Jega has lived and proved to be what I have always defended him to be. He is not a bad man. He was here when I did my lecture and book launch before the election, I invited him, even the book we launched, and he bought some and paid for it. Public service has its own good sides in that it understands human nature but you find most of the critics, they don’t have a good track record. I remember the day when Ayim Pius Anyim said thet ICPC should be abolished; he brought me before the senate and I went to town with them, in like manner, he thought they could harass me but I overcame. I remember that he is GCON and that I am CFR ask him what work he did to merit the award of GCON.I have been working since 1959 and retired after reaching the pinnacle of the court of Appeal, imagine Ayim, just a lawyer telling me that. You can imagine the insult and how I would have felt, but you know as a public servant you must be civil and decent and most times you have to suppress your inner feelings but when the moment of truth comes you say it.
How would you want the Buhari led administration to handle reforms in the Judiciary and the police?
Well, the new Chief Justice of Nigeria made a powerful statement when judges were sworn in for election petitions; he said whoever does anything bad is on his own and that the judiciary would not stand by them. He has repeated it quite a number of times. Aloma started it; Mahmud is someone I know very well too, he would live up to expectations. So the answer to any corrupt judicial officer is to show him the way out because one bad egg can spoil the rest, I just hope the message had gone down to the ranks in the judiciary. As for the police and even the Army, they must know that their loyalty is to the nation and not any President. When reading the national pledge, it is I pledge to Nigeria my country, not to any President or individual, so whatever they do, the interest of the nation must be first above personal interest above any interest that are not in conformity with nationalism. I remember someone said don’t drag the military into politics and I quickly retorted that they have dragged themselves into politics, what is important now is how they extricate themselves from that position. The lessons form President Goodluck Jonathan conceding defeat even before the final results were reported should go down to the police and the Army, that they should not just think of themselves but the nation.
How do you compare life now with when you were in public service?
Here in my quiet life, I am just whiling away time, you know when you have reached over 80 years of age, there is really not much you can do except for God’s grace. I am however happy that I am not under anybody’s control, secondly, if you know how many people who come here on daily bases to seek help, when I was in service, I may not be able to afford such assistance to anybody, now I am able to help people, trains some in school and help children of other people, I pay school fees for the less privileged around me. I also have people who render humanitarian services for me. Now I have time to serve God and humanity, so I prefer this new life that is why when you asked if I will go back to work, I said no. Media houses have invited me to give talks, I am now a freelance. I can talk much now, when I was in service, there is a limit to what I can say. If I open my mouth to talk people will begin to attack me because I am a civil servant but now I am a freelance. Some people are even of the opinion that retired Judges must not talk but I once told Aloma Muktar that even if they block my mouth I will still talk.
Nigeria has had many Presidents in the Past as well as military Heads of State, which of them would you rate as the best Nigeria ever had?
It is a difficult question for me to answer but yet I will tell you that the only President I have worked with closely and directly was President Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo has tremendous respect for me. When I launched my book last year November, he was the Chairman. Even the things he said about me, still makes me wonder till now. After I turned down his offer for second term, he still sent for me for advice. Obasanjo means different thing to different people. With me as ICPC Chairman, he never interfered with my work. When people were insinuating that he is the one using us to make arrests, I feel insulted. He never interfered with my work at ICPC. Even when we are at public functions and he shut people down from talking, I move close to him telling him to grant the person audience and he would yield, I will just let him know that the man he just shut up is saying the right thing and I will request him to let us hear him and that’s all. My secretary usually asks if there is anything special about me. He is a listening President, because he knows and believes that I always say my mind. The second person with whom I almost work close with was General Abubakar Abdulsalam, he persuaded me to stay on but I said no. After a while he realized that I was using a rickety Peugeot 504 and that is the only vehicle I had, so he gave orders that a Peugeot Evolution car be bought for me, I have given that car to my chief Engineer now. If Obasanjo wanted to see me when he was at the villa, he would send for me, so it’s difficult for me to compare many of them because comparism can be odious.
How come it is difficult to fault you in your work, what is that mystical thing about you?
It is not mystical, I am just lucky I have a disciplined father, even when I was Presiding Justice Court of Appeal, my father would command me and warn me that I must not spoil the name Akanbi. He always emphasize that he is Akanbi and mot me, so I must not do anything that will tarnish his image and name. And the same thing I do tell my children that the name Akanbi is my father’s name and I also let them know that whoever wants to spoil the name I will finish such by myself. Secondly, attended schools where teachers took care of me and I saw fear of God in them and thirdly, I was brought up under the best tradition and sound knowledge of Islam. I have a Ghanaian, a Christian staying in my house almost two years now and he is enjoying life around me. I was not brought up to discriminate in religion. I was not brought up to be tribalistic or imbibe ethnic jingoism; I have friends who are like me. My daily prayer to my creator is that God should not let me do anything that will make people find fault in me. I believe in my creator, he has been very kind to me. I have six children all of them are graduates; one is a Professor of Law, one is a Doctor in Agric, I have a Magistrate, I don’t belabor any of them. My believe is that if you live well in the fear of God and know that on the day of Judgment you are accountable for whatever you do before your creator. This will make you cautious. You don’t just walk this earth as if you are the monarch of all what you surveyed and that your rights cannot be questioned People are looking at us so we just have to take it easy and so I take life easy.
You just mentioned religion, ethnicity and tribalism: how do we overcome these issues as affecting our national development?
It is people who don’t know God that create problem in the name of religion; I am a Muslim, I know that God has said that you Prophet Muhammed preach to the people, if they accept it fine, but if they do not accept it leave me to take care of my religion. In one chapter of the Quran, it said ‘to you your religion, to me my religion’. I am a student of comparative religion, I read the Bible a lot, for my Cambridge school certificate, I had credit. So I don’t know what creates the problem, even internally among religions there are divisions, otherwise, how do we explain Boko Haram? Why do they kill are all these in their practice of the religion? So to me it is my religion and to you your religion, I relate with everyone equally and freely. When I was in Lagos as the President of the Court of Appeal and as Chairman Body of Benchers, in my quarters, I have Igbos, Yorubas and Hausas living with me. My son who is now a Professor of Law started at Okigwe Secondary School at the age of eleven, when he is on holidays he goes to stay with Justice Oguegbu in Imo State, its only on long vacation that my on comes home in Ilorin. Oguegbu’s children are very close with me. I grew up in a cosmopolitan environment and I don’t allow anybody in my environment to worship at the altar of the god of tribalism and ethnicity. I tell my children that if they live well with people, they don’t know where the mercy of God can come for them. I have classmate and friend, Patrick Chike Ogbuli we lived together in Ghana. When I was in school, Professor Anderson taught us Islamic Law and his is now a Priest, but when people when to play mischief they use the tool of religion to divide the people. Before the elections, you know Nigeria was already dividing along religious lines. When I hear some of the statements made by some people, I feel I don’t belong to this generation.
Nigerians yearn for change, what change do you anticipate in the incoming administration of General Muhamadu Buhari?
The people have voted for change, change is a collective work, the kind of change we need I that which would enhance change in Nigeria, a change that would make Nigeria a cynosure of all eyes in Africa and the world at large.
But looking at the pattern in last Presidential election, the voting was along ethnic lines, what does these portend for Nigeria?
It is not good for our national development. When I was with ICPC whenever I make arrest the people will begin to accuse me of ethnicity, when I attempted to arrest Pius Anyim and he went to court, the same shout of ethnicity rend the air; there was this publisher of a Journal Miss Obi, an Imo chap; she started accusing me of being tribalistic, an accusation that cannot be substantiated, but I know that even pius Anyim would not accuse me of tribalism. The many Igbo people that I have helped before people like Emeka Obasi Publisher of Hallmark, would not accuse me of tribalism. He has invited me severally for lectures; he was always at my house. The better Nigerians stop this tribalism of a thing the better for Nigeria. It is not ideal to vote emeses for somebody just because he is your tribe. Look at Buhari, ever since he has been loosing, he was getting 12 million votes now Jonathan got 12 Million, but the barrier of tribalism was broken by the Yoruba voting for Buhari, he now got votes higher than Jonathan, so it pays to be friendly with all the people, secondly, for the benefit of Nigerians, you will see that traveling along the west coast from Ghana, Benin Republic, and so on, these people look at Nigeria as a land of promise. If you go to England, you cannot say I am from Imo, Yoruba or Hausa, what you will say is I am a Nigerian. Being a Nigerian should not be by mouth but by action. I hope Buhari will do everything possible to make sure that he downplays the issue of ethnicity and tribalism. I see he has started acting detribalized as he was attending some functions which ordinarily he wouldn’t attend in those days. So aside corruption, he should deemphasize religion and ethnicity.