Lawal Pedro, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), is the immediate past Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justices, Lagos State, in this interview with INIOBONG IWOK, he assesses the anti-graft war of the current administration, the 2015 general elections, among other sundry issues.
What is your assessment of the state of the judiciary?
If I must be honest with you, the Judiciary has fared very well, but there is no perfect institution or situation all the time.
The DSS, EFCC, attack on the judiciary is not good enough on both side, but there is no smoke without fire; don’t forget the EFCC and DSS have their core duty and some people have to do the job, so don’t castigate them all the time.
What I see is that due processes have to be followed, they do say the wheel of justice grind slowly; but you would get justice, we don’t need all this grandstanding and drama, if you follow due process it may take a while sometime, but at the end the truth would surely prevail.
If any judge is found wanting there is a process to be followed, don’t forget that if a judge is retired in Nigeria he has lost everything, he can’t practice law again in this country, we are not saying, you don’t need to jail such judge before he know has met his doom.
No one is saying they should not be punished, if you commit a criminal offences fine, but it is not good today you are standing in front of a judge for a criminal offence and the next day he is standing in front of another judge for trial.
Whatever evidence you have, if there is any offence against a judge, collate it and present the evident to the NJC, the NJC would sit and if found capable he or she would be sanctioned, and the NJC is not stopping the security agent from going ahead with prosecution; the judiciary has done well in the current circumstances, but it can do better.
But was the raid really justifiable in view of the acquitting of some of the judges?
Don’t forget that the DSS have their function and the law is no respecter of person; if this is their modus -operandi in the law, if this is the way the DSS work you can’t fault it, recently the EFCC went to arrest the former DG of Nigerian Intelligent Agency, but they could not, and there was intervention from the National Assembly, to show there are ways this thing could be done, it could take a while;
but it would be done by following due process, and you know that every investigation you do where you doing to prosecute these people we must ensure fairness.
We must respect each other; if you arrest this judge it is still the judiciary that you would take them to, what am saying is that even if you must prosecute it must be the judge that have left office.
Do you agree that there is corruption in the judiciary and you agree, how deep?
I disagree that there is so much corruption in the judiciary entirely, there is not so much corruption in the judiciary, we have levels;
we have the junior staff and we have middle cadre staff, and the judges and I must say with due respect, if you want to find corruption among the judges it is about five percent out of the lot.
Where there is corruption is a result of system failure, but we should not allow that to happen, you must segment it.
So, where is the real corruption?
Where there is corruption in the judiciary is in the middle and the lower cadre, and it is self-induced by the system, and you must separate the junior and middle cadre staff from the judges.
The corruption is self-imposed and it is with the middle and lower cadre staffs. For example, the judge delivers judgement and you want a copy of the judgement, the secretary would say it is not ready, they would want you to pay and I said I would not pay 5, 000, because the judge I know would write his judgment before reading it;
it happened in my office in the Island, that is why I say it is a total systemic failure and it permeates all our institutions.
I have suggested something like automation, that in the judiciary, with all the computerisation in our court if you don’t give money to an officer your file would not move: because it is an officer that would input the information in the computer, and if this is not done how would the Chief Justice treat and assign the file.
That to me is a system failure and I have advised they should do automation; where the CJN would give guild-line that no file would stay on a table for more than 24 hours, as it is today, if the officer is not given bribe the file would not move;
all these things I have said is personal and based to me and based on experience. I also suggested that the judges must carry-out sight functions on all their staff.
The CJN should come in, it is true that is not a judge, but he should be able to raise a query to say how long did this file take to get to my table?
What is your assessment of the Anti-graft war of the current administration?
They are only doing what they can within the limit of their resources. I have been a prosecutor for years and some of my mentors are the best of the country, they are the likes of Hon Kessington, Mr. Ola Atohore Adebayo Manuel among others;
it is not only about fighting corruption, it is also about administration of criminal justice, corruption is just like an idea, all this act have been provided for in the law , either corruption, or embezzlement of public funds: I don’t believe in special court;
my view is that the system should be strengthened, if we create the courts who are the heads , who are the judges that would be in charge of these court?
You want to appoint judges to be in charge of the special courts; what would happen to the civic cases they are presently handling?
It is still the same thing; my view is that the government should go and appoint more judges or tell the states to appoint more judges, or create criminal jurisdiction, this would help speed up the existing cases.
We have to empower the courts, the investigative arm of government should be empowered, and we should put the right people in the right place. I strongly believe if more money is put into the justice system and in investigation it would reduce the corruption in the country.
EFCC have been losing high profile cases and one of the reasons attributed is that they don’t do thorough investigation, do you see it that way?
That is what I am saying; these institutions have to be empowered, I have been to EFCC office in Abuja, I have seen the condition they work, their offices;
they should not be treated like ordinary civil servants, they should be treated well and they should be able to attract the best in law and criminology to their service.
I give it to the EFCC, I know what they are experiencing, the government must recognise that this sector is important, and they must spend money on it, if you spend money on these force, you would get proper investigation.
When I was the Solicitor General of Lagos State, for a police officer to testify in court, we have a vote for that which is passed by the house of Assembly, such officer’s transport and hotel fess in case he has been transferred out of the state and he has to come down, we would pay, even if he is coming from Lekki in Lagos here, he must have something for transport.
But people have criticised the anti-graft war because there has been few or no successful prosecution?
There have been prosecutions and there have been convictions, we should realise that prosecution does not mean conviction, it may just be an allegation, as a prosecutor you cannot be a judge on your own case, you submit evidence, and when it is decided, criminal cases are not like civil cases, most of the people may not know this; it has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt, unlike in civil, it is not easy in criminal matters.
A lot of people think the current method of plea bargaining is not setting good precedence?
Plea bargaining as much as is sensible, and it’s been there and used from time; it is the way we look at it and our level of ignorance here;
in most of this criminal cases, conviction take time and you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt before there is conviction, and if at the end of the day the state is not able to prove, the state may lose the money, so you can see it is a win win option.
What is your general assessment of the Buhari administration?
You have to assess him based on where we are coming from, where we expect him to be. Some of us in Nigerian may not see anything good in this administration, but some of us may say if not for this administration we may not be where we are now, things may have be worse. He has done above average;
the administration have done better maybe his health, or his old age may be affecting his performances; may be the unexpected may have affected him.
What we are saying is that the country should not go backward, the President may not have performed to the expectation of Nigerians.
Nigerians should be grateful; were we are it is easy to criticise and condemn, if you are condemning it is much easy, but if you are in power it may not be as easy as you think, I know what am saying, because I was the Solicitor General and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice in Lagos State, so I know what governance is all about.
What is your view of the clamor for restructuring?
Restructuring is important for Nigeria, and people have realised that, whether we like it or not; but the earlier the better for me. There is nothing stopping Nigeria from molding its democracy to suit it.
Why should we have two federal houses in a federal system, I don’t think we need two house: Bi-cameral legislature is not working, the recurrent expenditure is always above the capital; are the National Assembly members willing to say apart from the principal officers every other member should be on part-time basis?
It also depends if the people want to call it devolution of responsibilities; if calling it power is an issue. We are not sincere with ourselves in this country.
Do you think the APC would win the 2019 general elections?
Personally, to be honest with you I thought we have several problems in the country than to be thinking of winning elections, I know there must be elections, but if you look at the way the country is now, it is divided and election would be difficult in this circumstance.
What is the parameter to do this? It is too early for this, if you say the current President is not credible give me a better candidate. We should be thinking of ideas and programs rather than personality.
Our politics should be on ideology and you may be a good politician, but you may not be a good administrator and you may be a good, sound politician but you may not be able to deliver the goods to your people.
I disagree that there is so much corruption in the judiciary entirely, there is not so much corruption in the judiciary, we have levels; we have the junior staff and we have middle cadre staff, and the judges and I must say with due respect, if you want to find corruption among the judges it is about five percent out of the lot. Where there is corruption is a result of system failure, but we should not allow that to happen, you must segment it.