Malam Yusuf Ali (SAN) in this interview with KUNLE OLASANMI, speaks on a number of critical national issues including the adherence to the rule of law in the fight against corruption.
Do you think death penalty is appropriate for an offense of hate speech?
That is too high handed. What of those who killed directly? For me, we should address the disease not the symptoms. What brought hate speech? It is injustice and inequity in the land. People feel that they are being denied what is due to them ordinarily by being Nigerian citizens. Like people would tell you, when you beat a goat and it runs but when the goat gets to the wall and it cannot escape, it will charge back. I did not support people who espouse hate speech of any type. What most people forget is that humanity is just one. And like I challenged people, who among us chose where we came from in this country or belong. Things you don’t have choice over should not be a decisive factor in your relationship with people. But you can choose your friend. Because we are all short-sighted, all those things that were imposed on us by nature, so to say, are now what we are used to. Even the doctors would tell you, the only person who can tell you who your father is, is your mother. That tells you how stupid it is to start to fight about this thing and start to make all those kind of speeches. A man who is claiming to be the best Hausa person, actually by origin, may be a Yoruba man or vice versa. If you start to go back to history, most of the people of this country are related in one way or the other from somewhere, lost in history. While the hate speech should be criminalised to serve as a deterrent, I don’t[ believe killing somebody because he made a speech, could be justifiable. There are more serious offences that should carry death penalty, corruption being one of it.
Do you also think corruption should be made capital offence?
That has always been my position. We must be sure that we do everything right, because you don’t just kill people because you hate the persons. We should not be doing it in haphazard way, it has to be thorough. We must first of all ensure there is raw solid investigation with facts built up before you take person to court and then the rest will follow.
What is your view on the looters list recently released by the Federal Government, considering the fact that some of those on the list are already facing trial?
Our country is an interesting country. We triviliase serious issues, and it is quite unfortunate that in spite of all the constitutional safeguards and the principles of rule of law, we are still behaving this way in 21st Century.
The law is settled and sacrosanct about the fact that once parties are before a court of law, they don’t don’t resort to self -help. What I have just seen from all these unfortunate scenarios is that we have allowed politics and grandstanding to override a very solemn issue.
For those individuals who are undergoing trials, it is only the court that can pronounce them guilty. The case is now beyond any of the parties. And you see, when I said this thing is being trivialised, the other side too came up with names of others, who belong to the ruling party, who are also in court, being tried for various offences.
So, it shouldn’t be encouraged. Government should not do such a thing no matter what propelled you. You can only call anybody a criminal or a looter or an economic saboteur if he has undergone normal trial in a court of law; he has been so pronounced by a court of law. But you see that it is all politics now.
The people in government named people in opposition who are undergoing trials as looters; the people in opposition came out with people who are also part of the ruling party who are also undergoing trial as looters. We are trivializing very serious matter unfortunately.
With the release of the list now, don’t you think those contained it may lose confidence in the Judiciary, if pronounced guilty?
It may not but I don’t want to speculate. They all know what they are doing. Unfortunately in one way or the other, they are sabotaging the rule of law. I don’t think it is right. There is nothing that could justify that. You don’t try to sabotage the rule of law, especially when these matters are in court.
Going by the list of alleged looters from both the ruling party and the opposition. Don’t you think Nigerian Judiciary is being put under pressure?
That was what I said at the beginning, that people are not respecting the rule of law. These matters are in courts, people must respect the courts. It is the same set of people, who will turn round to attack the Judiciary. The Judiciary has become the whipping point of people in power and their collaborators at one point or the other.
Now, the danger in what we are doing is that courts of law don’t decide cases based on rumours or allegations. Those cases must be proved and judgements are given in accordance with the law and the facts. But when highly placed people do the kind of things that they are doing, then you jeopardise the rule of law; you also jeopardise the independence and impartiality of the Judiciary. You will still come back to blame the Judiciary for your own actions.
To a large extent, you are very correct. But I can assure you with the training of Judges, they are ordinarily inbuilt for all these rantings. A judge has been trained in a way to maintain his impartiality and his focus. But my worry is the average Nigerian. That is why some of us are opposed to media trial, because the average Nigeria only hear one side of an issue. They don’t have the patience or the gift to listen to the other side. If those who made allegation cannot sustain it in court, the general belief in the society is that Judiciary is doing something to free somebody whereas, the person ab initio ought not to have been labelled or branded as a criminal.
In your view, what is the way forward?
The way forward is for all of us to demonstrate seriousness in all issues. What is going about naming of alleged looters has shown that we are not serious.
Look at what is happening in US about alleged Russian Interference in the election that produced (Donald) Trump. In spite of the fact that Trump is the President for more than a year, they would use their system, because they have strong institutions. They appointed Independent Council, who has been doing its own work, indicting people, in fact, some people have been convicted.
If it were to be in this country, most of us would start to query that the man is now the President, what are they still looking for. But in their (US) own system, it is very important because of the integrity of the system. Our system here has no integrity. So, there is nothing to defend. It is, everything goes. For me, I believe quite honestly that we should show seriousness and those who are in positions of authority have greater responsibilities to show seriousness.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria set up a committee to monitor corruption cases. What is your assessment of the committee on the assignment given to it and the list of the alleged looters?
The committee has no role to play. Politicians are doing their own thing. Luckily, the committee is made up of Judges and seasoned Lawyers. My own understanding of their work is to ensure that there is adherence to the rule of law in everything that happens to all these trials. And I’m sure at the end of the day, the positions some of us took earlier will be vindicated that most corruption cases are lost due to two major reasons. Lack of proper investigation and weak prosecution.
The Judiciary is the last leg in the administration of justice and issues of courts. Once you don’t get your investigation right, and I give the example, people say in Nigeria James Ibori was discharged by the court whereas in the UK, immediately he was convicted. Yes, it is simple. In the UK or America, nobody would take you to court except you have a raw solid case. Nobody acts on sentiment in those places. Here, most cases are rushed to court based on sentiment and because people who are supposed to be investigators in the agencies want to make a point to show that we are working whereas it is more than that. In those places, they would confront you.
Look at what is happening about alleged Russia Interference (in the US election) and what the Independent Council is doing. It had fact, that is why you see former officials of Trump going to plead guilty, because they built incontrovertible cases against them. In those places, people are scientific with their forensic investigation and by the time they confront you with facts, you will breakdown. But here, people are first of all arrested, hounded and then you start to look for evidence.
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