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Only in Nigeria that Judges are Treated As Common Criminals Says Mba Ukweni (SAN)

 
Mba Ukweni

Mba Ukweni

Mba E. Ukweni is a young and vibrant lawyer practicing in Cross River State. The former Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) is known to be an astute, dedicated, committed and intelligent lawyer. Mba, as he is fondly called by his colleagues, is a workaholic and also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

 
Awarded a chieftaincy title, Ntufam, by his people last year, Ukweni can discuss on any topical issues. He spoke with select journalists in Calabar from where our man, Dianabasi Effiong, serves our esteemed readers with excerpts from the interview. Read on:
 
The Governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, recently stopped the arrest of a Pastor by the Police in Nigeria following his utterances that Christians should also kill Muslims if seen in his church. What does the law say on hate messages such as this?
 
Ukweni:  well, everybody has freedom of expression as it is enshrined in the constitution but there is a limit placed in the constitution and the law generally concerning how far one can exercise that right.
 
You have freedom to do what you are expected to do, but when you over step your bounds on things that are defamatory, you can be taken up. So I don’t know the circumstances on which he was picked.
 
But the one we all know is the one involving a Judge in Rivers state. What happened in the middle of the night was very strange. The Judge did not know that they people were coming. They came like armed robbers. For him to seek for an assistance from the governor as the chief executive of the state was not wrong.
 
What the governor did was right. I don’t know the level this administration has placed Judges. Judges are not treated as criminals all over the world. It is only in Nigeria and in this particular administration. Once a person is appointed as a Judge, he becomes a common criminal in the street. That is the impression this administration has created. But, it is not so in other developed and developing nations.
 
I don’t think that it is wrong for the judge to have alerted the governor when in the middle of the night people stormed into my house with guns shooting, breaking my fence and after informing the governor, he sent his security personnel to intervene. I don’t think he was wrong. I would have equally called him if I see strangers in my compound. I would have equally called if I have access to the governor or the commissioner of police to save my life.
 
Recall that Gov. Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, on Wednesday in Ado Ekiti rescued the General Overseer of Omega Fire Ministries International, Apostle Johnson Suleiman, from imminent arrest by some people said to be operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS).
 
Suleiman was in the Ekiti state capital for a two-day crusade. He had earlier called for the killing of any Fulani herdsman that strays into the church premises. He also said that he was aware of a plan by Fulani herdsmen to attack his convoy and shoot him.
He was reported to have said: “I have told them in the church here that any Fulani herdsman that just enters by mistake and want to pretend, kill him. Kill him. Cut his head. If they are busy killing Christians and nothing is happening, we will kill them and nothing will happen, he said pumping with emotions.’’
Suleiman reportedly put a distress call to Fayose, who had attended the first day of the programme, when the DSS operatives stormed his hotel room in Adebayo area of Ado-Ekiti and almost forced their way to his room.
They were, however resisted by security men of the hotel who insisted on knowing their mission. Shortly afterwards, Fayose, on whom the cleric had earlier paid a courtesy call, led a rescue mission to the hotel and saved Suleiman from being whisked away by operatives of the secret police.
 
Narrating his ordeal to newsmen about 2am on Wednesday, Suleiman said: “I came to Ado Ekiti for a crusade. But I had a premonition that I was being trailed after I preached that Christians should retaliate any attack or killings by the Fulani herdsmen.
 
“These Fulani herdsmen had turned many Christians to orphans and widowers but the time has come to protect ourselves. I received several calls from hidden numbers trying to locate where I am and I had warned my security not to allow any Fulani man to come nearer me. So when the men of DSS came in the middle of the night I knew their mission and I had to call the Governor because if they arrest me, they will put this country on fire.
 
“The DSS men came with trucks and tried to break into the room but the Governor came and took me out of the hotel. It was the crowd that scared them.
 
“But the truth I want to pass out is that if I spend a day with the security operatives, I have churches in 42 countries and I have alerted them, every Nigerian embassies in those countries will be in trouble.
 
“If I spend one day with the security operatives, that damage that will be done to this country will take one year to repair. In this country alone, I have over half a million people and there are reactions already,” Suleiman said.
 
On his part, the Governor criticised the DSS for ambushing a man of God on crusade, stressing that he expected the security agency to show decorum.
 
“I expected the security operatives to invite him if they have any issue with him instead of arresting him in the dead of the night after a powerful and spirit – filled crusade in my state .
 
“I personally attended his crusade and I think it is wrong for a man of God, who is armless, that could be invited to be ambushed. If they have any issue against him. Are Christians and Moslems under different dispensation of the rule of law? That’s why I went there to rescue him. Let them kill two of us together. But when they saw my vehicles and the crowd, they fled.
 
“But we have information that instructions came from DSS in Abuja that the Pastor should be arrested. We are not in a fascist state, Federal Government must learn to respect the rights of Nigerians and freedom of expression.”
 
Fayose also alleged that the Federal Government was championing a cause to harass clergymen in the country. He said that the General Overseer of Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, was harassed and forced to resign shortly after he visited him in Ado Ekiti.
 
“This is unacceptable. We are in a democracy and Nigerians should warn the Presidency against putting this country on fire because religion is an emotional thing,” he said.
 
The Governor said that security operatives should not be intimidating and arresting men of God in the interest of peace and religious harmony in the country because “the constitution guarantees freedom of worship”.
 
Do you believe that we should address the issue of corruption within the judiciary?
 
Ukweni: Yes, we all agree. Make no mistakes about that. Not just the judiciary, there is no dispute about that. It is not only in the judiciary. That is the point we are making. Which aspect of Nigerians system that is not corrupt much more than you can find in the judiciary? Is it the police that you meet on the road every day? Is it the government offices that we go everyday to file our papers? Is it where you go to collect your pension?
 
That is what we are saying that the fight against corruption should take a general dimension that will affect all the system. What the government is doing is not affecting the entire system. Government is pursuing a particular minuet section of the public.
 
We have a population of about 180 to 200 million people and how many Judges. In this state we have about 13 Judges. Okay you come and pursue about 13 of them. You have not created any impact. We were all here when Buhari’s regime introduced War Against Indiscipline (WAI). It was effective for the short period that nit lasted.
 
It was so effective that even those no of us in the rural areas could not bring out our male organ to urinate where you were not supposed to urinate. That is what new are expecting the corruption crusade to be like.
 
The fight for corruption should touch every facet of this country. It should not be selective. Government has to clear this impression particularly for those of us (SAN). We are in support of the fight against corruption. All what we are against is the unorthodox and criminal approach to the fight against corruption.
 
There is no decent and civilized, trained and enlightened person who will allow an uncivilized approach to be adopted in something he knows that is not proper. And I ask some of my colleagues who were raising these issues.
 
Will you allow a Judges house to be broken with a sledge hammer and with a gun to threaten a Judge as a common criminal?
 
Why do we raise our eyebrows when we see somebody who had stolen in the street and is been chained and wanted to be burnt? Why? It is because we know that that method is an uncivilized approach that we should adopt civilized approach.
 
Or why do we complain when the police arrest people and they shot them. The suspect them to be criminals and so why don’t we clap for them saying yes that person has stolen, shoot him. Why do we say they should put them through the process that the law has recommended?
 
Question: What has the judiciary done to let government know that what it is doing is wrong?
 
Answer: the Judiciary or the Judges do not talk. The only talk in the way I am talking. We have to talk for them. Once you are appointed a Judge, your voice is taken away. And that is why most of us have been reluctant going to the bench because I don’t want my voice to be taken away. I want to say what I want to say and at anytime I want to talk I will talk. Judges do not talk. We speak for them.
 
Question: It is rumoured that the National Judicial Council (NJC) did not act when some of the petitions were brought to it. What is your view on this?
 
Answer:  There is a procedure for doing that. It is as well as to say all the petition written to the police that it has not done anything. Police even now has a procedure. When you write a petition to the police, the commissioner of police will go through it and approve and assign to a particular department. Is that not what is going on now? Then the department will study it and invite the compliant saying your petition has been referred to us come and brief us on what is there. That is the procedure even with the police that should act with dispatch how much more with the National Judicial Council that has its own approach in attending tom petitions before it. Do you know that just a week before the incident took place some Judges were disciplined? So will anybody say the (NJC) has not taken any action to discipline its members or Judges? A Chief Judge of Enugu state was equally removed.
 
A Justice of the Court of Appeal was not just removed but referred for prosecution and so since they started the fight against corruption how many people have been prosecuted. Every society has its own approach to achieving its own results. That is why in am being pessimistic. I will be very happy that government succeeds in this fight against corruption, but I am afraid that the approach being adopted may lead us not achieving any results.
 
Why am I saying so? You see better results being achieved by National Judicial Council taking its own steps to do investigation after which they hand over the person or persons to the police. Then, they can continue from there. We know our own tricks. It is like I am trying to discipline a journalist in a professional way, why do you think the law creating all of us has its own rules and regulations to discipline its own members. It is only the members who knows the secrets of their members and are in a position to tell them the truth and as well as punish them accordingly. You cannot bring me as a lawyer to start investigating a journalist or a medical doctor in a professional way and you expect me to achieve results if I do not make use of its members. I cannot achieve much result in this respect.
 
It is alleged that the judiciary is responsible for the delay in prosecuting allegedly corrupt Nigerians
 
Ukweni: Let us sit down as a people to redress this matter. The government should be dispassionate about the fight against corruption. All of us are interested in ensuring that corruption is curbed because we know it is the bane of our system. It is what is affecting everything in Nigeria. The government should be open minded enough and set up a committee to come up with an appropriate approach in fighting corruption in the country.
 
It should be applied holistically and not when you join APC you become an innocent person and nobody approaches you again. And you make a comment against the ruling government, you become a target. I was very embarrassed that somebody like Sagey whom we all respect even in the profession should talk as an untrained mind. I am sorry to say that he spoke like an untrained mind. I have told you why somebody should not talk like an untrained mind. A journalist should know the standard set for journalism profession. So when somebody speaks in a manner you know this is not in accord with journalistic ideals, no matter who is involved, the journalist should condemn him.
 
What is the way forward?
 
Ukweni: The way forward is that a committee that is dispassionate and will not look at Mr. President’s body movement and follow that way should be set up. People were talking about the dimension in which corruption has gone far and has eaten so deep, yes we agree that it has gone bad, but let me ask this question. Mosquito is a very deadly insect, if it perches on your lap and because it is deadly, will you use a sledge hammer to kill it? The answer is capital NO.  And that is the extent to which corruption is. It is bad enough but we should sit down and as reasonable people come together with an appropriate measures to fight corruption in this country. And I had said that not that we are lacking in laws to fight it.
 
I talked about WAI, Idiagbon spearheaded it and it worked very well. During his regime corruption was not there and everybody felt it. We have more appropriate agencies to fight corruption now than before. Of all the constitution in the world, of all the Presidents in the world, Nigeria’s President is the most powerful by our constitution.
 
Shortcuts usually mislead often times. There cannot be an emergency power under our constitution. If he needed an emergency power, he should not have been President because we are now talking about democracy. We have all the laws in place for one to fight corruption in the country. We are not lacking in laws to fight corruption if we are honest about it. Obasanjo had even introduced more, but you find out that the agencies are more corrupt than the persons they are pursuing.
 
What is your take on LGA elections according to our constitution?
 
Ukweni: I must be frank and as a professional. I said it before; our constitution does not permit any undemocratic approach in governing our system at any level of the structures. Both the constitution and the laws have laid down rules on how the state, national and local government elections should be conducted and governed. A caretaker committee is not a democratically elected government. This is not approved by our constitution and by our laws. There is a timetable and if there is no election, it means the government is not ready to conduct elections.
 
Can an elected politician collect allowances on two different occasion?
 
Ukweni: Is a public officer entitled to collect benefit from more than one source. The law is clear. You cannot earn salary in two sources but you can get allowance, but in Nigeria anything can happen.
 
As a SAN what advice do you have for your younger colleagues?
 
Ukweni: I feel fulfilled that I have reached the apex in my chosen profession. I turned down been a Judge and if I did not get this I would have been sad. I will encourage the younger lawyers to work hard in order to make it in life. It is all about read, read and read. Hard work will not fail you.