Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria, on Tuesday, laments corruption in the judiciary, calling for reforms to redeem the image of the third arm of government.
He also urged the media and civil society organisations to investigate and monitor the appointment of top judges in the country.
He spoke during an in-house forum organised by PUNCH editorial board at Punch Place, Magboro.
The human rights lawyer, who compared Nigeria’s judiciary to those of developed countries, said some corrupt lawyers were exploiting the system to frustrate cases against public officials.
He said, “If you steal money in China, it is public execution. Nigeria is the only country where you hire drummers and people wear aso ebi to court premises. There is nothing more contemptuous because you are challenging the state for charging you to court. Here, out of the money you have stolen, you get a bad lawyer who will adopt all manner of delay tactics to get the state frustrated from prosecuting you.
“(Adolphus) Wabara has been celebrating an end to his case after 14 years. You know what happened? Some senior lawyers filed some objections; frivolous objections that you know will be overruled. So, when the objection is overruled, you file an appeal; interlocutory appeal for stay of proceedings. That case lasted for 14 years.
“Abacha’s son was charged with stealing N463bn. The case was in court for 14 years. In the case of Wabara, the two star witnesses died and the case could not go on. In the case of Abacha’s son, what was the objection? He said the immunity of his father should be extended to him. The Supreme Court said even if your father were still alive, he would have lost his immunity. But the objection was taken to court for 14 years. By the time they came back, the witnesses could no longer be found, the judge had been promoted, so you have to start de novo, and the case was withdrawn.
“Today in England, if you file a motion that is meant to delay the case, you are disciplined by the law society. But here, these are the lawyers that we are celebrating.
“The case of James Ibori; without a trial, he was discharged and acquitted. The judge carelessly forgot that the $15m seized from him when he wanted to bribe (former EFCC Chairman Nuhu) Ribadu was still there as an exhibit. He did not make any order on the money.
“When the same man got to England, he pleaded guilty. You know why he pleaded guilty, when the lawyers saw his defence, they told him it was a sham and they could not go on with the case. He asked if they could not file an appeal, and they told him, ‘We don’t do that here.’ They told him that if they went on and he got convicted, he would get the highest punishment. But that is not the real problem. They told him they were afraid they would also lose their licence to practice law because they would be charged for wasting the resources of her majesty’s court.”
According to the human rights lawyer, a judge is more powerful than a President because he can sentence a man to death.
He explained that a judge, who could collect money to compromise cases, could also collect money to kill, using legal instrument.
Falana, who said the present administration was not fighting corruption, said the Federal Government was only “recovering money.”
He insisted that the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to start the war against corruption from members of his cabinet was an indictment on the anti-corruption campaign.
“I think the only President who has done that in Africa is the late (former President of Burkina Faso) Thomas Sankara. He went to the national stadium in Ouagadougou and said, ‘I have only an eight-year-old Renault car, a bicycle, a refrigerator and an undeveloped plot of land. If anybody knows any other property owned by me or my family, acquire it for the state.
“Here, there is nothing going on. It is only the EFCC that is attempting to fight. Have you ever heard that the office of the attorney general secured any conviction? No. No state government in Nigeria is fighting corruption. Out of the 36 states, the All Progressives Congress has 21. Not one is fighting corruption. So, there is no way you can make any meaningful impact with an EFCC in Abuja roaming round the whole country. EFCC has less than 5,000 staff. The police, of course, are part of the corruption. We cannot win it unless Nigerians own the fight.
“Our country has been destroyed to the point that we now celebrate those who are corrupt. When you charge a big man now for stolen money…abroad, the lawyer will have to apply to the court to be paid for defending somebody who is charged with corruption. But here, you pay the lawyer and bribe the judge. The judiciary cannot operate outside the Nigerian system,” he added.
Falana also criticised lack of governance in Lagos State despite the reported N30bn monthly Internally Generated Revenue.
He said many roads in the state were not passable, saying the incoming government must be put on its toes.
The lawyer, who supported the call for restructuring, said there must be devolution of powers with responsibility.
He commended the agricultural partnership between Lagos and Kebbi states that led to the production of the LAKE Rice, adding that other South-West states should replicate same.
“Kebbi State made N150bn from the sales of rice in 2017. Kebbi is in the heart of the desert. They have turned adversity to prosperity because the governor simply came to Lagos and partnered the state. Kebbi State, at the best of time, will collect N4bn per month from Abuja. But from one commodity, the state made N150bn,” he said.