Mallam Yusuf Olaolu Ali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in this interview with TUNDE OYESINA, bares his mind on injustice, inequity, hate speech, corruption and sundry issues
Sir, what is your view on death penalty as punishment for hate speech?
That is too highhanded. 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 challenge people, who among us chose where we came from in this country or anywhere. 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 used to. Even the doctors would tell you, the only person who can tell you who your father is your mother. That tells you how stupid it is to start to fight about this thing and 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.
Are you of the opinion that corruption should be made a 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 a person to court and then the rest will follow.
The Federal Government recently released names of alleged looters of public treasury, many of which are undergoing trial in court. What is your take on this?
Our country is an interesting country. We trivialise 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 above board that once parties submit a case to a court of law, parties hold themselves; you 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.
Those individuals who are undergoing trials, it is only the court that pronounces them guilty; it is 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 the federal government. You can only call someone 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 trivialising very serious matter unfortunately.
With the release of the list now, don’t you think those listed may not have confidence in the Judiciary if they are eventually found guilty?
It may not but I don’t want to speculate. They all know what they are doing, but unfortunately, in one way or another 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 court, people must respect the court. 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 ranting. 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 Nigerian only hears 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.
What will you proffer as the way forward?
The way forward is for all of us to demonstrate seriousness in all issues. What names of alleged looters have shown is that we are not serious.
Look at what is happening in the U.S 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, which 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.
How would you look at General T.Y Danjuma’s view, asking Nigerians to defend themselves against killer herdsmen terrorising the country?
My first reaction is that we would be unserious as a people if we dismiss what he said. And it would be more worrisome if government dismisses it with a wave of the hand. You have to know Danjuma’s antecedents, right from the day when he was a Lieutenant in the Nigerian Army.
Anybody who has followed the history of Nigeria; the first coup, the counter coup, will know that Danjuma is a veteran, and then he rose to become the Chief of Army Staff in our country; he didn’t stop at that, he became the Minister of Defence in 1999.
So, it would be very unserious for anybody to dismiss it because what he said essentially is an indictment against the Nigerian Army, of which at a time he was their Chief and Minister of Defence, superintending all the arms of the Armed Forces.
We cannot take him not to know what he is talking about. And the level of information he has, ordinary people don’t have that kind of information.
For me, truth is sacred. It doesn’t matter, who says what. Substance of what has been said should be the issue.
He is saying Nigerian Army has become partisan in the way they are handling these issues.
So, we should address the issues and that is the problem of our country. Usually, we leave the substance and chase the shadow. I think we should not take his words as “ranting of Mr Nobody”. Danjuma is something in this country; rightly or wrongly and we must take his words seriously. Let’s employ self-introspection.
This attitude of dismissing everything; Transparency International has said that we have gone lower in corruption Index, we dismissed it. Amnesty International made allegation against Armed Forces, we dismissed it. Anything that does not cheer with our perception, we feel there is no substance. I think that is not the correct way of moving forward in a country.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria has set up a committee to monitor corruption cases. What is your assessment of the committee so far?
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 position 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 an alleged Russia interference in the US election and what the Independent Council is doing. It had facts and 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.
You just talked about strong system over there. And here, the Presidency and the National Assembly are at loggerheads over retention of acting EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu. Where do you think we are missing the point?
Everything boils down to our attitude. I have spoken about the continued stay in office of Magu. I have no problem with him as a person. But if we are talking of building an institution and I have made this analogy several times before. The Constitution says these categories of officers must be screened by the Senate and confirmed. If you appoint somebody in acting capacity, and his name has not gone to the Senate, there is no problem about that. That can be accommodated within the spirit of the Constitution.
But immediately you submit the name of the person to the Senate for whatever reason either tenable or untenable, the Senate says no, me, indifference to that institution and in defence of the Constitution, I don’t believe it would be right to say the person must continue. And I give simple example, if the President submits the name of somebody for ministerial appointment and the Senate rejects the name, can you appoint him as an acting Minister? That is the simple logic.
So, in order for us to defend the institution, if only for that, I think the matter should have been handled in a different way. For me, it is as if we are saying there is only one individual in Nigeria, who has the credentials to help us battle the hydra-headed monster of corruption. I don’t think so. I think there are a lot of good men in this country, many of them very silent individuals.
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