“Where are we going in this country? …What kind of country is this where Senior Advocates of Nigeria are used to mess up the judiciary? They went and brought you (Daudu) to handle this kind of mess! We will not allow this kind of practice. This is wrong”! – Justice Iyorger Kastina-Alu
I should begin by telling you that I know from personal experience that there are some decent men who are lawyers. In fact, I am a lawyer myself and some of my best friends are lawyers.
I also know that the legal profession as a whole has become so corrupt that it is a threat to our nation and our polity.
In the case before the Appeal Court, Enugu, the former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), is the lead counsel of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the 2007 governorship election in Anambra State, Chief Andy Uba. A matter he declared in June this year (just four months ago) as a dead and buried case and condemned other lawyers for bringing it up saying, quote: “When a case is completed, don’t exhume it as if you are doing autopsy on it”.
The judicial system in Nigeria has become one of the most destructive weapons in the hands of our politicians and their lawyers. And it didn’t begin with Chief Andy Uba and Chief Wole Olanipekun. Two hundred seventy-three years ago the English writer Jonathan Swift described lawyers as:
“…men bred up from their youth in the art of proving, by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black and black is white, according as they are paid.”
And it was not for nothing that 400 years ago William Shakespeare had one of his characters — Dick the butcher in King Henry VI — say: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Dick was expressing a very popular sentiment in those days.
In fact, that has been a popular sentiment as long as there have been lawyers. Some 2200 years ago serious and tradition-minded Romans were sufficiently troubled by the behaviour of lawyers and by their negative effect on public morale that they made a serious effort to rein them in.
Uba wants to validate the election voided by the Supreme Court two years ago. He had filed a fresh suit over the governorship tussle at the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu after the apex court struck out his case and lampooned the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for conducting the 2007 governorship poll in the state.
It was Olanipekun, the former NBA president that filed an application before the Enugu Appeal Court, asking the court to declare Uba governor of Anambra based on his election as governor on April 14, 2007. In the new motion, which lists INEC among more than 650 respondents, Uba’s lawyers ask that the court uphold the election of the appellant/applicant as governor of Anambra State.
It also prays that the court vary its judgment of February 18, 2008 in order to sustain the certificate of return issued to Uba by INEC on or about April 20, 2007.
The Supreme Court had on June 14, 2007 voided the 2007 governorship election in the state and berated INEC for conducting the poll on the ground that the tenure of the state governor Peter Obi had not lapsed.
The incessant applications by Uba over the governorship seat had angered both the Supreme Court and NBA. In June this year, the apex court put paid to Uba’s struggles to revalidate the cancelled 2007 governorship poll as the court said the matter was closed.
Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Idris Legho Kutigi, who presided over the application for a judicial review, said the court carefully considered the arguments of parties through their lawyers and came to the conclusion that it was a gross abuse of judicial process. He said the court could not re-open the case that had come to it three times and had been decided on merit, adding that it is trite in law that there must be an end to litigation.
Voiding Uba’s election earlier, the court in the lead judgment delivered by Justice Iyorger Kastina-Alu had held that “there being no dispute that Governor Obi took his oath of office on March 17, 2006, his tenure of office shall expire on March 17, 2010”.
The court also came down heavily on Uba’s lawyer, J.B. Dawodu (SAN), for bringing the application even when Uba’s previous lawyer knew that the action was wrong.
“What kind of country is this where Senior Advocates of Nigeria are used to mess up the judiciary? They went and brought you (Daudu) to handle this kind of mess! We will not allow this kind of practice. This is wrong”!
Olanipekun, in an interview he granted in June shortly after Uba’s application was thrown out by the Supreme Court, had described as despicable situations where litigants, aided by their lawyers, rush back to the Supreme Court to review cases the court had already determined. He added that as a lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former NBA President, he would not encourage it. Olanipekun had said he would caution the Bar and the Bench to ensure that the legal system in the country was not ridiculed.
“I as a lawyer, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former President of the NBA would not encourage this. I would caution the Bar and the Bench to ensure that the legal system in this country not ridiculed. The principle of law which has remained sacrosanct is that there must be an end to litigation. When a case is completed, you don’t exhume it as if you are doing autopsy on it. Its only when you want to do autopsy that you go and exhume a corpse. Completed cases should not be exhumed. This is not done in any part of the common law jurisdiction which we belong to! The Constitution says that the Supreme Court is the final court in Nigeria. After the Supreme Court, it is the judgment of God. Things were not like this before,” he had said.
But today, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, is in Enugu Appeal Court arguing for the learned Justices to ‘exhume a dead case as if you are doing autopsy on it’!
Ah Ah! Chief Wole Olanipekun; sane art thou? Like the dog that returns to its vomit, would thou take back thy word?
So what should we do to Nigerian lawyers of the Olanipekun calibre?
In 204 BC the Roman Senate passed a law prohibiting lawyers from plying their trade for money. A man skilled in the law might volunteer to defend a friend or a cause in the law courts, but he was forbidden to accept a fee for his services. That would have been one of the best ideas the Romans ever had, if there had been some way to enforce that law effectively.
Of course, as the Roman Republic declined and became more and more democratic, it became increasingly difficult to keep lawyers in check and prevent them from accepting fees under the table, and young men with more ambition than scruples flocked to the practice of law.
For a successful Roman lawyer the essential skill was rhetoric. The Greeks had reduced rhetoric to a science — the science of persuasion — and a number of Greek rhetoricians set up schools of rhetoric in Rome. Tradition-minded Romans saw these rhetoric schools as a subversive influence: as an assault on Roman morals and customs.
Cato the Censor commented early in the 2nd century BC that after listening to some of these clever Greeks it was impossible to know what was true and what was not. Some Greeks themselves shared Cato’s view of the rhetoricians, and already two centuries before Cato, Plato had referred to them as notorious for “making the worse appear the better cause.”
In 161 BC the Roman Senate ordered all of these Greek schools of rhetoric closed and their teachers expelled from Rome.
Alas, that provided only a momentary halt to the problem, and the rhetoricians and the lawyers were soon back in greater force than ever. The rhetoric schools were shut down again in 92 BC by the censors, who were Rome‘s official guardians of public morality, but again the cure was insufficient for the sickness. Trying to keep lawyers out of the Republic in its last days was like trying to keep maggots away from a dead horse.
Now, I crave your indulgence to explore the Andy Uba case further:
In what could be termed a locus classicus in law the apex court restored Obi as Governor of the state and ordered Uba to vacate the Government House as, according to it, Obi’s tenure would lapse on March 17, 2010.
In a unanimous decision of seven justices, the court held that INEC erred when despite the pendency of the matter went ahead to conduct elections into the office of the governor of Anambra State when the said seat was not vacant.
But as Obi’s tenure was coming to an end with a new poll to be conducted on February 6, 2010, Uba again approached the court to affirm that he is the governor-elect on the basis of the same 2007 governorship poll.
That was when the court came down heavily on Uba’s lawyer, J.B. Dawodu (SAN), for bringing the application even when Uba’s previous lawyer knew that the action was wrong.
The Supreme Court said:
“The appellant has been shuttling from one court to another on a matter that the Supreme Court had already delivered judgment. If the Supreme Court makes a mistake, there are procedures of correcting the mistakes; not this way, and we will not allow it…Where are we going in this country? We can only set aside the judgment in case there is corruption or collision. They had earlier brought an application asking us to set aside our judgment. They knew that they were wrong and they withdrew the matter. The former lawyer knew that he was wrong and he withdrew.”
But undaunted, Uba through his counsel, Chief Ajibola Aribisala (SAN), filed a fresh lawsuit at the Court of Appeal in Enugu, seeking an order directing that he was duly elected governor by virtue of the gubernatorial election of April 2007. He therefore asked the court for to pronounce him the elected governor of the state having being declared winner by INEC in 2007.
He sought a motion barring INEC from conducting a fresh election into the office of governor pending the determination of the new suit and a declaratory order on an earlier judgment by the same court that he remains the duly elected governor of Anambra in the April 14, 2007 election and requesting that the court direct that he take over from Obi on March 17, 2010 when his tenure is due to lapse.
Andy Uba embarked on this venture in spite of the position of the Supreme Court that there could not have been an election in Anambra State in April 2007 when there was no vacancy in the gubernatorial seat, and therefore, there is no way a winner could have emerged from the electoral contraption manufactured by Prof Iwu’s INEC. In legal terms it is ex nihil, nihil fit (upon nothing, nothing will stand)
Well, since wonders shall never end, Nigerians wait with bated breath to see what the justices of the Court of Appeal would make of Andy Uba’s new suit before them.
It beggars belief that after the harsh words the justices of the Supreme Court reserved for Andy Uba’s lawyers, they have the audacity to embark on this fresh lawsuit at the Court of Appeal.
In his desperate bid to become the Governor of Anambra State, does Andy Uba want to collapse the fountain of the judiciary in Nigeria? Why are Uba’s lawyers including Wole Olanipekun encouraging him to embark on this judicial mission that has the potential of ridiculing the courts and undermining the democratic experiment in Nigeria? Why are Uba and his lawyers behaving as if they are not aware that no other institution or court can challenge whatever position the Supreme Court takes on any matter of law? Section 235 of the constitution insists that “–, no appeal shall lie to any other body or person from any determination of the Supreme Court”.
Why cannot Uba and his lawyers accept the simple truth from the ruling of the Supreme Court that he can never be made a governor on the basis of the 2007 governorship election illegally manufactured by Prof Iwu’s INEC?
It is strange, to say the least, that despite the clear position of the Supreme Court on the matter, Andy and his lawyers have rushed off to the Court of Appeal to tempt the justices of the court into committing judicial hara-kiri.
Is it not better for Andy Uba’s to set up a political structure and prepare for the 2010 governorship election in Anambra State? How on earth would Uba and his lawyers expect the Court of Appeal to pronounce judgment on a case the Supreme Court had, in a unanimous decision of a full panel of the court, dismissed as “a thorough abuse of the court process”?
Isn’t the expressions used by the Supreme Court in their judgment clear enough to for even a layman to understand? Why would Andy Uba be so determined to govern Anambra State without winning an election?
It is important to remind Andy Uba and his lawyers that the Supreme Court ruling that Peter Obi’s tenure of office as Governor of Anambra State must end on March 17, 2010 means that the next governorship election in Anambra State will be held on February 14, 2010. Section 178(2) of Nigerian Constitution says that “An election to the office of Governor of a State shall be held on a date not earlier than sixty days and not later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office”.
As Peter Obi’s first term tenure ends on March 17, 2010, a governorship election should be held between January and February 2010, and the Court of Appeal is being unfortunately asked to stop INEC from carrying out a necessary and constitutional assignment, which is valid fallout from the ruling of the Supreme Court.
As the Judges of the Supreme Court asked: What kind of a country is this and what manner of lawyers?
Andy Uba’s and Wole Olanipekun actions is not just an abuse of the court but an attempt to divert the attention of the people of Nigeria from the serious and urgent issues facing the county – like corruption in high places – to time-wasting judicial fist-fights that will only end up ridiculing the courts and undermining the democratic process in Nigeria.
How much is Andy Uba paying Wole Olanipekun and these lawyers to make them embark on the fruitless endeavour? Why can’t we simply get rid of lawyers and have peace?
The fact that there always has been an overabundance of men with more ambition than scruples wasn’t the only reason why it is not possible to get rid of lawyers; there also was the fact that there was a real need for lawyers. As long as we live in a society based on law, we need men to formulate laws, to administer laws, to interpret laws, and to help ordinary citizens cope with the laws.
But we also need safeguards to prevent laws and lawyers from swamping our society. We need safeguards to keep laws as simple as they can be while still serving their purpose, and to keep them from proliferating unnecessarily. We need safeguards to prevent lawyers from abusing the system. And unfortunately, these safeguards do not exist in our society. Lawyers are out of control. The legal system is out of control.
The Romans at least tried to provide safeguards against the lawyers. We haven’t even tried. The reason we haven’t tried is that we have in effect put the foxes in charge of the henhouse. The people we have put in charge of our legislative system and our judicial system are all lawyers themselves, many in the National Assembly are lawyers and they are as a class not inclined to do anything to curtail their bread and butter or to limit their power and influence.
The result is the sorry spectacle we now witness in the Andy Uba saga where a bunch of crooked lawyers was called on to deal with other crooked lawyers to pervert the course of justice on Anambra people.
These lawyers don’t really care that Andy Uba is abusing the law. What they care about is their pocket; billions of naira and dollars. They are not concerned about law and justice, nor do they care for the welfare of Anambra State.