Former Chief Judge of Adamawa State, Justice Bemare S. Bansi says all elected persons in government today without exception are thieves. Justice Bansi in this interview with SAHID UMAR, says President Muhammadu Buhari cannot escape blame from the increase in attacks and killings by Fulani herdsmen in parts of the country. Excerpts:
What is your take on constitution review as a panacea for Nigeria’s shaky democracy?
I don’t buy the idea of reviewing the constitution or the law of evidence or any established document. The problem is not with the constitution or legal instrument for review but the attitude of the Nigerian.
As a retired jurist, are accusations of corruption against Judges in Nigeria justified?
No, it is not justified. Who is not corrupt? The highest peak of corruption in the country is pitched in the executive, the federal executive and the state executive as well as the federal legislature and the state legislature. In the sovereign state of Nigeria, who are the major stakeholders? To the best of my understanding, the major stakeholders are the political class, the business class and the clergy. The judicial arm of government is just an impartial umpire; if there is any conflict, it comes in to adjudicate and settle the dispute.
Where is the treasury located?
It is with the executive. Where are the minister of Finance and the Accountant General of the Federation found? They are in the Executive. At the state level, where is the treasury located or the Commissioner of Finance and State Accountant General found? They are all with the executive. Then how come the judiciary takes all the blame for the massive corruption in Nigeria? Is this justified?
The truth is that the looters of this country are found in the executive, both at the federal and state level, not the judiciary. So, the allegation that the judiciary is corrupt in Nigeria is false.
Are there code of ethics observed by both the Bar and the Bench? What are the consequences for breaching them?
Of course, there are code of ethics for judicial personnel and they observe them religiously. Any breach of the ethical principles has dire consequences.
How effective are measures against unethical or unprofessional practices in the legal profession?
Again, most people don’t understand the workings of the judiciary as it dispenses justice. Without the legal profession, Nigeria would have ceased to exist as a free and democratic nation and anarchy would have taken over long ago. The legal profession embraces judicial staff and the staff of the Ministry of Justice both at the federal and state level as well as lawyers in private practice and to some extent the Police too.
The legal profession has adequate measures to guard against unethical and unprofessional practices. The Body of Benchers, the National Judicial Commission (NJC) and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) are some of the bodies that address this issue.
Taking a look at the farmers and herders clashes across the country, do you think the anti-grazing laws enacted by some states government are valid?
Well, this question does not require a yes or no answer. But let me ask you this question: Is this the first time Nigerians are living with herdsmen? As far back as 1861, herdsmen were here in Nigeria. When the Colony and Protectorate of Lagos and the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria were created, we had both the farmers and herdsmen cohabiting peacefully. Why did the situation deteriorate markedly under Buhari? Is it the highest peak of nepotism? The problem with African leaders is that the moment they are elected into office, they identify themselves with their tribesmen.
What do we mean by herdsmen?
Are they not the people that own and keep animals like cows, sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys, horses or camels? Are Fulani the only people with cattle or sheep in Nigeria? What of the Mambilla, Kilba, Bachama, Chamba, Mummuye, etc, aren’t they also herders with their own cows, sheep, pigs or goats? Don’t we have the Obudu Cattle Ranch in Obudu, Cross River State. Is it owned by Fulani? Why are we having more farmers/herders clashes under the present regime? The problem is that the Fulani herdsmen identify with President Buhari as their tribesman and feel they can embark on massive killings or destructions across the country and get away with it. Since other tribes in Nigeria are also herders, why is it that only Fulani herdsmen are armed with AK47 rifles? Who supplies them with these sophisticated weapons? The President cannot escape accusations because other tribes that are herders too don’t have AK47 rifles while their Fulani colleagues have them. This is tribalism at its highest peak. Various tribes voted Buhari into power but he chose to identify with his ethnic group. This is how the African leader fails his citizens and country. Thus, if there is any law in any state to curb the excesses of such a leader, like the current anti-grazing laws in some states, it is welcome and justifiable.
What is your candid view on the letter by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Muhammadu Buhari ?
I have studied the letter critically and I think that letter cannot be faulted. I entirely agree with the former president. My own previous position was the definition of politics and political party. I still sustain and maintain my position that politics is the art of telling lies with all sincerity and political party, all over the world, is an umbrella under which civilized thieves and uncivilized thieves conglomerate together for the sole purpose of looting public treasury. Applying this definition to the previous regime and the present regime, all these elected people in government today whether at the federal or state level are thieves; they are all thieves without exception. In the world, in Africa, West Africa and Nigeria, the African position is the worst because the majority of the uncivilized thieves are found in Africa. To a lesser extent, and in our precarious situation, particularly in our country, Nigeria, the civilized thieves are mostly found in southern Nigeria while the uncivilized thieves dominate the political scene in Northern Nigeria.
What do I mean by that? Applying this to the African continent, my position is that the African politician is a disaster to the electorate. Even at 93 years old when it comes to leaving office, he’d shed tears and refuse to go. Look at what happened in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe had to be shoved aside before he was replaced by a younger successor.
Coming back to Nigeria, I said the majority of the uncivilized thieves are found in Northern Nigeria, except the administration of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, whose leadership was exemplary. For comparative analysis, when you sample the performance of an elected official in southern Nigeria, whether Governor, Senator, member of the House of Representatives etc., you would discover that he would embark on viable projects and programmes to leave enduring legacies in his village, Local Government or constituency. But this kind gesture is lacking in Northern Nigeria as nothing tangible is done as enduring legacies by such elected officials.
However, when campaign period or election year comes around, these same failed politicians will prostrate and beg the electorate in order to win their votes. Once they are reelected into office, they return to their cocoon; they disown the electorate and their communities, relocate elsewhere and become inaccessible. Constituents have difficulty to see them. On the highways, they use siren to drive ordinary mortals, the electorate, so that they can claim the road for themselves!!
In the recent past, both Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Buhari canvassed for votes when they contested for President. They were birds of the same feather. But for whatever general rules, there are always exceptions. However, Nigerians believe that this regime is a corrective one and would be able to fix things and make life more abundant for Nigerians. But what happened? When President Buhari assumed office, he embraced the principles of nepotism, tribalism, religious dichotomy, etc. He became inaccessible except a few close family members and friends and sidelined even those that worked hard, sweated and brought him to office. Besides, he gave most sensitive or lucrative positions to his relations or friends.
President Buhari said he is fighting corruption but the first thing he did in office was to blame the judiciary. He blamed the judiciary for his failure to become President in 2003, 2007 and 2011. He forgot that it is not the judiciary that gives that exalted office but God. When he won the presidential election in 2015, did the judiciary stop him from becoming president?
How can you effectively fight or curb corruption when you don’t take care of the welfare of the common man in Nigeria or pay salaries as at when due? Under Buhari, Boko Haram killings were replaced with killings by herdsmen across the country such that the resulting tension saw the country drifted dangerously. Therefore, Obasanjo’s letter is timely.
In Kenya, only 14 days are given to determine Presidential election cases while in Nigeria, it is 180 days. Why the disparity?
Well, they have their own legal system in Kenya which suits them, while we have ours that meets our demands. Their procedural and substantive laws, perhaps, are adequate to accommodate 14 days, while in Nigeria, the massive documentary evidence that would be tendered to determine the presidential election could require more than 14 days; even collating the evidence would require more than 14 days. Therefore, this limited period is adequate for the people of Kenya in accordance with their legal system but grossly inadequate for Nigeria.
As a jurist with vast experience, in which areas do we require more reforms for effective justice delivery?
Our legal system is derived from the British since 1861 and we have basic way of presenting cases in courts. The prosecutors at the grassroots level are mainly the Police and they investigate and prosecute cases in Customary, Area and Magistrate courts. Certain category of offences is prosecuted at High Court level and the prosecutors are located in both the Ministry of Justice at the federal and state levels.
After the military intervened in governance in Nigeria, it complicated the judicial system by introducing some other courts. Earlier, we had only the Supreme Court, the High Court of Lagos and the states. In the West, we had the Western Court of Appeal which was later abolished. The Appeal system ran from Area Court to Upper Area Court, from Upper Area Court to High Court or Sharia Court of Appeal for appropriate cases. From thence to High Courts, from High Courts to the Court of Appeal and from there to the Supreme Court. During and after the military regimes, we had Federal High Court, Federal Court of Revenue, and the National Industrial Court, Code of Conduct Bureau, etc. Correspondingly, the prosecuting system was not limited to the Police and officials of the Ministry of Justice alone but also embraced the ICPC, EFCC and the DSS. This proliferation of prosecutors and courts sometimes ended up in producing injustice.
Is the law a respecter of persons as signified by some judicial pronouncements?
In both the holy Qur’an and the Holy Bible, the law is not a respecter of man; the law is not a respecter of persons. If there are judicial pronouncements that favour some personalities, then they are null and void ab initio.