Barrister Monday Onyekachi Ubani, 2nd Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), is in the legal team of Dr. Uche Ogah, a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant in Abia State pushing to unseat Governor Okezie Ikpeazu over alleged falsification of tax documents. In this interview with CHIKA NWABUEZE, he spoke on the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal judgments on the issue and his expectations from the Supreme Court. Excerpts:
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) recently held its national conference in Port Harcourt. What were some of its decisions on national issues?
The out gone national executive issued a communiqué in which they addressed lot of issues, especially this issue of conflicting judgments from the courts. The NBA condemned it and then advised for a mechanism to check judgments of the courts to avoid giving conflicting judgments on the same issue. One of the ways is to ensure there is proper reportage of cases. If a decision of a division is reached now, maybe at the Court of Appeal in Ibadan, it should be well circulated to other divisions to avoid such development. The same applies to the Federal High Courts.
It is also important that we avoid assigning similar cases to different judges. It can be consolidated and it will create some level of order and sanity in the system. It is not helping the judiciary if conflicting decisions are emanating from courts with the same jurisdiction over matters that are similar.
So, we advised for proper reporting and ensuring that cases that are similar are given to one judge rather than to different judges. It is advised that Practice Directions to judges on various matters should be articulated by the Chief Justice of Nigeria. This will help to ensure sanity in the judicial system in Nigeria. We don’t want people to lose confidence in the judiciary, which is the last hope of the common man. But, when what comes out from there shows contamination, people will feel something is fundamentally wrong. I feel that these pieces of advice should be well taken.
Then, why is this contradiction very common with Nigerian judiciary?
It is common in political cases and not in other cases. If you look at land matters or divorce, it is not common giving conflicting judgments. But with Nigerian politicians, anything they touch their leprous hands on, they would like to mess it up. The judiciary should not allow itself to be compromised by the Nigerian political elites, it should be careful.
A lot of people are complaining about the Nigerian judiciary and we in the legal profession should do a lot of self examination and issues that are not right must be corrected by us to ensure absolute confidence in our judicial system. That is why I am so happy with the new President of NBA Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN) on the way he talked about sanitisation in the profession; that any lawyer who is not doing it right in terms of observing our ethics would be shown the way out.
The legal profession must display high level of integrity, must show concern to the common people and be a voice to the voiceless. They must ensure good governance and accountability in the system. So, we cannot afford to have people who will bring disrepute to the legal profession in terms of their character. So, any lawyer who misbehaves must be punished. Lawyers must remain the symbol of integrity.
This brings us to the Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and Dr. Uche Ogah’s legal tussle over Abia governorship seat. What is the true situation now as one of the counsel to the plaintiff?
The case has gone to the Supreme Court. The judgment that was given by the Appeal Court was not satisfactory to Dr Ogah and his legal team. The Supreme Court will have the final say; whether a man who told several lies about his tax payments as a gubernatorial candidate and even swore to an affidavit that whatever information he supplied to INEC and his party is true and correct and that if that information is found to be incorrect, he should be held responsible, will be allowed to go scot free when all the information he supplied were all lies.
The Appeal Court below is now saying “No” it shouldn’t be him that should be held responsible, that it should be the tax authority, even when the candidate swore an affidavit saying that he should be the one. We want the Supreme Court to make pronouncement on all these issues. The Appeal Court dwelt so much on technicalities. So, we want the substance of the issue to be looked into, especially in the light of the situation today in the country.
Nigeria today is at a crossroads as the oil is not generating enough money to the economy because of the drop in price in the international market. So, the country must diversify and one of the ways to sustain the country is through taxation. In western world, taxation generates enough revenue to the government to run the system. So, if someone is unable to pay his tax or concoct documents which are patently false, can the law allow such a person to actually hold the governorship position of a state where he is expected to manage other people’s resources?
If he is a man who has conscience, Dr Ikpeazu knows that he didn’t pay his tax. He wants to escape justice relying on technicalities. But one day, we will all account before God in whatever we do to remain in power. God knows the truth. But, I know that the Supreme Court will look at that matter in a dispassionate manner. So, there will be a triumph of substance over technicality in the long run.
Some stakeholders think the Certificate of Return issued to Ogah by INEC was hastily done and smacks of conspiracy?
It is a wicked allegation and why they are saying that is because in Nigeria, institutions don’t obey court orders. We don’t comply with court orders here. So, if there is an institution that obeys court orders promptly, it looks strange. So, if someone or institutions manifest sanity in their operations, it appears abnormal. I think INEC complied with that order of court promptly and accordingly. There is nothing hasty about it or strange. It is because of what I said earlier. What is normal is no longer normal in our society. Our psyche has been terribly and sadly damaged.
So why was Ogah not sworn-in as imagined by his supporters?
Were you not aware that they procured a ‘black market’ order from Osisioma Ngwa High Court, a process that appears strange in our jurisprudence? The Court of Appeal didn’t make a pronouncement on it? How could it have glossed over such a condemnable misbehavior by a court of coordinate jurisdiction that has no right to do what it did? We still believe the Supreme Court will look at these issues. So, it was because of that ‘black market’ order that was procured illegally that prevented the swearing-in from taking place.
Are you among the people that are against the anti-graft war being fought by the Buhari administration?
I am interested in the fight against corruption and interested in laying a solid structure that will ensure that corruption does not pay in Nigeria. I have not seen the fight as far reaching as I had wanted. I thought by now federal and state governments would have provided an avenue through which we can report corrupt practices. Corruption is still going on everywhere even though with a little bit of fear, not with usual and abundant impunity as in the previous administration.
When this government came in, there was actually a check on behaviours, people became careful, they wanted to see how far the graft fight will go. But after some time, people discovered that this anti-corruption thing is not far reaching enough. So they went back to their old ways. Corruption doesn’t give us a good name. So, I’m totally in support of the fight. But we can make it far reaching. As it is today, if the man at the centre, that is our PMB (President Buhari) leaves tomorrow, we may go back to it even worse than the IBB era.
I think we must build the structure first. It is corruption that has kept us where we are today and has retarded our growth in all areas. It has killed our education sector, sports, health, infrastructure, etc. Nigerian students now troop to Ghana for higher education. With all our resources and professionals, there is nothing that shows we are in a civilised environment because of corruption. I also think this government should not make itself look unserious in the fight because there are people who have been named in President Buhari’s government, but has not been investigated. Look at what is going on with Speaker Yakubu Dogara and Representative Jibrin. By now, somebody should have been prosecuted or asked to resign.
The Nigerian system is still lethargic in tackling corruption. It is not up and doing the way one would want it – very efficient, dedicated – that whoever is found guilty goes in for it regardless of one’s’ status. So, our law must protect both the weak and strong. I think if our judicial system is fixed, every other thing will fall in line. It has to be well funded, independent and with the right personnel.
Do you think the re-launching of the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) has any role to play in our present circumstance?
Let me tell you Nigerians are the most undisciplined people. We are so rowdy, disorganised and it has to do with the issue of law and order. We don’t enforce our laws and nobody is punished for crime. People commit crime as long as they know the system will allow them get away with it. People think it is only by force they can get something. That is why the Niger Delta Avengers are blowing up oil facilities. The Boko Haram kills because they feel that is what they can do and be heard.
The leadership also must behave and not take laws into their hands. That is why they must ensure that when they are in power, it is about the people, and not only them and their families. Therefore a system that rewards corruption is not a good system.
What is the place of Ndigbo in this dispensation given the widespread allegation of marginalisation?
Yes, the Igbo man is very hardworking and intelligent. The Igbo is an intelligent ethnic group. The Igbo man needs to take politically correct steps to actualise their dream of running this country once again at the highest level. If you try and fail, you try again. But, even in trying again, you must also choose your instrument well and choose the proper structure with which to fight the war.
Now, it is true the Igbo man has not been given the opportunity to produce the president of the country after the war. My question is: How have we played our politics in order to ensure we get to that position? We cannot get to the top without the confidence and support of other ethnic groups.
The Yoruba lost during Abiola. Even under Jonathan’s regime, they were neglected. But they re-strategised. They found an ally in the North and came back under this dispensation strongly. They didn’t try to balkanise the country or throw Nigeria into turmoil. Even the speakership position zoned to South West was denied them, yet they bid their time and waited for the right time to strike correctly. I think the Igbo must be a bit more strategic in their thoughts, sayings and actions.
If we say we want Biafra Republic, in asking for it, what are the plans in place? Have we consulted with our political office holders who are holding offices everywhere? Who is going to be the President of the Republic? Where shall be the capital of Biafra Republic? Do we have enough space in the East to accommodate all of us scattered all over the country?
Then take into account the level of investments Igbo have all over the country, Abuja inclusive. Would they leave all and move to Biafra, a landlocked environment? There is not much thought concerning all these. All I see are sentiments, even from the educated ones. When you advice or seek clarifications, they call you all sorts of names like saboteur, mole. I don’t have any problem with people agitating for self determination. But it involves plans and processes. I am afraid, I see none in place. All they are concerned is let us have Biafra. Once you disagree with them, they call you an enemy. That is not how to go about it.
The Igbo is an intelligent ethnic group doing very well in almost everything in the country. Is it then in their interest for the disintegration of Nigeria? Let them answer. I think all we need to do is to make ourselves more strategic with other ethnic group in order to actualise our dream of building a country of our vision for all. God will bring it to pass if we believe.
But, we cannot do it by being hostile, by being cantankerous, by calling other ethnic groups names. We cannot do it by being rebellious. The Biafra war was a waste. We wasted lives and our opportunities. The Igbo, prior to the war, were occupying prominent positions, both in the civil service and in the military. With the war, we lost all. Till now, we are struggling to come back. We are still being suspected by others. I agree that Igbo were oppressed and killed and all that. Very sad, but I think there was advice by the late Zik that was not respected and we went to that war. How did the war benefit us in the long run?
I will not at this level of my education support the Igbo man to go to war again. I have kids and I know what war does to women and children. I will rather seek for us to get a large chunk of our rights in a more legitimate way in this country that God has blessed. That is why I say that President Buhari must be inclusive in his governance. He must not neglect any part in the country because everywhere now is his constituency, having won the election. In summary, the Igbo dream can be realised under the context of one invisible and united restructured Nigeria. We should seek for a restructured Nigeria working for all. It is possible.