Some people don’t know and some pretend not to know that law has its technicalities-both civil and criminal proceedings. They talk of technicalities and say that lawyers delay cases, look, without being immodest; I have been involved in a lot of cases in this country.
I have defended a lot of people. During the run-up to the 2015 elections, I was one of the lawyers hired on pro bono basis to defend the All Progressives Congress and its candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. We employed all the tactics available, employable and allowable in the legal profession; why didn’t they blame us then? If we didn’t, the election would not have held.
If you do that today, some people, even within the profession, will blame you. I know what I’m talking about. The election was to hold on a Saturday and Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, said he was going to deliver his judgement on whether or not card readers should be used by the Independent National Electoral Commission on Thursday, two days to the election. We filed preliminary objection, he overruled it. I was in court with Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), Akin Olujinmi (SAN), and Kola Awodein, (when) Asiwaju Bola Tinubu sent an aircraft to pick me in Akure, saying that if we were not in court, the election would not hold. There are things that need to be unveiled in this country. Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola (former Lagos State Governor), the Vice President (Prof. Yemi Osibajo), Lai Mohammed, the AGF (Abubakar Malami) were in the know. And Kolawole overruled us. Then he called the plaintiff and said, can you go ahead with originating summons? I will deliver my judgement tomorrow. Like someone who was possessed, I rose up and said I was applying for stay of proceedings. Then the other lawyer interjected and asked for my formal application. I gave him two authorities offhand that I could apply orally. That was two days to the election. Kolawole said well, whatever it is; I would want to listen to you. He listened to me. We did it pro bono in the sense that the APC hasn’t paid us. Nobody even wrote a letter to say thank you. Then thereafter, he wrote a ruling and granted stay of proceedings 48 hours to the election. The Supreme Court later held that, though the card reader was a good innovation, it was not yet in the law.
Would Buhari have been President if we had not done that? What could be more technical than that? They filed action against Buhari, we looked at it; we raised objections and we were dragging that. Is that not technicality? And some people will now accuse me when I do it for other people that I’m defending looters. But when you do it for them, it is right; that is double standard. And what baffles me is that some high lawyers, who should know better, also accuse some lawyers of defending looters? To hell with anybody who has looted the treasury. I believe in my profession and I thank God for what I am. I am a fulfilled person and don’t want any position from any government, but then government should allow those of us who are privately engaged to do our work. In our offices in Lagos and Abuja, we have over 75 members of staff- professionals and supporting staff. We pay more than what the government pays and don’t owe workers. A cleaner in my office earns far more than what government calls minimum wage. And when you say someone is a looter, who is a looter?
Anybody who loots will have his day in court and God will punish looters, but at the same time, judge not, so that you are not judged. And let the accused person defend himself. All religions give room for fair hearing. I grew up to know that when people came to my father to settle disputes, he would say ‘e je ko so tie, agba ti o gbo ejo enikan dajo, agba osika ni’ (let him say his side of the story; an elder who bases his judgement on only one side of the story is wicked). I grew up to know that. So you don’t want people to be heard? If that is the case, change the constitution. So once someone is accused, he is arrested and taken to prison. Then, abolish the courts. That is my position. And what goes around comes around. You may be the accuser today, tomorrow; it may be your turn to face accusations. Let the law take its course.
It is tyrannical, dictatorial and smacks of militarism when you start accusing lawyers who defend people. You cannot have democracy without free speech and people having access to courts. You cannot be the accuser, the lawyer and the judge. They say lawyers and judges delay the prosecution of looters, then if they have already been adjudged looters, don’t prosecute them. It is only a court of law that can come to the conclusion that someone has looted the treasury after evidence has been produced.
I believe in anti-corruption, you know, I said earlier that woe betide anybody who has looted the treasury or any person who uses his position to amass wealth. But when you keep on describing Nigeria as a country that is corrupt, investors will stay off. And if you know some judges are corrupt, deal with them, but don’t go to another country to say that the judiciary in your country is corrupt; nobody will come there because it is about investment and the rule of law.
And when you talk of corruption among lawyers, who are the people? It takes two to tango. Let every politician in Nigeria swear by the god of thunder that he has not tried to induce a judge.
Let the President take a cue from the United States President, Barack Obama. George W. Bush squandered American funds on the Gulf War as President of the US because he wanted Saddam Hussein by all means –dead or alive- after the September 11 attack. The economy of the US was comatose when Obama took over, but did you hear him say any bad thing about Bush? He had his own agenda. He started issuing presidential orders and proclamations and within two or three years, the economy was revived without him condemning anybody.
To me, government is a continuum. I’m not in the Peoples Democratic Party or the APC; I don’t even see any difference between the two of them when it is so easy for the PDP people to move to the APC and immediately become progressives. You don’t sell that to me, Mr. President.
Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN (OFR) is a celebrated Nigerian legal luminary