In this interview with GBENRO ADEOYE, the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association and former Pro-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), speaks about Nigeria, the economy, the law profession and other issues
You were at one time the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, looking back now, how well do you think the law profession has done since that time?
Before I became the NBA president, I was Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Ondo State, but I thank God for the NBA. But to me, the NBA should illuminate the darkness of Nigerians. It must act as the voice for the voiceless and the oppressed. To be the NBA leader is not a tea party; it is not like going for a picnic. I cannot see any NBA leader as good if he does not want to step on toes. When I was NBA president, it was under a democratic regime, which was supposed to be rooted in the constitution and constitutionalism. But before then, I belonged to the Alao Aka Bashorun (also a former President of the NBA) dynasty within the NBA. I was one of his boys and I stood by him and with him for the two years that he was president. And I liked his courage and appreciated his carriage. One day, while Femi Falana and I were at his office in Ebute-Meta, the telephone rang. There was no GSM at the time. He pressed the speaker button and from the other end, the person said ‘President’. Then Bashorun asked, ‘who is that?’ The person said ‘my name is Ibrahim’. Femi and I had known by that time that it was General Ibrahim Babangida’s voice. The person then said he was Ibrahim Babangida. Unconsciously, Bashorun stood up. That was reflex action. He said you are the President, sir. But IBB said the President of the NBA is the President of Nigeria. He said the fear of Alao Aka Bashorun was the beginning of wisdom. I’m telling you this so that you understand what the NBA presidency meant to a military dictator, for him to have said that. Babangida then said you are doing well for the NBA but we want you to come and serve. But Bashorun said, Mr. President, forget about that, I’m satisfied being the President of the NBA. He said, but one thing I will request of you. All the decrees that you churn out every day, please can you allow the NBA to have inputs? Can you send us the drafts of the decrees before you sign them? Babangida said Alao, take it as done. And from then on, every decree that Babangida wanted to pass, he would send to the NBA and we would debate it. So I became the NBA president, I knew the background I was coming from. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the President but I knew he was a military dictator. He had and still has military traits and tendencies- the military’s ‘know it all’ attitude. So I knew what I was prepared for. Some people thought that because he was a Yoruba President and I was Yoruba NBA President, I would be treating him with kid gloves, no. When we needed to respect him, we respected him and when we needed to criticise him, we criticised him. There was a time we visited him in his office in Aso Villa and he was harassing me while I was reading my speech, he did it three or four times, interjecting me and banging his fist on the table. But I didn’t want to be rude to him. Gen. Abdulsalami Abukakar and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Kanu Agabi (SAN) were there. Obasanjo didn’t allow the press to come in. He was banging the table, saying No! No! No!
What did you say that made him do that?
Recently, the Federal Government and some members of the public have accused the NBA and the judiciary of aiding corruption with delay tactics to frustrate the anti-graft law. Do you agree with that?
Nowadays, you see people talking about lawyers defending some people. A lawyer is at liberty to defend any person that briefs him. So you should not condemn the lawyers because it is Mr. A, it might be you tomorrow. Frankly speaking, the government and those condemning lawyers are very unfair to lawyers. Have they cast some people aside as lepers that are untouchable? A lawyer must muster sufficient courage whether in criminal or civil actions, to take up the defence or the case of his client without compromising it and without minding whose ox is gored, but it must be done within the ambit of law. He must not go outside that to do what is criminal simply because he wants to save his client or win a case for him. But within the ambit of the law, a lawyer has sufficient room to meander. And a lawyer must be fearless and resolute but he must not be rude. Otherwise, don’t come to the profession. 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.
So where does a lawyer find balance? How do you decide who to defend or who not to defend?
A lawyer is at liberty to defend any case and once he takes up the case, he must do it uncompromisingly to the best of his ability. No lawyer can be condemned for defending any person. But as for me, at times, I might decide not to take some cases because of the extenuating circumstances. Today, I have rejected a particular brief, but I won’t mention names because of the parties concerned. I cherish my independence. A lawyer must not be under the control of any person. My clientele cuts across tribal, ethnical, religious boundaries. Once I take up a case, I take it that there is an unwritten covenant between that person and myself supervised by God and I must not compromise his interest. That is at the bottom line for me. I don’t care what anybody says, I owe a duty to that client just as I did to Gen. Buhari as a candidate without seeing him. Some people briefed me on his behalf and I loyally served him.
Some people will wonder how you are able to handle briefs from people from opposing sides like when you defended Tinubu at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and by 2.30pm on the same day, you were defending former President Goodluck Jonathan in another court. How do you quickly shift allegiances?
What I give my clients is my knowledge, I don’t sell my conscience. I retain my conscience and independence. I cherish my liberty. I keep it. No client will tell me not to represent others, I will tell that client to go. Let me give you an example. Tinubu is not just my client, he is also my friend. I respect him and he respects me but he cannot say he wants to control me. He does not even discuss my professional jobs with me. The day you just referred to, I was at the CCT in the morning in a suit. Jonathan’s election petition was stood down till about 2 pm and immediately I finished addressing the CCT on Tinubu’s matter, I had to go and change for Jonathan’s matter. Jonathan would dare not ask me why I was defending his foe. But one thing I knew then was that there was no Nigerian that Jonathan’s government feared more than Tinubu.
Why do you think so?
I know. In fact, his camp believed they were contesting election against him, that he was the arrowhead of the opposition but they dared not ask me anything about his case. One thing I also noticed was that Jonathan’s team started withdrawing from me gradually because of the Tinubu factor. And I won’t go to anybody to beg for briefs. A lady, whose name I don’t want to mention, called me one day and said these people are in trouble, why are they running away from you? Who cares? I can be very committed to my clients. Former President Umaru Yar’Adua is dead; I was his lawyer since his days as Governor of Katsina State. He was a gentleman per excellence; he would have been the best president Nigeria ever had but he was overwhelmed by his illness. He was so humble, intelligent, honest and frugal. He was the one who appointed me as Pro Chancellor of the University of Ibadan and he told me, Wole, I know you are going to help me revive and revamp that place. Thank God we did that eventually. We changed the entire face of the university. Anytime Tinubu wants to make jest of me, he will say when it comes to law, nobody talks to you, I will say thank God you know that. He knows that when it comes to his case, I will not compromise his interest. Also, I defended Tinubu when the late Funsho Williams took him to the tribunal. He has been my client over the years. And if you are talking of technicality, we had a plan when we handled his CCT case. We had even planned against the ruling and ahead of the ruling. I had already prepared notice of appeal. I had prepared a notice of appeal, a motion for stay of proceedings, and that if the ruling went against us, we would say okay, let’s take a short adjournment, argue that motion for stay of proceedings. Would you say that is technicality? Is that not allowed in law? Today, if I do it for somebody else, would you now want to shoot me down? When people are in government, they appropriate all knowledge to themselves. And it is only they that are patriotic; that can’t be right. It is only God that is always right. I see a lot of us now, who believe that government is always right, that can’t be right. We must objectively critique the government, not to bring it down but to make it perform. Nobody has the divine right to govern over me, you do so through democratic means, therefore, you owe me a duty to do well and listen to me and my complaints. When government says 2 plus 2 equals 10, we clap. We don’t take the government up any longer; we must not be like robots. It is not in the interest of the government, it is not in our own interest and it is not in the interest of our children.
The Federal Government recently proposed the sale of some assets, which was largely condemned by Nigerians. What is your take on it?
I’m not an economist but I think I have some rudimentary knowledge of economics and what is commonsensical, reasonable and just and not hasty and scandalous. I’m a bit worried about how it came to the national front burner as a discourse. Who first hinted the idea? It was the business mogul- Aliko Dangote. Later, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, supported it and later on, the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II. As someone who has a stake in this country, I ask, was it accidental or were they acting in concert? I’m not happy with the way things are going on in my country. Dangote is a successful businessman but what is his leverage in economics? Saraki is a medical doctor by training but now a politician by vocation and practice. The Yoruba will say the witch cried yesterday, the child died today, who would not know that it was the witch that killed the child. Is it not a case of people trying to position themselves to buy the assets? We must not allow it to happen. We must not behave like prodigals. Does it make any sense to say you have kidney problem, someone now advises you to remove your brain to solve your kidney problem. Does it make any sense? Is it not nonsensical? Is it not stupid? We are talking about core national assets that are not even failing like the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, which fetches us billions of dollars annually. May the time not come when they will sell off Aso Villa and lease it back to us. I hope the time will not come when they will be selling off Nigerian citizens. I read that Obasanjo said that he agreed that they should sell off the assets but not to the cabals. Who constitute the cabals? They should let us know the beneficiaries of the assets that they have sold in the past. Let us have the list; let us know those who bought directly and those who bought through proxies. They are cheating this country and taking us for a ride. And I heard someone saying government will put a repurchase clause in it; they are insulting our intelligence. What an insult? Is there no law again? I sell this building and put a repurchasing clause that after 10 years, I will buy it back. Who will buy that from you? And which court will enforce it? Enough is enough. They are selling dummies to us every day and insulting the mentality of Nigerians. The CBN governor also said recently that the worst was over as regards recession; that is also insulting. People are hungry and angry and you are saying the worst is over. I have some questions to ask when you say that: are you now saying that before the end of the year, the naira will be restored to the position it was before the crisis? Are you going to give people, who have lost their jobs, the jobs back? Obasanjo must reveal the members of the cabals. And let government stop talking about corruption every day.
Don’t you believe in the anti-corruption fight?
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 should have an inclusive government.
Culled from Punch newspaper
FIRSTBANK PARTNERS AZURI TECHNOLOGY TO PROMOTE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA
By Stellamarris Ashinze (NAN)
First Bank of Nigeria Limited, last Thursday signed a partnership with the Azuri Technologies to provide solar energy solution for the low-income areas.
The Deputy Managing Director of the Bank, Mr. Gbenga Shobo, said in Lagos that the partnership was aimed at proffering solutions to one of the major challenges facing the country today.
Shobo, represented by Tunde Owolabi, the Bank’s Group Executive, Retail Banking Group, Lagos & West, said that the focus is delivering power to millions of Nigerians; while at the same time enabling access to financial services in rural and low-income areas.
According to him, financial inclusion is a priority to FirstBank. “This is why we are excited about this partnership; because our customers will be able to access a wide range of services that address the real problem of access to power.
”This partnership with Azuri Technologies is one out of several of FirstBank’s partnerships. We have a track record of partnering with individuals and institutions to help meet the needs of our customers (children, women, youth, SMEs) and promote sustainable development in our host communities. Our partnerships cut across the Arts, Sports, Education, Health, among others; FirstBank has been at the forefront in ensuring ease of banking and convenience for its customers.
”Our Agent Banking Network (Firstmonie Agent) and digital banking offerings like Chat Banking on Whatsapp, FirstMobile app, Firstonline, and USSD banking, are some of the channels we have put in place to make this happen. We are therefore, very excited about the FirstBank-Azuri partnership and the positive boost it aims to bring to the nation’s economy through inclusive services.”
”Indeed, this is part of FirstBank’s 125 year-long passion for partnerships that are woven into the fabric of society,” he said.
Also, Mr Simon Bransfield-Garth, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Azuri Technologies, said that the company “is a leader in pay-as-you-go solar technology”.
Bransfield-Garth said: “Azuri brings affordable, modern consumer goods and services to the millions in sub-Saharan Africa without access to conventional power.
”Of the one billion people who lack access to electricity around the world, over 600 million live in sub-Saharan Africa. Pay-as-you-go solar power is connecting off-grid households to the modern digital world. From home lighting to satellite TV, Azuri-designed solutions deliver world class performance at an affordable price for customers who live away from mains power.”
”Azuri’s vision is to create a level playing field where all consumers can access and benefit from the digital economy, wherever they live” he concluded.
Spectrum: Election, A New Beginning
Nationwide, we have seen motley crowds, when politicians throw hypocritical words to each other. Indeed it is still interesting when, political parties, begin to impose threat on each other on who will win the poll. So, everything is diffident, here; as we fail to understand that politics is surprisingly a practical. Even George Orwell, in his 1984, novel described a political system that is related to ours; because we fail to understand the truth than the prejudice.
With the reactions, I have seen from the APC and the PDP, I then wonder what is their different. What has made them the choice of an average Nigerian? Is it that they are telling us the truth or what American essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson identified as ‘’ words are signs of natural facts’’
They wear different colognes but they are still the same people. Their conveyances to mega rallies in the country have shown vividness to win with all sorts of tantrums. However, it was on the rostrum, when one of the presidential candidates was saying gibberish. Well, they all say what is vouchsafing from the monies they have given the crowds at the rallies. It is in Nigeria that I have seen politicians promising what can’t be done in four years. Though, it is politics.
The election is bringing different promising and un-futuristic agenda. During the 2015, we were of the drama, and such drama is still being played now like a classic novel title: Great Expectation. Our vote was crammed. Election should be based on maturity but we fail to keep the tenacity up right. We fail to vote for our credence. Unfortunately, as I saw one of the PDP rallies, I began to mock myself, that Nigerians are gullible— aptly, what came from me was this: ‘’ therefore, we become a dunce, to the lies of a party that has failed for 16 years’’ frankly, what was the achievement of the PDP?
Even the APC, is a party that has turned his rallies, to an avenue to forgive those who are backlists to become saint. The APC, in one of its rallies, the party chairman, had spoken in a croak voice, that anybody that joins the party will be forgiven. Hence, this kind of political crumpet should make Nigerians to vote for their choice.
As the 2019 election comes, Nigerians want a society where they can identify problems without a cumbersome lie then we need to vote wisely. The vestry of anguish in this society has made us to become cupidity; and for this, we have sold our vote for lies.
So, vote with woe. Take yourself with passion. To listen to the presiding officer or any of the assistant presiding officers to check your name from the voter register and listen to instructions. These are the voices we need to create that can make our vote count. Politics in this era is for you and I, to benefit what we are born to enjoy. We just need to grow; out plough, or faceless taut.
Election is for you to grow a seed of your pain in someone’s heart; maybe by wish or paucity. Meanwhile, let vote for our own future in a positive way. As I do think that we know that Buhari and Atiku are failures to our economy. One is sluggish and one is corrupt. This further bear me in mind, that we have not noticed that; our inequalities are possessed with debauchery.
Spokesman, El Rufai
He is a governor, but, last week, he acted in a new dimension to his profile. For instance, his scurrilous statement is prowess to this administration. He has definitely become a griot of politics. It is a kind of character in the novel of American novelist, Robert Penn Warren. Thus, what he said is presumably, the factor of our politics when political parties run for intervention with foreign envoys.
So, the presidency has seen the opposition parties to lobbying for help. I saw Kaduna state governor political temerity on a live programme that was aired on the Nigeria Television Authority, (NTA) and hear him: ‘’those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person to come and intervene. They would go back in body bags because nobody would come to Nigeria and tell us how to run our country”
In 2015, Nigerians should recall that the APC had a rigorous meeting with the US and nobody knew maybe the American government helped in that election that brought Buhari to rule—with what, I would call a draconian rule, because since, he emerged the government has monopolised the institutions to work in its philosophy.
Well, as for me, I do not see anything wrong from what El-Rufai said. Since we all know that political parties are finding ways to win this forthcoming election that is dice. It is an election that we redefine the profligacy and mendacity of the country.
And, El Rufai’s statement is that Nigeria does not need any foreign intervention in her election. Indeed, we should hide above all sentiment, what he said, is not a political talk, but a reality. That it is bad for Nigerian politicians to seek foreign help when it comes to politics.
Yet, we have forgotten that Nigeria is a sovereign state that controls her own territory without external force or comment. Despite, the fact that El-Rufai and his party members are scared of an imminent defeat— however, that does not mean, Kaduna governor is corrigible; to what he had said.
We should know that, election in this part of our own claims, is filled of hocus-pocus. It is a system of lies and all sorts of espousal that is wrong to how democracy ought to be practiced. Therefore, whenever, I read story, that identifies Nigeria politics to be shamble, I laugh. Not that I laugh because of this irascibility of our political ideology, but because we don’t know how to practice politics that is beneficial to the populace.
That means that our so called politicians have forgotten that election will come and go, and the citizenry will stay to understand their tenacity. Not those kinds of politicians that come to rallies and begin to disparage themselves. Fine, it is sacrosanct here. But, El-Rufai’s statement is a warning to foreigners since our political parties have seen succour in interference.
Though, a society that is intervening with foreign envoy, such society will be in disarray. The society will be left with anguish and blames. Even those wounds will continue to linger forever. If Atiku or Buhari are the men to vote for then; their associate, need to understand that El-Rufai has spoken what supposes to be said in this political tension we are in.
We need to know election in this country is not a do or die affair. Politicians are acting like politicians but we citizens need to act like citizens because a politician is fighting for his/her own interest. They are fighting for impunity and hubris. Like what a British essayist wrote in one of his essay. And I deeply apologise for not remembering the title of the essay. But the lines go as follow: ‘’nobody is deterring to make choice than the populace who know how to determine their future without a magic wand of lies’’
We need to vote for our conscience not for a thousand naira that will be given to us by party agents at the polling station. We need to perform our civic responsibility as Nigerians not as cowards who do not know the true benefit of democracy. Are we enjoying the dividend of democracy in Nigerian? If you know the answer then vote for who you think won’t make you and your children not to be remorseful in the next four years. A stitch in time says nine. A future we want is for us to fight for a new society.
President Buhari Needs Four More Years to Finish his Task….Garba
NEWS4 weeks ago
2019 Election: “We Will not Hesitate to Consider Consequences for those Who Undermine the Nigerian Democratic Process” -US Govt
Banking2 weeks ago
UBA’s LEO Hits over 1 Million Users
Banking2 weeks ago
How Leo won a million hearts in 12 months
Banking2 weeks ago
FirstBank Partners Azuri to Provide Solar Services and Deepen Financial Inclusion in Nigeria
COLUMNISTS3 weeks ago
ONNOGHENGATE: THE RULE OF LAW CLASHES WITH ANTI-CORRUPTION
NEWS4 weeks ago
NBA Summons An Emergency NEC Meeting Over Onoghen’s Suspension
NEWS4 weeks ago
Davos: Africa boosts free trade while global barriers go up
Headline3 weeks ago
El’rufai Commissions DFID-assisted Milk, Yoghurt Processing Plant