Former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Abia State, Prof Awa Kalu (SAN), in this interview with Ise-Oluwa Ige is of the opinion that although the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has spent four years prosecuting its war against graft in public life, particularly in the judiciary, he nonetheless said that four years cannot be enough to start the war and conclude it. He says he has reservation on how the war has been fought so far in the judiciary. He however advises the government on how to tackle graft in the third arm of government in future.
Let me thank you for that question. Guided by the Gregorian Calendar, President Buhari would have completed his 4 Years in office by mid-night on May 28, 2019 and that is the cut-off date for reviewing his performance with regard to his anti-graft policy and the implementation of same. Let me say without any fear of contradiction that all well-meaning Nigerians appreciate and support President Buhari’s zero tolerance for any form of corruption in our National Life. Permit me to also say that quite a number of Nigerians have concerns about the implementation of that policy, especially when you take into account the fact that there is a lot of finger-pointing in different directions. The finger-pointing is an indication according to many Nigerians, that Elephants can still pass through the eye of a needle and even that while all animals are assumed to be equal, some are more equal than others. You will also appreciate the fact that the war against corruption seems to focus more on the bigger animals that are taken through our Courts, while a good number of the “no-so-big” are left to wallow in corrupt practices, resulting in a position where the “not-so-big” engage in their game without notice until they too become a problem for the system. My take is simple, and it is that the war ought to continue and should include both the big and the small. Corruption is a pervasive enemy of the People and it has to be tackled, but in doing so, we also have to understand that there are socio-economic circumstances that encourage corrupt practices to fester. Government at all levels must pay attention to ignorance, hunger, poverty, and un-employment. Without tackling these indices and many others, the fight against corruption may be reduced to propaganda.
Q: Whistle blowing policy was one that was borrowed from advanced countries of the world to fight graft in Nigeria. By way of explanation, can you educate our readers on what you think the policy is all about, how it is implemented over there and compare Nigeria’s implementation style with the foreign countries?
A: Whistle-blowing, is designed in my view to provide intelligence for anti-graft agencies. I remember a slogan by an F.M Station in Rivers State a long time ago by which they reminded members of the public that “armed-robber no be spirit.” In that sense, corrupt person no be spirit, na person wey me and you sabi. What this means is very simple, and that is to say that if one has a relation who has a menial job but is building a mansion, then each one of us has an obligation to ask him to explain “how water enter coconut.” If an explanation is not forthcoming, pick up your whistle and blow it very loud. But from a sociological point of view, whistle-blowing in our African environment where extended family connections make it difficult for us to squeal on our relations and relatives is not always easy. Advance countries have become more and more atomistic and so, picking up the whistle is by far easier. How many Nigerians are ready to invite EFCC, The Police, ICPC, and so on to arrest one’s Father, Mother, Uncle, Aunt and so on and so forth? How will a Nigerian enjoy compensation arising from whistle-blowing when the victim of the whistle-blowing is one’s father or mother. We live in a different place and we must therefore appreciate that there are dimensions to whistle-blowing which cannot be accommodated by our culture. The culture therefore must be implemented with common-sense and restraint.
Q: For the first time in history, the number one judicial officer, Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen was suspended from office via exparte order. How do you react to the travail of Onnoghen generally and the use of exparte order to kick him out of office?
A: Let me be frank with you, the road which the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (Now in retirement) is not one I would freely discuss in the open. Particularly because, I have a not-too-distant personal relationship with him. We were called to the Nigerian Bar on the same date and he was present when we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Nigerian Law School Class of 1978. I was on hand to provide assistance in garlanding him as “The Dean of our Class”. Let me therefore say no more.
Q: Residences of judges of high courts and justices of the Supreme Court were raided at an unholy hour by agents of Buhari govt in their bid to fight graft in the judiciary. Do you agree with the mode of the graft fight? If no, why and or how should it have been done?
A: Although the events you have referred to seem to have receded to the confines of History, nevertheless, I can hazard a guess that the anti-graft agencies as well as all those who love the fight against corruption have learnt very deep-seated lessons. If you cut your nose to spite your face, nobody will tell you that there are consequences. My personal recommendation is that when we have the facts about a corrupt judge, let that facts speak through a court of Law. That in my view, is the intendment of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as other Statutes by which the anti-graft fight is enabled.
Q: How will you rate the anti-graft war of President Buhari’s govt in the judiciary? Would you say it is successful or not and why?
A: This is a very sensitive matter and four years will not be enough to start the war and conclude it. There is still a lot of bellicosity and vexation threatening more heat than light about the war against corruption in the Judiciary. It seems to me that at all levels where the corruption allegations against Judges are being made, a deeper understanding of the structure and functions of Judicial apparatus is required. Isolating Judges and giving them a beating can only scotch the snake and will not kill it according to Shakespeare. The Judiciary does not start and end with Judges alone. For every Judge, there are several other persons who are part and parcel of the Judiciary and if we don’t understand that, then we cannot curtail the forms of corruption that exists in that arm of Government.
Q: What advice do you have for the Buhari government regarding the anti-graft war prosecution in view of the fact that it has secured another term of office?
A: If you look through my response so far, my advice is embedded in the answers that I have provided so far to your previous questions. I do hope, that I will be able to sit down with you in the near future and examine the wider Judicial apparatus and make a comprehensive recommendation.