Chief Richard Akinjide was Minister of Education in the First Republic and Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation in the Second Republic. The Senior Advocate of Nigeria talks about Olubadan of Ibadanland, the Peoples Democratic Party, President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-graft campaign and the 1966 coup d’état in this interview with Leke Baiyewu, reporting for Punch.
As a very senior legal practitioner, what do you see to the criticisms against the Federal Government over alleged disobedient to court orders in the ongoing trials of a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), and a pro-Biafra leader, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu?
I don’t know the details of the cases but I accept that court orders must be respected. It is against the rule of law for any government to disobey any court order. I will not do it. If you do that, that is contempt of court.
The anti-graft war seems to have divided the leadership of the PDP, with some national executives dissociating the party from their colleagues on trial. Should the party identify with or dissociate itself from its leaders being tried?
Once a matter is in court, we should wait for the judgment; the question of supporting who or not supporting who does not arise. The court is a very great institution and we should wait for the judgment. Those charged to court might be free or they might be convicted. Don’t let us start making judgments on cases not decided yet.
Recently, some protesters rose up in some parts of the country to call for Biafra. What is your take on the new call for secession?
Calling for Biafra now is a big joke and it is senseless. Biafra resulted in a three-year war, which Nigeria fought and won. Nobody can bring it back. Anybody talking of Biafra now must be having a big fun; that person is not serious.
Some are alleging marginalisation and exclusion from government. What do you think could have made a section of the country to rise up for secession?
If you are excluded or you are marginalised, you can sort it out in elections. Vote in accordance with your conscience. That does not mean Biafra, which is dead and buried, should be brought back. I don’t see Nigeria supporting Biafra again. We have created states and those who supported and fought for Biafra have been in government, why do you want it to come back? I have met a lot of people who supported Biafra and are against Biafra now; they won’t support it. Overwhelming (number of) Nigerians – 90 per cent, if not 95 – will not support it, which is nonsense.
Do you think if the 2014 national confab report had been implemented, it would have resolved some of these issues?
You cannot implement it overnight; it has to be in stages. I moved the final motion adopting that conference. The Jonathan-led government did that very well and he should be praised for that – I doff my hat to Jonathan for convoking the conference. I have reasons to believe that the present government will implement that report.
With your experience at the confab, do you think the solution to the country’s problems is majorly restructuring as several Yoruba leaders often claim?
We should do what we have recommended in the report. Once that is done, we will be better off.
Should there be special courts for corruption trial?
No. I don’t believe that there should be special courts. If you say there should be special courts, it means you have passed a vote of no confidence on the present courts we have. I don’t accept that. The present courts are excellent. What you should do is to make sure that people there (judges) are doing their duty and they are not corrupt.
The argument of those calling for special courts for corruption trial is that cases will be dispensed more quickly like electoral cases at the tribunals.
They (cases) can be done quickly with the machinery we have now. What we need is machinery with computers, verbatim reporting and to appoint more judges where necessary. And make sure that those (judges) who are there are people with the highest integrity – honest people.
There is a wide belief that the Nigerian judiciary must first be purged of corruption before the anti-graft war can be successful. Do you agree that the judiciary is also corrupt?
If you think that there is corruption (in the judiciary), give the evidence to the Police or to the government and they will deal with it. But don’t make statements about corruption without providing evidence to support it. They (those found guilty) could be retired; they could be dismissed and could be dealt with in other ways. There are so many ways of dealing with them. Nigerian judiciary has been excellent. We’ve provided the chief justice for Uganda before, so for Gambia, Botswana and several East African countries and we had a judge at the International Court of Justice (World Court) at The Hague. Even in England, we have people who are on the bench and in the bar. When it comes to the judiciary and the legal profession, we have one of the best in the world. I will not join those who are running down the judiciary in this country; they are excellent and should be respected.
Some people are also blaming the bar due to the way lawyers allegedly frustrate corruption cases by seeking injunctions that protect corrupt people or by delaying cases?
I don’t see how a lawyer can delay a case. The judge controls the proceedings. I believe that the Nigerian bar is one of the best in the world, and certainly one of the best in the Commonwealth. That is why other countries come to us to get lawyers as judges – to get lawyers to argue cases. When it comes to the judiciary, I doff my hat to Nigeria. It is doing extremely well.
The infamous 1966 military coup clocked 50 years on January 15. Some people believe that Nigeria’s problems started with the mass murder of prominent Nigerians by the soldiers.
The 1966 coup is one of the worst eras in the history of this country because some of the finest statesmen were killed; some of the finest military officers were killed; some of the finest civilians were murdered. It is a history that should never be repeated in this country. Those who took part in it should know that they committed a terrible crime against humanity and against history. At the time the first one (coup) occurred, I was in the cabinet – I was the Federal Minister of Education. I don’t want to remember it again. When the second one occurred (in July) too, I was in the cabinet. I hope people have learnt their lessons and they will never do it again.
What are the lessons to be learnt from the coups?
One, we should obey the rule of law. Two, we should obey democracy. Three, we should not be tribal in our politics; we should be nationalistic and that is what I believe in. After 56 years of independence, we are no more European or American; we should be African, we should be Nigerian and respect our leaders.
How come the inter-tribal suspicions are still in the polity since then?
What about Switzerland, which consists of French-speaking, Italian-speaking and German-speaking (people)? And it is a country that is extremely strong. They keep money for other people. They manufacture some of the best wristwatches in the world and some of the best textiles in the world. International conferences are held in Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich. There is no malady in Switzerland which is not also in other parts f the world. What are critical are character and education; those are the things we should learn. We have very fine Nigerians and very good universities. We should cut our coat in accordance with our cloth. And when you are in a hole and you continue digging the hole, you are making your situation worse. We should stop doing that.