‘Govt must avoid abuses in tackling insecurity, insurgency’

Kunle Rasheed Adegoke
Kunle Rasheed Adegoke

Kunle Rasheed Adegoke is the Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President’s Task Force on the Northeast. In this interview with Legal Editor JOHN AUSTIN UNACHUKWU, he speaks on the judiciary, the committee’s activities, legal practice and his political ambition.

The Judiciary has been described as the last hope of the common man. Do you agree?

It is a correct saying that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man. However, it is indisputable that in certain respects, the judiciary in Nigeria has been found wanting, more so with respect to allegations of corruption in the hallowed chambers. It is unfortunate the recent arrest and detention of some judges of the apex and the lower courts do not speak well of our judicial officers.

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How does this affect the perception of the judiciary?

That is not to say that our judiciary is not peopled by men of integrity. We know of judges who are incorruptible and have lived their lives ensuring that the stream of justice is not polluted. These are men who have made our judicial system is working satisfactorily.

So, what is the way out?

All we need to do is to ensure that the bad eggs in the judiciary are reported to the National Judicial Council (NJC) and no stone should be left unturned in ensuring justice is manifestly done in all cases. Nothing pains an upright man than to be painted with the same brush of guilt in a corrupt environment. Thus, allegation of corruption or other vices should be thoroughly investigated and the NJC should live up to its expectation by ensuring quick determination of accusations against judges to sustain the confidence of the public in this indispensable arm of government.

Law has been described as a catalyst for development. How do you think we can apply this to our own situation?

Law is truly a catalyst for economic development. For almost all transactions, there are legal regimes and regulations by law. Every piece of legislation or judicial pronouncement must be for the advancement of the society. For instance, our legal system is conscious of this and that is why the Land Use Act has vested land in the governor of the state to be held in trust for the people. The essence is to make land available to those who need it but do not have it from the grasp of landholding families who have lands but could not use it. Unfortunately, most states in Nigeria have not utilised this revolutionary piece of legislation, no matter its imperfections, to ensure maximal production of food and develop their internally generated revenue (IGR).

There have been calls for Ministries of Justice to take over the prosecution of politically exposed persons, while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) concentrates on financial crimes. Do you agree?

I believe that the state Ministries of Justice ought to adequately take care of, not only high profile cases, but cases of persons who loot state treasuries. That would reduce the burden on the EFCC, which is a national institution and whose structures crack easily under the heavy burden of corruption perpetrated in both private and public sectors. EFCC is not able to cope with so many of such cases or effectively prosecute them and that is why it loses many of them or even look the other way when they are reported to it. In some cases, some unscrupulous elements in EFCC have seen such cases as money-making opportunities for themselves, too, and this has led to allegations of corruption against the body itself. For a national body like the EFCC to cover the 36 states of the federation in both private and public sectors is stretching the body too thin.

How prepared are the states’ Ministries of Justice for this Herculean task?

In most states, simple cases in our courts last for so many years due to the failure of the government Ministries of Justice to prosecute with seriousness. I have been involved in many cases in which states’ Ministries of Justice were involved. You discover that the lawyers in those ministries hardly respond to processes served on them on time. They do not file defences to cases for so many years with many judges indulging them with frivolous adjournments and pampering gloves. Simple advice by Directors of Public Prosecution in criminal matters takes years to prepare and issue and the resultant effect is perpetual detention of persons awaiting trial. One is scared to say that the states’ Ministries of Justice are not ready for this additional responsibility which is sine qua non to development, if we must progress as a nation.

What should be the role of states in the fight against corruption?

Furthermore, the fight against corruption is a national and international one for which each state of the Federation ought to have its own institution, such as the EFCC monitoring the finances of the state and ensuring accountability and probity. The Constitution has placed the fight against corruption on a high pedestal in which both the Federal and the state governments can legislate on it. But how prepared are our governors and the states’ Houses of Assembly to ensure that corruption is minimised in our public sector?

You presented the report of the NBA Task Force on the Northeast at the last National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State as the Secretary. What’s in the report?

The summary of the report is that the NBA Task Force on the Northeast was established by the NBA President, A. B. Mahmoud (SAN), in October 2016 and saddled with ensuring the protection of the interest of the NBA members affected by the insurgency and counter-insurgency of the Boko Haram members and the military in the Northeastern. To provide pro bono legal services to individuals and communities in the region who are victims of the conflict to aid the rehabilitation, resettlement and reconciliation. To provide expert services to federal and state governments in the region and the National Assembly on devising appropriate legal framework and other legal services for the reconstruction of the region

What have you done to actualise this mandate?

We have visited some of the states in the region and discovered the monumental loss of lives and property there has reduced it to a pitiable sight. Scores of lawyers lost their lives in the conflict while many are detained; a large number of our members were also unlawfully detained. We have made recommendations to the NBA on how to assist the victims financially and help to rebuild the legal practice businesses of our members affected.

Is that all you recommended?

We have also signed memoranda of understanding with some local and international bodies on how to redress the violation of human rights by the military and other para-military bodies in the region. To this end, we are providing pro bono legal services and also focusing on the rights and rehabilitation of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). We have good working relationship with the army and the police on how the government can ensure transitional justice with respect to victims in the region.

What is the latest development in the Northeast on human rights abuses and how do we address them?

Right now, steps are being taken to ensure that persons in detention under the allegation of being Boko Haram members receive justice quickly because many are in detention without trial. The latest resurgence of Boko Haram activities in the region has not really helped matters. We commend the members of the security agencies in Nigeria, especially the army, for being responsive and protecting lives and properties. At the same time, excesses in conducting the fight should be checked to ensure that the fight is conducted in line with civilised rules of engagement.

It is speculated that you want to contest the governorship of Osun State. What is your reaction to this?

No. It is beyond speculation. I am already out and showcasing my intention to the good people of Osun. Since March, 2017, I have been on a state-wide consultation with the people from one local government area to another and the reception has been fantastic. I have my billboards in several parts of the state announcing an ‘Assured Future’, which is my campaign slogan. My political movement, Tiwa N TiwaL’Osun, has members and cells across the various wards of the state. I am a leading aspirant as far as the contest for the All Progressives Congress’s ticket is concerned.

What is your vision for Osun State?

My vision is to develop the state into an enviable position both nationally and internationally. The most important problem confronting the state is economic in which the state is unable to meet its salary obligation to the workers and the populace grumble under the heavy weight of economic recession. The national downturn in the economy has affected Osun badly and we must build a strong economy for the state to be capable of financing itself outside the federal allocations, which are no longer coming. We must be able to develop an IGR of not less than N10billion a month, if we are really serious as a people desirous of attaining economic progress. To attain this, we are looking at the low-hanging fruits of agriculture, tourism and industrialiation.

How do you intend to achieve this?

First, we want to, in the first 200 days in office, turn all arable lands to farms rather than forests that dominate our roadsides from Ikire to Ile-Ife to Ilesha, Owena, Igbajo, OkeIla, Ejigbo, and all over the state. In civilised societies, they tame their environment and do not leave land unutilised for any purpose as we do. Here we have arable lands but fail to effectively cultivate them. We want to, in alliance with the private sector, ensure farm settlements in each federal constituency of the state. With abundant production of food through mechanised farming and tapping into the Federal Government’s Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme and other international opportunities, we intend to engage in food preservation and processing as there is more money in processing than in supplies of raw materials.

Is that all?

We are looking at tapping into the expansive Lagos economy in which not less than N3 billion food is consumed daily utilising the poverty datum line of N200 per day for an average Lagosian. This, we believe, is possible, if we cultivate the spirit to succeed steeped in strong political will required of a responsive and responsible government. We intend to ensure that the huge reserve of liquidities locked up in tourism is accessed by us by ensuring development of existing tourist centres and creating new attractions that will encourage both local and foreign tourists to patronize our tourist sites. God only creates trees but does not give furniture. We shall turn the tourist sites, which we have more than any other State in Nigeria, from their natural state into attractive magnets that draw and glue tourists’ attention.

What happens after this?

Once we succeed economically within the first two years to effectively grow the economy capable of creating wealth, we are sure that we shall be able to transform the educational standard in the State to the best in Nigeria, if not in West Africa. We shall be able to address the perpetual civil servants’ welfare deficit, transform the health sector into excellent attraction to tourism and ensure unprecedented infrastructural development for the State.

How have you contributed to the development of Osun State?

Yes, I have contributed in my own little way to the development of Osun. To ensure electoral justice and make democracy attainable, I have been in the trenches with the people of the state. All through the litigation days of Aregbesola v. Oyinlola, I was one of the prominent lawyers that led the battle for more than three and a half years in which I represented Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Rt. Hon. Lasun Yusuf (the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives), Rt. Hon. Najeem Salam (the Speaker of the House of Assembly of Osun), Rt. Hon Akintunde Adegboye (Deputy Speaker, Osun State House of Assembly) and a host of numerous others. Aside from this, I have played my own little role by way of philanthropy to my people. God has used me to educationally bless some families as I have been responsible for sponsorship of many young ones. Among them are hundreds of lawyers, graduates from several disciplines of value, empowerment of many businessmen and women, assisting in guaranteeing life to those who were sick and at the point of death by paying their hospital bills. All these I have done to assist the state to reduce the devil’s workshop of idle hands without expectation of expression of gratitude from the beneficiaries but divine blessings from my creator.

How would you rate the performance of the APC-led Federal Government rule of law?

I often find it difficult to rate governments as that is an exercise that could be difficult to do as the yardsticks could be numerous. But with respect to the rule of law, I would say that the last conducted governorship election in Anambra is a testimony that it is possible to have an election in which a ruling party at the national level would not take it as a matter of do-or-die venture. That is an election in which the police and other security forces were not used as an agent of rigging, unlike what we used to have in the past. It is a prevalence of the rule of law. Furthermore, the Federal Government has tried in some areas with respect to rule of law as this is a great measure of how civilised we are. The battle against Boko Haram is an effort towards ensuring rule of law. It is commendable to see that the high and mighty have been touched in the campaign against corruption although there is still more to be done.

In which areas?

People expect this government to be more revolutionary based on the past record of President Muhammadu Buhari and I think the President is equally looking in that direction. It is important to tackle the intractable problems of herdsmen with strong resolve which I believe the President is considering. Too many lives have been lost to herdsmen invasion and to fail to curb this menace will not paint this government as one conscious of its role as the guardian of the rule of law.

Credit: The nation.