Sowemimo: Withdrawal of Policemen’ll Expose VIPs to Danger

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Seyi Sowemimo, SAN
Seyi Sowemimo, SAN
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Sowemimo: Withdrawal of Policemen’ll Expose VIPs to Danger

Mr. Seyi Sowemimo is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Secretary of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN). In this interview with Akeem Nafiu, he speaks on AGF’s allegation of intimidation of the judiciary, leadership vacuum at the Federal High Court, killer herdsmen and sundry issues.

Seyi Sowemimo, SAN
Seyi Sowemimo, SAN, Secretary of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN)

What is your view on the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris’ directive that policemen attached to VIPs should be immediately withdrawn?>>> My reaction is that it is a welcome development and my only hope is that the withdrawal will not undermine the security of these VIPs. Ordinarily, every citizen is entitled to have adequate protection. It will be better for the IGP to look into the possibility of having sufficient number of policemen. If there has to be a withdrawal to provide improved services, it means that there will be shortage on some other side.

I think the way out really is to increase the number of policemen and make policing more effective. This probably is the reason why people are calling for the establishment of state police and I think government may have to look into the clamour. This is because there is no doubt about it, the VIPs are going to feel exposed and I am not sure that the Nigeria Police will also not lose revenue if the directive is carried out. So, it’s a no win situation. Therefore, though I am in support of the IGP’s action but I am saying that it is lack of effective policing that is responsible for the arrangements adopted by the VIPs in the first place. If there is adequate number of policemen to police the society, there would be no need for them to be making private arrangement for their security.

So, the solution may not be in withdrawing those officers but to ensure that both VIPs and non-VIPs are adequately protected. I think the directive will only provide an ad hoc solution to the problem and I am not even sure it will be effective because the VIPs too might want to react to the development.

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) has described as intimidation, a plan by the National Assembly to petition the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, on an order by Justice Ahmed Mohammed, restraining it from taking any further action on the Electoral Act Amendment bill. What is your take on this?>>> All that is happening will show you that the actions of everyone involved are governed by politics and not by law. The National Assembly has a right to complain to the CJN about any judge. In fact the lawmakers can always make such complaint to the National Judicial Council (NJC) just as every other Nigerians. So, if the National Assembly had any grouse on any issue, it has the right to lodge any complaint. The NJC is an independent body and I believe it will look at the petition objectively and decide on it accordingly. I don’t think the AGF should be complaining that the judge is being intimidated because I believe the judicial officer concern can stand up for himself.

Honestly, I don’t think we have reached a point where we should be alleging intimidation of the judiciary. Any judge who knows his worth will not be intimidated by such threat. This is a point that the National Assembly can raise at either the Court of Appeal or with the CJN. On whether or not, the judge has the power to do what he did, the issue can be addressed at the Appeal Court. My own view is that the National Assembly has the constitutional power to pass bills and this cannot be hampered.

The tenure of Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Kafarati, has since expired without any hint as to how the vacuum created will be filled by government. Are we not heading for another crisis as it happened before the eventual confirmation of the CJN?>>> Ordinarily, I don’t think there can be any vacuum. It doesn’t follow that work should come to a standstill if the man was not appointed as a substantive Chief Judge. In Lagos State, for instance, the most senior judge carries out administrative functions. This is what attains in some other states of the Federation.

Therefore, except where there are situations in which the law specifically provides that the Chief Judge is the one who must perform those functions, the most senior judge can step in. However, that should not be a justification for the lapse in not appointing a substantive Chief Judge for the court. I think the Attorney General of the Federation should be the one to look into these things and ensure that we don’t have this kind of situation to cope with. This is an awkward situation but the best that we can do is to urge government to act speedily to fill the position.

We cannot continue to drift as we are doing at the moment whereby simple matters are just left hanging. This is an indication that there is no proper functioning authority and certainly it puts us in a very bad light. People will probably see us as a nation not focused and up and doing. This is not favourable to the leadership of the country, particularly, the president. These are things that should not be allowed to happen.

But here we are, these things are happening. So, I think the best we can do is to keep on expressing our anxiety and concerns about the need for government to act speedily on these matters so that we don’t have matters that ought not to go to court becoming subject of litigations.

Going by this your thought, what would you say is Nigeria’s basic problem? Is it leadership or systemic?>>> Both of them go together because ultimately the bucks stop on the table of the president. A lot could be done if there is eagerness to deal with these matters. The problems in the system can be addressed through the presidency. The president is the one that will give direction to citizens regarding what to do. If he becomes more engaging, I believe we will feel the impact in the society.

There is a fear that except the country is restructured we may get into deeper problems, particularly as we prepare for the 2019 general election. What is your take on this?>>> Well, we have been pushing this idea of restructuring for long. Those who attended the last constitutional conference set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan even advised that the country should be restructured. Prior to that time, there have also been agitations for restructuring. Personally, I believe that we cannot continue to avoid this issue. When we said problems are systemic, that is part of the problems.

They are systemic because we are not operating on the right structure. So, I think we need a good structure to address some of these issues. For instance, there have been clamour for the establishment of state police. But after sometime, the clamour will die down until after we are faced with one crisis or the other before we start the discussions again.

There are too much powers concentrated in the hands of the Federal Government which has to be shed to states. More responsibility should be given to the states with greater financial allocation made to them. With this, the continuous struggle for the center will be reduced. I think all these things lie in the hands of the president because he is expected to set the ball rolling. If he does not do it, nothing will happen.

The legislature even tries to do some things regarding this issue of restructuring but sadly they could not make any headway. It is something that should be addressed urgently. However, the last update I got about this issue is that the president was not even favorably disposed to it and this calls for concern.

How effective do you think a committee set up by the National Judicial Council (NJC) to tackle corruption in the judiciary has performed its duties since creation?>>> All I can say is that we should give the Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO) time to do its job. It may be premature to make comments on how effective it has been doing its work. The committee may well come out with far-reaching recommendations that will change the situation of things in the judiciary. So, I want to say that we should tarry a bit and allow the committee to come out with its recommendations before we begin to pass any comment.

Will tagging the killer herdsmen as terrorists help to curtail their nefarious activities?>>> I don’t even think there is a need to declare any group as terrorists in order to fight crime. If people have been killed, then murder has been committed. There are laws in our books to deal with these issues. I do not think declaring killer herdsmen as terrorists have changed the colour of the murder that has been carried out. Anyone that has committed murder should be promptly arrested and taken to court to face the law.

It is not the label of terrorists that is material but the willingness and determination of government to deal with the situation that is more important. If we tag them as terrorists, nothing will happen. They will just be terrorists in the book and that may be the end of the matter. Government should harness laws put in place to deal with this kind of situation rather than wasting time labeling the killer herdsmen as terrorists. They should be arrested and promptly prosecuted.

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