Chief Gabriel Giwa Amu is a successful lawyer, who has been using his job to fight the cause of masses through Stephen and Solomon Foundation that helps indigent prison inmates. He is also a legal luminary that is versed on issues affecting the country having practiced for so many years.
The widely read and traveled lawyer was our guest recently and he spoke on issues bothering on the political situation in the country, corruption, judiciary and others and he believes that President Goodluck Jonathan has no choice than to leave office if he is defeated in the coming elections.
The cerebral legal practitioner also calls for a radical review of the Nigerian constitution such that each state of the federation would have its own constitution and Supreme Court.
We want to start with the dumping of the PDP by former president Olusegun Obasanjo, how would you describe this?
I want to commend former president Olusegun Obasanjo for the grand way he departed the evil party, the PDP. I agree with Professor Wole Soyinka that the PDP is a nest of murderers. So, if Chief Obasanjo decided to vacate the nest of murderers, I congratulate him. Now, that we are going to election, this is the time to leave evil communication, he is entitled to associate with anybody he wants to associate with and belong to any lawful society he wants to belong to. He is also entitled to be move with whom he wants to be friendly with. He has done the right thing and I commend him for it.
Some people are saying that he should have been more matured in the process; they gave examples of people like former president Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalam Abubakar. They said he should have met with the President personally and advised him. What do you say to this?
Who has time for such emotions, we have suffered more than that for former president Olusegun Obasanjo to go through such process. I am sure the average people on the streets would congratulate him for doing what he did. This thing about statesmanship depends on how you look at it, Obasanjo is a statesman, not only in Nigeria, but internationally. He even has more integrity and reputation than IBB and Abdulsalam you mentioned. In all matters relating to governance in Africa, you cannot compare Obasanjo with IBB, when it comes to integrity, fame, reputation and the ability to trust a person. You can trust Obasanjo 70% whereas you cannot trust IBB by 7%. If you go by what we hear, Obasanjo must have met with President Goodluck Jonathan on several occasions, it is like betrayal, it is very painful, when there is an agreement and one person betrays the other, it is bad. Even if it is not on oath, once two people agreed and the other person betrays the agreement may be based on pressures from friends and family members, it is wrong. So, if the man decides to tear his membership card, don’t tell me he is not behaving like a statesman afterall it is his document, it is his business. If he decides to set his car on fire, you cannot query him.
Do you agree with the postponement of the general elections, and the PDP are saying that they prefer TVC instead of PVC and they are even going against the use of card reader, do you think they are right?
Let me just tell you this, whether the PDP likes it or not, change is imminent, I am not saying the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.) would win or that the APC would win, but I know that change is imminent. The postponement of the election is postponing the evil day, what they have done for the party that the people expect would win is to allow them to properly prepare for the take-over. We on the streets did not tell the PDP not to do roads, when there is performance, you campaign less, if Governor Godswill Akpabio were to go for a third term, he would win in Akwa Ibom State, if Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola were to go for a third term in Lagos State, he would win. Look at the way the PDP is sweating it out in campaigning, it is due to lack of performance, am I the one who told them not to do Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, am I the one who told them not to do free education, am I the one who told them not to ensure that judiciary or health workers don’t go on strike. So, postponing the election is to tell us to go and get our PVC to vote them out of power. I am not saying that anybody or any party would win or that Muhammadu Buhari would win, but change is imminent and it would come and it shall come whether you like it or not.
On the issue of the PVC or the car reader, I have an issue with the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, on that. Why spend so much money on elections. In a country of 170 million people, you budgeted N79 Billion for election, which means if you go from house to house giving each Nigerian one million naira, there would still be excess. Why don’t you use the open ballot system, which Professor Humphrey Nwosu called Option A4 during the June 12, 1993 elections. Why don’t you modify it, have the portrait of the candidates, have a video recording of the whole process and each person queues behind his/her candidate. It is safer, and it is better rather than TVC or PVC. At the end of the day, those countries that sold the machines to you are likely to teach the opponents how to modify the system. Even in the United States of America there was a time they had an election and if you thumb print for President Barack Obama of the Democratic Party, it would jump to McCain of the Republican Party until Obama employed about 600,000 lawyers to observe the electoral process as developed as the USA is, all over the country.
When you talk about machines, you cannot predict them, those who make them can break them, but the open ballot system, standing behind your candidates is better. For me to stand behind my candidate means that I am ready to defend my vote to the end, it even discourages corruption. For instance, if you gave me N50, 000 to vote for you as a candidate of the APC and you see me in the line of the PDP, you would raise objection after the election. So you might ask for a refund of your money or you take me to the police station, and of course I did not issue a receipt that I collected money from you. So, it ensures free and fair election. They know all these things in the presidency and INEC so don’t ascribe intelligence to me in any way, they know that open ballot system is the only way by which we can have a credible election. So, these card readers were made by those countries, Europe is diminishing in economy. Most of the materials we made in South Africa for the 2011 elections such as ballot boxes, INEC cards that have been paid for are still there. Former president Umar Musa Yar’Adua flawed the election, so the best thing is open ballot system.
But, do you think President Goodluck Jonathan can handover power if he loses the presidential elections and what do you think would happen if the election is not conclusive?
I would tell you that President Goodluck Jonathan is too small not to handover power if he loses the election. Nigeria is too big a country to have a mindless dictator, the country is not Cote D’Voire; it is not Liberia or Sierra Leone. If President Jonathan does not know history, he should go and study it to know that the late head of state, Gen. Sanni Abacah did not know that he would die, when he died. That is history, the late Chief M.K.O Abiola had prepared that he would be sworn-in as president, where did he end. So, Nigeria is not a banana republic. There are people, who are praying for this country, those people that believe in the efficacy of prayers are still doing so. Those people in Aso Rock might be going from church to church and yet they don’t believe, the fact still remains that Nigeria is a prayerful country. He cannot say that he would not leave, he will vacate the place, he has no choice.
Just recently there was violence at the APC rally in Okirika in Rivers State, and we have had so many of them. Don’t you think these are preparations of what would happen during the real elections?
I don’t trust politicians, to me the Nigerian politicians are like rattle snakes, the more one is cautious about their activities, the better. Politicians can be funny, you would be surprised that the bomb blast and shootings might not be PDP issue, it could be an APC instigated issue, I am not saying that this was what happened, but it is possible. We have heard of presidents, who masterminded the killings of their wives to solicit sympathy for elections. You know bereavement has a way of winning sympathy. I was surprised that Muhammadu Buhari went to Borno State and he was not even allowed to campaign, you know he is loved. He has become the stone that the builder refused and has become the cornerstone. I once argued with my people that we should give Buhari a chance in 2011, but they supported President Goodluck Jonathan thinking that as a south southerner he would do massive development.
Violence is not good for our country it is sending a wrong signal to investors that lives and property are not safe here. I know many of my clients, who have left this country. They can afford it, some of them live in their private yatchs and if there is any problem, they could run to Ghana. I don’t believe that President Jonathan wants to remain in power as much as his cronies want him to remain there. They know that once he leaves, corruption would come down; the pinnacle of impunity that they have built would come down. You mean if I have a contract of N45 Billion with NNPC and they are yet to pay N20 Billion, I would want this government to leave power. It is not about patriotism or love for this country, it is about me, and that is the kind of people this man has around him. I was watching a programme on Channels Television and I found out that the Chairman of the BOT of PDP, Chief Tony Anenih and Ojo Madueke are with President Jonathan. These were characters that were telling the late Gen. Sanni Abacah to stay in power that he was the messiah of Nigeria. They are still with this president and I laughed because he doesn’t know his fate.
Talking about corruption, do you think if another person gets there, corruption would be reduced, and looking at what happened in Ekiti State, where soldiers were allegedly used to rig the election, what do you say to this?
On corruption, when one act of corruption is not checked, others will come in. we have the courts and the police to check corruption, forget about the EFCC or SFU, those were agencies created for administrative purposes in line with political channels. They know why they set them up, the people in the EFCC are policemen, are they different from the policemen in Area F here, no. Would they bring British policemen to come and work there, I challenge one investigator in EFCC to come out and tell me he has not received bribe in the course of doing his or her job. If one of them can come out to say he has not received bribe, I know what to do for him not even to him. During the time of Abacha, there was a time they emphasized on anti-fraud unit in Alagbon, Lagos and there was a flood of Fulani investigators there, then you would see young Hausa-Fulani investigating Yorubas, Ibos and Edos for fraud, then they were acting with impunity. Don’t you read in the newspapers that somebody spent N20 Billion and the presidency didn’t do anything for him, so it is impunity galore.
On the issue of the soldiers, it is left for the populace to get up and fight for themselves, there is nowhere in the world where you want to fight the authority that you don’t come up with the courage. In Tunisia, when the people got up to fight, soldiers did not know when they aligned with the populace, the same thing in Egypt, even in Iraq, when the people felt they have had enough, the soldiers removed their uniforms.
We are not yet ready to tackle corruption in this country, you remember President Jonathan said that the EFCC was not set-up to send people to jail, and that it was set up to negotiate with corrupt people through plea bargaining. EFCC was the first to introduce plea bargaining in this country. If you steal N500 Million, they would say give the government N200 Million, let us share N100 Million, give the judge N100 Million. But, plea bargain in the United States of America is that you plea bargain your term or the sentence. This means if you are charged for armed robbery, if it is a case of murder, and they are not too sure, they would say let us plea bargain the charge to manslaughter, and if it is a case of manslaughter, let us talk about how many years you would spend in the prison, instead of 25 years, you would spend 8 years there. It is not for the judge to ask you to go scot free. Look at the Police Pension Fraud and all sorts of funds that have been de-frauded by people, so it is that impunity that encourages corruption.
Let us look at the judiciary; people believe that they have a role to play and that some of them are corrupt. Like on the issue of the coming elections, they have a role to play. Would you exonerate them from corruption?
It has been said on numerous occasions that the judiciary is corrupt, yes they are corrupt. That is not in doubt at all, there are very few judges and magistrates that are incorruptible, but how would you feel with what they earn. It was only in Lagos State that the current Vice-Presidential Candidate of the ACP, Professor Yemi Osinbajo decided to do something about the welfare of judges, when he was the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General in the state under former governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, when he discovered that judges were earning about N70,000 monthly.
How do you expect a judge that is earning such a salary and who is presiding on a case of about N25 Million not to be corrupted. He said there was a time he went to visit a retired judge living in a boys’ quarter as a tenant, so he said something had to be done. The facilities were not there except for some states, who are not ready to change. Now, in Lagos State, a judge or magistrate earns about a million naira a month, you are given about two cars and a house with an option to purchase the house. No judge now retires into tenancy and the rate of corruption has reduced and those who have refused to change, it is because of their innate nature not because the facilities are not there.
You see a judge giving you a bail condition of a house in Ikoyi with two sureties, who must be serving permanent secretaries, you know that the man is standing before you for a fraud of about N300 Million and you are asking for a serving permanent secretary, which permanent secretary would stand for that. The end of this is that the defendant and the lawyer would go and see the judge to negotiate the bail condition and the judge would come to the court the next morning and ask for one surety with minimal condition. You would then take him to the club or association that the defendant belongs to and the judgment would be written in the club house.
If you jail two ministers because of corruption, I tell you, other ministers would sit up. What was the rationale behind the case of the former minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah, releasing her without a charge? The former Managing Director of Oceanic Bank, Cecilia Ibru never went to prison for corrupt charges, she was in the hospital, meanwhile a vulcaniser would be arrested and charge to court and the man would be detained and sent to prison.
The discretion of the court to grant bail should be removed, the Nigerian court does not deserve such discretion, an accused is arraigned, he should be released on personal recognizance as a citizen of Nigeria. When he fails recognizance, then you can now impose bail with sureties, if he breaches for the third time, you can then remand him in prison.
What goes through the mind of the court at arraignment is that the man is guilty. One man was jailed for four years without an option of fine for allegedly stealing a cow. In Edo State, a woman was jailed for two years for stealing a chicken without an option of fine. These are people who will see those who steal our money, and wear their suits to go and welcome them. The judiciary has a lot of roles to play in this, lawyers too have a lot of roles to play there because we are the ones who conduit money to these judges. We are the ones that the clients use for these things.
Let us talk about Stephen and Solomon Foundation, which you oversee, how has it been doing?
The foundation is there, growing stronger; we have been able to help about 6,000 inmates. The problem we have is funding. Most people tell me that they live in Victoria Island and that they would not want these people to come out and disturb them, there is this apathy in the programme. But, when a rain falls, it doesn’t fall on one man’s house. The pathetic thing about the programme is that despite that attention we have been able to bring to the notice of the court, the way the court handles the release of the suspects is very discouraging. The Lagos State Government, pursuant to Section 268 of the application of justice gives power to the court to release people that are alleged to have committed capital offences within three months. That pre-supposes that if a person is in the prison custody and the DPP has not come up with charges or the person has not been arraigned in a court of competent jurisdiction or a tribunal within three months, the magistrate court, though they do not have jurisdiction to try the person or not, they should revoke his detention warrant and release the person. But, most magistrates don’t have the courage to do so, may be they are not even aware of such powers. That brings us to the issue of the judges of not studying the law as at when they should. It was the order of the magistrate that kept the person in the prison not the order of the high court, so the magistrate has the power to release that person. So, we have people who have been in the prisons for five years without trial, we have two cases of that nature on our hands, they are in the maximum prison. They were detained for armed robbery. There is a case we are handling and the complainant said that he did not see the man with a gun, yet the police put a charge of armed robbery on him. Stephen and Solomon is well and alive, but funding is low, people are not giving us money, we are even the ones giving them money.
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