Mallam Yusuf Ali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN, in this interview bares his mind on the N21 billion fund donated to the President Goodluck Jon?athan?s re-election bid and concluded that there is no justification for such, when some state governors are finding it tough to pay their workers? salaries. Besides, he spoke about the appointment of Judges, corruption in the Judiciary; why all matters should not terminate at the Supreme Court, and sundry other issues. PETER FOWOYO met him.

President Goodluck
President Goodluck

What is your take on the N21 billion donated to Presi?dent Goodluck Jonathan?s campaign effort to?ward the 2015 election? Does it contravene the electoral law?
Well, there are two ways of looking at the matter. Legal and social, or moral. Of course, the electoral law does not envisage that there will be donation of that kind of money to any candidate. But having said that, even if there is no law contravened, it has of?fended the sensibility of most Ni?gerians. In a country where wants and poverty is so pervasive; where some state governments are un?able to pay arrears of salaries? and going to the platform of a party to donate money that could have been used to pay such sala?ries, it speaks volumes about the insensibility of our leaders. I be?lieve that they have sent a wrong signal, especially at a time when our economy is shrinking; mon?ies accrueing to the federation account is shrinking. I think such kind of donations in the circum?stances where we found ourselves amounts to a bit of obstinacy.
It was wrongly timed, wrongly done and improperly executed. If the governors were giving their personal monies, yes, it is un?derstandable. If you want to ask, these monies, were they appropri?ated in the budget? Is there any?thing in the budget of the states that donated money to show that it was sanctioned by the law? that is, the budget law of the state? And if it is, can it be done in spite of the fact that most of the states cannot pay the salaries for their workers? It gives a very sour taste in the mouth, to say the least. The electoral law talks about the maximum amount of money that can be donated to an individual, unfortunately our law is very weak on donations geared towards political purposes and what can be spent on campaigns. It is too weak. We must do some?thing about it; we must know the sources where the people donat?ing these monies get them from. These are the issues that ought to be addressed. That is my take.
Ahead of the 2015 elections, the Chief Justice of Nigeria has warned against conflict?ing judgments coming from the Court of Appeal in election petition matters. What is your view?
It was a timely warning be?cause it is avoidable in this day and age of the internet. The Court of Appeal should device a method where the judgment given, espe?cially in political cases in a par?ticular division, will be circulated to all other divisions, especially when it comes to the interpreta?tions of the electoral laws. The world has moved from the days of cyclostyling judgments, now you can just upload your judgments. So, I think it is a good thing. The CJN has called attention to it and I am sure the leadership of the Court of Appeal will do the need?ful to address the issue. The easi?est way is such that any political matter that is decided by any divi?sion of the Court of Appeal is cir?culated to other divisions, so that the Justices will know the think?ing of their brothers in the other divisions.
There has been outcry that the 180 days stipulated by the constitution for election peti?tion matters to be decided con?travenes the principle of fair hearing. What is your view?
It is the constitution that pre?scribed time; 180 days for tribunal, 60 days for the Court of Appeal. I read the interview of my brother, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, with whom I agreed on most issues, but I disagreed with him on this issue of 180 days.
Why did you disagree with him on that?
Jurisprudence basis behind legislation all over the world is to discourage people from resorting to the court.
Are you saying when people are aggrieved they should now resort to self-help?
People will be aggrieved but, given the way Nigeria is and the way Nigerians carry on, people go to the tribunal for just anything. I have said it before that before you can approach the tribunal, there must be something in the electoral law that says if you don?t score up to a certain percentage in the election, then you cannot go to the tribunal. Somebody scored 40 in governorship election, he wants to go to the tribunal. They are just congesting the courts, and my argument is that the 180 days have worked so far. We started this thing since 2011; we have to make a choice between the abuses of the past where, if it were in the past before the constitution was amended to be 180 days, some of the governorship cases would still be in court by now.
Is that not a national embar?rassment? That over a four-year period we are unable to conclude a governorship or senatorial elec?tion matters?don?t even talk about the pre-election matters. So, I am for the 180 days. If you genu?inely believe that you have a case, you should do everything you can within that 180 days, that is six months. The Yoruba people have a saying that ?if it takes you many years to prepare how to get mad, when are you going to get to the market as a mad man?? For me, I am for 180 days. For Chief Olani?pekun, I respect his views tremen?dously, I read the interview, but I don?t agree with him. I have al?ways been insisting that 180 days is enough. We have been doing it. Chief Olanipekun and a few of us have been involved in this thing. We know we can do it if we are se?rious about it, because we have to chose between what was happen?ing in the past when simple elec?tion matters take four years; the Aregbesola vs Oyinlola matter in which I was involved, took three and half years, were you people not embarrassed?
But sir, is it not to the advan?tage of you lawyers because you are being paid for the job?
No, it is not. It is economi?cally draining. How much do you charge, and then you spend three and half years that is economical?ly a failure, even if you charge the man N50 million. In three years, you would have spent almost more than half of that to run around and you are tied down from doing other things, are you getting the point? So it doesn?t make any eco?nomic sense for matters to be lin?gering for so long; it doesn?t make any sense to a serious advocate because it would be an economic loss in real terms. In three years you could have treated 10 other serious matters, but then you are tied down with one. For me, I be?lieve that the 180 days is enough. In the United States there is less time than that. You saw what hap?pened during the period of Al-Go?re against Bush, that tells you the jurisprudence behind electoral matters, the court stopped the counting of the votes, if it were in Nigeria in fact, it may set Nigeria on fire, in the Al-Gore matter, the Supreme Court stopped the count?ing which clearly was showing that Al-Gore may win at the end of the day because you have to de?fend the polity itself from the am?bition of one or two people.
Don?t you think that was an injustice to Al-Gore?
That is justice to the people, one individual cannot override over 200 million people, it is the same thing here, and how do you sacrifice the interest of justice for a few people? That is the essence of democracy; it is the rule of the majority, isn?t it? You can?t tie down the country to the ambition of one person. That is why I laugh at these people because if some?body did not win election the world will not come to an end. For me, I believe 180 days is enough, let us make best use of what we have. Is there any governorship election now left in any court, I mean the real election challeng?ing the votes? There is none in fact, it took nearly one year to finish at the tribunal, finish at the Court of Appeal, finish at the Supreme Court and we now have pre-election matters which I also believed would be addressed defi?nitely pre-election matters should not be more than the Court of Ap?peal.
Why did you say so?
Because they have congested the Supreme Court, it cannot do its normal cases now. I pity the Supreme Court, at least two weeks ago when I was there, they listed almost 19 pre-election matters for just one day and that happened throughout the week. The Supreme Court normally sit in chambers on Wednesday, they don?t sit in open court. In order to clear the backlog of election matters they started sitting on Wednesday, we have to appreciate the fact that they are human after all and they sit every week even before now, the Supreme Court will sit on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday in open court. On Mon?day they would take civil mat?ters, on Tuesday they take civil matters, on Thursday they take criminal matters on Wednesday they sit in chambers to consider non-contentious applications and on Friday they deliver judgments and there is no average week that they won?t reserve minimum of five or six judgments that will be delivered in three months.
Can?t you see the Supreme Court in the United States? Ex?cept on serious constitutional matters none gets to the Supreme Court and is there any Injustice in that? And all the nine Justices of the Supreme Court in the United States sit as one panel so all these arguments that the Su?preme Court should be sitting in different panels, are they not the same set of people who will be sit?ting in panels even if they come to the states, are you following me? People say it as if when they starts sitting in panels they will be able to do all the cases that is not true.
Why is it not true?
If there are one thousand cases and you don?t have more than the number of people you have there, how do you do it? And our Su?preme Court is probably the larg?est Supreme Court in the world because there is no matter that doesn?t get to the Supreme Court. We just trivialize serious matters in Nigeria. There is no serious Supreme Court that will be tak?ing divorce matters. We have to curtailed the number and type of cases that gets to the Supreme Court because that is the apex court, their pronouncements are supposed to be so profound in de?fine the laws but when you inun?dates them with all sorts of funny, sometimes hopeless cases, it is not the best.
Are you advocating for a Supreme Court that only con?stitutional matters would go to, or are you in support of a Supreme Court in the three re?gions of Nigeria?
No, if you want to have the Su?preme Court in the states, they have it in the United States but there is one apex court in the United States. The states have their own Supreme Courts in the United States but matters don?t end there if they are constitu?tional matters. It is not a bad idea to have states Court of Appeal for example, apart from the Court of Appeal that is at the federal if the constitution is amended, that was the scheme in the 1963 constitu?tion. That was why the Western region had its own Court of Ap?peal up to 1976 when the Federal Court of appeal was established.
No, it is not a bad idea. For ex?ample, we can now create Court of Appeal of the states and have Su?preme Court for the states which will be dealing with chieftaincy matters, land matters should end at the Supreme Court of the state. What is so special about chief?taincy matters that when they are fighting about chieftaincy matter in Oyo or any other states you take it to the Supreme Court? I believe quite honestly that we should find a middle level, I think it is high time we have Court of Appeal for the state, Supreme Court for the state and then we ensure that some of these cases end in those places, let very serious or consti?tutional issues go to the Supreme Court, not the type of cases we now have that gets to the Supreme Court, divorce, a customer who is owing bank money, we fight it up to the Supreme Court.

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