577 views | Stanley Ugagbe | March 5, 2021
In this explosive interview with TNC, a legal practitioner and Human Rights Activist, Adeola A. Oyinlade shared insight on some of the campaigns he has engendered. He bared his mind on certain issues rocking the Nigerian Judicial System such as corruption, delayed litigations, the neglect of independence of the judiciary, inadequate training mechanisms of lawyers, defiance to the constitution and court orders, inefficient justice system, and poor implementation of laws. He also shared his perspective on some national issues.
TNC: First, let me congratulate you for carving a niche for yourself in the legal profession and also winning the 2018 International Bar Association (IBA) Human Rights Award. How would you describe your journey so far?
Oyinlade: Practicing law is beyond turning up to work and do your job. A lawyer must work hard and diligently, ticking the boxes, devoted to constant improvement and building his network. A lawyer must be an excellent planner. Everything must be planned including performance, carriers, events, and budget. In law practice, you are not closer to your destination until you take a step. For me, I have applied those aforementioned basic principles in my legal profession journey over a decade ago and I can say it has been interesting. I could remember when I consulted for African Union Commission on the implementation of African Union, delivered papers at the Pre AU Summit in Addis Ababa and when AU engaged my services to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Secretariat in collecting data on youth development in West Africa for the implementation of the African Union Decade Plan of Action on Youth and supervised 14 West African countries backstopping in 2012, many people I worked with in the assignment said oh ‘you are fantastically organized’. We face challenges too. But if one is well organized, while designing your specific activities and deliverables, it is very important to plan how to mitigate risks that pose a threat to achieving successes.
TNC: Can you tell us about some of your previous campaigns on human rights and how they engendered adaptive change?
Oyinlade: In response to several human rights challenges in Nigeria, I have been privileged to have contributed immensely to expanding the frontiers of human rights in the last 13 years by using advocacy, live radio broadcast, appearing in court for the disadvantaged groups like women, street campaigns and technology innovation (mobile app) as platforms to empower people on their rights.
In 2016, I unveiled the first ever human rights empowerment app and web version in multiple languages called “Know Your Rights Nigeria’ in order to reach more people and break barriers posed by language and location. It covers and simplifies all fundamental rights and safeguards in force in Nigeria.
My main focus in Africa is dialogue against continual conflict. I have consistently campaigned with a model that proves that reconciliation and peace-building are possible especially where fresh post-conflict wounds still exist. Through advocacy, I have proffered solutions to armed conflict issues in African countries including the South Sudan Political Crisis, the Central African Republic Crisis, the Congo Democratic Republic Armed conflict, and the Libyan peace talks among others.
TNC: The war against insurgency which has become a major violator of rights to freedom of movement and association has become ubiquitous and has continued to defy solutions. Do you think there is political undertone beneath the fight? What do you think the government can do to restore people’s right to freedom of movement and association?
Oyinlade: When the word ‘insurgency’ is mentioned, one’s attention quickly goes to the North-Eastern part of Nigeria. I am not too sure if issues of right to freedom of movement and association are being raised or being contravened by security forces in that area. Normally where there is ongoing battle with insurgent groups, the residents in such areas would curtail the scope of their movement for safety reasons. However, if we are talking about protest which forms part of the wider scope of rights to freedom of assembly, association, movement and expression, I am of the opinion that those rights are more honored in breach in Nigeria. The police have a duty to protect lives and properties. A situation where police arrogate to themselves power to regulate who and when to exercise alienable fundamental human rights like freedom of assembly, association and expression poses serious threat to our democracy. Nigeria has to make a quantum leap from its present poor index and ratings globally in the thematic area of human rights.
TNC: Does activism still have a voice in the present-day Nigeria? What meaningful impact have activists made in the last five years?
Oyinlade: To me, when we say activism, it simply means campaigning to bring about political or social change. Bring Back Our Girls, EndSARS are major campaigns that achieved political or social change.
Activism is not limited to civil society sector alone. We have occasionally witnessed judicial activism required in the Justice sector which has produced landmark judgments on a number of cases you would not expect to go the way of citizens against government. What do you call the role media as an institution is playing in making sure that the general populace is kept informed about the day to day happenings in the society with the constitutional responsibility of being the policing institution over the fundamental objectives and Direct principles of state policy as well as citizens’ fundamental rights with risk attached to it in Nigeria? It takes activism to carry out such task in Nigeria considering threats, harassment, tortures, killings, imprisonments many of our media practitioners have suffered in the past.
We have seen clerics speak truth to power too. Maybe we can call it pulpit activism. AlhajiSanusiLamidoSanusi was advocating for a better life for his people for the betterment of the country.
TNC: There is a notion in the public that most Nigerian activists are after their personal interests. How would you react to this?
Oyinlade: From what I have read on social media platforms, maybe it is correct to say that I have got an idea on what informed such notion from some people. I have read online how people expressed disappointment in some of those they see as activists or those that have been consistent over the years speaking truth to powers suddenly become opposite of what they stood for after they found themselves in government. This could make people have such notion. However, it is not correct to say that those who detest injustice do so because of personal interest.In every society, where you see people that will stand what they believe in till the end, it is possible to see people that will change along the line. As for me, activism should be about using our voices, energy, and expertise to bring about the needed change for the verdict of posterity against the gains of today.
TNC: The Nigerian Judiciary has always been accused of delaying litigations – President MuhammaduBuhari frowned against it and had directed that legal cases should not be dragged unnecessarily. How can this be curbed?
Oyinlade: For speedy dispensation of matters before our courts in Nigeria, all stakeholders have major and important roles to play.
Now let us start from the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the Supreme Court has both original and appellate jurisdictions, has the sole authority and jurisdiction to entertain appeals from Court of Appeal, having appellate jurisdiction over all lower federal courts and highest state courts. One of the implications of this is that you can come as of right to the Supreme Court on appeal on all matters after Court of Appeal. Remember that we have only one Supreme Court in Nigeria with maybe twenty Justices at the moment. Look at the volume of cases before My Lords at the Supreme Court. Matrimonial cases, Land cases, Chieftaincy cases and many others emanating from high courts in all 36 States and FCT are being appealed up to the Supreme Court level. I honestly do not feel that all matters on appeal should get to the level of Supreme Court. There are some matters that should end at the Court of Appeal level. Again, matters coming to the Supreme Court should be by leave of court. It will interest you to know that some cases filled in the year 2007 like Ijebu Igbo Obaship tussle was just heard in the year 2021.
Electoral matters according to our laws particularly the amended Electoral Act 2010 are time bound. Those electoral matters have priority and must be heard at the detriment of other cases pending before the Supreme Court. Appeal from the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal used to end at Court of Appeal. Now, Electoral Act has been amended and has made Supreme Court the final arbiter on Governorship Election matters. If you file an appeal at the Supreme Court today, you must be lucky if your matter is heard in eight years time. Are we going to blame the court for this development? No. The volume of task before them is overwhelming which has the force of law.
I think when a law is made, it is expected that Stakeholders will meet thereafter to review the performance of the law to check whether the defect such law made or amended to cure had been achieved or there are other emerging issues to look into for further action. I hope National Assembly are reading this so that they can understand some of the issues affecting speedy dispensation of justice in Nigeria and do their own part.
Lawyers too have roles to play on this subject matter. Filling an appeal and abandoning it because it is not in favour of one’s client, seeking unnecessary adjournment or employing delay tactics in a matter should not be encouraged.
I think it is high time our court filing system be automated in Nigeria. Our court processes are still filed in hard copies and the volumes of these documents are to be read by judges. We need to embrace innovation in this world of mobile and technology advancement.
Litigants too should understand that all matters need not get to court level before it can be resolved. Parties can exhaust every available remedies including Alternative Dispute Resolution when dispute arises.
TNC: Some people are of the view that the Nigerian Judicial system is a tool of the government of the day. Some also believe that the system is corrupt and cannot administer justice. How would you react to this?
Oyinlade: There is no corrupt free society. The main question here is whether our judiciary is independent of the executive. See, we and people before us have canvassed over the years for independence of the Judiciary but what has changed? It appears that it is a deliberate thing for the executive to have judiciary in their hands. Why would a state Governor be buying cars for the Judges, calling press conferences and appear to be doing them a favour? Remember that Judiciary is a separate organ of government just like we have the Executive and Legislature. How come another organ of government like judiciary with mandate to check the excesses of the Executive still rely on same Executive before it can access funding to carry out its basic functions? As it is, Executive can starve Judiciary of funding if it so wishes. If the Judiciary is not independent, we shall continue to remain in the same spot.
TNC: It has often been said that promotion of justice is restrained by the following challenging elements; the neglect of independence of the judiciary, inadequate training mechanisms of lawyers, defiance to the constitution and court orders, inefficient justice system, and poor implementation of laws. Why are these challenges prevalent in the Nigerian judicial system?
Oyinlade: I must commend you that you have provided answers to the issue of promotion of justice in Nigeria. It was as a result of poor implementation of laws, lack of independence of judiciary, flagrant breach of the constitution and many others as you have rightly highlighted.
TNC: Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Lagos once said “Disobedience to court order in the country has become an epidemic disease which has eaten deep into the fabric of Nigerian society”. Given that the Judiciary has the power to carry out any order within the ambit of the law, why is there continuous disobedience to court orders? Is the judiciary now toothless?
Oyinlade: Yes, court has the power to give orders. When court has ruled on the matter before it, it is the executive that will enforce it. Now, when the order is against the executive, it becomes a problem to enforce. This is democracy. Government cannot choose which of the court order or judgment to comply with or not. If Government is a party to the matter and not satisfied with the judgment or order of the court, the best the government can do is to go on appeal. When they choose not appeal, it shows that they are satisfied with the judgment or the order and it will amount to disregard to the rule of law thereafter not to implement it. Not to over-flog this issue, one of the solutions I think is that the Judiciary too should have enforcement agents that will enforce orders of the court like sheriffs and others.
TNC: Given the existence of the Criminal Code Act/Penal Code Act, ICPC Act, Money Laundering Act, and the EFCC Act, yet the country’s rate of corrupt practices ranging from ordinary individuals to the enforcers of these Acts is on the increase. How would the monster of corruption be tamed?
Oyinlade: In taming corruption in Nigeria, we have to close international loopholes. Without access to the international financial system, corrupt officials throughout the world would not be able to launder and hide the proceeds of looted state assets.
We have to strengthen citizens’ demand for anti-corruption and empower them to hold government accountable. This is a sustainable approach the likes of Budgit, Follow the Money and others are working on that helps to build mutual trust between citizens and government.
Countries that are successful at curbing corruption have a long tradition of government openness, freedom of the press, transparency and access to information. Citizens should be able to access information through Freedom of Information Act. We equally have to end impunity.
TNC: There have been various clamors for restructuring. The Vice President, YemiOsinbajo said the cracks in the wall, if not fixed will lead to the breaking of the country. What is your take on the restructuring?
Oyinlade: If you have a system where all structures are complaining of one marginalization or the other which makes the union not functional over the years based on our comparative advantage, it is important we restructure and agree on our unity in diversity. Restructuring does not connote dividing the country. We cannot continue to patch cracks in the wall all the time and expect it to weather the storm all the time.
Considering the reality of our system, we need to devolve more powers and resources from the federal government and make not only federal allocations as the source of sustenance of states. Many Nigerians would like to see a federation with independent self-sustaining federating units that are able to develop critical amenities, infrastructures, education, and health and undertake other developmental projects.