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ENDSARS report: FG must eschew defensive attitude to findings — Babatunde, SAN

endsars protesters

Mr. Layi Babatunde, SAN, and Publisher of Supreme Court Law Report, in this interview, spoke on the EndSARS report by various panels across the country and what the Federal Government must do. He also spoke on Justice Mary Odili house raid, prison reform, self-determination agitations, electoral reform, and other sundry issues.


As one of the lawyers who condemned the recent invasion of the Abuja residence of Justice Mary Odili, what strong measures do you think should be taken by stakeholders to forestall such future attacks on judicial officers?

There is no other way than for the Executive to demonstrate its commitment to the principles of separation of powers and the rule of law, beyond mere platitudes, but in deeds as well. This is because, the deployment of the instruments of cohesion for ill or for good, are squarely within the purview of the Executive.

Mr. Layi Babatunde, SAN
Mr. Layi Babatunde, SAN

As it is, the judiciary cannot as much ensure the execution of its own judgments, save with the co-operation of the Police, an institution firmly in the hands of the executive. The ball, therefore, is in the court of the executive and the eternal vigilance of well-meaning Nigerian people.

The troubling dimension, is in the inability of the state, to promptly account for the actions of non-state actors, who are so brazen and audacious in their conduct, suggesting something more sinister and grave in its long-term effect. It is, therefore, important that we all show interest and commitment to getting to the root of it all in record time.

If the house of a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court can be recklessly invaded by supposedly “unknown entities ‘’ that are not entirely faceless and they get away with it, woe betides lesser mortals.

Speakers at the just concluded Nigerian Bar Association, Annual General Conference, NBA-AGC clamored for a new constitution for the country. Do you think there are other ways the flawed provisions of the constitution can be amended, other than an entirely new one?

While a new constitution that engenders egalitarianism and smoother operation of a proper federation is desirable; without a mindset change by the operators, we the people and political actors, it may all turn out a mirage. Motion without movement as it were. The greatest challenge we have is molding our country into a nation of shared values. It will take more than paperwork. A more workable constitution will do Nigeria a lot of good,but we need to own our country and make it a nation of equal opportunities where fair play is enthroned.

The Federal Government recently approved N1000 as daily feeding allowances for each prison inmate, while the youth corp is entitled to only N650. Considering the current economic realities, do you think this is enough?

The answer stares us in the face. It’s certainly inadequate, but we need to look at where we are today, economically. Our debt service to revenue, I understand is in the region of 70 percent or maybe slightly more. Our economy no doubt is challenged and our major source of revenue is not as valuable as it used to be.

Making agriculture profitable takes time and lots of investment, so turning things around cannot be without challenges against the background of pronounced insecurity and poor infrastructure.

This has even affected the performance of the Anchor Borrower’s Programme. If we are able to be more productive and businesses don’t feel choked, we may begin the journey to recovery again.

Youth Corpers are a great national asset that we need to tap in and reward more than we are presently doing, but we need to change the template. To the best of my knowledge, the courts that sentenced convicts to prison terms, do not strip them of their abilities. The Government can still creatively tap into that and enhance their income in the process.

I got unconfirmed information, that a particular country has developed a template for the deployment of prisoners as laborers in overseas construction sites. If true you can hardly win against such a country in a competitive bid, because of cheap labour in a win- win setting. You journalists should take it upon yourselves, to investigate that. Not every prisoner is an idiot or monster.

Despite efforts to decongest the prisons, the facilities across the country remain highly congested. What reforms do you think can effectively tackle this challenge?

Several commendable reforms have been made, in the recent past, but we are not there yet. While occasional prisons decongestion efforts are commendable, we need to prevent people who ought not to be there, from being there in the first instance.

We need more work in that area. We also need to make better use of existing laws particularly the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, which happily has been replicated in some states

Nigeria has been witnessing a surge in self-determination agitations in some parts of the country, do you think that perhaps these agitations are symptoms of a bigger problem?

Justice and fairness are the pillars, upon which nations are built. Most agitations, arise from feelings of marginalization and perceived injustice, that are not being remedied.

It does not matter whether a unit is small or large, injustice begets restlessness, just as Justice is a precursor to peace. We see that, even in families of same parentage, not to talk of a multi ethnic and multi religious country like Nigeria.

Nigeria can profit from the biblical account of the prodigal son. It’s a story of anger and a feeling of not being appreciated, unfair treatment and reconciliation. We saw a senior brother, with no previous account of disobeying his father, deliberately absenting himself, in protest from a major family function being staged by his father, because he felt marginalized and cheated.

How his father, went about reconciliation within the family should be a lesson for Nigeria at this time. Our situation today, is not about who is right, but what is right for our country. We should seize the moment to seek reconciliation with one another than allow things to boil over. We will all pay dearly for it, should we allow that to happen.

There are concerns in some quarters that the federal character principle was not adopted in the last elevation of Court of Appeal judges. Do you share this concern and what do you think is the implication for the judiciary?

Nigeria has some of the finest Judges, by whatever standards, but obviously, over the years, some camel has managed to pass through the eye of the needle. We need to plug such holes, by constantly reviewing the process. Appointment to the bench should not be a function of political patronage nor quota for quota sake.

Nigeria has fine lawyers, in all corners of the country. The private Bar should play a more involving role, than what prevails presently. I believe, those whose responsibility it is to work the process, are not sitting back idle. Every human process requires fine-tuning to achieve optimal performance.

Despite assurances by the government during last year’s EndSARS protest to reform the police, there are still no noticeable changes in their behavior. Do you see any seriousness on the part of the government to reform the police?

Why talk about reforming the police in isolation? I’ll rather we look, into why the implementation of vision 2020, failed woefully, after 10 years of its launch, with much fun fare and pump. The answer to your question may be situated within that context.

Part of the key component or goals of vision 2020, was to reduce the problems of hunger, poverty, inadequate housing, poor basic facilities, etc. Did we succeed in dealing with any of them over 10 years plus? And now you are talking about a promise made last year? We obviously need to look deeper. I want to believe, we need to make the best of our limited material resources and abundant human assets if we are to achieve our God-given potentials. The police is part of a whole.

Perhaps this may be one of the positive falls out of EndSARS after all, but for that to happen the Federal Government must eschew a defensive attitude, to the findings of various End SARS panels, especially those empaneled by the various states. We can seize the moment and make it a new beginning.

The Senate recently approved an amended Electoral Act to include electronic transmission of results and direct primaries for political parties. What do you think is the implication of this on future elections in the country?

If the National Assembly, can legislate a cure for power, for the sake of it and at all cost syndrome, that seems to pervade our political space, that will be a ray of hope. As awkward as it may seem, our politicians, must learn, behave as statesmen, given our circumstances, if we are to make any appreciable progress.

Technology can be used to add value, to any process, but never a be-all solution. Some politicians are deft at abusing the process and that is why we need to dust the Uwais Report, beyond the Nnamani committee’s review. Electoral bad behavior must be punished and swiftly too, to serve its deterrent purpose.

INEC has limitations, in that regard and the commission needs all the support it can get. Transmission of electoral outcomes by electronic means will no doubt be a good addition to upgrading our electoral process and the president should waste no time, in signing the Bill into Law, but the politicians need to show more faith in our country and her destiny to be great.

I wished that in addition, they had insulated the courts from disputes over party primaries and let the political parties lay on their beds as they have laid it. With time, they will learn their lessons and our beloved judiciary will be saved from the indignity, of desperate politicians’ unending misconducts and unjustified aggression against the judiciary.

Vanguard News Nigeria

Lawbreed Limited

Publishers of Judgments of The Supreme Court of Nigeria (S.C Report) - on the Authority of the Supreme Court of Nigeria


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