[INTERVIEW]- There Should Be No Quota System In Appointment Of Judges – Yusuf Ali
Mallam Yusuf Olaolu Ali, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), is the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council, Osun State University and the Chairman of the Committee of Pro-Chancellors of State-owned Universities in Nigeria. On Thursday, September 23, 2021, Ali was one the recipients of the Osun Merit Award given by the State Government to illustrious sons and daughters as part of activities marking the 30th anniversary of its creation. In this interview with, he speaks on the nation’s judicial system, the need for autonomy for universities and other issues.
How do you feel that your State, Osun, celebrated you with this Merit Award?
My heart is full of gratitude to Almighty Allah for His unending favour. It may interest you that when Kwara was celebrating its 50th birthday in 2017, I was one of the fifty people selected and I got the Kwara State Award. So, I want to say that I am very grateful. I am not sure I have done anything exceptional. There are people who have done so much, but it takes the grace of God to be recognised and I think that’s the bottom line. There are people who have done more for humanity but most will die unsung. So, that’s my take-off point. All the time when anything good happens to me, I don’t ascribe it to myself because I know without Him, the Creator, man will labour in vain. So, it’s to God whom we give the glory. I feel happy because if you are recognised in your own lifetime, especially when you are in a sort of semi-prime life, you are happy. Most sincerely, I feel highly humbled. In a State that is highly endowed with serious and sound Nigerians, if they now choose you to celebrate their 30th anniversary, you can’t but thank God.
How much autonomy do you enjoy in the Governing Council?
Let me say this for the former Governor and current Governor, we were inaugurated in August 2016, and former Governor Rauf Aregbesola left in November, 2018. Incidentally, it was during his time that we appointed the Vice Chancellor, the Registrar, Bursar and the Librarian; those are the principal officers of the University. Nobody in the government called me that it must be this person that we must appoint and I am saying this on my honour. In fairness, in fact, we had 100 percent free hand and when Governor Gboyega Oyetola came on board, he just carried on the tradition. I don’t flatter people. If you listened to my address on Convocation Day, I made it very clear.
So, I think in fairness, the two, both Aregbesola and Oyetola, are good examples for other State Governors that have Universities; that you should give them free hand and the results are apparent in this University (Osun State University) now. I just also say that the quality of the individuals appointed into the Council is amazing; apart from the Chairman of Council, the Governor appointed five other people; we have three Professors among those appointed. We have an accomplished industrialist; we have an accomplished Computer genius. So, these are accomplished people. So, I feel highly honoured heading such a group of First Class individuals.
At the Convocation lecture delivered by Professor Olanrewaju Fagbohun (SAN), he identified some challenges in the court system. He said judges are not fully in control of their courts. How do you think the legal process can be reformed so that justice can be dispensed timely to Nigerians?
Let me tell you that in all human institutions, you have to tweak from time to time. There is no perfection except with God. The judicial system is not perfect. The working condition of our judges is appalling. In England, for example, most of their High Court Judges are people who are taking the silk, who are equivalent to our own Senior Advocates; we call them Queens Council. Then they will leave practice and go and take appointment as Judges because the conditions are very conducive, the pay is good and the working environment is excellent. But you can’t deliver a 21st-century service using 18th century instruments.
Nigeria is probably one of the very few countries left in the World where judges take dictation, they write in long hands, no automation in the court system. You all watched all the trials in England and the U.S. and recently in the trial of the Policemen who killed the blackman. The trial was so fast because there are multiple recording systems and that is the beauty of it. So, it’s easier to start to say the judiciary didn’t do this and that. But when they are in court, the electricity goes off. The way courts are built, once there is no light, things become dark. And judges have to be paid better than they are being paid. Any serious successful lawyer will not go near taking appointment as a judge. If you become a judge, they will buy a Prado and give it to you, or one Camry car. Many successful lawyers don’t even use Prado as a backup car. Are you getting my point? We have to take a holistic look at these things.
Then, of course, we must continue to ensure that even in spite of all these challenges, we take the very best that is available in the system. Judiciary is not a place where we should be doing a quota system, especially at the Apex Courts. It should be for the brightest and the most upright that you can get because knowledge without integrity is rubbish and integrity without knowledge is madness. So, the two must co-exist in the individual who will become a judge
How do you react to conflicting rulings being issued by judges, especially looking at the case of the sacked PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus?
Well, it’s part of the problems I highlighted earlier, underdevelopment. But I just say that many of our colleagues are also at the centre of some of these problems. If you don’t file a case, nobody hears anything and I think the NBA (Nigerian Bar Association) is taking very serious views about this too. You, as a lawyer, how do you justify that they are fighting over the Chairmanship position of a party in Osun, then you go and file a case in Jigawa or Anambra? I think we have to strengthen our disciplinary mechanism for lawyers. And I was lucky that I served at the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee for six years and see clearly that we have problems.
So, lawyers have their own big chunk of the problems. Lawyers must know when to say no, no matter the amount that is involved in the fees or remuneration. There are things that are antithetical to the profession. Anything that amounts to abuse of judicial process or amounts to a breach of professional ethics, is not worthy of any lawyer. So, our ethical standard must be higher. And then for the judges, when a particular judge is taking a matter, he may not know another similar one exists somewhere. So, that’s one of the things we have to do about automation and IT compliant courts, so that if a court delivers a ruling or judgment, it’s available online immediately for any other judge to look at. Without getting that, it’s going to be a little bit difficult. If we want to sanitise the system, we can’t be blaming the judges alone, the lawyers are also involved.
Governor Nasir El-Rufai kicked against the anti-open grazing law, saying it is not implementable because governors were yet to create alternatives for herders. What’s your take?
Sometimes, we look at the symptoms and not the causes. My problem is all this furore. We have been living with ourselves for long on this thing. I think what we should look at is, why the problem of cattle herding has suddenly taken this dangerous dimension that now leads to banditry and kidnapping. We will not rather look at that, where did we get to this point and how did we start addressing it in a holistic manner. The average herder that you see on most of the roads, they don’t understand this quarrel. You see those young boys, at what level did they start carrying AK-47? That’s the point we should look at! But we seem not to be addressing that. Even when you say you are creating ranches, when you go to places like the U.S and UK, what they call ranches are exceedingly capital intensive. It means you confine the animals in one place, which means you must be able to graze enough grass, given the land mass that will sustain them come rain and shine. It’s not as simple as that.
And then, what do you mean by creating grazing routes? For the average Bororo person who believes the whole of the forest is their passable places, and with Nigeria having no borders, we don’t know herders who are from Nigeria or Niger. We should start commissioning people who are knowledgeable because we shouldn’t just look at now, we should look at the future. Today, we are battling with herders, tomorrow, we may start battling with fishermen. For instance, part of the problem that has exacerbated banditry is the drying up of Lake Chad. Lake Chad has lost almost 90 percent of its waters. What do we do to address that? What do we do to ensure that there is a level of control at creating proper borders? And one of the easiest ways is this National Identity Cards. At least, let’s know those who are Nigerians so that we can also know those who are not Nigerians. But as it is now, everything is in a flux.
Does it mean the anti-open grazing law won’t work?
I have not said so but let’s wait and see. How do we even Police these guys? If for example, there are some people who are herding cows someone in Ife South or Oke-Ila that are the most extreme Local Council Areas in Osun, how do you even know that they are inside the forest except farmers see them? I think we should be a little scientific about the way we attack the matter. I don’t like us turning all issues to political issues. Serious national issues, we just turn it to North-South, turning serious matters to tribal matters. That was why Yoruba people lost June 1993 because it just became a Yoruba problem, whereas, it started out as a national problem. When you start to ethnicise and tribalise issues, you are on your own.
Do you think electronic transmission of results will reduce violence or give our elections credibility?
Anything that will assist us to make votes count, I will support. I said it after the election in 1999, the more credible elections become, the less litigations we will be having. For me, there are other areas of law that credible elections will throw up. For me, it’s not too late for the National Assembly to revisit it (electronic transmission of results), after all, the electoral body said they are capable. Why do you (National Assembly) cry more than the bereaved? Why are you more Catholic than the Pope. INEC said we have the capacity, you (National Assembly) said no. The National Assembly should do that which will assist us. The problem of our politicians is this do and die. It is too much and I have said it several times that because our electoral system is too monetised, our politics is monetised. We won’t get it right until we get out of that exceeding monetisation of our electoral process.
And that’s why you see the level of disagreements and litigations in pre-election matters.