Adverse reports affecting image of judiciary – Hon

– Daily Trust

Sebastine T. Hon is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and author. In this interview, he speaks on hate speech, the recent report of UN/NBS indicting the judiciary, and judicial reforms. Excerpts:


The UN and National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in a recent report accused the judiciary, police, customs etc of being among the most corrupt institutions in an N400 billion racket. What is your take on that?

I have a problem with that. We would want to see the statistics, because under the Money Laundering Act such huge sum of money cannot pass through the banks undetected. I don’t give or receive bribe but I know that any person that wants to give bribe cannot pass it through the banks because it is much easier to detect.

We accept that things are not very alright; I am also not denying that there is corruption in the judiciary. All CJNs have always admitted corruption in the judiciary but they have always said that not all the judges are corrupt. I wouldn’t know why anybody would want to malign the entire judiciary. Over time they have been courageous, as one of the best in the world. Because of these adverse reports, that image has plummeted now.

In 1970 there was a dispute that reached the Supreme Court as to whether the 1966 coup d’état was a legitimate action. In other words, the legitimacy of that military government was tested. The Supreme Court stood its ground and said no, that was a de facto not a de jure government. That came under the doctrine of necessity. The Gowon-led government felt irked and promulgated Decree 17 of 1970 nullifying that judgment. Since that time, any time a matter favours somebody they say the judiciary is for the common man, any time it doesn’t they say the judiciary is corrupt. I do not like that blanket condemnation.

Let me warn that the more we run our institutions down, the more we drive away foreign investors and run down our country. So I do not like the bashing of the judiciary left, right and centre. Look at the recent decision of the PDP crisis; if the judiciary were in favour of government, they would have ruled in favour of the Sheriff faction, effectively ending opposition in the country. So when they give decisions that do not favour some interests they say the judiciary is corrupt.

The study says questionnaires were administered to citizens in many states. Don’t you think it is reflective enough?

My response is how many other ordinary people on the streets have matters in court and how many can reach judges and bribe them? I don’t know of the police, customs and others, I am talking about the judiciary. People that have matters in court are heavy weights and with all sense of responsibility, these are people who also know that both the bribe giver and taker are guilty. Can we say with all sense of honesty that those people filled questionnaire and answered that they gave bribes and even mentioned the amounts? You can see how Nigerians are gullible.  No sensible person, knowing that if I give bribe I will go to jail, will still write it down with their names. Meanwhile, among the three arms of government, the budget of the judiciary is the least.

How do you want the image of the judiciary to be enhanced now that the CJN is embarking on reforms?

We have been harping that they need to set up courts specifically for corruption. And let me suggest that they can even appoint retired judges and justices to head those courts so that they will have some reasonable level of independence. These are people who are ‘quarter to their graves’ and who will be conscious of that fact and deliver the goods.

I also want to say that the EFCC, ICPC are grossly underfunded. I did a research some years back, I discovered that the population of USA is twice that of Nigeria, and that the FBI, the equivalent of EFCC, has a budget 50 times that of the EFCC and ICPC combined. When you also don’t fund investigation and prosecution well, you are also likely to miss it. I also want creation of regional courts of appeal and regional supreme courts. They should handle certain matters on state laws, as done in America. When you have matters that concern the federation, it comes to National Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court. If you allow the two courts to be overloaded, the quality of justice will definitely drop. I will support that the quest for the judiciary to be better funded should be acceded to immediately.

The Vice President announced that hate speech will henceforth be treated as terrorism. It has been argued that the existing laws cannot adequately cater for that. Does this necessitate a new bill to the National Assembly?

I have already made my position known that then Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo was correct in law when he said that hate speech would now be treated as terrorism.  Section 1(2) of the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 has defined what terrorism is. It includes threats by a set of people against another set with the aim of changing the constitutional or political structure of a country. If people who claim to come from a particular region are threatening another people who have a different cultural and tribal identity that is hate. The intention is to upset the political set up of Nigeria because under our constitution that is not supposed to be. If you commit a crime, you are arrested and arraigned in court.

Now a lot of argument has been going on, people say it is not part of the law because throughout that act it did not say anything like ‘hate speech’. But that argument flies into thin air when you look at the practical situation in criminal jurisprudence. The mere fact that the phrase ‘hate speech’ cannot be found in the Terrorism Act does not mean it does not fit into that definition.

When you say if you kill intentionally it amounts to homicide, you may not see the word murder is homicide. But once elements of intentional killing are there, the word homicide or murder fits into that because these are general English words.


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