Sunday, June 3, 2018 8:09 pm
Retired Justice Mustapha Akanbi, former President, Appeal Court and a past chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices Commission who died today, Sunday, 3 June 2018, spoke on corruption in the polity. Of course, he suggested solutions.
How memorable was your childhood?
I attended various schools both in Ghana and Nigeria. For primary education, I went to the Accra Land School. I then attended the African College, also in Ghana. I can still recall some figures that were my school mates then. From African College, I know of only one who is still alive; his name is Larbi. I was in Ghana last year in December and I met him. He was so excited he felt like swallowing me because he didn’t believe that we could still meet again. We discussed the old days. I also met Dr. Alhassan Mohammed, who was one time Deputy Governor of the Central Bank in Ghana.
Back in Nigeria, I attended the Kaduna Trade Centre and my mates there included the late S.K. Dagogo Jack, who was Chairman of the then FEDECO, and Mustapha Umara who was Secretary to the Interim Government of Ernest Shonekan. Later, I headed to the Institute of Administration, Zaria to read Law. Out of the 12 of us in class then, 10 have died, leaving only myself and Justice Mohammed Uwais, former Chief Justice of Nigeria. So, by and large, God has been kind to me to have spared my life to reach 80 years. That is why I have decided to mark the 80th birthday to appreciate what God has done for me and to rededicate myself to the service of God and service of the people.
What was your parents’ influence on you?
The influence of my parents, particularly my father, on me was tremendous. It was around 1939 that I was taken to Ghana by my father, while my mother stayed back in Ilorin to take care of my paternal grandmother. Of course, my father had other wives. My father had been responsible largely for what I am today because although by English standard, he was not literate, he placed so much emphasis on good education, and he would always come and check in school whether I was attending school or not. I remember one day I did not go to school; instead I went to the beach. I did not know my father had gone to the school to check whether I was in the school or not. When I came home, after greeting him, he said I should take my food in the kitchen. When I entered, he locked the door after me and gave me the beating of my life. From that day, I never missed school throughout.
One of the reasons why he laid emphasis on school was that my father had stayed in Lagos for years and admired the likes of Chief Rotimi Williams and Fani-Kayode who were lawyers. Notwithstanding the fact that my father was a trader, he would go to a court and watch proceedings there. He admired how big lawyers deferred to magistrates and judges of younger age. That was why he insisted that I should be a judge. He sacrificed a lot. I was always one of the first students to pay their fees and buy their books. He was always advising me on what life was all about. And he was strong on discipline and order. Wherever I was playing, once it was 6p.m, I must be at home. If I wasn’t, he would not spare the rod. I must always dress his bed, clean the room and do everything as it ought to be done.
How did you acquire Islamic education?
I attended Islamic school in Accra, Ghana. As soon we leave the mosque after morning prayer, we would go to Arabic school where I was taught reading of the Quran by Alhaji Dikko, popularly known as Alhaji Atebise of Agbaji, Ile Adara of Ilorin. But if that malam attempted to stop me from going to Middle School, my father would say I should bring the Quran home and he would teach me the Quran because he believed I should combine the two. I also went on to do Bible Knowledge. In my Cambridge School Certificate exams, I had a credit in Christian Religious Studies as I did in Arabic. At night, we would go to one Alhaji Abdulsalam Olorunoje to learn the Arabic translation. Today I can read the Quran very well, I can recite 20 passages from the Quran or the Hadith as the case may be and have been able to set up an Arabic school myself and an English school to go pari-pasu.
What influenced your career choice?
I will put it this way: I had no choice, I stumbled into law. I wanted to be a scholar, a lecturer in any higher institution. That was my ambition. But my father had a different view as he wanted me to read law or medicine. I was averse to reading medicine because in my narrow conception of medicine, I thought of surgery as the only thing. But I can’t use knife to slaughter even a fowl, so the “bloody” nature of medicine made me abhor that study. Law, I didn’t want because of the notion that lawyers are trained to call what is black white and vice-versa. And so if I read law, I thought I might not find favour with God, so I didn’t want to read law.
Having been discouraged from going to Cairo by my father to study French, Latin or Arabic, I decided to go back to my root, Nigeria, where I applied and I was taken for a course as an Assistant Executive Officer. I don’t want to say I topped the class, but that was the impression I received from one Baba Olajide, an Egba man based in Kaduna. It was he who called and advised me, like my father did, to apply for law in view of my outstanding result. And law appeared to be the only course for which I could get scholarship. I applied for scholarship and I was called for interview. I did well in the interview and I had to go and read law. That was how I came into the law profession. As I said, I stumbled into it. It was not that it was my choice, but as it has turned out, I have made the best from the profession.
Some people would have remained lawyers for life. What made you decide to go for the bench?
Again, it was not my decision. I served in government as a state counsel and rose to the position of Senior State Counsel in the Ministry of Justice in the then Benue-Plateau State. When I was first working in Ilorin, I was loved by the man who headed the chamber, Morgan Ogboli, who was the Solicitor-General when the states were created and said he needed someone who was competent and efficient. So he deployed me from Ilorin, where ordinarily I should be the number two man, to Jos. I didn’t like it, but my dad asked me to go. When I got to Jos, I began to really see the problems and happenings in Nigeria. Coming from a Ghana background, I wasn’t initially alert to them. But in Jos, I saw there was a lot of tribalism in Nigeria, a lot of discrimination, a lot of ethnic problems, a lot of religious discrimination. That was not the type of environment in which I was brought up; I know I cannot lie and I had a cosmopolitan attitude to life. In the end, I had to resign.
I was the first person from the North to resign from the service of the Ministry of Justice to go into private practice. I decided to go to Kano where I also worked as a state counsel to set up a practice. Within five years or so, I had made my mark in Kano. Abdullahi Ibrahim, former Attorney-General of Nigeria, later joined me in forming a partnership. Lawyer Sadiq who was a one-time Speaker of the House in Kwara State also requested that I set him up in Kwara here, so I had another branch here. With Abdullahi, we also opened up an office in Kaduna State. The top plan was to set up the practice in Lagos when all of a sudden I got a telephone call from Justice Arthur Wheeler who was the judge in Kano. Wheeler invited me to his chambers to inform me that he got a telephone call from Nigel Reed, then Chief Justice of Northern Nigeria, about the newly-established Federal Revenue Court, now known as the Federal High Court. He told me that he wanted to appoint new judges and he wanted me to be one of them. I told Justice Wheeler that I had set up a practice, was doing well and it would be terrible if I had to leave. Wheeler was disappointed because he thought I would jump at the offer. As I was getting to the gate, he called me and said, ‘Mustapha, if I were you, I would accept the appointment.’ So I said he should give me some time to think over it. When I got home, I told my father who advised me to accept the appointment. That was how I accepted the appointment and became a member of the bench.
Could you be specific on the lawyers or judges you admire?
When I was in Kaduna, we had a judge, one Justice Ahmed Idris Pakistana, who came with a reputation that he was a constitutional lawyer but I was not impressed by his performance. But we had a lawyer then in Kaduna, R.O. Ghaji, who unfortunately ended up terribly in a murder case. Ghaji, by every available standard, was a first class lawyer and I appeared continuously against him when I was the state counsel in Kaduna. I admired his brilliance and he also respected me. He was quick-witted and if you are not brilliant, he can have the edge over you. Then of course, Chief Rotimi Williams was undoubtedly a great lawyer by every standard. Others included Babatunde Craig, Michael Afolayan, David Mejibi, Bello, Justice Wheeler, Fred Ianlewes and Khaild Hasssan.
What were the challenges you faced as a lawyer and then as a judge?
As a lawyer, when I decided to go to Kano to set up practice, I learnt that there was one Pakistani called Hanwan Hussein who wanted to sell his chambers to a willing buyer because he wanted to leave Nigeria. Since I was not comfortable staying any longer in Plateau, I wanted to leave, as I told you, because of the settler problem. On getting the information, I went to Kano and after bargaining with him, I paid the sum of £400 with the understanding that he would give me some retainership which would see me through. By the time I wanted to resign in Jos, Gomwalk advised me not to resign but I had made up my mind to leave. Unfortunately, like Gomwalk observed, when I got to Kano, the man did not leave again and I had already resigned my appointment in Jos. So I was embarrassed and in a dilemma but I insisted that there was no going back, so I sent my wife to Kano while I stayed back in Jos to collect the one month outstanding salary after which I would join my wife and children. It was a terrible period but I surmounted the challenges at the end of the day.
As a judge, I suffered a lot of transfers – more than most of my colleagues did. Immediately I was appointed, I served in Lagos for about a month, after which I was posted to Port Harcourt. I was in charge of the whole eastern states. In the midst of that, I was asked to go and do a probe in Ife. When I finished that, I was posted to Kano again. From Kano, I was appointed to the Court of Appeal and posted to Enugu. From Enugu to Ibadan, from Ibadan to Jos, Jos to Ibadan. This had been costly to all my children’s education. Each of them suffered at least, a year’s set-back. But I want to thank God they have been able to make it. Then, being the head of court, you can have problems. When you don’t allow people to steal or do something wrong, they accuse you of a lot of things.
Did you face any corruption allegation as a judge?
I didn’t, in the sense that as you make your bed, so you lie on it. I don’t make friends. I stay more or less in my house and you can’t come to me there to discuss a case. Still, it will be wrong for me to say that nobody ever attempted that. I knew a lady who was a relation who came to me when I was in the Court of Appeal in Ibadan to accuse me that the husband of a senior sister had been convicted and I was in the panel which was compromised. I asked her if I had taken money from her, what of the other members of the panel? I knew her father to be an Imam, so I quoted the Quran for her, “If your sister sent you, if I do what you want, if I die, can you save me from God’s punishment?” They won’t come once you do that to one or two people; the news will go round that the man will not accept that kind of thing. So I never had that temptation of corruption.
I am a contented, comfortable man. I don’t have problems. At a time, one of my children had to go to St. Anthony’s because at that time I could not afford to send him to a boarding school and I would and will not go and beg anybody for unreasonable favours. Today, that boy is a lawyer; he was heading the chambers of Wale Babalakin in Abuja until recently when he set up his own chamber. If they say somebody is corrupt, it is generally the way he behaves, because if you lay your door open for corruption, people will come to you. We know them; we know the judges who are corrupt.
What is your take on corruption in the judiciary and how do you think it can be banished?
Up till today, I am still fighting corruption. I am organising programmes against corruption because I am committed to it. I know that if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us if we continue the way we are going. The war against corruption has to be a total war. We have to follow the examples of the likes of Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, or follow the example of Hong Kong. Kuan Yew made sure that the man who headed his corruption battle was learned and committed to fighting corruption. Yew’s whole life is devoted to it; he gave the man every encouragement and dealt with people who were corrupt decisively. In Hong Kong, when the police tried to be corrupt, the whole people marched against the police.
There must be the political will, the will to fight corruption to the root, and not these cosmetic things we are doing here. That is the only way to reduce corruption to a tolerable level. The parties must make the fight against corruption part of their manifestoes and they must be ready to fight it to a standstill. Not the rubbish we do here. Let me cite a case. They said a former governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion was corrupt, he was taken to the court. This is somebody who should be sent to jail, then they brought this question of plea bargaining, which is not in our law. The man who is regulating, what is the guarantee that he will not be corrupt? So the law, the operators of the law, the government, the administrators, the obas, the obis, the emirs, all of them should be involved in the fight against corruption. Mr. President alone cannot do it.
Whoever will be appointed as head of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission must be a man who is prepared to deny himself, must be a man whose character is above board, he must be able to sell integrity, preach integrity, drink integrity, whether in the EFCC or ICPC. All the other crimes are the by-products of corruption – kidnapping, robbery, stealing, smuggling, what have you. It is corruption if you want to smuggle goods through the border; if you succeed in bribing the custom officers, you will smuggle. Look at the number of people who are being killed and yet till today we don’t know the killers. Even the Boko Haram thing is all part of the corruption problem. So corruption should be first and foremost our concern to clean up Nigeria. If we are able to clean up corruption, we will do well. We can’t produce a nation of saints but we can produce the nation of honest individuals who can be a pride to the country.
The Salami matter remains unresolved. What is your advice on this matter to the President?
I don’t know whether the President needs my advice. He has a minister called Mohammed Adoke and so many advisers around him. Let them advise him. I have had the chance of sitting on that panel at the NJC under the chairmanship of Justice Bola Babalakin to decide whether Salami was guilty of any wrongdoing. In the chain, we had Justice Wali, Justice Egwu, Justice Ayoola and myself and we exonerated Salami that he had not done anything for which he can be chastised. Well, we left the scene and were no more members of the NJC. A new body was set up chaired by a Customary court judge. It is ironical. Then that body said Salami is guilty, while the Chief Justice of Nigeria that we accused, that we indicted, they said was not guilty. Then they set up a review panel, steps that are contrary to what obtains in the NJC. The CJN set up a review panel and appointed one Justice Auta who came up with a different issue. Even the Nigerian Bar Association went into the whole affair and declared Salami has not done any wrong.
After they appointed Justice Dahiru Musdapher as CJN, we thought he was going to resolve the matter finally. He set up a law reform committee of 29, and I happened to be one of them who came out with a report exonerating Salami. Musdapher promised he would make sure Salami is exonerated. Also during his tenure, the number two person, Aloma Mukhtar, headed another team set up by the NJC which also cleared Salami. Yet, government has not seen it fit to restore Salami to his position. What advice can I give contrary to what these categories of learned men have given? My disposition towards it now is that the Salami matter is in the court of the people of Nigeria. I don’t have any advice to give Mr. President. He has not appointed me as an adviser. The gratuitous advice which we gave on the platform of the NJC has been rejected, so it will be like just pouring water into a basket; it will not hold.
What is the implication of Mr. President not yielding to the advice of the NJC?
Justice Lewis, after a conference, was interviewed by the press and he said that after the report of Justice Aloma, now Chief Justice of Nigeria, there was no need for the NJC to have written to the President on Salami’s reinstatement. All they had to do was to have called Salami to go back to his post because there is no provision which empowers the President to suspend the judge. He has no power to dismiss. The NJC which recommended suspension has now changed its mind. As I said, it is not for me to talk of any repercussion, it is now a matter for the nation to speak, it is now a matter for the NJC to do what is right.
What is your view on the recommendations of retired CJN Musdapher that more judges should be appointed to the Supreme Court to speed up the trial process?
If he said so, he knows where the shoe pinches more than I do. I have not been in the Supreme Court. But what I know is that it is not so much the number of judges appointed but the quality of judges that are appointed – how hardworking and committed they are to the administration of justice. If they are many and are good, so be it. If they are few and are good, Nigerians will know. I know that the Supreme Court judges have been working hard but I think they should be able to assess the volume of work they have against the number of cases they do in a year. If on balance, they feel they need more judges, of course, their President is at liberty to add more.