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Corruption in judiciary has escalated -Aderibigbe.

Chief Fadayiro Adetunji Aderibigbe, SAN, Baamofin of Ilaro, Ogun State and a former president of Nigerian Bar Association, speaks with Akinrolabu Akinduro about his life and events in the nation, among others. Excerpt:

What is the significance of your 80th birthday to you?

The 80th birthday is very significant even to my siblings because they have been praying hard for it to happen. The reason is very simple. Our father died at the age of 71 and so, my siblings have been praying that I will break the jinx by living longer. They believe that if I am able to break the jinx by living up to 80, it will affect their own longevity. So, they have been anxiously praying that I should clock 80 as one of them recently told me. And ironically too, my mother didn't live long. She died when I was under 10 years. So, to clock 80 means a lot and it is by the special grace of God.

What motivated you to study law?

I just wanted to be a lawyer. I liked lawyers and that is it. Again my favourite subjects in secondary school were arts subjects. I wasn't good in mathematics and sciences. So, the best I could do was law.

Who were your role models in the legal profession?

Well, there were so many people like Chief Rotimi Williams, Chief Ladi Moore, the late Chief Olowofoyeku and so on. Back then we used to spend a lot of our holidays in the Western House of Assembly where we used to watch great parliamentarians like Chief Adelabu, Chief Anthony Enahoro and Chief Odebiyi. They were very young people at that time. They were either followers of Zik or Awolowo. At that time, it was either Zik or Awo. These were the people that ignited my passion in law.

How was your experience the first time you appeared in court as a lawyer?

I think my first experience was in the magistrate's court. I wasn't afraid despite the fact that I did not think I was saying the right thing. In those days, the magistrates would always try to protect those we called young wigs and these were young lawyers who did not know the way to go about things. But I appeared the first time and from there I started gathering experience and learning on the job.

What were the challenges you encountered in the course of your practice before attaining this enviable position in life?

I came back the year Nigeria started finding itself in problems and that was in 1962 during the political imbroglio of the old Western region which pitched Akintola against Chief Awolowo. When I came, I went straight to Awolowo and Co Solicitors. That was where I started and that was an era of detention. For example, if they saw you coming out from Awolowo's house, the next day you could get detained. Because of this, no client was coming. Later, I came to Abeokuta and started partnering with Chief Toye Coker. The challenges were there. I did a lot of cases in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court where I garnered a lot of experiences.

Looking at the corrupt practices in the legal profession in Nigeria today, are you not disturbed?

I am disturbed. When I started practising in 1962, the people that were involved in all these things were in the minority and we had a name for them. We called them 'Judgment for sale or highest bidder judges'. These were the black sheep in those days. But now, the thing has escalated. They have now gotten a shameless audacity that emboldens them to think no one can do anything to them. It is my wish that the people who are involved in all these things be dealt with to serve as deterrents to others. We gave them name back then as black sheep, but today there are so many black sheep than white sheep in the legal sector of Nigeria. This is regrettable.

Looking at the current war against corruption, do you believe the government is getting the war right?

I don't have any problem with the ongoing war against corruption. My problem is that after the noise making, two weeks later, nothing will be heard of all the EFCC's arrest and the charges listed. Let's look at it from this disturbing angle, somebody is charged to court and two days later, he changes his political party to the ruling party and that is over. That is not the way to tackle corruption. Again the mistake we are making is to limit corruption to certain group of people, especially the politicians, but forgetting that ordinary men and women in the society also engage in it. The reason corruption is on the higher level in Nigeria is that the country is not a welfarist state. The country is not concerned about the welfare of its citizens. If a man is able to eat three times a day and also able to feed his family, such as a man will have no business with stealing. Today, a lot of people are dying in the country because they cannot afford the cost of medication. The government needs to make life abundant for its citizen the way it is being done in the advanced countries. And not until we are able to have welfarist state in Nigeria, we will continue to stay in one place, without moving forward. Today, a man will say he has a family to take care of and he must take care of them including paying his children's school fees. There is no free school in Nigeria any more, but before there were free schools because the country was a welfarist state. So, until we were able to adequately address the needs of a common man, corruption will still be in this country. Corruption is not limited to when you find billions of naira hidden somewhere by somebody, it also includes the man who says 'I don't know where your file is, until you give me money'. He is not expected to say this because he is being paid every month for his services. But again the question is that, how many people get their salary as and when due in the country now? You need to bribe judge now before you can get favourable judgment. So, many people are losing their properties these days because they don't have money to hire lawyers or bribe judges. This is sad.

What is your take on the ongoing agitation for restructuring of the country?

Whatever you call it, I think Nigeria still needs to discuss its destiny. People still need to sit down and discuss their affairs. There are so many tribes and customs in the country and we cannot wish these facts away. There is tribalism and ethnicity in this country. It is said that in this country, we waste time doing nothing. In the United Kingdom we have England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Part of Ireland has gone; Scotland say they are going, Wales also say they are going, leaving only England. So, they are talking about it but they are not killing themselves over that. There is degree of self-governance for some of them so that if they must separate, it will be done peacefully. So, in Nigeria, I think they can also talk about their existence. Everybody must bring idea to the round table. And obviously to my own mind, there must be some level of decentralisation. If we say we are practising federalism, we must decentralise. Right now, what we are practising is a unitary government in a federal system of government. It can't work. This is not what the constitution says. But what can one do about it? There were a lot of powers given to the local governments in the past; but now, the local governments have no power at all. Sometimes when I see all those people collecting money from those commercial transporters, I say this is one of the constitutional duties of the local government. And this is a lot of money. But who are the people collecting it? The Agberos. They allow them to collect the money because they are the people often used by politicians during elections. So, how can we move forward when the local governments have gone comatose completely? For the young ones, I do not have confidence in them. In the olden days, when someone was involved in hard drugs, such person used to be an outcast in the family. But now the young ones openly live with drugs. So, how can they have time to think? What plan can they make that will better in their own future? As I used to say, when one turns 80, what is he or she doing again? It amuses me at times when I see politicians who are close to their grave still sitting down to participate in a conference. For what? We are living in the time of the youth. We are just doing extra-time by the grace of God. The future is for the young ones not us. So, when I see old people talking about politics, I see them talking nonsense. The time is now for the young ones; it is their country. Let them do it the way they want, we can only guide them. These are the things the elders are expected to do. They are not expected to live the lives of their children. They should give the young ones the chance to determine their future.
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Publication:Nigerian Tribune (Oyo State, Nigeria)
Geographic Code:6NIGR
Date:Dec 17, 2017
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