‘Police, Prison Acts must be reviewed and replaced’
The level of insecurity across the country is heightening everyday and the Police seem overwhelmed with the development. The Police attributed this to inadequate manpower and as a result, began the process of recruiting 10,000 men and women to boost its strength. In this interview by GODWIN DUNIA, a legal practitioner and former NBA Social Secretary, Enugu Branch, Ifeanyi Okumah, said apart from recruiting more hands into the force, the Police and Prison Acts must be reviewed and replaced in order to enhance the administration of justice in the country. He also spoke on the Electoral Act, the 2014 political conference report and the rising agitations across the country.
What is your view about the administration of justice system under the current government?
Nothing has really changed except that majority of the people now have started to appreciate their right to justice. The judiciary has come under close scrutiny in the last few months mainly due to corruption cases and election disputes. Reforms in the judiciary are needed because of weaknesses and defects in the judicial system which includes corruption, slow system of operating the courts, for example, the judges use of long hand-writing, no or little InfoTech, poor infrastructure and the funding of the judiciary. The Nigerian Police must also be improved and further reformed to enhance the administration of justice in other to tackle the issue of insecurity prevalent across the country. This means that the Police Act must be reviewed and replaced. The personnel of the force should be availed of constant retraining and reorientation to meet the challenges of the modern society and best practices.
Modern equipment and gadgets must be provided for them in order that they can enhance their performance output of maintaining peace and order in the country. The conditions of the Nigerian prisons are still the same as at last year and must be improved. Issues of overcrowding of inmates, understaffing of the personnel, poor administration, long period of detention for awaiting trial inmates and limited access to legal advice and representation are pretty much the same as at last year and must be improved. The prisons Act of 1972 should also be reviewed. What most Nigerians need is the protection of human rights. The first year of this administration has not really met or matched the expectations of most Nigerians. I expect the government to do more.
How will you react to the recent face-off between members of IPOB/MASSOB and security agents in Onitsha which reportedly resulted in fatalities?
It is unfortunate especially the loss of lives. The country is at a cross road and too many agitations by several groups is not in the best interest of the nation. The loss of human lives which could have been avoided is not good. I am of the view that things can be well managed. IPOB/MASSOB should strive to use legal means to agitate for whatever rights they think should be given to them. Violent postures have never resolved issues. The same applies to other groups seeking for different considerations. I believe it all boils down to the state of the nation. No job for the youths, hardship and poor state of security for the citizens has contributed in getting the youths to be enticed with any clamour or agitation by groups. If these youths are gainfully employed they will not fall prey to the demands of the group for violence as they will be in their workplaces contributing their quota to national development.
How do you think the problem can best be resolved?
The federal government should set up a committee to review the incidence in order to find out what actually happened to warrant the use of force which was attributed to the security agencies on the said day which led to shooting of people. If anybody is found guilty, the person should be prosecuted. The federal government should engage the group in dialogue to find out what the problem is just like they are doing with other groups from other tribes. I still believe in the entity called Nigeria and that to maximize the potentials we all need to stay together as one irrespective of tribe.
Do you think that the political reform conference report of 2014 has solution to our National problem?
No! The hands of the conference members were tied by the government’s directive on ‘No Go Areas’ for discussion. The solution to our problems as a nation lie squarely in our hands. The Constitution of a nation is the product of the people and not of its government. By setting out areas not to be ventured into in the deliberations, the government has categorically taken away the rights of the citizens to deliberate on issues which affect them collectively as a nation. Since independence till date, all the government that has ruled the country had people from every tribe in Nigeria in its cabinet. State creation is not a solution to the problems of Nigerian. Whenever new states are created, the yesterday’s minority becomes the majority and the problem is still there. Most of the local governments in the country now can barely pay salaries yet people clamour for more. Right leadership is the solution to our problems. The country needs policy direction and vision from its leaders especially in the economy. The confab is not different from the previous ones undertaken before but never implemented.
What is your view on the proposed new Electoral Act by the Senate?
An amendment, if it is to improve an existing document is always a welcomed development. To accommodate Nigerians in the diaspora so that they can take part in the democratic process is good. The challenge will be – is Nigeria ready for it? Are we equipped and prepared to do so? In my opinion, no. We have not been able to manage our local voters and we are thinking of people in diaspora. Do not get me wrong. The people in diaspora have a right for their votes to be counted but I believe that the country is not equipped now to do it. On the issue of the military being used during elections, while I believe it is not good, I do not think the police can solely provide security during elections. They are not adequately equipped and staffed to do it on their own. The military should still be used though they should still be limited to a distance from the election venues. The amendment is not necessary in respect of taking out the military from election duties. The amendment in my opinion regarding the two issues mentioned above is not ripe.
How will you rate INEC in its conduct of recent elections?
Nothing has really changed from the Prof. Attahiru Jega led INEC and the present INEC. It is still too early to judge the new leadership of INEC. Conducting elections in my view can be likened to officiating in a football match. It is not only the referee that makes a good football match. The entire players and officers of both teams also play a huge role. The electorates and the political parties must also play their role and do what is expected of them. INEC sets the standard for the conduct of elections and the politicians and the electorate must abide by the rules as set. I will rate INEC 60 per cent as at now for the elections they have conducted so far. I believe improvements will be seen in the future.
What is your reactions on the affirmation of Bello Yahaya as the governor of Kogi State by the tribunal?
To be honest – no reaction. As a legal practitioner, I have realized that decisions of court or tribunal is not well commented on until one has read the judgment. It is then that you can see and appreciate the reasoning of the court or tribunal based on the facts presented before it. As at now I have not read the judgment and I have no reaction. My advice is that the losing party if not satisfied with the outcome should embrace the option of appealing against the judgment.
Do you agree with the decision of the FG not to name looters of our treasury?
Now or indefinitely? Yes, I agree with the decision. This is because it will have an effect on the people who are yet to bring back the loot failing to do so on the presumption that if he or she is named then there is no need to return the loot back without a protracted court battle. This will take a toll on the resources of the FG. But I believe that it will be right at the end of the day, maybe towards the end of the administration, to name them.