‘International Law Association regulates institutions and people that engage in foreign trade’
The International Law Association (ILA) is an organisation concerned with issues arising in international law. It is aimed at promoting the study, clarification and development of international law. The Nigeria branch of the association is poised to hosting its third yearly conference in Abuja on October 25. The president of the Nigerian branch of the ILA, Professor Fidelis Oditah (QC, SAN) sheds more light on the goals of the association in this interview with GODWIN DUNIA. He also expresses views about the recent raid and arrest of judges, judicial corruption and the decision of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) court in respect of former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki.
What does ILA stand for?
It stands for International Law Association and as an organisation, it is concerned with the addressing of issues arising in international law, especially those that have article application. ILA was founded in 1873, with the aim of promoting the study, clarification and development of international law and the furtherance of international understanding and respect for international laws.
ILA pursues its objectives through organising committees and biennial meetings. In Nigeria, we also try to hold this biennial meetings in pursuit of these objectives – study clarification and development of international laws and furtherance of respect for international laws. ILA has been instrumental to the moderation and regulation of people and institutions that have engaged in international trade like the York-Antioch rules and Hague rules, slave trade, rule of no legislations and recommendation of various subjects including slave trade and international arbitrations.
How was the association established in Nigeria?
It is actually interesting in the case of Nigeria because we used to have an ILA between 1982 and 1983 but for certain reasons, ILA died in 1986. So when we came in 2014 to establish ILA, we did not know that it had been in existence. When we applied to the ILA headquarters indicating our interest to establish it in Nigeria, they too granted our request. It was through local discussions in Nigeria that we got to be know that ILA was actually applied for in 1982 and it later died in 1986.
What were the reasons attributed to the initial failure of ILA in Nigeria?
I don’t know any reason that attributed to the failure of its survival because I was not a member and as at that time, I was in England. But I can imagine like many other associations that there was likely to be apathy and may be, it was ran badly by academia and there was not enough efforts to sustain the activities that ought to have kept it flourishing. If for example when we resurrected the Association in 2014, we were not holding the regular annual conferences, then we might be existing in name and after a while, it would die just like it happened initially. There are also some journals we were publishing since we started the Association, but most of them had died. So, we as a people and a country needs to ensure there is continuity of programmes and associations.
Is this the maiden conference of ILA in Nigeria?
This is our third conference. The first was held on 28 of October 2014. The edition of last year 2015 was also held around this time too and another edition is coming up this month again and it has usually been last week of the month of October. And as we grow, we are looking forward to when we make it more frequent, may be like a bi-annual conference.
What is the difference between ILA and International Bar Association (IBA)?
Just as I expect you should know, IBA is an association of lawyers all over the world, but ILA is an inclusive organisation that do not restrict its membership to only lawyers or confined to people in legal education or profession. It is open to everybody irrespective of your profession, discipline so long as you are interested. ILA welcomes and encourages academic practitioners, students, not just lawyers but everyone interested in the promotion and study; clarification and application of international laws in Nigeria. ILA is broad, though, most of us in it are lawyers, yet it is not an organisation limited to lawyers only, it is an international affairs, which cannot be limited to lawyers only. IBA is an umbrella body for lawyers with membership all over the world.
As a Queen’s Counsel (QC) and Senior Advocate, what is your reactions to the recent arrest of some judges in Nigeria?
My reactions is that the process and commando style of arrest has left much to be desired because in this country, we are all guided by the law. The Department of State Services (DSS), judiciary and other public functionaries are all established and constituted by the law. Therefore , we must observe the rule of law all the time. For that reason, I deprecate the manner with which the judges were arrested or almost adopted following the manner which they broke into the home of the judges without any evidence of wrong doing. Having said that, we all know that there is a lot of corruption in the judiciary and we cannot leave the judges to be self-disciplined the way the National Judicial Council (NJC) seems to do, because many of the allegations against the judges are not matters of discipline. There are matters of criminal laws and the NJC has no jurisdiction over criminal law, only the courts do. So if there is allegation of corruption against the judges, it is for them to be prosecuted like every other person who has committed a crime. But then, it is not for the executive to act as the supervisor over the judiciary but to recognized that democracy is anchored on the rule of law and there must be checks and balances, just like the court declared executive action unlawful and set aside bills passed by National Assembly, so also erring judges can be arrested and prosecuted before the courts.
So arrest of judges is not illegal ?
It is right! Even as a private citizen, I can arrest a judge who commit an offence in my presence and hand him over to the prosecuting authority or police. There is no criminal immunity for judges. Why should a judge commit a crime and will not be arrested? The fact that they are the ones passing judgment to offenders of laws does not in anyway mean they cannot be subject of judgment too.
What difference has the ECOWAS court declaration over Dasuki’s detention made?
It is not different from the one given by Justice Ademola who had earlier ordered his release and that he should be granted bail but they never complied. And as we now know, they said he is among the judges who took bribe and that there is allegation that a lot of money was found in his house. In a civilized system, the DSS should release people in whose favor the court has granted bail and who have met the bail conditions. To that extent, the DSS was wrong but if the judge actually granted bail because of corrupt influences then we can say that the order he gave has been vitiated by fraud and it does not represent the independent judgment of the judge. Everybody must obey a valid court order until that order is set aside by either the judge or a higher court.
And if the order is void, then you are not required to obey a void order and it is questionable if an order procured by alleged fraud falls into that category.
What are likely to be the implication if the federal government fails to obey the order?
Nothing will happen! One problem with international law is the lack of machineries to enforce obedience to its orders. It is affecting the United Nations and the International Court of Justice as well. ECOWAS has no police force or coercive means to give effect and bite to its orders. But Nigeria as a host country to the ECOWAS Court should obey, after all there is no allegation that the ECOWAS Court was influenced by fraud. We should also remember that the Court was simply giving effect to the decision of Justice Ademola, which has now been impugned by the fact that they found so much money in his house in circumstance which are not yet clear. The issues are not clear-cut as it were when we were all outraged by the fact that the DSS is not willing to release Dasuki. If as the DSS said, the reason for granting bail by Justice Ademola is as a result of corrupt inducement, then that has vitiated the order itself and there is nothing ECOWAS can do.
Is there any country in the sub-region that have faced similar order and were they obeyed?
If you look at the ECOWAS law report, there are many orders. So, Nigeria’s case is not new. For example, I remember the notorious robber popularly called, Shina Rambo, who used to come from Benin Republic. He was captured in Nigeria and he went to ECOWAS Court to enforce his human rights not to be arrested. The Court said they should apply reasonable period of respect for him because he was a notorious armed robber pretending to be a car dealer.
How do you see the fight against corruption in the judiciary?
I think we must all fight corruption because it is a serious matter and it affect all of us. For instance, I might prepare for a case in court tomorrow and put several hours in that respect to do the needful and somebody from the other party goes and bribe the judge and later the judge gives silly order against the case. The effect of this, is that it undermines public confidence in the administration of justice and above all it create injustice. This is someone you were going to for unbiased, untainted justice and the other person goes behind to bribe the judge and throw aside your case, it is terrible. So we must all join hands to fight corruption. It has got to a very bad state and we must do something about it. If possible, as citizens not only waiting for the DSS alone.
What do you think is responsible for the present state of the judiciary?
The problems of Nigeria are many and one of them is lack of merit in the judicial appointment and when you have a system that the appointment is not transparently based on merit, then there is very likely to be corruption. There is no system that survives without merit and you can only move on with the best people.