Mr. Banjo Ayenakin in this interview with BABATOPE OKEOWO, expresses regrets that implementing judgments in Ondo State has become a herculean task
What does it look like to enforce judgement in Ondo State?
It has not been different. I am very sorry to say, even when you have a Senior Advocate of Nigeria as governors or when you have lawyers at the helm, implementation of judgment becomes more difficult because they know all the loopholes in law; they know how to use them.
I can cite examples for you: I have gotten a judgment against Ondo State government Automat, but have not been able to enforce my judgment. Also I got judgment against the Ondo State government in respect of Ondo House of Assembly members that were wrongfully suspended; it was not until I began contempt proceedings, the Ondo State government did not obey the judgment.
One would have expected that a Senior Advocate of Nigeria being at the helm, immediately the judgment was declared would obey the judgment.
It was when the Speaker of the Assembly was on the verge of being thrown into prison that he quickly threw-in the towel, meaning that he wouldn’t have obeyed the judgment.
So, as far as I’m concerned there’s no difference. In fact, it is worse when you have lawyers at the helm; lawyers who do not have the fear of justice in their heart.
What is the correlation between getting judgment and its implementation?
You have touched a very key area in the justice sector. Getting judgment is one thing and getting judgment implemented is another thing.
The field of law, we talk about judgment and post judgment procedure.
Post judgment procedure is what is called enforcement of judgment. In fact, it entails lot of things on its own. We talk about garnishee proceedings, content proceedings, certiorari and several other means of getting judgment enforced. In this country it’s been very tasking getting judgment enforced. For example, for about six years ago,
I got judgment against the Ondo State government, the place where Ondo State government is using as Automat–where cars are being sold, belong to my client. I got judgment against them, that the acquisition of that place was wrong, and that my client should be given possession back.
I have gotten the writ of possession, but for my client to enter that place and possess it have been difficult, the government of Ondo State has been using all sort of legal mechanism and gimmicks to delay implementation.
So, I am not particularly happy when it comes to the area of judgment implementation in the country. Although, we have tried our best for so many of our clients in enforcing judgment either through content proceedings or through garnishee proceedings. There are other loopholes in law, especially in enforcement of judgment against the government.
For example it is not always easy to garnishee account of government in view of the type of account federal government is using now (i.e. IPPS). So, it’s been very challenging enforcing judgment in Nigeria, and without enforcement of judgment, you can’t talk about justice because the whole essence of justice is to get judgment enforced.
For instance, if your land is taken unlawfully, you will only be happy when you are able to repossess your land, and if you lose some money, you will only be happy if you possess your money back. Therefore, it is when the dividend of the judgment gets to your hand that you can say you have succeeded.
What do you think you will achieve in respect of human right enforcement?
Of course, I desire to have hundred per cent success rate in this profession in terms of justice delivery to my clients and I’m not yet satisfied with my ninety-nine per cent success rate, I’m still aspiring. I still want a situation whereby government will obey judgments; I am still looking forward to seeing a situation whereby even judges will understand law the more.
Honestly speaking, one of the major challenges we also have in the legal profession is judges who did not understanding the law itself. I am sorry to say that.
For example, when you make an application to a court, and the court erroneously strikes out your application by wrong application of law, you won’t be happy. I have examples I can cite, but because of ethical issues, I decided not to. I am not yet satisfied, there’s still more ground to cover.
Do you think there is a need for reform in the judiciary?
We need reforms. There are so many areas of reforms. First, appointment of judges should not be politicized; it is more or less political appointment, more competent hands should be appointed to the Bench. One of the major banes of the legal profession is incompetence on the Bench.
When you have judges who do not understand the law; when you have people who are morally bankrupt at the helm in the justice sector, it portends serious danger for the profession.
So, one major reform that I want is in the recruitment and appointment of judges. I want it to be open and more transparent. I want anybody who wants to aspire to the Bench to take exams, let what they score be open, it shouldn’t be based on who knows who.
The other area I want reform is the area of delay. It’s been said that justice delayed is justice denied. I am looking forward to a justice system that is fast tracked. I have seen cases in the United Kingdom and the U.S. where cases will go to court and within 30 days, cases have been determined.
I have seen cases where injunctions are been obtained online, all these facilities are not available in Nigeria; we still deploy manual procedures in getting things.
What other areas of reform are you looking towards?
Three are moribund laws; there are several legislations in Nigeria that are moribund. Unfortunately, most of the people at the National Assembly are not law practitioners, there are several laws that are moribund but unfortunately they don’t know.
One of the laws that I want a reform is Sherriff and Civil Processes Act which deals with the enforcement of judgment against government. The law was made during the military regime and that law is still there up till today.
If you have monetary judgment agains the government, there is no reason why you should seek the consent of the Attorney-General before you can enforce monetary judgment against the government. These are the things that are giving them the opportunity to deplore impunity in the system.
There are also several legislation that are obsolete, there are some laws that still have a fine of N500, fine of N1, 000 in economic crimes. All these issues must be reformed.
Do you think the planned amended of the Constitution to extend retirement age for Supreme Court Justices from 70 to 75 years necessary?
It is very bad. I will quote Justice Ayo Salami. He said “A lot of people who are sixty-five years and above are getting senile, they are forgetful, they do not have grasped of the law again, and they have medical challenges.”
There is barely anybody in this country that is above fifty years that do not have one medical condition or the other.
So, when you are sixty-five, seventy or seventy-five, you should be in your house, they should be used in the area of retraining of judges or supportive and advisory role in election tribunals. But extending their tenure is like killing the system, it shouldn’t be encouraged, I don’t support that.
What are your thoughts on perceived lopsidedness of judges into election tribunals?
I do not have any empirical evidence that election petition decisions are influenced by politicians. But, what I know about election petition cases is that, some of the pronouncements are not consistent, and that is what is giving people the opportunity to say that they are being influenced.
This year, the Court of Appeal will say one thing, then sometimes another year they will take another decision.
There have been some inconsistency, but I personally do not think they are being bought. I think sometimes is because of increase in knowledge, or more understanding of law that can be an improvement on the former one.