The dominant legacy of British colonial rule in Nigeria is the colonial legal
heritage. In my book entitled, “The Colonial Legal Heritage in Nigeria”, I
discussed the impact of the colonial legal system on the political, economic and
cultural development of Nigeria.
The impact is still there, but the failures of the imposed constitutional
prescriptions have weakened its authority as we continue to look for solutions
to the myriad of our societal development.
In the book, I identified three types of Nigerian lawyers. The first group is
those who are in legal practice to make money. The second are those, who
practice with a social conscience and the third are those, who want to use law
to effect social change. The late Gani Fawehinmi and I discussed this
observation, when he visited our Faculty of Law at OAU, Ife. OAU students
conferred on him, the title of the Senior Advocate of the Masses.
The Lagos colony was the hub of British colonial trade because of its harbour.
Sir Taubman Goldie’sRoyal Niger Company was both an economic and political
organization, which was efficiently administered by the British military genius
and colonial administrator, Lord Fredrick Lugard.
In 1895-6, Colonialist Britain passed the Foreign Jurisdiction Act, which was
made to operate with full force in British India, Nigeria and other British
Britain ensured that her colonial administrators were well versed in military
intelligence, diplomacy and statecraft. By 1960, the British colonial legal
system had take firm root in Nigeria. Even after Nigerian independence in 1960,
Britain insisted that its highly trained Nigerian British lawyers occupied
strategic judicial offices.
However, the British political order was rejected by Nigerians, who do not have
the culture of democratic haggling, literary argumentations and verbal
disputations, which are regarded as disrespectful by feudal and aristocratic
The wrenching political system between 1960 and 1966, created a disruptive
social order, which the military overthrew.
As I said above,the British legal system was championed by Nigerian jurists, who
were mentored and nurtured in the best British universities and the Inns of
One of the most distinguished of them was Professor Dr. Taslim O. Elias, who
became the Attorney-General and later, the Chief Justice of Nigeria. He was
removed from office by General Murtala Mohammed, as a result of a slight
indiscretion of criticizing the Soviet legal system.
On November 19, 1974, the Soviet Minister of Justice, Comrade Tiribilov was
discourteously criticized by Chief Justice, Taslim Elias, who told Tiribilov
that British and Nigerian law degrees were better than Soviet law degrees.
There was clearly an ideological dimension in the Chief Justice’s contention. He
apparently did not acquaint himself with the Soviet legal system, which was
based on the Continental legal system and the five legal systems of the world
including the British Common Law.
In an article in the Sunday Times of November 24, 1974, I stated “The merits of
Soviet Law degrees” and went to the Supreme Court to personally deliver a hard
copy to the Chief Justice, Dr T.O Elias, fo the day. He was stunned. I had
written courteously, but didactically.
During our discussions, I discovered that he probably had not acquainted himself
with the Soviet Legal system.
This probably led him to make the wrong assertion about the Soviet legal system.
The merit in studying various legal systems is that the lawyer acquaints himself
or herself with the inherent disadvantages in looking at law from a narrow
perspective. The inherent advantage is that one benefits from a wide spectrum of
legal reasoning and experience. The rigour of learning foreign languages, open
the world of legal literature and culture. You also get well-paid in foreign
The story of the six blind men of Kurdistan is helpful here. They described the
elephant based on the part of the elephant they touched. Dr T.O.Elias framed his
legal world-view from his copious studies in Common Law and British
jurisprudence from the best British Law Schools.
Elias was most eminently qualified in British Common Law and could have served
creditably as the Chief Justice of England.
Dr. Elias had canvassed against Nigerians, who had studied law in the then
Soviet Union, preventing them from going to the Nigerian Law School in order to
practice law until General Olusegun Obasanjo over-ruled him, while Obasanjo was
Military Head of State.
It is interesting to point out that after 12 Soviet trained lawyers took their
Bar examinations and the results had been released, Dr. Elias hurriedly came
from The Hague to Lagos and told airport reporters that nine of them had failed,
two had resits and that only one of them had passed!
The following day, the Director of the Nigerian Law School, Mr.
Ibironke,corrected Dr.T.O Elias, by saying that he did not know, where Justice
Elias got his facts from. that nine of them passed, two had resists and one
Dr. Elias later studied the other four legal systems of the world, including the
Soviet Legal system at The Hague International Court of Justice, where he rose
to be the Court’s President.
Since then, some of the Soviet trained lawyers have done very well, in legal
practice and in Academia.
One of them became a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, another became
the deputy Comptroller-General of Nigerian Customs, and some are erudite
practicing lawyers in Nigerian courts. Many became Professors of Law in Nigerian
and foreign Universities.
Had General Olusegun Obasanjo not intervened to allow those Nigerians to go to
the Nigeria Law School, their valuable contributions to the Universe of Man
would have been lost.
Some Soviet trained lawyers attacked the Chief Justice, after he tried to
denigrate what they labouriously learnt, using the Russian language. Some
newspapers like The Tribune fully supported the Soviet trained lawyers.Chief
Obafemi Awolowo also did. So did Justice Akinola Aguda and many Nigerian
Other thorough-bred British trained lawyers were Hon. Richard Akinjide, who
became the Attorney-General of Nigeria. Others like Nnaemeka Agu, Learned
Chukwudifu Oputa and Anthony Aniagolu. Many other distinguished British trained
Nigerian lawyers became Supreme Court Justices.
After retirement, many of these British trained justices served in strategic
positions, where they promoted British culture and societal values.Five of them
were at the beck and call of various military and civilian governments.
They returned anticipated verdicts which supported government maladministration.
One of them was the late Justice Anthony Aniagolu, who served as the
Pro-Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University. He turned the University
Council into the “Court of Star Chamber” colluding with Vice Chancellor, Wale
Omole to dismiss radical, patriotic Student Union Activists and “Aluta
Lecturers,” who opposed the blatant corruption that was prevalent in the
administration of the University, under Wale Omole. Both were ignominiously
removed from office by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. They both left under a cloud.
There was the group of British educated Nigerian Law University professors, who
tried successfully to teach law from the narrow perspective of British Common
The one at Ife became a professor of a subject he did not study at his
University. He became a SAN, with no record of court advocacy, or books
publication! He also became “Emeritus Professor! How lucky can a guy be?
We may call him Goodluck IJALAYE! You can check this out! The doors of the
courts are open. The TRUTH shall set us free!
Vice Chancellor, Professor Roger Makanjuola, who initially did not believe the
(Ija wonder) facts, had to adjust his psycho-galvanic reflexes, when the
documented presentation on Goodluck Ijalaye that went to the President, hit the
The OMOWA pervasive ideology that is responsible for manifold cover-ups at Ife
could not prevail!( IFE REMINISCENCES), 2010.
Eminent and learned Nigerian jurists and others, who held high office,
successfully laid the foundation of Nigeria’s bourgeois legal and societal order
It is very difficult to understand and grapple with our present condition,
without apprehending the depth of the wrongs that happened in the past, to the
state and individuals.
I donor subscribe to the idiotic idea that one should not speak about the dead
or the living dead. If one knows that “the evil that men do lives after them”,
perhaps, .men and women will be more cautious about inflicting pain on others.
This the idea William Shakespeare was propagating.
We must always remember the Supreme injunction that the wicked shall never go
unpunished. The Law of KARMA is real.
In every state, where there is the absence of GOD, there will be the absence of
good. In those states where satan has deceived the leaders to exclude GOD from
national life, the winds, thunder, rains speak warnings of harsh things to come.
The practice of mounting the rostrum after every breaking news using serpentine
tongues to tell other nations how to run their internal affairs is both
insulting and ill-advised.
Criticisms of the Nigerian Judiciary
The syndrome of “cash and carry” judges was as a result of their poor salaries
between 1980-2001. Even the former Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice
Mohammed Uwais was constrained to complain about his parlous salary.
The statement credited to a CPC chieftain seems too sweeping to be appropriate.
He is reported to have been disrespectful to the Presidential Election Tribunal
trying the CPC suit against the PDP.
The earlier narration of the actions by Justice Elias against Soviet trained
lawyers does not detract from my admiration of his erudition and his prolific
writings in the field of law. However, the truth must be told, even if the
Justitia nemenem excusat! In Nigeria, the “BIG MAN” foolishness, which Professor
Maurice Iwu, the former INEC Chairman, depicted and condemned in his speech at
the Yar’adua Center, sometime ago must be attacked, since it creates the spirit
of cowardice and unearned reverence in our people.
Also, the “former this and that” appellations also create a myth of adoration,
even where the “former this or that” person was a thief, incompetent and
thoroughly a discredited persona. Why are our citizens so subservient, gullible
and unthinking? Why?
On September 6, 2011, it was announced the three ex-Governors had been arrested
by the EFCC, for stealing billions of the peoples’ money. This has re-kindled
faith in the rule of law in Nigeria. The question is will there be endless
delays in their prosecution or will justice prevail?
There is a despicable habit in Nigeria, whereby favour-seeking public announcers
extol the virtues of poor leaders, corrupt leaders, criminals and people, who
practiced spiritual wickedness from high and low places, while in office, by
announcing the presence of former “leaders” at public gatherings!
The failure of the British legal order can be explained by the fact that it is
an alien legal system, which had ceased to be very relevant in regulating
post-colonial, socio-economic relations in a state with religious and
nation-state cleavages and a poor culture of political determinism. The Common
law as practiced in Nigeria is a respecter of persons. In Europe and America, it
Recently, it has been discovered that the courts have proved incapable of
dealing with cases, which concern those deemed “important persons “or those, who
threaten the state.
This violates the principle of equality before the law and that no-one is above
the law. In England, those, who act with impunity, are called to defend their
actions. The politicization of the Nigerian judiciary is the beginning of the
weakening of the state’s sovereign authority.
Unfortunately, unlike India, which has moved away from the British legal system
and had established a social justice system, which has visibly propelled India
to gain acceleration in the right direction, a Nigerian jurisprudence has not
yet emerged. The Nigerian Constitution contains social justice principles but
these social justice proclamations are not justiciable but are hortatory in
The system of judicial precedents, in which Supreme Court decisions are regarded
as sacrosanct, immutable and binding in judicial proceedings, has stultified the
development of legal thought and has handcuffed the French Code Civil admission
of robust advocacy, instead of upholding for all times, the principle of stare
The Nigerian Criminal Procedure Ordinance, No 2 of 1945, has governed the law of
criminal procedure in Nigeria for too long. . This later became the Criminal
Although the then Premier of the North caused some amendments to be made, which
were passed into law in July 1960 and entered into force on October in 1960 in
Northern Nigeria It is remarkable that when the Laws of the Federation were
enacted in 2004,
the only provision that was changed in the Laws of the Federation, 2004, was
Chapter 41. The British Company Laws of 1948 was almost reproduced verbatim in
the Nigerian Company Law of 1968.
Nigeria has enacted many Constitutions, which were soon discarded because they
could not effectively regulate the socio-economic requirements and societal
aspirations of the Nigerian state and its people.
The question has not been answered whether Nigeria is a Federal state or whether
it has grown into a Confederal state?
Political pluralism must respond to the dictates of law, its state structure,
its political economy and financial system.
The most critical problem of governance in Nigeria, is the inability of Nigerian
law to punish or acquit without the big man factor, overt or covert influences
from power brokers, lawyers manipulations and the role of judges whose hands are
Naira-tied or who perform setting their eyes on the higher bench.
Studies that cannot be published contain sordid events and actions about the
Nigerian judicial practice, which is beyond pardon.
One must applaud the courage of the Chairman of EFCC, my learned friend, the
real Justice Farida Waziri. She has demonstrated strong commitment to upholding
the rule of law in Nigeria.
I would like to ask Farida how a Governor alone can steal so much money without
the collusion, collaboration or condonation by the Finance Officials in the
Ministry. There is need to dig deeper into the magical conjuration that enables
Governors to steal over a long period of time.
It is time for us to make strong and constructive suggestions under cover. We
should be respectfully invited to make these constructive and well-informed
Law enforcement is hampered by the character of the officials charged with
investigations, documentation and preservation of records. Also, delay defeats
equity and justice delayed is justice denied. A man should not be falsely
accused and he does not get a fair chance to clear his name.
We live a Republic, in which political battles can be murky and wicked. It is
very important for thr courts to punish or acquit without the prevailing
practice of using complaints as instruments of extortion, intimidation,
disorientation, leading to heart failure as a result of the sword of judicial
Anyone, who is wrongly prosecuted for crimes he did not commit should sue his
tormentors, obtain reparation and rehabilitation. This is justice in motion.
How Governors, who swore to serve the people now engage in robbing the people is
a reprehensible, devilish act warped in an enigma.
When I taught International Law at Shandong University of Science and Technology
in Qingdao, China, I witnessed how the Chinese state dealt with highly placed
officials, who stole state property.
For example, the Secretary of the Shanghai Communist party was executed for
embezzlement. I woke up to read the banner headline
In my hotel room in Shanghai.
It is very re-assuring to learn that President Goodluck Jonathan did not
obstruct the EFCC from their lawful duties. I will visit Aso Rock to give him a
President Jonathan should fervently distance himself from benighted
gubernatorial cheats and cultic, old political witches.
I am disappointed that Zik’s resting place has remained negligently uncompleted,
after the contract had been awarded.
Encounter with Lord Denning and the Birth of the IFE Radical Legal School.
In a memorable encounter with the British legal icon, Lord Denning of blessed
memory in Lagos in 1975, I raised some thorny legal issues with Lord Denning. In
concluding what was a marathon lecture, Lord Denning said that he was very happy
that the British legal traditions have been well preserved in Nigeria.
I was cut to the quick. I asked Lord Denning when we could develop our own legal
system, if we continued to preserve British legal traditions in Nigeria.
Lord Denning was also cut to the quick. He delivered a persuasive response. He
pointed out that the Normans, after invading England in 1066, imposed a Common
Law on England, but that through imaginative and innovative legal engineering,
the English re-jigged the Norman-imposed legal order.
The legal institution of Equity was introduced to alleviate the harshness of
some Common law norms.
I recall that after the Americans became independent, they restricted the use of
British precedents that militated against the sovereign, independent status of
the newly independent American state.
Also, China abolished those Anglo-French colonial laws after it proclaimed its
independence on October 1 1949, a factor that has accelerated the phenomenal
development of China.
The functions of law are to act as instruments of social engineering, social
regulation and social change. Under British colonialism, law was an instrument
of legal control, legal manipulation and legal punishment of those, who
challenged the colonial system.
This was why many notable Nigerian leaders and other patriotic leaders in
British colonies were jailed, some many times. Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, British
India, afford copious evidence about this phenomenon.
Until today, our police laws and military ethics still reflect the colonial
punitive way of dealing with political mal-contents. The surveillance system and
marking down potential “trouble-makers”still form the system of law enforcement
in post-colonial African states.
In 1986, I started the Radical Legal School at the University of Ife( now
Obafemi Awolowo University) I taught law from a multi-disciplinary perspective,
which embraced Roman Law, Das Bundesgesetz Buch, French, Code Civil, the
Anglo-American, Soviet and Grotian legal order.
Some of my former law students, who now practice law in Euro-American states,
attest to the usefulness of the Radical Legal School ideology and the inherent
advantage of the legal diversity they imbibed.
While Nigerian University Law Schools offer very limited law subjects, law
schools in Europe and America offer a wide variety of over ninety legal courses.
While foreign law schools accept only dissertations for the Master’s degree,
some of the older law schools in Nigeria, accept long essays. Whether it is long
or short, an essay is an essay.
When I was teaching at the University of Michigan, USA,two Nigerian law
students, who had applied to do their PhD, were not allowed but were told that
they had to do a one-year remedial course before they could proceed.
I know some of my former law students, who have now become SANs, based upon the
number cases they have handled at both the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme
Court of Nigeria.
The advocacy in Nigerian courts takes the routine form of, in many cases,
challenging the jurisdiction of the court handling the case. Then, this is
followed by adjournments without end. Some lawyer’s ability to “liaise” with the
judges is very important in obtaining, in some cases, a favourable decision for
Some lawyers, who lose cases at lower courts drag cases to the Courts of Appeal
and the Supreme Courts, in order to qualify to apply for SAN!
Perhaps, the most lucrative legal practices today is to defend politicians, who
rightly or wrong were deemed elected. Since the legal fees are straight from the
treasury, the fees are usually on the high side.
I followed, very objectively, the Buhari Vs Yar’ adua case in Abuja. It was a
masterpiece of judicial double speaks!
According to the CPC, the same game is about to be re-played. The party has
dragged the PDP and the INEC Chairman to the Supreme Court.
The Party is seeking an order setting aside the decision of the Court of Appeal
(Presidential Election Petition Tribunal) Abuja, delivered on September 28,
2011. “An order dismissing the motion filed by the 1st, 2nd, 6th-42nd
respondents on 22nd September, 2011.”
“ An order invoking Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act 2004 and ordering the
Court to compel the attendance of the INEC Chairman, the 1st respondent to
attend court and produce all relevant documents. For example, National Biometric
Data Bank, Forms EC BA, EC8A, EC 8B and Ec8C, which were used for the disputed
April Presidential poll.
The Salami case was a classical political intervention in judicial matters,
making nonsense of the doctrine of the separation of powers. It is very
disturbing to note that in the last three general elections, especially the
presidential elections, it is by the verdict of the Supreme Court that our
presidents have been declared winners. This is obviously anomalous.
In Nigeria, the rule of man seem predominant. The rule of law often takes a back
Recently, the whole world witnessed how the Italian justice system acquitted
Amanda Knox and Rafael, her former boy-friend of a murder charge based on the
fact that the evidence was tainted.
In Nigeria, the “BIG MAN” influence, party affiliation, obstruct the cause of
justice. Even in the face of clear evidence of criminal conduct, some
compatriots are openly celebrated in newspapers advertorials. This is a mockery
of the rule of law. The rule of law and the rule by man seem hard to reconcile.
Nigerians seem to forget that you may bully your way out of facing criminal
conduct today, but history will document your ignoble acts of criminal conduct.
A comprehensive review of celebrated cases, which have been tried in Nigeria,
shows that the “powerful people” have seldom been found guilty. This has fuelled
the culture of impunity.
With regard to the issue of SANs, in most states, you do not apply to be made a
SAN. Just like in the case of the Nobel Prize, your brilliance will bring you
out. To be a Queen’s Counsel in England is based on rigorous academic and
superior advocacy credentials. What do Nigerians not bastardize?
Any critical observer will hold that in Nigeria, there are courts of law and not
strictly, courts of justice. The policy, whereby the President of Nigeria
appoints the Chief Justice of Nigeria, may need to be reviewed, so that the
principle of the separation of powers enjoy a modicum of credibility and rebut
the maxim of whoever pays the piper dictates the tune.
The problem of judicial intervention in democratic governance has remained
controversial. Electoral disputes have often led to political crisis. Chief S.L.
Akintola went to court over his dismissal, which sparked wide spread riots in
the then Western Nigeria.
The FEDECO decision that Alhaji Shehu Shagari won the the 1979 Federal
Presidential elections was the subject of a Supreme Court intervention. The
decision weakened Shagari’s authority to govern. He was later overthrown by
General Muhammadu Buhari, who too, was overthrown by General Ibrahim Babangida.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Musa Yar’adua and now Goodluck Jonathan, all of
the PDP, have been challenged in the higher courts for disputed outcomes of
There is this nagging feeling that we have not yet developed the political
culture of organizing free and fair elections if Chief Justices, who are
appointed by Presidents determine, who rules Nigeria.
The internecine wars over elections are unfortunately not matched by
performance. The quality of altruism is poor and at the end of four years or
eight years, there is always very little to show for it.
Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan was reported to have said that “our system
has collapsed”. No, there has not been a system!
There have been grandiloquent bombasts, promises to bring down the moon, the sun
and the galaxies tomorrow! One does not need to be a Lai Mohammed or a Mohammed
Garuba to understand that we are going nowhere slowly and that, at the present
speed, we cannot transform the nation until the Second Coming of Christ Jesus.
A government of speech-writers, speech-readers and speech-hears cannot form the
necessary consensus for state transformation but national planners, thinkers and
knowledgeable, compatriots can.
A state run by gubernatorial frauds cannot transform our state.
British Conservatives are undertaking a review of their anti-immigration policy
and a strident attack on the Humans Rights Act. The European Convention on Human
Rights has become so well-entrenched in European legal order that it cannot be
“shaken by a side wind” Lord Denning.
British politics must not forget the role of the immigrants in post-war British
The Liberal Democrats may tacitly disagree with the Secretary of Internal
Affairs and could disapprove of the Conservatives using the last unsavoury acts
of miscreants to call the European Convention on Human Rights into derisive
Britain is very well-known for its respect of human rights and compliance with
European laws and International Laws.
Article 6 of the Draft Declaration on Rights and Duties of States, it is clearly
stated that ‘ Every state has the duty to treat all persons under its
jurisdiction with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, without
distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.
Also, Article 13 says that “Every state has the duty to carry out in good faith
its obligations arising from treaties and other sources of International Law and
it may not invoke provisions in its Constitution or its laws as excuse for
failure to perform this duty.
Therefore, the pronouncements of Mrs. Theresa May, the British Secretary of
Internal Affairs, seem to have overlooked these human rights provisions in the
Charter of the United Nations and the European Convention of Human Rights.
New Definition of Democracy
At various times in human history, new developments occasion new thinking. The
current world-wide rebellion against state structures are more profound that
rebellion against leaders or governments.It is against systems of government.
Before now, people with capital built enterprises, recruited men and women to
work for them. They strengthened their authority by setting up political
institutions through which they make laws. Their university ideologues propagate
the doctrine of separation of powers to create the impression that the
executive, the judiciary and the legislature act independently. This is not
The system of shareholding is an attempt to involve some people in sharing the
dividends of private enterprise. Corporate laws have kept the capitalist system
buoyant for centuries in Europe and America,
In the last twenty years, however, rapid economic growth in China, India,
Brazil, South Africa and other emerging economies turned the tide against
Euro-American economic growth.
Under the double impact of wars in various parts of the world and the need to
confront communism and Al Qaeda, a lot of needed financial resources were
plunged into these campaigns. The US had borrowed an awful lot of money, in oder
to stabilize its economy. The Bush administration was profligate and the Obama
administration is finding it difficult to mend an economy in recession.
As a result, many Americans have been out of work. Taking a cue from the
struggles for democracy and the peoples’ empowerment in the Middle East and
North Africa, many American have embarked on wide-spread demonstrations. Greece
and some European states too.
The new definition of democracy in this epoch is the government of real,
organized people for the people, by the people. Governments by the Chambers of
Commerce and political parties, no longer serve the interest of the real people.
Corporate laws only serve to entrench monopolies and oligopolies. Since the dawn
of the cosmos, the Ten Commandments have been ordained. Some states decided to
reject God. So, God has turned his back on such states and water, air, thunder,
rain, wind and the elements are now opposing them.