Malam Yusuf Olaolu Ali (SAN), was conferred with the prestigious title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 1997. In this interview with Adelanwa Bamgboye, he speaks on the postponement of the 2015 general elections, the 180 days limit for disposal of election petitions and the issue of conflicting judgments among others. Excerpts:What is your reaction to the postponement of the 2015 general elections?
The postponement is a grand plot against people by those who are paid to protect them.
The only agency constitutionally charged with conducting elections, INEC, says it is ready. All other agencies are to support INEC. It is unfortunate that it is those who are just to support that are saying that they are not ready because of the issue of insurgency that has been there for the past four years. How can you say you are postponing elections to fight terrorism? They are now asking for six weeks to fight insurgency that has been there for four years, with a subtle blackmail that security cannot be guaranteed. It is actually unconstitutional and all those who are involved should resign their positions. They were paid to secure lives and property at all times not only during elections.
The reason given for the postponement is security, is it good enough?
We have had insurgency for more than five years, how can we now say that elections should be postponed because we are going to fight insurgency!
The CJN recently swore in members and chairmen of the various Election Petition Tribunals, how would the postponement affect these tribunals?
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) has done his constitutional duty, so the security agencies should also do their constitutional duties.
Does the N21 billion donated to President Goodluck Jonathan’s presidential campaign contravene the Electoral Act?
The electoral law does not envisage that there will be donation of that kind of money to any candidate. But having said that, even if there is no law that is contravened, it has offended the sensibilities of most Nigerians. In a country where want and poverty are so pervasive, where some state governments are owing arrears of salaries but going to the platform of a party to donate money that could have been used to pay such salaries, it speaks volumes about the insensibility of our leaders. I believe that they have sent a wrong signal, especially at a time when the money that accrued to the federation account is shrinking.
I think such kind of donations in the circumstances in which we are, amount to a bit of obstinacy. It was wrongly timed, wrongly done and improperly executed. If the governors were giving their personal monies yes, it is understandable, if you want to ask, these monies were they appropriated in the budget? Is there anything in the budgets of the states that donated money to show that it was sanctioned by the law; that is, the budget law of the state? And if it is, can it be done in spite of the fact that most of the states cannot pay the salaries for their workers? It gives a very sour taste in the mouth, to say the least.
The electoral law talks about the maximum amount of money that can be donated to an individual, unfortunately our law is very weak on donations geared towards political purposes and what can be spent for campaigns. It is too weak, we must do something about it and then people donating these monies we must know the sources where the monies come from. These are the issues that ought to be addressed.
Ahead of the 2015 elections, the Chief Justice of Nigeria has warned judicial officers against churning out conflicting judgments on election petitions, especially from the Court of Appeal. What is your view?
It was a timely warning because it is avoidable in this day and age of the internet. The Court of Appeal should device a method where the judgment given especially in political cases in a particular division will be circulated to all other divisions, especially when it comes to the interpretations of the electoral laws. The world has moved from the days of cyclostyling judgments; you can just upload your judgments so I think it is a good thing the CJN has called attention to it and I am sure the leadership of the Court of Appeal will do the needful to address the issue. The easiest way is such that any political matter that is decided by any division of the Court of Appeal is circulated to other divisions so that the justices will know the thinking of their brothers in the other divisions.
Your brother silk, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN has said the 180 days limit for election petition is inadequate. Do you agree with him?
It is the constitution that prescribed the time - 180 days for tribunal, 60 days for the Court of Appeal. I read the interview of my brother, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, with whom I agree on most issues but, I disagree with him on this issue of 180 days.
Why do you disagree with him on this?
Jurisprudence basis behind legislation all over the world is to discourage peoples’ resort to the court. I have said it before that before you can approach the tribunal, there must be something in the electoral law that says if you don’t score up to a certain percentage in the election you cannot go to the tribunal. Somebody scored 40 in governorship election he wants to go to the tribunal, they are just congesting the courts and my argument is that the 180 days have worked so far. We started this thing since 2011, if it were in the past, before the constitution was amended to be 180 days, some of the governorship cases would still be in court now.
Is that not a national embarrassment? That over a four- year period we are unable to conclude a governorship or senatorial election matter. So, I am for the 180 days. If you genuinely believe that you have a case, you should do everything you can within the 180 days - that is six months. The Yoruba people have a saying that ‘if it takes you many years to prepare how to get mad, when are you going to get to the market as a mad man?’
For me, I am for 180 days. Chief Olanipekun, I respect his views tremendously, I read the interview but, I don’t agree with him. I have always been insisting that 180 days is enough. We have been doing it. Chief Olanipekun and a few of us have been involved in this thing. We know we can do it if we are serious about it because we have to choose between what was happening in the past, when simple election matters take four years, the Aregbesola vs. Oyinlola matter in which I was involved, took three and half years, were you people not embarrassed?
For me, I believe that the 180 days is enough. In the United States there is less time than that. You saw what happened during the period of Al-Gore against Bush. That tells you the jurisprudence behind electoral matters- the court stopped the counting of the votes. If it were in Nigeria, it may set Nigeria on fire. In the Al-Gore matter, the Supreme Court stopped the counting which clearly was showing that Al-Gore may win at the end of the day because you have to defend the polity itself from the ambition of one or two people. I believe 180 days is enough, let us make the best use of what we have.
Is there any governorship election issue now left in any court, I mean the real election challenging the votes?
There is none. In fact, it took nearly one year to finish at the tribunal, finish at the Court of Appeal, finish at the Supreme Court and we now have pre-election matters which I also believe would be addressed.
Do you think the Supreme Court is congested?
I pity the Supreme Court. A few weeks ago when I was there, they listed almost 19 pre-election matters for just one day and that happened throughout the week. The Supreme Court normally sits in chambers on Wednesday, they don’t sit in open court. In order to clear the backlog of election matters they started sitting on Wednesday. We have to appreciate the fact that they are human after all and they sit every week even before now. The Supreme Court will sit on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday in open court. On Monday they would take civil matters, on Tuesday they take civil matters, on Thursday they take criminal matters on Wednesday they sit in chambers to consider non-contentious applications and on Friday they deliver judgments and there is no average week that they won’t reserve minimum of five or six judgments that will be delivered in three months.
Can’t you see the Supreme Court in the United States? Except on serious constitutional matters none gets to the Supreme Court and is there any injustice in that? And all the nine justices of the Supreme Court in the United States sit as one panel so all these arguments that the Supreme Court should be sitting in different panels are not acceptable. Are they not the same set of people who will be sitting in panels even if they come to the states. Are you following me? People say it as if when they start sitting in panels they will be able to do all the cases. That is not true.