The Failure of the Colonial Legal System in Nigeria: A Rhapsodic Passacaglia on a Legal Theme

Recent unbecoming developments in the Nigerian judiciary have proved me right in my long contempt for the British Colonial legal system that was foisted on Nigeria by British colonial authorities, in order to facilitate colonial administration between 1863 and 1960.

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 colonies.

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 political despot.

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 Courts

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 currency!
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 failed.

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 jurists.

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 Law.

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! T

he 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 OAU Campus.

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 in Nigeria.

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 heavens fall!

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?

Written by
Emmanuel Omoh Esiemokhai
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