Chief Richard Akinjide is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria ( SAN). He served in the First Republic as Education Minister and later became Attorney General and Minister of Justice in the Second Republic administration of President Shehu Shagari. In this interview, the founding member of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the party will do well in future
Looking at the way politics is being practised today in Nigeria, what would you say is responsible?
There is a big difference between what we went through in those days and now. At the time I went into politics, there was no money in politics, but today politicians have a lot of money, which was unthinkable in those days and I do sincerely hope that all the money being earned by these politicians be reduced drastically, so that we can face the development of the country.
There were a lot of Nigerians who were good in politics those days and people I looked up to were the late Aminu Kano; Adegoke Adelabu in Ibadan; Chief Obafemi Awolowo; Alhaji Chief S.F. Durosaro; Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was number one politician in Nigeria in those days and one of the leading politicians in the whole of Africa. In fact, if I am to pick the most leading politician in Africa in those days, I would pick Nnamdi Azikiwe as number one. He was a very rich journalist and a very great politician. I joined his political party when I started off.
The country operated parliamentary system of government in the First Republic, which you were also part of, as well as the presidential government under President Shehu Shagari. Can you compare the two, and which one will be most suitable to Nigeria?
The two forms of government (parliamentary and presidential) are excellent. What is bad is some politician’s attitude to politics, yes we moved from parliamentary system to presidential system, and frankly, I don’t see anything wrong in that, and in fact, presidential system of government is even good for us, because to become president you must secure votes throughout the country, instead of the narrow and small exercise in your locality as a prime minister. Which is not good enough.
There is no problem with the type of government that you are running, except for the people’s attitude to money, which is the difference. If people do the right thing; we should cut our coat according to our size and only spend money according to what we earn.
Of all the continents of the world today, Africa is the poorest, and African citizens are also the poorest and the least developed, why should that be the case.
Does this underdevelopment in Africa have any link to the kind of money we spend in the course of prosecuting politics?
Definitely, it is part of it. I have no doubt about that. The money we spend on politics is just too much. The generality of our people are in poverty, no roads, no water, no light and education is in shambles.
What is your view on the clamour for lawmakers to be on part time basis to reduce cost?
When I was in politics, it was on part time basis, I still practised my law when I was a member of the parliament. The only time you do it full time is only when you become a minister. Which was a full time job. And as a minister at that time, the currency was in pound sterling and a minister earned 3,000 pounds a year, and your money was paid into your bank account, that is all. So, the bank and everybody in the parliament knows how much you earn.
In Nigeria today, there is something known as constituency projects, where money is given to lawmakers to execute projects in their constituencies, is that right?
That is nonsense. If you are going to have project, to develop, that is the duty of the ministers to identify and must be approved by the Parliament and accounted for. When you tuck away such project, you hide it away from the public. The Parliamentarians had no need to be developing something except to approve money and leave the rest to the Executive. They should be accountable to the public. The public should know how much they spend and what they are spending the money on.
Recently, the Chief Justice of the Federation (Justice Onnoghen) suggested the setting up of special courts to try corruption cases. What is your view on that?
The Chief Justice of Nigeria is excellent and whatever he wants to do, we are going to support him. I have the greatest respect for him. He has a very good background, a good development, and whatever he wants to do, the profession will support him – completely. But, I don’t believe in setting up of Special Courts, the courts we have now are adequate. What is critical is that those who are going to be judges should be people of highest integrity.
I don’t believe there should be Special Courts, if you talk of Special Courts, you are in effect passing vote of no confidence on the present Court, which is not true, the present courts are very good.
What should we do to make the present court arrangement work better?
Pay the judges well, pay them in time, give them good homes or if they can afford it, let them live in their own homes. The integrity of judges in America is extremely high, the same thing in England and France, as well as, Switzerland, Japan, Australia and Canada, among others. We should not be a special island on our own, rather we should be part of the best in the world.
You are still a member of the PDP?
Yes, I am still a member of the PDP and I am very proud of the political party, whatever name we call it. Because you have some of the best Nigerians there and I hope it will continue to be like that and in other political parties too, there are good Nigerians and good statesmen as well. This is the way it’s done in England, America and other civilised societies.
Why is it that in spite of these good people and good statesmen in PDP, for 16 years, the party has not been able to turn the bad fortunes of Nigerians for good?
You don’t expect only one political party to turn the fortune of Nigeria. But I want to assure you that those I know in the party are doing extremely well. And I am sure they will continue to improve it.
But people have argued that the 16 years of the party in government was a disaster to Nigeria. How do you feel?
No, I don’t believe that, those who talk of disaster are saying rubbish. We have not experienced disaster in that sense at all.
So, it is your view that PDP did its best within the 16 years?
Yes, they did and I have no doubt about that.
The last time I spoke with you, the PDP was on the brink of collapse, but by virtue of the last Supreme Court ruling, it seems the party is now back on its feet?
I have the privilege of meeting Makarfi, he is a gentleman and I believe he will put the party on the right footing, structure and the right attitude. And the future of the party is great and limitless. I have very great hope for the future of PDP.
From your optimism, one is tempted to ask if you are hoping that the party will come back in 2019?
Definitely, I have no doubt about that, PDP will come back in 2019.