Just-retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, on Monday, amended his previous pronouncement that human rights can be suspended whenever national security is threatened.
Mr Rhodes-Vivour, who bowed out as a Justice of the Supreme Court after clocking the mandatory retirement age of 70, on Monday, had expressed the opinion as a judge of the Court of Appeal in the case involving former leader of Niger Delta militant groups, Asari Dokubo, in 2006.
The retired jurist who spent a total of 27 years as a judge of three levels of court, including the Supreme Court, delivered the lead judgment of a three-man panel of the Court of Appeal which denied bail to Mr Dokubo on the grounds that he constituted a threat to national security.
The Supreme Court, in a decision delivered on June 6, 2007, upheld the judgment by also denying Mr Dokubo, bail.
Incidentally, the judge who delivered the lead judgment of the apex court over 12 years ago is now the current Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad.
The Muhammadu Buhari administration has adopted the judgment as justification for the continued detention of even persons that have been granted bail by courts.
Mr Rhodes-Vivour was seated to the righthand side of Mr Muhammad, while reviewing his opinion about the judgment on Monday.
The retired judge said on Monday that no one’s right should be denied unless national security “is visibly threatened”, a departure from his previously held view that such rights can be threatened even with “real likelihood” of a threat to national security.
He argued that no one should be deprived of his rights on the whims and fancy of anyone on authority.
He said, “In Dokubo-Asari v FRN (2006) 11NWLR (Pt. 991) p324, as a judgment of the Court of Appeal, I said that: ‘When national security is threatened or there is real likelihood of it being threatened, human rights or the individual rights must be subjected or well taken care of.”
“National security must be visibly threatened before anyone can be denied his rights.
“No one should be denied his rights on the whims and fancy of anyone in authority.”
Corruption, election petitions, other issues
Mr Rhodes-Vivour also addressed other issues of national importance, include corruption, elections, criminal convicts, governor violating laws on tenure of elected local government tenures, among others.
On the issue of corruption, Mr Rhodes-Vivour, cited Genesis 6:12 of the Bible to back his argument that “corruption exists in all the countries of the earth”, including Nigeria, but added that what should be done quickly “is to reduce it drastically” through the building of “credible and transparent systems.”
On election matters, Mr Rhodes-Vivour suggested that due to the difficulty petitioners encounter in proving electoral fraud, the Electoral Act should be amended to put the burden of proving the legitimacy of an election on the Independent National Electoral Commission.
He said, “Elections in Nigeria are protracted. The stakes are too high. Consequently most elections are usually resolved by courts, simply because most politiians are never satisfied with the results announced by the regulatory body charged with the conduct of elections(INEC).”
He recalled his previous opinion in Udom v Umana 2016 case where he stated that the petitioner “is always saddled with “difficult requirements and procedures.”
On the basis of that, Mr Rhodes-Vivour said on Monday, “It is suggested by me that the Electoral Act should be amended to shift the burden of proof to INEC to prove that it conducted a fair and reasonable election.”
‘Some convicts’ sentence should be suspended until Supreme Court judgment’
The jurist also argued that some convicts’ sentence should be suspended until they exhaust their right of appeal.
Mr Rhodes-Vivour, however, did not explain how to determine in which case the convict’s sentence is to be suspended.
“I am of the view that certain convicts should be allowed to serve their prison terms only after their appeals are exhausted,” he said, adding that the reason “being that some convicts serve several years in prison before their appeals are heard and decided.”
“Their appeal may be found to be meritorious. They are then released. No companies paid for the time spend in prison,” he said.
‘Supreme Court’s docket full to breaking point’
Representative of the Body of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Adegboyega Awomolo, noted at the valedictory court session on Monday that the Nigerian Supreme Court “is perhaps the most laboured in the world.”
“The docket of the Supreme Court is full and almost at a breaking point. In the last few months every workday, all the justices of the court have been stressed out with a view to clearing the backlog of appeals from 2010 to 2020,” he said.
Mr Awomolo therefore called for a review of the condition of service and welfare of justices of the court “with a view to motivating and boosting their morale.”
He specifically suggested that Justices of the Supreme Court should be given a modest accommodation in Abuja or any state capital of their choice upon retirement, “after all governors who served for only eight years are by law entitled to a house in Abuja and their state capitals.”
He also called for the amendment of the Constitution to reduce the number of appeals that are filed at the apex court.
“The appeals coming to the Supreme Court of Nigeria must be with the leave of the court as it is the practice in the United Kingdom, Canada, Austria, India and South Africa.”
He added, “It is sad that every frivolous and unimportant political issues still occupy and waste the precious judicial time of this court. All political and such minor unimportant matters must end in the Court of Appeal.”
He also called on the CJN to amend the rules of the Supreme Court to enable the court to deal with interlocutory applications in chambers and through electronic mediums without necessarily taking them in the open court.
Eulogies for Rhodes-Vivour
The CJN led others to praise Mr Rhodes-Vivour who ended his 45 years of legal career, 27 years of which he spent as a judge, on Monday.
Mr Muhammad said Mr Rhodes-Vivour “has diligently and meticulously offered unquantifiable services to his fatherland and the generality of humanity in different capacities for several decades.”
The CJN added, “He is physically energetic and never gets frightened by any form of challenges that may confront him.
“His amiable disposition and reticent outlook have literally made him a gentile tiger in the temple of justice.”
The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata, said the retired jurist “demonstrated the virtues of focus, patience and hard-work in handling al the undertakings in which he found himself a participant.”
He added that as result of this, the retired judge was “conferred with the prestigious National Merit Award of the Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as a mark of his renowned fame and excellence.”
On his part, Mr Awomolo said Mr Rhodes-Vivour “worked patiently with humility, climbed the ladders of ranks in the Ministry of Justice in Lagos State” till he reached “the zenith of judicial career as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”
Born in Lagos Island on March 22, 1951, Mr Rhodes-Vivour retired at 70 years old on Monday bringing down the number of Justices of the Supreme Court from 19 to 18.
Mr Rhodes-Vivour obtained his law degree from the University of Lagos in 1974 and proceeded to the Nigerian Law School after which he was called to bar in 1975.
He stated his legal career at the Lagos State Ministry of Justice as a pupil counsel in 1976 and later state counsel in 1976.
He was Director of Public Prosecution in the Lagos State Ministry of Justice between 1989 and 1994.
He was appointed Lagos High Court judge on February 18, 1994.
He was appointed Justice of Court of Appeal on April 25, 2005.
He became a Supreme Court judge on September 16, 2010.
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