Prof. Muhammad Mustapher Akanbi who is now a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) spoke with AMEH EJEKWONYILO on why he wanted the prestigious rank as well as his late jurist father’s dreams for Nigeria, among other issues.
Sir, how would you describe your feeling now that you have been conferred with the rank of SAN?
I feel great; I feel so happy and I also feel grateful to Almighty God who has made today possible.
Coming from a privileged background of an accomplished jurist father (late Justice Mustapher Akanbi), why did it take you a while to get elevated to the rank of a SAN?
Yes, I come from a privileged background in the sense that my dad was a renowned lawyer and he also made the Bench and rose to the level of the President, Court of Appeal. Unfortunately, he is now late. So, I met law at home because I came into this world and met my dad as a lawyer, and tried to follow his footsteps. And by the grace of God today, I’m a professor of law and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Even though it has not been as easy as one would have expected.
People would say that his father was the President, Court of Appeal, but it took a while. That’s normal because it’s a privilege not a right. When you apply, you put in everything that is required and pray for God’s grace. And if you get it, if God grants you His grace, you become SAN.
Arguably, most lawyers who aspire to the prestigious rank do so for the monetary benefits that come with the privilege, but you have just told well-wishers and friends that you are dedicating your SAN rank to the masses (ordinary people). Why are you doing so?
I did not make SAN because I wanted to make money; in my life and in my family, our motto is to give our all in the service of God and humanity.
I have aspired to get this silk because I want to use it to help the less-privileged in the profession and the society. So, it’s not about making money; it’s about being in a position to help others, and that was why I said I dedicate it to ordinary people; people who work quietly in their small cocoon trying to make it in life; I will be available for people like that. That is the reason why I studied law; to help the less-privileged.
How long have you been at the Bar?
I was called to the Bar on March 22, 1995. That means I’m 23 plus at the Bar.
Why is the rank conferred on only professors at the academic category?
Yes, when you are a professor, you have reached the peak of your academic career and you have become a leader in the academic field. So, if you want to become a leader in the professional field, the profession requires that only the best in academics will have the opportunity of aspiring for silk. So, it’s part of the criteria that you must have demonstrated great abilities and you must have also shown leadership. And by being a professor, it means that you have demonstrated leadership.
The CJN talked about the desperation of lawyers to get the SAN rank by going to the length of forging court judgments. What do you make of that?
Well, I think those who get desperate and resort to untoward things, do not believe in God, they are not patient.
When you apply for the rank of SAN, it is not automatic. Like I said earlier, it is not as of right. So, why should you be desperate for something that is a privilege? You have people that have applied for more than eight or nine times and they have not gotten it.
How many times did you apply before you finally got it this time around?
I attempted it four times even though I wished I got it immediately, but God’s time is the best. But it will not get to a level where I will get desperate for anything in this world, that would make me to engage in something unbecoming of my status, first as a lawyer and even as a human being. If you come from a good home, you would not engage in things that are untoward.
Your late father led a crusade against corruption in Nigeria. With the current state of affairs in the country in respect of the fight against graft, what do you make of it?
Well, you know corruption is one big issue in Nigeria. It’s hydra-headed. And you can see that even though the government of the day has made fighting corruption as one of it’s mantras, it has not been easy. It has consumed some of the government’s appointees.
To fight corruption, you also have to be very clean. It is unfortunate that some of the current members of the government have not also been clean, and you can hear people say, “fight corruption but you must also ensure that you are not corrupt.”
Corruption is something that must be fought by everybody. Like the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter onnoghen said, we should not leave it to government or institutions alone. Individuals in the society must fight corruption. If you make it a situation whereby it’s government that is fighting corruption and not the people, it will not succeed. We all must engage in things that would help reduce corruption; we must follow due process, we must follow rule of law, we must not be desperate because it’s desperation that makes people engage in corruption.
But do you see national consensus on tackling corruption in the country?
One thing is clear to me. Even though it will appear as if corruption has become so big that it will be difficult to reduce, I tell you, things are improving; people are now afraid of stealing openly. Before there was impunity; people stole openly; I’m not saying that people have stopped stealing but at least they now hide. Impunity is when you are doing it brazenly. So, that part of it that is brazen is gradually being reduced. It is going to take a long time because it did not start overnight; you know people have benefited. Some few have enjoyed corruption not knowing that the consequence of what they have enjoyed is what has brought Nigeria to this level. But it is in our best interest and the country to have a national consciousness. Corruption must be reduced to the barest minimum.
Where things work, corruption will reduce. Where you have less corruption, things will work. There is a relationship between corruption and lack of infrastructural development.
So, we should all endeavour to fight corruption. Not only as a government but as citizens. That was what my father fought for even on his death bed. We only hope that his dream for Nigeria where corruption would be reduced, would one day surface sooner than we even expect.
Is your father’s dream for Nigeria being realised today?
I believe we will get there because nobody is enjoying the current state of things. Did you follow the election in Osun? Did you see the level of political consciousness? If you were told that in this country, there would be a difference of 300-plus in a governorship election, you would say it is not possible.
What is happening now shows that Nigerians are becoming conscious of happenings around them. When the people are conscious of their rights, it’s a good step forward. People used to celebrate corruption, but when you know that it is not in your interest to engage in corrupt practices, that in the long run it will affect you, then you would not vote for people like that. That way, individuals who seek elective office would know that they must be accountable to the people.
As the 2019 elections draw closer, what should Nigerians look out for in terms of electing a credible leadership?
For me, I would not advise people to vote for political parties; the Nigerian electorate should vote for individuals who can deliver. You know, some good people seeking political office may not be able to get into the two dominant political parties in the country (the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressive Congress).
Public office holders must be accountable to the electorate. It’s our right. In fact, it should be taken to the level of human rights; the right to vote. And our votes must count. When people know that they can be voted out, then they will sit up.