Nigeria must restructure – Emiaso

Miakpo Emiaso is so many different things all at once to so many different persons. He is a journalist having graduated from the prestigious Nigerian Institute of Journalism in 1980 and a legal practitioner having been called to the Nigerian bar and enrolled at the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1989.
Emiaso has been a lecturer of Press Law and Ethics at Times Journalism Institute, Lagos before being sworn in as President of the Delta State Area Customary Court in 2004 – a position he graciously retired from in December last. He is now back in private legal practice having opened his chambers in Oleh with connections in Lagos and Port Harcourt.
A prolific writer, he has published four full length law books all of which are doing very well in the market both locally and internationally.
On the lower bench of Delta State where he served, he excelled so much that in December when he retired, the social media regaled him with so much positive comments about him. Of him, one lawyer wrote:
“Miakpo Emiaso Esq. … is the best Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria we never had. He is the Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, of our era”.
The National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association said of him on Facebook:
“Lawyers like him should have been begged to join the High Court bench. He is still an asset to the legal profession”.
And, in the estimation of another lawyer, “He gave more than he was employed to give”.

Miakpo has been a school proprietor. He is a happy family man. Isoko Mirror went to talk to him at his Oleh residence upon his retirement. He was vintage as usual and we publish below excerpts of our chat with this cerebral but very humble Isoko son.

Congratulations my lord on your well-deserved retirement
Thank you so very much. And thanks for honouring me with this visit.


How are you enjoying your retirement sir?
Enjoying? I don’t think there is anything to enjoy other than … well, yes, that I don’t have to force myself out of bed every working day to get to court. Now, I get off bed at my own time every morning when my body is willing and cooperates with that decision.
Beyond that comes the ordeal of retirement. You have nowhere serious to go to. Nothing serious doing.

And, worse of all, no credit alert at the end of the month whereas bills continue to mount and must be paid. We must feed. The car must be fuelled and maintained, children’s school fees must be paid, the phones must be charged, generators fuelled and maintained, social demands must be met etc etc.

But my lord you are on pension and …
Yes I am supposed to be entitled to be paid a gratuity and a periodic pension. But I am told none of that is to come until about four years from my retirement date. And that is if I am lucky and my papers are attended to in time.

Why is that so sir?
The reasons are not too clear to me but it has to do with paucity of funds on the part of government and that persons who have retired years before me are yet to be paid so we are all in a queue. Those being attended to currently are those who retired in 2016 I understand. I retired in December of 2019. So I got at least about three years to wait before it will get to my turn.

So how are you surviving?
Am I surviving? Am I?

But you look fit and well my lord. I’m sure there are things you could do to eke out a living while waiting for your pension.
You are right. Yes I am fit and healthy. I thank God for that. And yes there are so many things I can do for a living. But the opportunities have not as yet come. I am repackaging myself to go back into full blown private legal practice but my greatest craving is for an opportunity to lecture in a university law faculty anywhere safe in the world or the law school and be able to contribute to the making of young lawyers.
So, if you know them, assist me in telling them to come get me. I am waiting, ready and willing to serve. And, you know, it is not a very good commentary on our system if, after serving the state for this long and especially at this level, one is reduced to depending on charity for basic needs of survival.

Sir, you were once a school proprietor, a journalist and a private legal practitioner before ending up on the bench. Why the switch in professions?
You have omitted the fact that I have also been a teacher and a lecturer. I taught in Emore Grammar School, Oleh between 1976 and 1977 and was law lecturer at the Times Journalism Institute in Lagos.
And I have also been a taxi driver! In Lagos. I have done all sorts of things to survive. And, by the way, you could say I have also been a banker because when I left Emore Grammar School I joined Barclays Bank, today’s Union Bank, briefly before my admission to the Nigerian Institute of Journalism came.

Yes. I founded a private school then in Lagos where we prepared students for their school certificates, the General Certificate of Education (GCE) and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations. Peakmans Academy. I founded this school in 1979 while I was a student at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism out of a necessity to survive and a strong desire to impart knowledge. This school paid all my university and Law School fees. Not that they were much compared to today’s outrageous figures. The Law School tuition fee then was just N250.00. Everything put together then including dinner fees, examination fees and development levy, was just a little above N500.00. But it was good money. Money that had value.
I continued running the school after my graduation from the NIJ and working as senior reporter with the Nigerian Observer in the Lagos Office covering the National Assembly. In our days then, editors came to the institute to interview us and offered employment so that we moved straight from school to employment. I think the situation today is quite different as graduates roam the streets for years without jobs.

I left the Nigerian Observer and joined the New Nigerian Newspapers as a senior sub-editor while still running my private school and also serving as the West African Correspondent for a maritime magazine published in the United Kingdom entitled Seatrade magazine.
In 1984, I gained admission to the University of Ife to read English and Literary Studies but I could not meet up with studying full time so far away from Lagos given my various engagements coupled with the fact that as at this time I was already married with three children.
I was to give up the admission when I got a lucky break. The Lagos State University was established about this time by the Jakande administration in Lagos State which needed take-off students and invited applicants who already had admissions in other universities but desired to change to the new Lagos State University.
I applied for law as the new university had no English and Literary Studies then and was admitted as the 18th student of that university’s faculty of law.
So, you see, I never really set out wanting to change from journalism to law but I had to very reluctantly resign from the New Nigerian to concentrate on my law studies as I couldn’t cope with both the tediousness of law studies and working as sub-editor as well as running my private school.
I eventually became a lawyer and started a private practice when no editor was willing to take me on back in journalism. A diploma in journalism with some good experience on the beat and on the desk! And now a lawyer!
I ran my law practice alongside running the private school. But it didn’t work. It just didn’t work so I had to give one up and concentrate on the other. I gave up the school to concentrate on legal practice for being more dignifying. I have never been convinced that was a wise decision.

So, that is the story of what you call my switch from one profession to the other.
Do you regret your progression from teacher, school proprietor, journalist, private legal practitioner to being a judge?
No. I wouldn’t say so. Not quite. But something tells me that if I had remained in journalism, I would have been a household name by now and if I had continued with my private school, I would have been financially wealthy by now.
But I ain’t complaining. I give glory to God for everything.

But you are wealthy sir!
Yes. I am. But not financially. Not materially.

How do you mean sir?
See! This is where I live (indicating with both hands spread). After giving 17 years of the most productive part of my life to government serving the people! Persons who are materially wealthy don’t live in this sort of environment. Not that I am complaining o!
Because when I look back, I see myself as blessed. Blessed of God. I am a retired civil servant having risen to the very apex of government salary structure for regular civil servants. I look back and I see great men and women whom I had the rare privilege of having taught in their formative years. Professors, doctors, legal practitioners, accountants, big time successful business individuals. Name it! That is the pride of a teacher. His real wealth. The other day, a former student of mine whom I could hardly remember got in touch with me on Facebook to eulogise me. He had risen to be Honourable Attorney-General in one of the states! Money does not buy that sort of thing.
I have, while on the bench, published four full length legal texts. These books are now being cited in courts and legal research everywhere! And for seventeen years on the bench I dispensed justice to and among persons who must be appreciative and would wish me well.
So, you see how and in what sense I am wealthy? On a Facebook discussion thread recently, a senior learned colleague who is also a friend of mine based in the UK comically described me as an ‘aje butter’. It was my first son who rose up to defend me that: ‘He is not an aje butter anything. My dad is an accomplished aje kpako’! Although I do not know what the young man really meant by that, but I think that is more like it.

Your family is reputed to be the first family in Isoko to have produced four legal practitioners from the same household. What is the magic behind this?
Magic? It is the Lord’s doing and we give all the glory to Him.

We hear two of these your lawyer-children are also senior military officers.
I thought this interview was to be about me.

Yes sir but …
So, let’s talk about me. Leave my children out of it.

Alright your honour. I am sorry. If you have the opportunity to live again, which of these professions would you stick to?
Hmmmm! That is a tough one. God blessed me with so many different talents. As a child, I toyed with things creating and constructing. This made my parents think I would be an engineer. In the secondary school, I was best student in Principles of Accounts and it was thought I was going to become an accountant. I am blessed with what is referred to as a good microphone voice and at the NIJ I won the best student prize in broadcasting. But I wish I could sing. So in my next life, I would consider being a musician or a furniture maker, a carpenter. Two areas where creativity is the word.
But if your question restricts me to choosing between law and journalism, I think I would stick to law. Law enriches your mind a lot more.

In our chat with you in 2012 when you published your book on landlords and tenants, you declined answers to our question relating to the judiciary for obvious reasons. Now as a retired judge, what is your take on the Nigerian judiciary especially in the face of the recent cases concerning the office of the APC national chairmanship?
Okay. It is true I was always reluctant to make comments about the Nigerian judiciary while I was serving. And, yes, I am retired now and out of service but honestly I still consider myself as part of the judiciary. I should therefore be very circumspect in making comments about that constituency especially if negative as any comment on the recent appeal cases involving the APC chairmanship crisis and indeed the various judgements on the recent elections can be anything but positive.

Sir, you have been an insider. And it is the general belief that the Nigerian judiciary is corrupt. Is the judiciary corrupt sir?
Every facet of the Nigerian society is corrupt without exception. The judiciary is part of the Nigerian society. But there are quite a number of very upright individuals in the Nigerian judiciary. So I will say that the Nigerian judiciary is not corrupt but there are, unfortunately, corrupt elements within the Nigerian judiciary.

Forgive my impudence sir but were you corrupt in your time sir?
(Prolonged laughter)
That is a very leading question. In my time in office, I would most likely have disallowed that sort of question. Even if I had been, would you expect me to answer you and say “yes”?
But seriously, I would rather you directed that kind of question to persons who either worked with me as court staff or lawyers who appeared before me and even those whose cases I decided for a fair answer to that question. Some of my friends and relations who at different times were approached by litigants to reach may also be of some help to you in this regard.

Were you not tempted with offers at any time? Didn’t litigants make effort to reach you?
Of course, there were attempts. And I want to believe I made for myself a few enemies in this regard. To all such persons, let me use this opportunity to apologise. I didn’t mean any form of disregard. It was just in the line of duty and in furtherance of a strong personal resolve to do justice according to law with only my conscience and God the Almighty as my guide.

Can you share with us one or two of such experiences where attempts were made to reach you?
Noooo! That won’t be necessary really. You see, I had a standing rule of not seeing lawyers in chambers, or welcoming them at my home. If counsel insisted on seeing me, and just so that I don’t offend him by making him think I am snobbish, I would come out in the open court hall and attend to him in the full glare of everyone. This disarms him from making any attempts.
There was this case involving two prominent Isoko personalities one of whom had been a commissioner in the old Bendel State whom I respected very highly and who tried to reach me. I had to indulge him by inviting him to my church harvest. He was livid with anger when the judgement was not in his favour. I was told he threatened to bring hell upon me. He went on appeal to the High Court and lost.
My apologies sir.
I had a job to do and I did it the way law and my conscience required me to do it.
In another case, a very close and dear benefactor of mine who is a blood relation called me up on phone to show interest in a matter before me. The next day, I transferred the case. Again, my brother, I hope you understand I was only doing a job. It does not take away my gratitude to you as I will remain eternally grateful for all you and your wife have done for me.

There was also this gentleman who was a money lender and I think an estate agent of sorts. His line of business generated quite a large number of cases. He is no lawyer and never engaged one. But he was good at doing his cases that I had developed some respect for him. He understood procedure.
One Saturday morning, this gentleman showed up at my house at Ughelli. My wife answered the door bell and she came to announce to me that Mr. X wanted to see me. The name rang a bell.

“Mr. Who?” I was immediately angry and I marched to the door to confirm. It was him alright.
I barked at the poor soul that my wife was shocked and I, too, was surprised at myself.
“What do you want? Who told you where I stay? Don’t you ever come here again”!
The guy practically melted.
Let me use this opportunity to apologise to Mr Money Lender. I am sorry sir. I didn’t mean to be rude or insolent to you. It is just the job and I was firmly resolved about such things.
I learnt to live and plan within my legitimate emoluments. I realised that if one got used to receiving things from litigants and lawyers which is an irregular source of income beyond your control, you cannot make realisable plans and projections and when these kind of money does not come when you need it, you are left worse off.
For a judge who accepts such things, he destroys his reputation and the very essence of his office. You lose respect before the very persons for whose sake you compromise the trust of your office and they would go out there and boast about it. So what you thought you did in secret is in fact public knowledge.

There was this estate agent who got for me the place I lived in Ughelli. I was sitting in Patani then. I was moved to Ughelli after some years and this agent made my court a rendezvous for all his recovery matters. The first year, he came to visit me at Christmas and dropped an envelope. It was also my birthday. I had known him long before he started appearing in my court. I was paying my rent to him. So I accept his gift. N5000.00.
The next year, he came with a friend of his and they dropped a joint envelope. I didn’t touch the envelope for months. It was just there on top my old school TV set. One day someone came seeking financial assistance of N12,000.00 from me. I wanted to assist but I really didn’t have. So I remembered the envelope. N10,000.00!
The third year, these guys came again. This time, I summed up courage and gave them a lecture why they shouldn’t be doing what they were doing explaining that it is not that I do not appreciate their gesture but that I am uncomfortable with it as, one day the story may be told somewhere in languages which do not represent the exact truth of what happened. They stopped.
The average Nigerian is corrupt and believes everyone else is corrupt. The Nigerian does not believe that cases are won and lost fairly in court. It is believed that whoever won a case was merely the highest bidder. This is not true in so many cases. It is not true in my case. I never perverted justice. Not for any reason. Not for a pot of porridge. Never!

Are you saying sir that there is still hope for the common man in Nigeria with the current state of the judiciary?
I read your mind and I know what you mean. The Nigerian judiciary today is certainly way short of what is expected of it especially at the upper echelons. But this phase will pass. No one lives for ever. This will pass. And the common man will remain.

Your honour, when you retired a few months back, you were described by some lawyers in the social media as a misfit for the position you occupied and that you were more suited for the higher bench given your brilliance and industry on the job. Are you pained that you didn’t make it to the higher bench?
(A smile) Another leading question! Of course I am pained but I glorify God for everything and I am happy. Very happy.

What is the reason, you think, why you didn’t make it to the higher bench? Didn’t you apply?
Let us just say it didn’t please God that that should happen. No. I didn’t apply. I didn’t even know the modus for applying. But I tell you, the intrigues involved in getting such appointments these days is such that I just do not have the requisite chemistry for it. So much boot-licking and underhand means. I am just not cut out for such things!

Was it that you were not interested?
Of course I was!

Did you enjoy your experience on the bench? Any sad moments or regrets? Are there things you didn’t quite like or enjoy?
I glorify God for every single day I spent on the bench. It was okay. Regret? Well, may be in the sense that the jurisdiction of the court restricted the scope of my legal mind. But for the fact that I challenged myself into writing, my mind would have gone completely closed. Thank God I am out. One of my immediate challenges now is to broaden my legal mind. So much happened in legal practice especially at the High Court level while I was away. I need to catch up on things.
Things I didn’t quite like? Well, let me say that I went through some rather unpleasant experiences with some of the persons I worked with both superior and subordinate. Thank God all that is now over.

I had brushes with a few of the lawyers who appeared before me. Some thought I was too tough. Others felt I was arrogant. In fact, one told me in open court one day that I was “intellectually arrogant”. I was reported and discussed here and there. In fact, one petition written by a poorly baked female lawyer took me before the judicial service commission! But that story is for another day and another for a.
The good thing is that these persons always came around to realising over time that they were not exactly correct and that they misread me.
Then I think the quality of staff engaged for the courts needs looking into. So also is courts infrastructure. Delta State deserves better courts infrastructure. The working environment for judges in the state is way way too poor! Especially at the magistrates and customary court presidents level.

In your assessment, is the Nigerian state working?
No. The Nigerian federation is not working and will never work if it remains the way it is. This country has no option but to restructure and give up this lopsided federal system where the tail wags the dog. This phoney federation is too top heavy whereas the people in whom power resides are neglected at the bottom. This must change. And the time is now.

Politics for you?
Yes, heavily. But not the current type of self-serving bread and butter politics being practised by our present day politicians. I am in for politics for the common good of society where rules and laws are made to be obeyed by all and sundry and policies are implemented for the greatest happiness of the greatest number of the people.

You are from Uzere. Uzere is embroiled in a never-ending conflict. What is your take on what is going on in Uzere?
I have no take. I have no comments.

Are you unconcerned with what is going on?
Of course I am deeply concerned. But I have nothing to say on the conflict itself except perhaps to emphasise that the ordinary Uzere citizen – and I am one – deserves his peace. He deserves a peaceful environment in which to live his normal life and no one should take that from him. Let me add that I profoundly appreciate all those who are earnestly working to bring about a resolution of the conflict. May God bless them.

Are you giving up writing?
No. Not likely. I have taken off some time after my last publication. You were here to discuss my book entitled Landlords and Tenants under Nigerian Laws in 2012. In 2017, I published my latest work entitled How to Recover Properties of Dead Relations – Letters of Administration under Nigerian Laws.
I still have in focus my work on family law which I hoped I would publish in 2014 but for some reasons I have failed to meet that deadline. That work deals with the rights and duties of husbands and wives and even of the children of the marriage and by the grace of God it will come out soon. I am also flirting with the idea of fiction writing.

Is the book on Letters of Administration in the market now?
Yes. Since 2017. But as you must know by now, I no longer print hard copies of my works. All my works are now available only online at Amazon who do the printing upon direct orders. They print and mail to the buyer saving the author the expense of printing and which is passed on to the buyer upfront.

Why so sir?
We do not have an honest books industry in Nigeria. The booksellers are dishonest so, this becomes convenient to both author and ultimate buyer who orders for his book from the comfort of his office or even bedroom online and he gets his book delivered to him at his given address. It is cheaper for the author in getting the intellectual work to the reader and saves the author all the bad blood which bookshops and booksellers cause authors.

What would you have done differently now compared to some of your discussions in the past?
I don’t think there is anything I would do differently except to improve on all I have done if the opportunity to do them again comes up. I am generally grateful to God for all he has done for me. Here is the son of a nobody who has become somebody worth interviewing by a newspaper editor! Who would have thought …! God has blessed me immeasurably and I am grateful.

What is your advice generally?
Advice? Advise who? To my children I say remain focussed on your set objectives as you journey through life remembering always that not everyone is your friend and that there is a friend who could be closer than a brother. Never forsake God and His ways. Work for your own bread and earn your own coins. Never take what does not belong to you as, ultimately, your best friends are your ten fingers. They will never fail you. Tell the truth always. If you will not be able to own up and admit it, then do not do it.
And to the Nigerian youth, I say: Wake up! Wake up and retake this country which belongs to you from the present leaders who have no real interest in the future of the country where the youth belong.
The Nigerian youth must spend more of his time reading serious matter about his history and how his society is governed and spend a lot less time on escapist material on social media and movies.

Thank you very much for your time my lord.
Thanks for coming to talk to me. I hope you will come again.

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