In this interview with BAYO ADEOYE, Chukwudifu Akunne Oputa, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court widely regarded as the Socrates of the Nigerian bench, gave a careful explanation on why Charlyboy is not his son. This is among other national issues the justice had raised in this interview. The excerpt
You have been quite for a while now, we used to know you as the Socrates of the Nigerian Bar Sir, what have you been doing?
Resting. That is what retirement is all about, resting after having an active life and trying to get ideas from writing books. Since I retired, I have written two or three books. As you can see, I have them on my desk here and many others in my Library. You need to read them. They are good.
These days, you shuttle between Abuja and Oguta, what is good in your village?
Have you been to Oguta? If you have been to Oguta you will not call it a village. Well, it does not matter what you call it, Oguta is Oguta. That’s where I am born and you cannot run away from your birth place. I grew up there and went to school there before I went to college in Oguta, CKC to Yaba higher college to Achimota, from where I proceeded to Britain.
How old is the Justice now?
Well I am almost 92. I was born in 1920. Don’t I look it? Most of us were born but our birth was not recorded but all I know is that I started school in 1931. Then you cannot be admitted into school until you are eight years or so, your hand must touch your ear on the other side over your head, otherwise you have not grown enough to go to school.
If you were to change anything in your life, what would it have been?
Well… Life is activity as I said before, and every day you want your tomorrow to be better than today. Nigeria has changed a lot but we still need some changes in many areas of our lives. Take the school for example; the schools need to be more purposeful so that the same people who can stand on their feet, otherwise looking for government job can be self employed. People should learn to be self sufficient, depend on themselves and that will be facilitated by the type of training you had. If from the early years you are trained to be on your own, stand on your own two feet, and you don’t rely on mummy or daddy for everything, then you have a good thing, that is why I like Charles’ son Charles Junior. He is on his own. Sometimes he doesn’t agree with me or his father. He goes on and you will think he is crazy. But later you will see his initiative. So you don’t carry it too far.
You have been faithful to one woman all through your life, what has been the magic.
Well, first of all I am a catholic and our religion does not allow promiscuity and I think every religion does not allow that. It may or may not be easy; no two human beings are the same. If you want to live with somebody who is like you, you will find out that there is nobody like you. You are yourself he or she is himself or herself. That makes it necessary for the word ‘accommodate’. If you don’t accommodate one another, you can’t live together. There may be many things your wife does that you don’t like or many things you do that she doesn’t like. If you are honest with yourself, you will admit that these are mere weaknesses, so when you go relapse into those weaknesses, it is your duty to pull her out, when it is your turn, she pulls you out. You must let her know that the road she is taking will lead her to destruction, especially when there are kids around. The attention of the father and mother will be concentrated on bringing up those kids in the fear of God. My name is chukwudifu, which means there is God supervising what is happening, nothing happens by chance, to you it is an accident, and to him it is pre designed. So we should learn to love and to forgive, remember the story of the prodigal son.
There have been different crisis looming in the Judiciary lately even with the amount of money being pumped into the Judicial body, how would you compare the present Judicial system and that of the old?
Every age has its own headache, its own problems. Corruption is not a Nigerian word, it is an English word, they have it there too, it is all over the place, it is in America, in England in Africa, in Asia, each group has a word for corruption, you can’t have a word for what does not exist. What is corruption? If you do a piece of job and you are paid money for doing it and you are asked to do it because, you are qualified to do it, is not corruption, but if you are not qualified and want to do it you are corrupt, if you look at the meaning of corrupt- to make nonsense of what used to make sense. You corrupt by paying for what you should have got without paying; the only thing you had to pay then was your qualification. You don’t have the qualification so you give money to somebody who pretends that you have or sometimes you go and hire someone to go and take the exams for you. Having taken the exam for you, will he do the work for you? So corruption is a terrible thing is a fact of life and every society has been fighting against corruption in one form or the other. It is not only by giving money, there are many ways of corrupting the system. So corruption is a very dangerous thing, every government every institution, every church will pitch a battle against that social-ill called corruption. Once corruption sets in, you can never distinguish between who is right and who is wrong. Now, coming to the judiciary the law is judge not so you cannot be judged. If you are a judge and you are corrupt where do we go from here? Then everything has come to a halt. If the legislature is corrupt, you go to the judiciary for redress, if the executive is corrupt you go to the judiciary for remedy, if the judiciary itself is corrupt where do you go from there. That is a question where do you go? To God whom you don’t see? To history which is past? To the future that hasn’t come? Today is here, so let us use it.
You headed the human rights Commission set up by the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, yet up till today the recommendations made from the panel are yet to be implemented, have you at any point asked questions why?
The human rights commission was like an exercise to bare ourselves out and see how deficient and naked we are, to more or less appeal from the inside, to your soul. Why are we human? Have we got rights? Where do we get these rights from? All these are very fundamental questions, we were all created, if you are a Christian, from the image and likeness of God. Well, my name is chukwudefu, there is a God if there is a God who crested us, he must have created us for a purpose. What is that purpose? Each man has to find out why he was created, has to find out how do I achieve? At the end of that creation, how do I make a positive impact on my age, on my nation, on my family, if you do that you are living a footprint for those coming behind to follow. When you travel in the desert everybody coming behind you will see where you have gone, through what you have gone to reach where you are. The commission was set up to enable us evaluate our naked past and to create a purposeful future. I think it worked for us.
With the insurgence of Boko Haram in the country, the fuel subsidy scam and the indictment of some politicians, how would you rate the present government?
What is Boko Haram to start with, what is it? we have to know what it is and what they are fighting for before we can say, they are fighting for a just cause or they are fighting unjustly. What is Boko Haram and what is their complaint, is their complaint genuine? Or are they all trouble makers. You see, when something happens you need to be cool, quiet, go to the root, having gone to the root then you will know and say my brother come, you want to reach here? Yes, this road you are going will not reach here, take this road, it is better than this road. But just in the air, without analysis, you can not condemn or praise. We have to see what their complaint is. Are they justified? If the complaint has any substance, how can the government mitigate their fear that this is going to end this way? Then you have a dialogue. When we act in unison we will achieve the peace we search, but when we are fighting separately, it is not coordinated. Well, when a movement starts, you may have radicals who will hijack this movement, it is good to get the level headed leaders separated from the radicals and then you and these level headed leaders will now fight against or convince the radicals. Every movement has within its rank those who want to make some capital out of what exists. Society is an ongoing thing; a stake may be this way because of this or that. Have asked to know what the head ache is? Is it related to the negligence of the people at the grassroots? If the headache is money, then try and see if you can fund the local government. But if the headache is money but it is squandered, try and check the leadership, make sure you put the correct people in the correct positions. If a man is corrupt whether he is president or vice president or anybody, he is corrupt.. Expose him, don’t let the small fries suffer when the big ones are enjoying their corrupt wealth in America. If a president is corrupt charge him to court put him in jail and that will ring a bell that whether you are president or laborer, you are under the same law. However, if you have one law for the rich, one law for the mighty and one law for the low it will not work.
When Nigeria degenerate into religious war then the future is bleak, there is nothing capable of dividing a people like religion, it can unite and it will do nobody any good. The history of the world is full of wars of religion. When you look at these wars, what caused them and how they were ended, you can never justify the amount of blood lost because after each war, no war has ended or settled on the battlefield. After killing ourselves, we come to the conference table. This goes to tell us that our agitation must not always be coloured in religion. War is bad. Whatever the Boko Haram group wants can be taken care of if you employ the best possible strategies towards reconciliation.
Were you at any point against Charles’ Choice of Career?
Every father wants a son to succeed him. I practiced as a lawyer; I had and still have a very big library at home. You will want somebody to take over from you. When we couldn’t get him to do law, we let him do what he wanted to do if that was goin to make him happy. Today, he is happy, and we are all happy with him… Take husband and wife for instance, they are two different human beings, and they can’t live together until they are willing to accommodate one another. They may be certain things I do that my wife doesn’t like, they may be certain things she does, I don’t like, so also your child. At first, we were only concerned about what we wanted him to become, but not really concerned about what he wanted to become. I think every parent should look at both angles.
What do you think about your son Charlyboy today?
Point of correction, Charlyboy is not my Son. I think Charlyboy is a character. I don’t have any child as Charlyboy, I have Charles Oputa. I don’t allow Charlyboy into my house, but I have a caring son called Charles. Maybe, you will need to rephrase your question again.
What do you think of Charles today, what kind of child is he?
He has his own will, he has been doing what he likes, he has been happy with what he is doing and that is the aim of life. If you are satisfied, contented with the day to day existence, then you are considered a happy man. You may be very rich and happy but not satisfied, but if you are in an atmosphere you like and you have a wife who agrees with you like Charles, then you are lucky. My son is very understanding, loving and shows so much concern and respect for me and her mother. That’s all we need from him at this age.
He has lofty visions seemingly impossible to actualize. He pursues those visions with a single-minded doggedness, exhibiting an amazing capacity to build a team and drive them relentlessly toward the realization of his dreams. His advice to the youths to never let anybody kill their dreams is his personal mantra which rules him. I salute that.
How did you feel attending a different church with Charles and his wife?
It depends on what you call church. There is only one God and everybody is trying to reach out to that God. Religion is just a way to him; there may be different religions but just one God, the same God. There was a time people were fighting over religion, saying this is the proper religion and the other is not. But on the last day, we will be judged by an impartial judge and usually the question is, “when I was hungry you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, you gave me to drink, I was naked and you clothed me and I was homeless, you took me to my home. Now come into the home of my father” That is the verdict, he did not say I was a roman catholic, I was a protestant, I was a Presbyterian, I was a Muslim. No!, I was hungry and you gave me to eat. And look at the story of the Good Samaritan, the person that helped was the enemy, a Samaritan that stopped. In other words, we are quarreling whether you are protestant or a roman catholic. This is stupidity, what is necessary is to be a Good Samaritan. So, when Charles told me we were going to church, I did not hesitate because I knew he was taking me to a good church, and frankly, I really did enjoy myself. Being the Good Samaritan that my son is, I had to go and share in his love for the youth. At last, we were all very happy, both myself and the mother.
What is it that you respect about your son?
He has his own will and if you try to bend him and discover that it is not easy, then all you need to check is to see whether what he wants is for good or not. If you do, you will see the sense in it, and then you will probably join him. Most importantly, I respect him for who he is today. Having told me that he was going to get me to like his own kind of profession, and he did it, is what everybody must emulate.
Will you say he has accomplished more than you have?
Life is an ongoing struggle and you don’t judge until the end of the struggle, obituary usually portrays what we have been while we were alive and then says whether you have succeeded or not. Normally, you don’t have an obituary of the living, so it is at the end of the journey that you can assess what and what have being his contribution, input. We are all expected to contribute something to life. If you have contributed nothing to life then it is too bad. Charles has tried, but you can only assess our achievement when you read our obituaries.
Do you think he is living before his time?
Every revolutionist lives before his time; otherwise you are not a revolutionist. If you want a change from what used to be to what you think will be, you are a revolutionist. Life is not stationary. Life is moving and if you don’t move with time, time won’t wait for you; it will move on and leave you behind. So in this dynamics of change, our part is to see if we can interpreted the course of events, see if we can tread safely on this or that or that part to see if we can reach the goal which we all want to achieve. He is a revolutionist, hence he sees past now. He is ahead of many of us. I think I know where he is going.
What was he like as a child?
Well as a child he had his own will, as I said every father wants a son to be like him, but he did not want to be anybody, he wanted to be himself, and he showed that early in life. You choose a school for him; he will go to the school he wanted to go to and not the one you wanted him to go to. You choose a career for him but no, he wanted what he wanted for himself, otherwise a son of a lawyer now a musician is not something to easily comprehend, but that is what he wanted because of his will power. Truly, he is living up to it.
What are the similarities between you both?
Well, every child takes part of the father and part of the mother. It is difficult to see a child who is just himself, what he does will be part and part of what he learnt from his father or what he inherited from the father. Blood is very precious; you can’t beat blood once you have the same blood running in people. Part of me is in him, that may or may not be the dominating part, what people see is the dominating part, they see him as a musician but he is playing a role like a character in a field, when he comes home he is different. It is no longer the Charly boy you used to see, he becomes Charles Oputa not Charly boy. So we are all playing roles on the world stage, Shakespeare said, “the entire world is a stage and all the men and women are players, we are all playing a role. All we ask is that you play an honorable role so that when you exit, when you have ended playing your role, you will be remembered. Charles is so hard working, and that was a big concern for me until I recalled what I used to do in my younger days and even until I retired from active professional life and service. Hard work and tremendous focus are certainly our common traits. He is also just like me; a man with a strong attachment to his family. He just does not joke with that. I am also very proud to note that like me, he has zero tolerance for injustice of any kind. That is again related to a deep compassion for the less privileged and down trodden.
Why do you live with him?
I live with him because I relax better with him. I rest better here. I think my house is his house, and his house, mine.
At this age, you are still very strong. You stood in church even when some people got tired and sat down, we saw you dancing and singing happily, what is the secret of your strength?
That’s as a result of my early training. We had a very- very drastic training as youths. when we were at Achimota college, we used to run every morning, a mile, then you finish and go to the gym, you wake up at six, do your morning run, you run one mile, gym and then go to school. Some of us continued after school and it has paid off. At about 90, I can stand up for an hour. When I am delivering lectures, I don’t sit down. You stand to a point that you don’t know you are standing; you are more involved in the thing you are doing that you forget you are standing. That’s the will power; the will is stronger than the body, if you have a strong will, it will carry the body along. If you want the body to lead, it is up to you.
Would you now say you have lived a fulfilled life?
As I said earlier, Obituary comes usually when you die. It is then that they will assess what you have done. It is not for me to write a recommendation about myself, it is for you people journalists to say whether ‘A’ has lived a full life or not. I may think I have, but I have not, so it is for others to judge not for you. Satisfaction is not a word that belongs to us here, it is up there. If you reach the end of the journey, then the word satisfaction applies, but down here, we still want to do this and that. Man is a very queer animal, you want’ A’ I give you, you don’t want “A” gain, when you get ‘B’ you want “C” and it continues in that order.
The Oputa Panel no doubt contributed towards strengthening our democracy, have you been recognized by the government for your effort so far, are you still playing some advisory roles?
I have the CFR award, that is the highest award so far, and that is enough recognition. However, when a judge dances with the government in almost everything, he is not a good judge then. You need to wait for the government to seek for your advice. If they do, you can freely offer it, especially when you are retired. You don’t go lobbying, they come to you.