Collaborating for effective dispensation of justice in Nigeria (2)

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By Femi Falana

Lawyers in Diaspora: Collaborating for effective  dispensation of justice in Nigeria (2)
CLEARLY, participation of Nigerians in the Diaspora in Nigerian electoral process is not only a civic responsibility; it is a fundamental right of every Nigerian of voting age.

This way, the BNLF will be performing one of its important functions as body of social engineers and developers of the civil society.

Lawyers as social engineers should be problem solvers and ones, in the words of Roscoe Pound, “whose calling is to make a social process or activity achieve its purpose with a minimum friction” because law is the most highly developed form of social control.

In order to drive home the importance of lawyers to the development of the civil society, Harold Lasswell and Myres McDougal in their 1943 article posited that law schools should train lawyers to be social engineers, offering “conscious, efficient and systematic training for policy-making.”

Femi Falana, SAN

Partnership of NBA and BFNL: As social engineers, lawyers in Nigeria work under a very complex and archaic legal system that requires the support and collaboration of our colleagues abroad particularly, your eminent group.

According to Dr. Okechukwu Oko, Doddon-Hooks Professor of Law, Southern University Law Centre, Baton Rouge, Louisiana in his paper entitled: Lawyers in Fragile Democracies and the Challenges of democratic Consolidation: The Nigerian Experience, “The legal profession is often the most dominant and the most influential profession in Africa and is non peril in influence over policy, defence of rights, and the pursuit of justice.

Because of their status, special skills, and training, lawyers have the opportunity and indeed the obligation to help attain the nation’s political imperative of consolidating democracy.

Pragmatic constraints

Unlike their colleagues in stable democracies, however, African lawyers face a phalanx of harsh realities and pragmatic constraints that severely limit their ability to deepen democracy, or even to perform their traditional functions.

Africa’s distinctive problems include political instability, social disequilibrium, insecurity, corruption, ineffective and inefficient public institutions, a declining economy, and the lack of a democratic culture.”

In Nigeria, leadership failures and the resulting social disequilibrium constrict opportunity for professional practice and disable lawyers from pursuing their professional calling with zeal and creativity.

Impediments lawyers in Nigeria face: The most serious impediments that lawyers in Nigeria face as they seek to deepen democracy include: “(1) the general insecurity that makes “normal law practice” precarious; (2) judicial corruption; (3) inefficient and ineffective public institutions; and (4) a lack of democratic culture.

Lawyers reach their fullest potential when the rule of law thrives, the society is stable, and where institutions, especially the judiciary, function honestly, efficiently, and predictably. Lawyers cannot function effectively as lawyers if the judges cannot function effectively as judges.

They also cannot be especially effective agents for democratic reform when they live and practice in a cultural milieu dominated by violence, anomie, and antinomianism.” Okon- Lawyers in Fragile Democracies and the Challenges of democratic Consolidation: The Nigerian Experience,

In the eyes of the storm: Despite these institutional challenges, however, the legal profession and the Bench have been in the eyes of the storm in recent years as there is a general perception by the general public that Nigerian lawyers have not been very effective in helping to curb the excesses of the politicians and assist in the fight against corruption due to the lackluster way in which some of these cases are being handled.

For instance, it is generally believed that the trials of some former governors who are facing charges of corruption and abuse of office have been stalled by lawyers due to series of frivolous motions including stay of proceedings, adjournments, and interim, interlocutory and perpetual injunctions by their lawyers.

There was also the James Ibori case which was jumbled by senior lawyers in Nigeria with covert support of a section of the Nigerian judiciary only for nemesis to catch up with him in Dubai, UAE before he was deported to the UK.

Although the 171-count charge of corruption, fraud and money laundering filed against him was dismissed by Justice Marcel Awokulehin of the Federal High Court, a British judge convicted and sentenced him to 14 years’ imprisonment on the strength of the same evidence. Chief Ibori who had pleaded not guilty in Nigeria had to change his plea of not guilty to the charges before the British court as he could not manipulate the legal system in the UK.

Unlike the Nigerian lawyers involved in the case their British colleagues saw themselves, first and foremost, as officers of Her Majesty’ Court. Hence Chief Ibori was properly advised to terminate a bad case and plead guilty. More so, that his wife, sister, mistress and lawyer had been convicted and jailed for assisting him to commit the offences.

Another case that should be of interest to Nigerians is that of Mr.  Erastus Akingbola, CFR. Following his removal as the Managing Director of the Intercontinental Bank plc in 2009 by the Central Bank Governor, Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Akingbola fled the country and stayed briefly in the United Kingdom.

He, however, returned to Nigeria to face the myriad of criminal allegations levelled against him. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission promptly slammed money laundering charges of N10 billion against him at the Federal High Court in Lagos.

The case was dismissed in his favour due to what the trial judge, Justice Clement Archibong blamed on lack of diligent prosecution. The other charge of N47 billion fraud filed against him has almost been concluded as it was adjourned to November 15, 2012 for address.

But the trial judge, Mr. Justice Wale Abiru has been appointed a Justice of the Court of Appeal by President Jonathan on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council.

Thus in line with the Supreme Court case of Ogbunyiya V Okudo (1979) All NLR 105, the trial judge has ceased to have jurisdiction.

The legal implication of his Lordship’s appointment at the tail end of the marathon criminal trial is that the case has been technically resolved in favour of the defendant. In other words, Akingbola has been discharged a second time due to the manipulation of the criminal justice system by the National Judicial Council made up of senior judges and lawyers.

While the competence of and integrity of Justice Abiru as a member of the Court of Appeal cannot be questioned, his Lordship’s elevation ought to have been delayed for a couple of months or thereabout, to allow him to conclude the Akingbola case and similar matters in the national interest.

Conclusion of civil cases

Having returned from exile in the UK to face his trial Akingbola cannot be blamed for the inelegant and irresponsible manner the State has handled his cases. Having regard to the fact that a British court has concluded the civil case filed against Akingbola in London and ordered him to pay £654 million to Access Bank Plc the shoddy prosecution of the criminal cases in Nigeria has once again called to question the commitment of the Federal Government to fight corruption.

Instead of wasting huge resources on the prosecution of criminal cases programmed to fail the Federal Government should stop exposing the country to ridicule and playing on the collective intelligence of Nigerians.

The list of corruption cases that have been compromised by the legal system is endless to the extent that according to a recent survey conducted by theEconomic and Financial Crimes Commission and National Bureau of Statistics with the support of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the “Nigerian courts of law receive the biggest bribes from citizens among all institutions in which corruption is rampant”.

The survey particularly stressed that “though bribery in the judiciary was less frequent than in many other agencies, it required the biggest transactions”.

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