By Emmanuel Elebeke
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has resolved to petition the Nigerian Bar Association to begin the process of disbarring the duo of Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the information minister and Alhaji Abubakar Malami (SAN) the federal Attorney General from practicing as lawyers in Nigeria.
Rising from its emergency executive committee’s meeting in Owerri, Imo State, HURIWA stated that the action of listing persons whose cases are in courts as if they are already convicted does not just violate section 36 (5), which is the constitutional plank of fair hearing but has rubbished the credibility and integrity of the judicial arm of government and graphically depicted Nigeria to the rest of the civilized world as a “banana Republic”.
Confirming the position, the National Coordinator Comrade, Emmanuel Onwubiko affirmed that the systematic undermining of the integrity of the judicial institution which the releases of the looters’ lists constitute, becomes even more disturbing when it is clear that both the number one law officer and Attorney General of the federation and the minister of information being lawyers have seriously committed serial professional misconducts which are even frowned against by the extant professional ethical codes of conduct which is a statutory law of the federation of Nigeria.
The Rights group said it has already drafted a petition to the hierarchy of the Nigerian Bar Association asking it to professionally disbar the duo.
“We are of the firm beliefs that the duo of Lai Mohammed and Malami who have decidedly rubbished the legal profession and lampooned the constitution should be barred from ever practicing unless and except the Nigerian Bar Association has become an all comers’ affair whereby professional rascality is tolerated.
‘‘We believe that the duo as cabinet ministers who are both lawyers ought to have known the weight of allowing such outrageous violation of naming as criminals, persons who in the eyes of the Law are deemed innocent until contrary proofs are adopted and determined by competent courts of the law must be sanctioned in the severest of ways in line with extant professional codes.’’
Speaking further, the National Director of Media, Miss Zainab Yusuf, quoted Section 6 (1) of the constitution as saying: “The judicial powers of the federation shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established for the federation.”
Section 36 (5) of the constitution which guarantees fair hearing to all litigants states as follows: “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty, provided that nothing in this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes upon any such person the burden of proving particular facts.
“It is our firm belief that the minister of information who directly published the damaging lists of looters and the justice minister who kept calm in the face of this professional misconduct by the information minister of the same government are guilty of professional misconducts covered under the legal practitioners’ Act.”
The group argued that by rushing to persecute certain persons as looters even when the federal government being the prosecutor has not successfully obtained conviction violates Article 3 (a) and (d) of the legal practitioners Act; chapter 207, laws of the federation of Nigeria which states thus: “(a) during the trial, the lawyer should always display a dignified and respectful attitude towards the judge presiding, not for the sake of his person, but for maintenance of respect for and confidence in the judicial office.
It contended that it is both the right and duty of the lawyer fully and properly to present his client’s case and to insist on an opportunity to do so.
‘‘He should vigorously present all proper arguments against any ruling he deems erroneous and should see to it that a complete and accurate case record is made. In this regard, he should not be deterred by any fear of judicial displeasure or even punishment.
‘‘In no circumstances should the lawyer reveal the confidences of his client; a lawyer ought not to engage in the exchange of banter personalities, argument or controversy with opposing counsel. His objections, requests and observations should in every case be addressed to the judge presiding.”
The Rights group said the disclosure by information minister approved by the Justice minister listing out litigants as looters also violates Article 4 (b) of the legal practitioners Act which states as follows: “It is not candid or fair for the lawyer knowingly to misquote the contents of a paper, the testimony of a witness, the language or the argument of opposing counsel, or the language of a decision or a textbook; or with knowledge of its invalidity, to cite as authority a decision that has been over-ruled, or a statute that has been repealed; or in argument to assert as a fact that which has not been proved, or in those jurisdictions where a side has the opening and closing arguments, to mislead his opponent by concealing or withholding in his opening argument positions upon which his side intends to rely.”
HURIWA also pointed out that the duo in publishing the lists of looters are in breach of Article 27 of the legal practitioners Act which averred that: “Newspaper comment by a lawyer on pending or anticipated litigation may interfere with a fair trial in the Courts and otherwise prejudice the due administration of justice. It is to be avoided save in exceptional circumstances. A particular case may possibly justify a statement to the public, but it is unprofessional to make it anonymously. An ex parte reference to the facts should not go beyond quotation from the records and papers on file in the court, and is better avoided entirely.”