Lawyers Urged To Offer Free Legal Aid To The Poor

The Director General of Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACON) Mrs Joy Bob- Manuel, has appealed to lawyers to offer free legal services to the poor in the society who could not afford to secure the services of legal practitioners.

Bob- Manuel said that free legal services, also known as pro bono, would also boost government’s efforts to decongest the prisons, as poor defendants would now have access to lawyers to defend them.

The term pro bono is a Latin phrase that means `for the public good`. It is a term used to describe the rendering of free legal services by lawyers to indigent persons.

Bob- Manuel, who spoke in an interview, stressed the need for lawyers to offer free legal services to the poor, as it was a way of giving back to the society.

She said that though the LACON has the mandate to provide free legal services to the indigent, it lacked the manpower to effectively cover the country.

LACON was established by Decree No. 56 of 1976, now Legal Aid Act, 2011, with the mandate to provide free legal representation, assistance and advice to indigent Nigerians.

According to Bob-Manuel: ”To be a lawyer for whatever background is a privilege, and therefore we must carry the poor along.

”That is the main reason behind pro bono, giving back to the society what society have given you through service to those in need of it.”

She said that the Council in 2017 signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), with the Nigerian Bar Association(NBA), to strengthen pro bono.

”We are both determined to help, where we don’t have the number, they (NBA) have and we both have decided to give this service to the poor.“

Bob-Manuel said that since the signing of the MoU, “reports from the states showed a great improvement.’’

She added that the collaboration was easy, because the NBA already has a Human Rights Desk.

”This move is like a renewed call, and we also acknowledge that there have always been a relationship between the NBA and LACON.’’

Bob-Manuel appealed to the media to help the Council create awareness that could help indigent ones come forward for pro bono services.

Besides the MoU, NBA signed with LACON to boost pro bono, it also signed a similar one with
Justice Research Institute, a non-governmental organisation.

The objective was the same- to promote free legal services in the country.

The NBA President, Mr Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), who signed on behalf of the association, said that encouraging pro bono services was a strong strategy in rebuilding confidence in the legal provision.

“We have in the last year and a half, pursued aggressive public interest engagements in a number of areas and so this entirely falls within that broad framework.’’

Mahmoud, at another forum, pledged his support for pro bono services, noting that it would greatly decongest prisons and help reform the judicial system.

He said that NBA was ever willing to partner relevant stakeholders to deliver on pro bono legal services across the country.

He said that one of the criteria for considering candidates for Senior Advocates of Nigeria, was contributions made directly or indirectly in the areas of promoting pro bono legal services.

Mr Ikem Isiekwena, Executive Director, Justice Research Institute, said that the MoU was signed to address inequalities and ignorance of Nigerians on their rights.

“We live in demanding times with an increasing population and a significant number of the populace impoverished, who also do not know their rights or how to access these rights.

“So we can only expect that the interaction within this space will lead to the need to protect rights where there are obvious violations.”

According to Isiekwena, the objective is to deepen pro bono practice within the legal profession across Nigeria.

This he said was by establishing a system that leveraged private sector resources to help increase access to legal resources for more disadvantaged individuals and groups.

Some Abuja-based lawyers who spoke in separate interviews, expressed their willingness to offer free legal services if it would guarantee somebody’s freedom.

Mrs Chioma Anusiem said that curbing injustice completely would be an uphill task, but that offering free legal services was a way of minimising the effects of injustice in the society.

She said that, she is ever willing to offer free legal services to the needy, adding “if free legal services, otherwise called pro bono services, can help a citizen, I will gladly offer my services.”

Mr Femi Babatunde said that every lawyer should offer pro bono legal services considering the extent some influential people in society could go, to oppress the less privileged.

According to him, there are several cases where innocent people languish in detention because they have no legal representation.

“I offer free legal services, not because I want recognition from the NBA, but because I am a Catholic, and the Catholic Church harps a lot on charity work, so I do it as charity.”

Ms Patricia Agbo said that she was not averse to pro bono legal services, particularly if it was for a good cause.

“For a good cause, I will gladly take on pro bono cases, particularly a situation where my services will ensure freedom for someone.

Important Parts Of Law In Nigeria

By Debbie Obasa

There are four distinct legal systems in Nigeria, these include English law, Common law, Customary law, and Sharia (Islamic) law. In Nigeria however, there are five important laws.

  1. THE CONSTITUTION

This is the most important law in the country, it is the law from which all the other laws in Nigeria gain their validity. Therefore, this is the grundnorm of the legal system that need to be aware of. The importance of this law is probably the reason why you hear people use the expression ‘that is unconstitutional’ so much, because if something is unconstitutional, it cannot stand. The constitution also contains all the fundamental human rights of Nigerian citizens.

  1. THE CRIMINAL CODE/PENAL CODE

These laws are where most (not all) of the criminal laws are. It contains provisions on what actions constitute a crime, and what the penalties are for committing the crimes. It contains crimes like murder, rape, armed robbery, fraud, witchcraft (yes, witchcraft is a crime in Nigeria) and much more. Some crimes have their own specific laws because of the importance or technical nature of those crimes, for instance, money laundering is specifically criminalised under the Money Laundering Act. However, most of the laws are in either the Criminal Code or the Penal Code.

The reason why there are two different laws is because the Criminal Code is for most of the States in Southern Nigeria, and the Penal Code is for most of the States in Northern Nigeria. There are certain key differences in the law which reflect the cultural differences between the Northern and Southern Nigeria

  1. THE ELECTORAL ACT

This is the law which regulates how elections are conducted in Nigeria. The law does not deal with the eligibility for office and terms of office of political office holders (that is contained in the Constitution), however, it does contain all the other elements of the electoral process in Nigeria. For example, it deals with establishment of a National Voters’ register, and procedure for voters’ registration, directions on conducting political rallies and election campaigns, the establishment, staffing, and management of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which is the organisation that conducts the elections in Nigeria.

  1. THE LABOUR ACT

The Labour act is the primary legislation in Nigeria which deals with the relationship between an employer and its employees. It contains quite a number of provisions which govern this relationship, and also all the regulatory processes applicable for employers. Some important provisions in the Labour Act are provisions that employees must have a written contract and are entitled to payment of wages, provisions against forced labour, and issues like maternity leave.

  1. LAND USE ACT

The Land Use Act is the primary law in Nigeria that deals with the ownership and transfer of ownership of land. The law is quite unique in the sense that it is more ‘important’ than a regular law. Before this law can be amended or repealed, there is a protracted process, in fact, it can only be amended using the same procedure that would be followed in amending the Constitution. One of the important provisions in the Land Use Act is that all land is owned by the Government – that is why when you want to buy/sell land you need ‘Governor’s consent’.

 

Judges, The Law And Our Democracy By Reuben Abati

To expand the democratic space in Nigeria and to ensure the legitimacy and stability of our democratic process, the rule of law, perhaps the supremacy of the law, anchored on constitutionalism and a progressive, liberal and developmental construction of the law, may be our best bargain, the latter in particular in the face of a seeming conversion of the democratic dispensation to a military regime. The judiciary, I mean the judex, is at the centre of this proposition.

In more direct language, what I am trying to draw attention to is how in recent times, despite the fact that we are under a democratic dispensation, there has been a seeming militarization of the political space, by the incumbent political administration at the centre. The scope for human freedom has been reduced, the government of the day complains about hate speech but it is, ironically, the main author of hate language against the same people whose welfare and security it is supposed to safeguard. It is a government that is intolerant of the opposition and which has shown an inordinate capacity for malice, hypocrisy, and intimidation. This more or less sets the tone for everything else. This is the reason it has lost so much goodwill and why many of its committed supporters who dreamt of its potential messianism are regretting their own initial optimism.

The last time Nigerians found themselves under this kind of siege was under military rule, and particularly under the rule of the same man who is now Nigeria’s incumbent President,  a soldier turned civilian President. The militarization of the state in whatever form, compromises democratic ethos. We are in a democracy but the relevant institutions seem to be in disarray.  The executive is at loggerheads with the legislature in Abuja. The judiciary has been harassed so much many of its members have been accused of corruption and thrown into the dock or disgraced out of service.

We are therefore, in a local season of McCarthyism whereby every possible opposition figure is labeled a witch, a thief, and harassed or blackmailed.  The only saints in Nigeria at the moment are those who join the ruling party, or who go to great lengths to heap the blame for all problems on the immediate past administration. In this typical season of opportunism and sycophancy, saints may become devils and vice versa, throwing the country into the vortex of a moral turpitude.

But I single out the judiciary for qualified praise. The country’s judiciary has not escaped the harassment by an Executive wielding near-monarchical powers, even beyond the letters of the Constitution. Its members have been targeted for intimidation and harassment, and whereas it is true that there are bad eggs in every sector and that there are indeed rogue judges, the pattern of intervention in the judiciary on the grounds of the anti-corruption campaign smacks of a witch-hunt. But whereas legislators are divided, politicians are rushing to the ruling party in search of protection, and the civil society has been weighing its options, and everyone else seems to be seeking protection, the judiciary in spite of its travails remains, in our estimation, the only institution that is still relatively standing firm. When a proper stock-taking of this period in Nigerian history is done, it may well be discovered, that the judiciary was foremost in standing firm against intimidation.

I once wrote a Man-of-the-Year piece in which the judiciary was specially commended for its efforts in protecting Nigerian democracy and the rule of law. This was during the tumultuous season of the protest against the annulment, by military fiat, of the outcome of the 1993 Presidential election, and the aftermath. Before then, the Nigerian judiciary during the Fatayi-Williams-Eso-Irikefe-Oputa-Karibi-Whyte era had spoken the truth from the Bench and sought to protect Fundamental Human Rights against assault by the then military establishment.  Under the present dispensation, we may well be facing the third critical era of the judiciary in terms of its willingness or otherwise, to resist military-era like intimidation.

Our emphasis is on the appellate courts, and the principle: “judicia posteriori sunt in lege fortiori”, that is “the later decisions are the strongest in law.”  Whereas the High Courts of Nigeria have acquired a reputation for recklessness, and lack of thoroughness, the appellate courts have most recently served as a good advertisement for the appellate structure of the Nigerian judicial system.  For a fact, the most celebrated cases relating to the nation-building and democratic system in recent times have been cases dealing with corruption and the travails of politically connected and exposed persons. Many of these cases, perfunctorily treated at the inferior courts level, have been thrown out at the appellate level, and in most instances what is projected is the supremacy of the law, even if the grounds may be technical.

A rigorous review of such cases may slip into the error of pedantry and seem unsuitable for journalistic commentary but I find particularly interesting a recent case at the Court of Appeal, Lagos Judicial Division, re: Adaoha Ugo-Ngadi vs Federal Govt of Nigeria, presided over by their Lordships: Mohammed Lawal Garba JCA, Joseph Shagbaor Ikyegh, JCA, and Yargata Byenchit Nimpar, JCA. The appellant had been charged before and tried by the High Court of Lagos State, along with two others on an eight-count charge including conspiracy to obtain by false pretence, obtaining by false pretence, conspiracy to forge documents, forgery, altering a false document, conspiracy to alter a false document and so on.

On January 13, 2017, the applicant, who was 2nd defendant, along with the 1st defendant, was convicted of the offences charged while the 3rd defendant was discharged and acquitted.  They were sentenced to a total of 69 years imprisonment to run concurrently in respect of each term for the respective offences. They were also required to return to the Federal Government of Nigeria the sum of N754.9 million being an overpayment for oil subsidy, purportedly due to their company, Ontario Oil and Gas Limited.

The gravamen of this case is in relation to the right to fair hearing, as guaranteed in Section 36(1) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution. The right to fair hearing is a fundamental right in court proceedings and a major plank of our constitutional order. The apex court had however since ruled that it is nonetheless not a right that can be resorted to in a frivolous manner or as a magic wand. Having taken this into consideration, the Court of Appeal Lagos Division, in determining the merit of other issues in the case, upheld the rulings of the lower court on Counts 2-4, and duly found the applicant guilty, but the court raised a major constitutional issue when it turned the eyes of the law on the propriety of proceedings, and whether or not this constituted a breach of the Appellant’s right to fair hearing.

Delivering the lead judgment, concurred to by his brother Justices, Mohammed Lawal Garba, JCA, observed: “The issue of the right of a party to fair hearing in a case is so fundamental and crucial in the conduct of all judicial proceedings of a court of law and the administration of justice generally because of its constitutional guarantee and so a substantive issue of law that can be raised in an appeal against the final and interlocutory decision of a High Court, sitting at first instance, as of right by dint of the provisions of Section 241(1) (a) and (b) of the Constitution as altered.” The key issue in this instance about the propriety of proceedings and fair hearing is whether or not a defendant must be present in court throughout the whole of his trial, and whether his or her absence in the event of a joint defendant would amount to a breach of the principle or right of fair hearing. The applicant argued that the absence of her co-defendant at the lower court throughout the whole trial amounted to a denial of her right to fair hearing.

The Court then held, relying on the decided cases of Adeoye vs State; State vs Lawal, Asakipiti v. State and Ogujubu v. State as well as Section 208 of the ACJL, 2011 to the effect that it is mandatory that a Defendant shall be present in court throughout the whole of his trial including the delivery of judgement and sentence by a trial court.

Our take is that their Lordships in this case have taken a courageous stand in defence of the purity of the law, and in upholding the spirit of the law, and the constitution as the controlling force of state actions. Emotional and moralistic responses are beyond the purview of the law. When the judex insist on legal purity, especially under the prevailing circumstances in Nigeria, the standard response is for them to be exposed to blackmail and name-calling.

But the judex would fail in their duty, in the face of routine assault on fundamental rights, if they submit to the logic of the herd. Where fundamental rights are involved, it is better and more useful for the purpose of expanding the democratic space to intervene on a positive note. The case cited is not the only one of its type under the present dispensation; consider for example, the Orubebe case, the El Zakzaky case and the Dasuki case. Here as in other cases, we see the judiciary, as the Third Estate of The Realm, resisting the attempt to cage and intimidate it by a partisan Federal Establishment. The grant of bail in the last two cases for example have been recklessly ignored nonetheless, and this is one other reason I speak of qualified praise. It is the duty of judges to always stand up against the pretensions of the King, particularly as the prosecutorial agencies appear to be busy dancing to the body language of the King.

While the judiciary may be making some effort, more at the appellate level, in reaffirming its independence, even if through the protection of the purity of the law, the same cannot be said of the lawyers in the court of law. Every lawyer is expected and enjoined to be an officer in the temple of justice.  But sadly, Nigerian lawyers either due to lack of diligence or slavishness to other interests beyond equity and justice,  compromise the propriety of proceedings. It is the reason judges must remain vigilant, to avoid interpreting the law after the fashion of the moment and to state the general principles of the law in accordance with the facts of every case and to refuse to be intimidated. They must be mindful all the same of the boundaries between equity and the threshold of substantial justice. The case under review sheds more light on the existing jurisprudence on the constitutional right to fair hearing. It remains to be seen whether or not the Federal Government will further challenge it at the apex court.

Whatever happens, our qualified praise need not be limited to the Appellate Courts, it is the entire judiciary despite the limitations of the moment, that must rise above the routine handling of cases, narrow-mindedness and other constraints to fully demonstrate its independence, on the Bench and away from it. Elections are around the corner; certainly there will be Constitutional issues ahead that will seriously test the integrity of our courts.  The ordinary man will expect that our judges will deliver justice without being intimidated by anyone’s body language.

LAW & U: Concept Of Bail

First of all, what is bail? This is a procedure by which a person, arrested or detained in connection with a crime may be released, upon a security being taken for his appearance on a day and place as may be determined by the person or authority effecting the release. In order to secure the release of a suspect who has been arrested from a law enforcement agent’s custody or jail with the understanding that the suspect will return for trial and court appearances, a bail can be requested. Bail can also be said to be a mechanism or money or some form of property that is deposited or that which stands as a pledge to a court.

The concept of bail is an enforcement of fundamental human right in Nigeria has recently taken a centre stage of discussion among jurist and people. In a nutshell, bail is a security of attendance in court from commencement of proceedings to judgment. In determining whether to grant or refuse bail, the determinant factors appear to depend upon the peculiar facts of every case. This takes us to the CONCEPT OF BAIL and its enforcement in Nigeria.

The concept of bail which is the right of a person to have or be granted a bail. This is an adjunct or direct offshoot of the constitutional right to liberty, guaranteed under Section 35 (1) and the right to freedom of movement under Section 38 of the Nigerian Constitution. It is also not unconnected with right to presumption of innocence as well as the fair trial granted by the same Nigerian constitution. Though, the power of court to grant bail is not inherent as such, it has constitutional, as well as statutory foundation. It can be buttressed in, Ikotun Vs FRN & Anor (2015).    Bail generally is of right to a person accused of committing a crime. This is informed by the presumption of innocence that the accused enjoys under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Over a period of years, most suspects who might not have committed any offence or whose relation had been suspected of committing a crime have found themselves incarcerated in police detention. Sometimes, they can’t press or hold charge, and sometimes this incarceration could take a longer period of time or many years before the actual trial (if any) would be instituted.

The objectives of this topic, is to enlighten Nigerians on their constitutional right to bail, and why every suspected criminals is in compelling right other than bail. Its objective is to expose the unconstitutional practice of holding charge with a view to detaining a suspect.

Bail arises at three (3) stages of the criminal justice which are:

  • The police may release suspect on bail pending further investigation.
  • The court may release an accused person on bail pending the determination of the case against him.
  • The court may release a convicted person on bail pending the determination of his appeal against his conviction.

Bail by police can be buttressed in the Police Act of Nigerian in Section 129 and 27 (b) which provides that bail can be granted by the police pending the investigation of the allegation against the person arrested. When a person is arrested to the police station, the law enjoins the officer in charge of the station to release the suspect on bail pending further investigation into the case or before a charge is preferred against the person in court.  It’s very annoying when some officers of the Nigerian police force insist on collection of money, whereas policing law in Nigeria states that “BAIL IS FREE”. Rather than bail is free, it has been turned to “BAIL FEE”.

Bail by the court can be emphasised in Section 161(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act provides for an instance which states:  “a suspect arrested, detained or charged with offence punishable with death shall only be admitted to bail by a judge of the high court, under exceptional circumstances”.

 

EDITORIAL: A Senate’s Overreach

Apparently angered by what it perceives as the executive’s dilatoriness over the matter of EFCC Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu following his non-confirmation, the Senate has literally been threatening fire and brimstone. Last week, it directed the acting President , Yemi Osinbajo to either sack Magu or risk suspension of further confirmation of any nominations into public offices. It also wants the acting President to withdraw the statement credited to him that the Senate does not have the power to confirm certain nominees.

Senator George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers State) capped the resolution with a threat: “…I don’t want to talk about gross misconduct, but the moment you are playing with the constitution and laws, it means you are playing down on Nigerians who make the laws”. To this, the Senate President lend his voice: “These resolutions of the Senate must be acted upon by the acting president; otherwise we will take appropriate action.”

If we are not used to costly tantrums by our parliamentarians, we would have treated the threat of unspecified actions against Osinbajo as one of such jokes meant to douse tension in a troubled polity. For a parliament that has ordinarily lost its value, this latest tantrum is least surprising; for while the resort of threat would be in line with the character of a parliament that has long lost its rationale, that the highest lawmaking body in the country would, like some bunch of school children, consider abdicating its functions to fight their turf wars takes parliamentary activism to a new low.   

To start with, the acting President has done nothing that can be remotely suggestive of breaking the law on the basis of which the parliament could resort to the threat of sanction. Yes, we are mindful of the fact that the Senate has twice rejected Magu’s confirmation; and the acting President was quoted to have argued that heads of agencies like the EFCC do not have to go to the Senate for confirmation – the plank of his argument being that the EFCC Act is inferior to the constitution and that the provisions of Section 171 which mandates certain categories of appointments to be confirmed by the Senate is inapplicable to the office of the EFCC chairman. As far as we can see, the issues as well as the debates that they have spawned are matters of public interest that Nigerians have voiced diverse opinions.  

However, suffice to say that on the first, the Senate, up till now, has not pointed out any law that precludes the President from either re-nominating Magu or any regulation automatically voiding his occupancy of the office on being rejected by the Senate. As for the second, much as the Senate may find that position unsettling, the matter seems to us as one of the constitutional imports that would require the apex court – as against the senators in their chambers – to resolve.

In the circumstance, it seems to us that the Senate will do well to spend quality time on serious issues of governance, against what has become their penchants for endless motions, driven more by ego and nothing else. If they have nothing better to do, the least we expect is that they spare the nation the needless and unhelpful overreach.

Lagos Swears in Three New Judges

Three new Judges have taken oath of office into the Lagos State Judiciary with a charge to maintain a high standard of professional competence and integrity.

The new judges are former Director of the State’s Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Idowu Alakija; former Chief Registrar, High Court of Lagos State, Olugbemiga Ogundare; and former Deputy Registrar of the Court, Serifat Solebo.

Speaking at the Banquet Hall of Lagos House in Ikeja, the state Governor Akinwunmi Ambode said the swearing in of the judges was the first of his administration which signified another milestone in his commitment to enhance the quality of life of the people through a justice administration system that is just and fair.

Governor Ambode explained that “over the years, the State Judiciary, apart from being the busiest and most vibrant in the country, had established a reputation for itself as a trail blazer in the entire federation with intellectual judicial pronouncements that have stood the test of time at appellate courts.”

The Governor added that the niche which the State Judiciary had carved for itself over the years was achieved through various reforms that were initiated and implemented by succeeding leaderships of the State Judiciary in partnership with Executive and Legislature.

He however pledged that “his administration would initiative key reforms in the sector especially in areas of infrastructure, technology, people and processes and improved welfare for the judiciary.”

He said the reforms would be based on the recommendations of the recently held Justice Summit by the State’s Ministry of Justice which brought together several stakeholders in the justice sector.

“I congratulate the newly appointed judges for being adjudged fit and proper persons to be on the respected higher bench of the busiest and most vibrant State judiciary in the country.

“In the end, we hope to bequeath a more vibrant and qualitative judiciary and justice sector fit for the 21st century and beyond. It is also my hope that with the caliber and qualities of these new learned personalities, our bench will be further enriched to effectively discharge its constitutional functions and deliver hope and justice to our people.” Governor added

Appointment Process

Earlier, the State’s Chief Judge, Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade thanked Governor Ambode for approving the exercise that led to the appointment of the judges, as well as other stakeholders who contributed in the painstaking appointment process.

The Chief Judge also urged the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen to approve the appointment of more judges for Lagos State Judiciary, being the busiest in the country.

According to her “On the average, a judge in Lagos has over 500 to 600 cases in his or her docket. I was talking with the Chief Judge of Ekiti State the other time and I was told that the whole of the Judiciary of the State has just 400 cases. So, I like to renew my call to the CJN to approve more judges for us and I also urge Governor Ambode to approve another appointment process,”

She however urged the newly appointed judges to embrace hard work and dispense justice without fear or favour.

Responding on behalf of the appointees, Justice Alakija thanked Governor Ambode for their appointments, and pledged that they would carry out their duties diligently and abide by the code of conduct.

VON

Bello Sani Is Dead

A member of the green chamber of the National Assembly, and the Honorable member representing Mashi/Dvisi Federal Constituency on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, Mallam Sani Bello has been confirmed dead.

Bello died on Wednesday, February 15 morning. He was 51.

Premium Times quoted Abubakar Adamu, an aide to the late lawmaker, as saying that he had been suffering from an unnamed illness for many months before he finally gave up the ghost

Adamu said Bello’s illness turned worse weeks ago and he was rushed to the Federal Medical Centre in Kaduna but eventually died Wednesday morning.

“He died this morning few minutes after 11:00 and we’re now taking his body to Katsina,” Adamu said.

 Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara confirmed the passing of the lawmaker in a statement in which he also mourned the late politician.

“Our late colleague was humane, principled and a cosmopolitan who interacted freely with all members.

 “Our heartfelt condolences goe to his immediate family, government and people of Katsina State and his colleagues and the government and people of Nigeria.

“We pray God to give all of us the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss,” the Speaker said in the statement issued by his special adviser on media and public affairs Turaki Hassan.

Late Sani is the second lawmaker in the House of Representatives to die in office in a year.

His death comes months after another lawmaker, Adewale Oluwatayo, representing Ifako-Ijaiye constituency in Lagos state died in Abuja.