Monday, October 15, 2007

Awaiting Trial Endlessly in Nigeria; A National Shame!

Sunday, 07 October 2007
Awaiting Trial Endlessly in Nigeria; A National Shame!
By Paul I. Adujie
New York, United States

A compelling and very engrossing journalistic feat appeared in the pages of The Guardian Newspapers on Saturday, October 5, 2007. Courtesies of BY GODWIN IJEDIOGOR, JOHNSON ADEBAYO AND SUNDAY ORISAKWE who have just earned the respect of every Nigerian, and decent people everywhere. Their report was titled, Our Stories , By Awaiting Trial Men; and women, I suppose there are women in endless detention in Nigeria as well?

This is great journalism, thorough investigative and dynamic reporting! Names, dates, details of course of the plights and predicaments of those poor citizens Awaiting Trial in Nigeria

First, I was instantly gratified by the great presentation of part of our national shame that is so well concealed and hidden from public view. I was also delighted by the very high quality of journalism, as epitomized by the two journalists who crafted the detailed report. It contained specifics, such as names, dates, age and trumped-up charges against particular detainee. This breakthrough report, attuned readers to the excruciating experiences the average Nigerian, unlucky to be detained, detained with flimsy excuse or no excuse at all.

Given the fact that everyone politician in Nigeria have recently been singing and regurgitating rule of law, rule of law, rule of law, any thinking person would therefore wonder, upon reading this reportage on the plight and predicaments of detained persons in Nigeria, as encapsulated by journalistic marvels at The Guardian. This report rekindled my faith in Nigerian journalists, who have been too partisan in recent years. Some of us have become disenchanted as a result of this glaring partisanship in addition to, worries that when news from Darfur Sudan is to be had, it is unexpectedly absent from Nigerian news sources, but instead in non-African news sources.

Nigeria is not too far from Darfur; Nigerian journalists are closer to Darfur than the American and European journalist or counterparts.

Why do we have so many poor people detained without trial? Corruption and elitism are the major factors. Corruption is 90 percent responsible for needless detention. Detention is used by corrupt police officers to extort money from those who are innocent and know that they are innocent beyond reasonable doubt. But such innocents would pay bribe to extricate themselves from endless detentions, because they know full well, that they cannot rely on the criminal justice system to save or deliver them from evil policemen

Elitism explains why no one in the judiciary, in the police force, in the political leadership from local government to state to federal levels, seem not to be losing even one night sleep, over the sorry state of affairs of Nigerian citizens who are detained, without justifications and poor Nigerian citizens who are falsely accused of serious crimes, such as armed robberies!
It is often said that a good society is measured by how it treats its underprivileged citizens. It does appear that Nigeria shamefully or shamelessly scores below zero when it comes to treatment of poor Nigerian citizens. No one seem to lose sleep over the hardships and the sufferings of the downtrodden.

Why is it, that we hear hypocritical preachments of the rule of law and due process, when it comes to serving corrupt governors and other politicians their just deserts in legal penalties and consequences, but everyone seem silent regarding the wasted and ruined lives of poor Nigerians citizens, who are falsely arrested, falsely accused and falsely detained endlessly?

It is my position that Nigerian lawyers can do so much to change these awful plights and predicaments of 100,000 Nigerian citizens who are detained endlessly without charge, without trial and without mercy. Nigerian lawyers can volunteer time, to represent and advocate the cause of those fellow Nigerian citizen who are detained endlessly by bribing grubbing evil policemen.

It is again, often said, that extent of human refinements in a given society is measured by, willingness to act selflessly, without compensation or such expectations, and for the benefit of others. And in this instance, acting for the benefit of Nigerian underprivileged citizens. Who in Nigeria is better suited to undertake this task? The Nigerian lawyer!

Nigerian lawyers can, through the Nigerian Bar Association or Non-Governmental Organizations and even through the Nigerian Legal Aid Council etc, help in enlightening the Nigerian public about individual rights and freedoms.

Additionally, Nigerian lawyers, can, as individuals or as groups, advocate the causes of Nigerian citizens who are detained without trials. Nigerian citizens who are routinely detained without being afforded any opportunity to have their day in court.

It is absolute perversity to detain citizens without trials. It is gross injustice to falsely charge any citizen with any crime and worse, armed robbery which carries death penalty!

In the United States, any person charged with an offense, who is unable to afford the services of a lawyer, is provided with the service of a public defender, at the expense of the taxpayers. I understand and reconcile myself to the fact that the situation is not the same in Nigeria. But there is something else that happens in the US, which we can emulate in Nigeria. And it called pro bono work; It simply refers to lawyers working for free.

There are instances where American lawyers engage in legal work for free. Individual lawyers engage in this sorts of work and so do major law firms. So, apart from belonging to country clubs and rotary club and lion clubs and such other seemingly elitist clubs in Nigeria. Nigerian lawyers can take interest in pro bono work and target so legal work for the direct benefit of Awaiting Trial citizens.

In the United States, lawyers, especially within the first five years of admission to practice law, are required to undertake Continuing Legal Education or CLE, seminars or workshops; and frequently, doing pro bono work is recommended and, it is credited toward in CLE classes certain practice jurisdictions.

There should be a holistic approach in Nigeria towards the banishing of this national shame of detention of our citizens, innocent citizens detained without trial or even a charge in any criminal proceedings. First, there should be police reforms and enlightenments to eradicate bribery and corruption, the major factor for these false arrests and detentions in the first place. These raids in which Nigerian citizens are falsely arrested, falsely detained endlessly, are mostly motivated by police search for bribe money, "income"

Then, in the eventuality that persons are detained, the judicial system should be active in determining proper arrests, detentions and proper procedures are adhered to by the police and prosecutors. Nigerian criminal justice system should be awake to its national duty.

I have had cause to be critical and upbraid the Nigerian Bar Association, which in my view, seem to have become too partisan, just like their journalists counterparts in Nigeria
How else does the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association explain the fact that the NBA have in the preceding eight years reserved their legal support and defense for egregiously corrupt public officials? Why is it that the NBA has been fixated on matters of impeachment of errant governors?

And why is it, that the NBA has been loudly supporting the current attorney general in what is clearly his double standards and hypocrisy regarding his loud and endless proclamation for the rule of law for Orji Uzor Kalu and James Onanefe Ibori and in the process, undermining other agencies and department of government which are fighting corruption?

Why is false imprisonment of poor Nigerian citizens, about 100,000 of them, not considered a national emergency

Why is the false detention without trial, and in other cases, false accusation for armed robbery, a capital offense, not considered a matter of such magnitude to warrant the attention of the highly esteemed NBA?

Why does the NBA appear these days, as if it is just a self-interested, self-absorbed and elitist trade group? The poor Nigerian citizens are neglected and abandoned to their misfortune imposed on them by corrupt police officers, because they are poor citizens, as a result of the humble circumstances of their birth?

All this, even as the NBA include Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) whose specialties these days, seem to be, just jostling endlessly to represent privileged Nigerians, who, incidentally, are vapidly corrupt, thanks to their unconscionable looting, pillaging and plundering of Nigeria’s public wealth.

Arrest Corrupt ex-Governors NOW! With Zero Options! The now famous Rule of Law and Due Process Brigade in Nigeria, can take that, and kiss it! Ditto the courts! Somebody should whisper it to Nigerians, that Nigeria need radical surgery, precise radical surgery to remove the corrupt and corruption from our society! I hold the view, that, extraordinary infestations, such as corruption, demands vigorous solution.

Looting cause poverty, poverty, for which some Nigerians are detained falsely and when charged, are also falsely charged! Poverty is "the" crime in Nigeria. And corruption with impunity is rewarded with a slap on the wrists and a pat on the back of the corrupt public officials. While those who poverty is inflicted upon, by corruption, are doubly punished with endless false imprisonments. Talk about double jeopardy!

Why is the squalid, pungent and abject infectious diseased conditions in Nigerian detention centers not a matter that warrant and merit’s the preachments of the rule of law by the AG and the NBA itself? Is the rule law and due process exclusively for the rich and jails for the poor in Nigeria? Who exactly cries for the poor?

In recent times, I have had cause wonder about all of the above, in articles which are excerpted and follows

Rule of Law Tainted-Coated With Impunity? Is there any evidence that Mr. Andoakaa consulted or contacted Nigeria Police, EFCC and ICPC before issuing all-clear to Mr. Ibori lawyers, advantage Mr. Ibori? It can also be observed, that Mr. Andoakaa has been unusually efficient and speedy, in matters concerning Mr. Kalu and now, Mr. Ibori.

Notice how quickly he responded to Mr. Ibori’s lawyers? How about some measure efficiency and speedy actions for poor Nigerians in detention without trial and are dying in decrepit prison conditions? Prison conditions in Nigeria are said to be abject and worse than squalid.

How about the rule of law and due process for those Nigerians awaiting trial for years and still in detentions? 100,000 of them! Whose interest does Mr. Andoakaa represent? Nigeria or looters?

Servant-Leader President Yar’Adua’s Nigeria Meets the World
It is against this background that the average Nigerian are tired and truly frustrated with these preachment of the rule of law and due process that is elitist and never extended to the more than 100,000 prisoners and detainees in Nigerian prisons and detention centers, detainees and prisoners, who have not stolen billions of Naira. Prisoners and detainees, clearly, Nigerians in prisons and detentions who have not had their day in court, who have not benefited from due process and rule of law mantras!

It is against this background that the average Nigerian are tired and truly frustrated with these preachment of the rule of law and due process that is elitist and never extended to the more than 100,000 prisoners and detainees in Nigerian prisons and detention centers, detainees and prisoners, who have not stolen billions of Naira. Prisoners and detainees, clearly, Nigerians in prisons and detentions who have not had their day in court, who have not benefited from due process and rule of law mantras!
Meanwhile, audacious criminals, the looters, the plunderers and pillagers ex-governors, public officials in Nigeria, are able to hire tons of lawyers and tens of Senior Advocates and generate tomes of spurious defenses based tenuously, fine principles and tenets of law, such as, the rule law and due process! Talk of notorious criminals wrapping themselves with our constitution when it is time to pay for their desecration of the same constitution!

Amnesty International recently released a report in connection with the appalling conditions in Nigeria’s prisons and detention centers. Nigerians actually did not need Amnesty International to remind us of the decrepit and fetid conditions of prisons and detention centers in Nigeria. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had a direct personal experience in the abject and squalid conditions in which detainees in Nigeria must live. As a result, as president of Nigeria, he established a prison decongestion commission. And now, we must ask, where are the recommendations or report of that commission? When will these reports and recommendations be implemented to ameliorate and alleviate the pungent conditions in which detainees in Nigeria are compelled to live?

Attorney General’s Power-Grab & Misplaced Priorities?
It seems to me that the appalling squalid and pungent conditions endured by detainees in Nigeria, should concern Nigeria’s new attorney general and minister for justice. Further, it would seem that the attorney general and minister for justice would need to establish his self-proclaimed avowal as champion of the rule of law, with policies that will improve the conditions in prisons and detention centers in Nigeria.

Additionally, the attorney general must seek to establish his credentials as a rule of law champion, by establishing rules that would prevent needless detentions of persons in Nigeria. Currently, there are tens of thousands of Nigerians in prison cells and detention centers, and an overwhelming majority of these detainees are, "Awaiting Trials" most of these persons, are clearly innocents, who have been picked up by law enforcement agencies without justifications, if at all, for flimsy "reasons"

The attorney general and minister of justice, appears self-interested in the well-being of the upper class Nigerians. As he is obviously fixated on welfare of the ex-governors who are currently facing trials, and how longer, than 48 hours these looters may be detained by the EFCC. He is, in doing so, reaffirming Nigeria as a class conscious society with attendant social stratifications, in the most negative ways. The poor are punished for being poor!

How is it that the self-proclaimed champion for the rule of law, the new attorney general, has not publicly placed his prison decongestion policies for national debate?

How is it that the attorney general has not bothered to articulate his thoughts and policy responses, to the well publicized appalling conditions in Nigerian prisons and detention centers?
Why has the attorney general and minister of justice not asked himself and supply the reasons why the average detainee in Nigeria spends more than 48 hours in detention?

Why has the attorney general and minister of justice not asked why Nigeria has so many "Awaiting Trials" detainees? Why does the attorney general seem to reserve his tears for looters and their prospects of being in prisons or detention centers for more than 48 hours? Why is he not similarly verbose and garrulous in worries about poor detainees?

Detention without trial and or, being falsely charged are inequities wrapped in unfairness and gross injustice, meted to Nigerian citizens who are poor. This tyrannical practice should have been dumped already, as relics of military governments. Detention of an innocent Nigerian citizen for ten years, is extremely perverse, it is an outrage! It is a national shame that should agitate all Nigerians, including the judiciary, all Nigerian lawyers, NBA corporate body and all political leaders in our nation

No comments: