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Category Archives: Paralegal and Litigation

PETTY OFFENCES; THE NIGERIAN CONTEXT

By Roseline Oghenebrume, Director Programs, Lawyers Alert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dawn sets in the suburbs of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria. Alhaji Abubakar (Pseudo name) after his morning prayer wakes his family up to begin the grind for the day. His family comprises of two sons and a daughter all aged 15, 13 and 11 respectively. In his words, it is Monday, you have to meet up with travelers at the Jabi Motor Park or else no food for you all. They begin their journey on foot for a 5km walk with their goods to be sold off on their heads. While they approached the park, they sighted the task force team and obviously took to their heels. While the eldest was lucky to have escaped, the two others were swept off the roads in the van of the task force and their goods seized.

These types of petty acts that are seen as offences is regrettably targeted at low income earners, the vulnerable and the poor. For instance, citizens engaged in activities such as loitering are arrested by security agents shouldered with the responsibility of enforcing these laws. In one instance, someone hawking goods in trying to escape arrest jumped off a fly over in Abuja Central District Area, losing his life in the fall. Security agencies go out at night arresting women and breaking people’s doors, dragging them out on account of their sexual orientation and perceived type of job. Commercial bus drivers trying to eke a living are said to commit offences when parked in a non-designated area and can be sent to jail if they don’t come up with the resources to pay their way through. The above is a picture of what a less privileged family/ citizen in Nigeria deals with on a regular/daily basis.

Nigeria is a country with a population of about 180 million persons with over 70% of its population said to be poor. Nigeria recently ranked highest in poverty according to a report by the World poverty Clock released in June 2018.  This shows that the Nigerian criminal justice system cannot effectively cope in keeping with this high population with regard to arrest and prosecution nor does it have the prison to hold these persons.

As it stands today, Nigeria has about 75,000 persons in prison with about 60% of these persons awaiting trial. Those awaiting trial for petty offences account for a higher percentage of those awaiting trial. Petty offences are more to do with the poor and vulnerable who are often prone to these acts owing to economic dis empowerment. Petty actions like hawking, obtaining goods by false pretence, sex work, sexual expression, slander, conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace, use of insulting language, intake of alcohol in some Northern States, etc. are criminalised.

Petty offences are not only inconsistent with sections 34, 35, 41 and 42 of the Nigerian Constitution, which provide for right to dignity of human person, right to personal liberty, right to freedom of movement and right to freedom from discrimination respectively, but are equally inconsistent with Articles 2, 3, 5, 6 and 18 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights duly ratified by Nigeria.

The effect is State resources are expended in rather needless investigations and prosecutions and the prisons congested. Good governance, more attention at economic empowerment and fighting corruption by Government will be more in focus if Government is not distracted by expending resources on petty offences that are criminalised. Petty offences have resulted in lack of justice for the poor, social discrimination sometimes with grave consequences.

We at Lawyers Alert strongly believes that decriminalising petty offences in Nigeria will aid development given the likelihood of more time and focus on development issues.

Based on the above, the following are recommendations;

 

  1. Laws/policy reform which is critical in decriminalising petty offences because the small actions that are made petty offences are being institutionalised by certain laws in Nigeria.
  2. State and Non- State Actors should be engaged. Majority are not aware of the effects of these laws, they have not been made to understand the importance of decriminalising petty offences and its effect on socio, economic welfare of the nation.
  3. Lawyers are to be encouraged to offer free legal services to victims of petty crimes rather than demand professional fees which the vulnerable and poor people who are the victims of petty offenses cannot afford.
  4. Continuous sensitization of the vulnerable and less privileged in the society. Lack of knowledge of human rights or where to get assistance when their rights are abused is part of the problem that institutionalizes petty offenses.
  5. Civil Society groups, the Media and other Human Rights Activists to embark on a campaign towards decriminalization of petty offenses in Nigeria. Petty offenses target the most vulnerable in the country; the poor, less privileged and uneducated.

 

Poverty is not a crime……

Human Right is for all…….

Decriminalizing petty offenses is a human rights issue….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Strategic Impact Litigation Training Workshop

Towards getting Nigerian Lawyers to commence active Strategic Litigation cases that offers legal support to resource constrain citizens, Lawyers Alert will be conducting a strategic litigation training for Nigerian Lawyers on the 21st – 22nd of August 2018. Venue will be at Reiz Intercontinental Hotel Abuja. There will be Live streaming of the training on our Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/lawyersalert/ and YouTube page. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmeNqfhl9uNCVSmYs_E1_CA?view_as=subscriber You can also follow highlights of the training on our twitter page @lawyersalertNG.

 

 

ECOWAS Court orders Federal Government and Edo state Government to take Thankgod Ebhos off death row

In what can be described as a first encouraging step for Avocats Sans Frontières France, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice on the 31st of January 2014, ordered the Federal Government of Nigeria and Edo state Government to take Mr Thankgod Ebhos’s name off the death row list.

Mr Thankgod Ebhos who has faced imminent threat of execution since June 24 2013 when he was taken to the gallows alongside four other inmates, who were executed in Benin Prison, has been on death row for eighteen years.  Apprehension of his transfer to another prison for the purpose of execution has been lurking since then.

Avocats Sans Frontières France in a bid to preclude further executions in Edo state instituted an action against the Federal government of Nigeria and the Edo State Government at the regional court, ECOWAS Court of Justice on Mr Ebhos’ behalf.

An application was filed by Avocats Sans Frontières France, seeking an interim injunction restraining the respondents from executing Mr Thankgod Ebhos pending the hearing and determination of the substantive matter before the court. The court established proof of desire to appeal on the part of Mr Thankgod Ebhos and stated that in the light of such a desire, any move to enforce the death sentence would be a violation of article (4) of the African charter of Human and People’s right which states that if a convict is executed without exhausting the avenues for appeal, it constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of the right to life.

Furthermore, the court held that the application satisfies the court in line with article 20 of the protocol of the court and article 79 of the laws of the procedures of the court.

Whereas a conviction and sentence hanging on the second plaintiff when his intention to appeal against the conviction and sentence is in the court’s estimation an extreme gravity and urgency and to avoid irreparable damage to the second plaintiff, the court shall grant interim measure or injunction by ordering that the defendant shall suspend the death sentence until the case before the court is determined”, the court stated.

The Court further ordered that his name be removed from death row pending the determination of the substantive matter before it.

 

For further enquiries please contact: 

ASF France Nigeria Office – 29, 1st Avenue, Kado Estate, Abuja. Telephone – (+234) 0806 663 40 44.
Email-office.nigeria@avocatssansfrontieres-france.org

 

 
 

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THE NIGERIA JUDICIARY AND IMPUNITY.

……. Elvis Wura Towolawi   

Wherever there is power, naked and unrestrained – abuse of same is inevitable. This age- tested philosophy explains the grinding necessity for a Judiciary that is independent, firm, above –board and fearless: to curb arbitrariness in the exercise of Power ; and to serve as a bulwark against the desecration and violation of vested rights. It’s beyond saying that the Judiciary, anywhere in the world, plays a vital part in the cultivation of an even and egalitarian society; but all is lost when the Judiciary, like that of Nigeria falls to the dust in romance with Power – it openly pats Impunity on the back. And when this happens, Justice and Rights suffer.

It’s in the light of this assertion that one will examine in sketches the role of the Judiciary in fostering the festering sore of Impunity which is pushing our democracy and State (Nigeria) close to the cliff of anarchy, and bad governance.

The Nigerian Judiciary, at Independence started out bold and upright but started to lose grip of its integrity and gut during the military era, except for a Judges who wore integrity like a garment. A retired Justice actually apologized to the freedom fighter musician Fela for sending him to prison in the dark days of Buhari, stating his hands were tied.

The seed of impunity was however already sown and now and today the fruits are ripe: a Judiciary that sways and panders towards power. The Judiciary in Nigeria appears to be in constant conflict with the populace and the law; taking sides with the thieving elite of the society.

For example, during the Banking Reforms superintendented by Sanusi Lamido under the Yar’dua Administration, one Mrs. Cecilia Ibru (then Chief-Executive Officer of Oceanic Bank (now defunct ) was tried for fraudulent speculation with depositors money : buying luxurious goods and giving uncovered loans to her croonies running into billions. And what term did she get? Nothing but some months in a cozy hospital in the heart of Lagos. Compare this with the case of a man who was reportedly driven by the belly- goddess of Hunger, stole a goat. He got over 14 years imprisonment sentence.

Another indictment against the judiciary is Ibori’s case. James Ibori, a one- time Governor of Delta state (an oil- rich area) was accused of diverting funds meant for state projects into some personal accounts. The Prosecution’s case was dismissed by a Federal High Court, Asaba, Delta State for ‘want of evidence.’ And Ibori was discharged and acquitted—walked away free! But nemesis overthrew him as he was nabbed in Dubai by the Interpol to answer to substantially same case.  He pleaded guilty to the charges in a London Court.

What’s of import to us here is the flirtatious tendency of the Scale in weighing evidence. Could it be argued that the facts pleaded in the London Court were materially different from the ones tendered in Asaba? Why did he plead guilty in London? And why did Justice Awokulehin come out in public to defend his decision if he had nothing to lose? Facts don’t lie; but what baffles one is the propensity for a thief in London to be beatified a saint by a  Nigeria Court.

The Pension Scam  case is another where in a  hurried-hush manner  the Court scuttled the wheel of Justice for thousands of pensioners who worked their hands, heads, and hearts for a nation where a finger eats up a meal meant for others with imperial pride.  The Nigerian Senate in exercise of its oversight function had invited one Abdulrasheed Maina (as Chairman of the Pension Reform Board) to appear before it to explain his knowledge and alleged complicity in the unlawful diversion of funds meant for pensioners all over the Federation. He scorned the invitation and approach an Abuja High Court alleging threats to his fundamental rights to ‘ life and liberty’ as provided and protected in the 1999 Constitution as amended. Without much musing, the Court granted an injunction restraining his arrest. Finally when Maina was tried, he got a plea bargain deal of N700,000 in lieu of 7-months imprisonment for graft running into 3.5 billion Naira citing an 1889 law!

This was justice by the courts for our armies of old penniless pensioners, some of whom have died without savouring the results of their sweat, saved up by the state, only to be grabbed by some greed –blinded individuals buoyed by impunity and sanctioned by the court. Maina breathes the air of opulence, reaping where he never sowed, whilst the workers grind the stone of poverty in their twilight. What justice is there? Allowing Maina and his cohorts to keep their loot is tantamount to an infringement of the pensioners’ right to a decent and dignified living as guaranteed in the African charter and the UNSECR BILL 1966.

Perhaps, it is worthwhile to argue here that Impunity is a child of corruption; for it is only on corruption- infected soil that the seedlings of Impunity can grow.  Impunity thrives in an environment where there is “… a loose enforcement of law, selective enforcement of law or complete negligence in enforcement of available laws”. And one would dare add, a mechanical interpretation of the law. If one peruses the judgments of the courts, one would perceive a linear exposition of the law boarding on criminality which invariably gives a lee-way for escape to may connected and well-cashed hands. Why should a law passed in 1889 continue to be applied in the 21st century, when crimes have gone technological? Who says the law on embezzlement of public fund cannot be interpreted and executed in a progressive and forward-looking fashion to satisfy the yearning of the people?

Such unwholesome and untidy practice in judicial governance can only continue without shame or reform, if the judiciary dines with the corporate and individual perpetrators of impunity. Perchance, there is an unwritten code in that realm: the higher the loot, the lower the punishment. Any man who sleeps with dogs, should not complain of lice.

                                                                                                                                                                   

 
 

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