Lagos State Justice Commissioner and Attorney-General, Mr Adeniji Kazeem in this interview with FOLUSO OGUNMODEDE speaks on underage in Lagos prisons, Forensic Centre, street trading, land grabbing and sundry issues
Last year, Lagos was awash with news of over 1000 underage detained in prisons across the state. What is your ministry doing to ensure underage will no longer be sent to adult prisons?
Last year, there was a joint initiative of this office (Ministry of Justice) and the Judiciary to pay particular visit to Badagry. In that visit, the Solicitor-General accompanied the Chief Judge of Lagos State. The visit was prompted by a petition received in this office about issue of putting underage in the prison. Immediately this office contacted the Chief Judge and we took steps to initiate that visit. We released a significant number of young children that were there.
One of the fallouts of that meeting is that we found out that some of our magistrate’s courts, I would say, unwittingly, had sent people who turned out to be underage to these prisons. They convicted them for offences, and in some cases put fines on them which they could not pay. We later found out that these children were not of age. In the first place they should not have been sent to adult prisons, so, that was the mistake. Immediately that was discovered, they had to be removed from those places to remand homes, where ordinarily, children of that age are supposed to be. In some cases, I believe, we even paid fines for some of these children so that they could be released and put in proper places.
Why would magistrate’s court opt for adult prisons instead of remand homes? I mean, are the facilities in remand homes overstretched?
The issue about Juvenile in conflict with the Law is a major issue. Presently because there are so many of them, the facilities that are supposed to cater for people of this class are completely overstretched. We have one in Oregun, the other one in Idiaraba for the girls, we have to do massive development of additional place for these children. This is because, it is not just about the punishment;
it is about reforming them, so that they can be useful again in the society. This is an issue, not only for the Ministry of Justice but Ministry of Youth and Social Development. It is something we are working very actively on, to try to ensure these children are taken off the street as was mentioned, these mistake about their being sent wrongly to adult prisons, does not occur again.
After that visit, there was a stakeholders’ meeting among between families, court judges, people from the Ministry of Justice, people from Ministry of Youth and Social Development and other stakeholders with a joint effort to resolve that this thing must be actively addressed so that this mistake does not occur. I believe there have been some changes since that time as those mistakes have not been repeated again.
The task force on environmental offences is very aggressive in making sure they deliver on their mandate. In the process, they go on the streets, and swept on a lot of people, maybe what we have realized is that a cheaper evaluation and assessment of these people that are swept on, is done by security services before they are charged to court, so that it can save the adult away from the young ones.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode recently commissioned Forensic centre in the state. Is the centre already playing adjutant role in criminal matters?
If you’ve been following what has been going on regarding the DNA facilities, last year, even before the facilities came in, we had a forensic seminar; I think that was sometimes in November, 2016. It was essentially to set the pace for the DNA Forensic Lab that was supposed to come on the stream.
The whole idea was to try and set Lagos as the destination for forensics which was meant to create Class Seminar to attract people from all over Africa to come in and within Nigeria as security services. That took off and it was a form of training. But we have a consultant which we engaged from America. You would see when the forensic sector was being launched the American Consular General was there.
There were representatives of FBI, DEA, that is, the drug enforcement agency of the US. They were all there. One of the things that Consular General commended was that we were using American consultant, which they were very proud of. One of the things the consultant has done is to ensure that users are actively trained. From our emergencies respondents to the police, including judges attended one seminar or the other even prior to setting up of that forensic centre. So, in terms of training, yes, a major work is being done there. In terms of personnel, because the consultants are already a functional entity in the U.S., they work for department of defence.
They also engaged young Nigerians, who have forensic degrees, Bio-Chemistry, and others. These are Nigerians under training in those facilities. These are the forerunners of the local content to those facilities.
The whole essence is that after the consultancy period, the thing is handed over fully to the Lagos State Government to run as facilities of its own.
This is very important technology. It is about trust; it’s about confidence in the products that come out of there. The facility is intended to be a very secure facility. If you go for testing there and there is a belief that the result can be contaminated in any way, then it distorts credibility on the institution. But I can assure you it’s a world class as nobody has gone there without attesting to the quality of the establishment.
Toxicology is one part we intend to add to that facility. It’s very critical because this is a facility that would help us test poisons and other things in like manner. This facility is not readily available here, typically when you find a lot of things that are as a result of crime, you have to send those samples abroad for testing and once we have those capacities, it would make it much easier for us to do that.
There have been 40 cases so far that have been brought there. The cases range from sexual assault, paternity issues, etc. We will be having a press conference in the next two weeks, when we shall give you a very interesting detail, cases from West African countries, such as Ghana – cases of people coming from there. There have been approaches from German Embassy to collaborate with us; even US Embassy to collaborate with us in the Lab. So, we are very much encouraged by the attention that has been given to those facilities. That is what has spurred us on to make additional investment.
Like other institutions of government, how affordable is DNA?
Where a criminal investigation is ongoing, ordinarily, that process is supposed to be free to members of the public. Anything connected to that process where the police are investigating the crime, but don’t forget it is a crime against the state; the state must bear the cost of that investigation. One of the things we are also trying to do with this DNA Forensic Centre include all the technology that we are trying to infuse into the criminal investigation, prosecution and adjudication process is to save time and money. In normal jurisdiction, the cost of prosecuting crimes is a major issue, because it involves tax-payers’ money.
If you have an issue that the police are investigating and they have cause to it to DNA Forensic Lab for testing in order to determine people culpability and all that, that cost is borne by the state. It is not your cost; nobody is going to give you a bill. If anybody tries to give you a bill, then send your complain to this office.
However, people have approached the DNA Forensic Centre in their private capacity. There are paternity issues and related issues that have been taken there. There are a lot of issues of people trying to identify the remains of their loved ones that have been taken there. So, those issues you would need to pay; you would be given a bill for testing.
How is your ministry addressing menace of land grabbing, Agberos, Area boys and other social malaise in Lagos state?
Interestingly, the Agberos or bus conductors are members of unions of some sort. So, the question would be, can you proscribe them or can you regulate them? I would say well, if they are members of recognized unions, we can try and regulate their activities much better. That’s a very important point which we take on. The Ministry of Transport, the police interface with these people regularly, and let me mention something else, of course, you know that his Excellency has mentioned transport reform. He said the Danfos on the street, presently are not befitting for a city like Lagos, so what he is proposing is that this year, he intends to introduce world class buses that would gradually replace those Danfos in Lagos State.
The first set, I believe is supposed to be 840 or 850 buses, and should come towards the end of the year. Its impact would redress the Agberos and the bus conductors people are complaining about as they would be better regulated. A lot of these people would find jobs, but they would have to be retrained, retreated and learn how to conduct themselves better in the public.
A lot of places where these buses are to be operated from would be regulated and well set-up. You must have seen the Ikeja bus terminal, that’s world class. That’s the kind of places these buses are to operate from. You can imagine that ruffians and people who would wake up in the morning and drink Paraga or small gin, or whatever would not be allowed in those kind of places. We are very hopeful that with these reforms being proposed by His Excellency, things would get better in that area.
Our prisons are no longer for the purpose they are meant for. What is the Lagos state doing to key into the federal government’s prison reform?
We are very passionate about that. Unfortunately, issues about prisons, as you know, are in the Exclusive Legislative List; they are things not within our control, but we can’t look away. That is the reality. The Nigeria Police is not under our control but we have made major intervention in that area.
This is because it affects us. I can tell you for free, that almost all the security services that operate here, the Lagos State government have made one intervention or another, including the prisons. Now, I tell you something, there is an on-going matter with the Ikoyi prison. There is an on-going discussion with the federal government to relocate the
prison possibly to Epe or some other locations. What we are going to agree with the federal government to get the design, build world class prison facility. In America and I believe some other places, they call prisons, correctional centres because you are supposed to correct the behavior of people that are sent to that prison, so that they can come out and become better people in the society. So, that’s one of the things we have to do.
One thing the governor has said is that he would intervene, even though it is federal government’s problem, so to speak, but we have no choice because it deals with issues in Lagos State. There is issue about infrastructure, hygiene, accommodation, so we have to take it in piece meal. I asked my S.A. on criminal prosecution to do a major report in conjunction with the Controller of Prison in Lagos State to identify a lot of those things. I know that when we start working in earnest this year we would begin to look at those things that would also address a lot of these congestion issues.
How are you handling some obsolete laws in the state including Lagos Tenancy Law?
The Lagos State Law Reform Commission, an agency charged with reforming our laws, last year, I believe, I’ve written to the agency, directing that they conduct an overhaul of that law. This is because as things continue to develop, laws must also develop on that side. Last year there was a stakeholders’ meeting, where different people were called and gave their input into that proposed law.
Next stage is for the draft law to be presented. When it comes to my office, we would take it to the Executive Council, which would approve it and pass it on to the House of Assembly, which as usual, would do a thorough job on that process. I can assure you, barring any eventuality we should get the new law this year.
Street trading and hawking now back on Lagos roads despite law barring street trading. How can this be addressed?
There is a law on street trading and hawking. This has to do with employment issues and general social issues that we must address. You will understand that I think about last year or the year before, His Excellency was worried about the environment, street robberies.
$45m, N3.38bn loot: FG’s gain, Diezani’s loss
AKEEM NAFIU writes that of the trillions of naira President Muhammadu Buhari at the weekend boasted to have recovered from alleged corrupt politicians, about $45 million and N3.38 billion was recovered from former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke
When President Muhammadu Buhari said three years ago that he would rid the nation of corruption and recover funds looted from the treasury, not many trusted his resolve to so do.
In his resolve, however, to tackle corruption head on, many powerful politicians accused of looting the nation’s treasury are facing charges in various courts.
Apart from their trial, many have forfeited property including cash running into billions of naira to the federal government.
Just last week, apparently expressing satisfaction on his administration’s war against corruption, President Buahri said “this is another milestone in our determined and collective fight against corruption.”
He went on: “Throughout my journey in national service and since 2015, I have made a very conscious decision to pursue a vigorous fight against corruption in public life.
“This is another milestone in our determined and collective fight against corruption.
“Since 2015, we have made significant progress in the fight against corruption. Everyone now knows that corrupt officials will be held to account, no matter how long it takes.
“We have recovered and are still recovering trillions of naira that were stolen in the past few years by people without conscience.
“We are pursuing recoveries everywhere and are making sure that anyone who has been found culpable is made to answer for his or her crime under the law.
“It is my hope and expectation that the judiciary, which is a critical stakeholder and partner in the war against corruption, would continue to collaborate with the executive to bring corrupt people to book.”
Of the trillions of naira already recovered from corrupt officials, N45million and N3.38billion had so far been recovered from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), being led by Ibrahim Magu had instituted several cases against the former minister, occasioning court pronouncements leading to her forfeiture of several property worth billions of naira to the Federal Government.
The former minister, who was also the first female President of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has so far forfeited $45 million and N3.38 billion to the Federal Government.
Mrs. Diezani, who has been in London after leaving office, has however continued to deny any financial misdeed.
She accused the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of severely maligning and persecuting her.
Cases leading to the forfeiture of Diezani’s property began on August 7, 2017, when Justice Chuka Obiozor of a Federal High Court in Lagos ordered permanent forfeiture of her $37.5 million mansion in Banana Island.
The judge had earlier on July 19, 2017, while granting of an ex-parte motion filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) directed the temporary forfeiture of the property designated as Building 3, Block B, Bella Vista Plot 1, Zone N, Federal Government Layout, Banana Island Foreshore Estate to the Federal Government.
The property containing 24 apartments, 18 flats and 6 penthouses were allegedly paid for in cash by Mrs. Diezani in 2013.
In making the final forfeiture order on the property, Justice Obiozor held “in the face of the publication, which I find in Exhibit B of the affidavit of compliance before me and there being no responses from any interested party, I have no other option but to grant the orders as prayed.”
The court equally directed the permanent forfeiture of $2,740,197.96 and N84, 537,840.70 realized as rents on the property to the government.
Giving further insight into how the property was acquired, the anti-graft agency in a 41-paragraph affidavit deposed to by one of its investigative officers, Abdulrasheed Bawa, averred that a lawyer, Nwokedi in alleged connivance with Diezani purposely incorporated a company, Rusimpex Limited on September 11, 2013 to facilitate the alleged fraud scheme.
Bawa averred further that upon Nwokedi’s interrogation, he explained that he had approached Diezani for opportunities in the oil and gas industry with the ex-minister suggesting that owing to his profession, it would be better if he would delve into management of landed property.
Bawa added that after accepting the offer, Nwokedi later registered Rusimpex Limited at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
A lawyer in his law firm, Adetula Ayokunle and a Russian, Vladmir Jourauleu, were listed as Directors of the company, while the address of Nwokedi’s law firm in Ikoyi, Lagos was registered as the business address of Rusimpex Limited.
The deponent added that when Ayokunle was questioned by the EFCC, he explained that he only appended his signature on the CAC documents at Nwokedi’s instruction, while Jourauleu denied knowledge of the company.
“Sometimes in 2013, the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, invited Nwokedi, the Principal Counsel of Stillwaters Law Firm, to her house in Abuja for a meeting where she informed him to incorporate a company and use same as a front to manage landed property on her behalf without using her name in any of the incorporation documents.
“She further directed Mr. Nwokedi to meet with Mr. Bisi Onasanya, the Group Managing Director of First Bank of Nigeria Plc., for that purpose.
“Mr. Stephen Onasanya was invited by the commission and he came and volunteered an extrajudicial statement wherein he stated that he marketed a property at Bella Vista, Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos, belong ing to Mr. Youseff Fattau of Ibatex Nigeria Limited to Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke later bought the property from Mr. Youseff Fattau, through her lawyer, Mr. Nwokedi, whom she introduced to him after which a payment for the said property was made through the Abuja office of First Bank of Nigeria Plc.
“First Bank of Nigeria Plc., through Mr. Barau Muazu, wrote to the commission and also volunteered an extrajudicial statement in writing that they made the payments totaling US37,500,000 to Ibatex Nigeria Limited & YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on behalf of Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke as they collected the entire cash from Alison-Madueke at her residence of No. 10, Fredrick Chiluba Close of Jose Marti Street, Asokoro, Abuja and paid into the First Bank of Nigeria Plc. accounts of Ibatex and YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on her instruction”, the deponent averred.
On October 11, 2017, another judge of Lagos Division of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul-Azeez Anka, also ordered the permanent forfeiture of 56 houses situated in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja valued at $21, 982, 224 (about N3.3 billion) allegedly linked to Mrs. Diezani to the Federal Government.
The houses were allegedly bought between 2011 and 2013 by the former minister from proceeds of suspected unlawful activity during her tenure in office
The forfeited property included 21 mixed housing units of 8 numbers of four bedroom penthouse apartment; six numbers of three bedroom apartments; two numbers of three bedroom apartment and one number of four bedroom apartment, all en suit and located at 7, Thurnburn Street and 5 Raymond Street, Yaba, valued at N937 million and bought through Chapel Properties Ltd.
Others are 16 numbers of four bedroom terrace, located at Heritage Court Estate, Omerelu Street, Diobu GRA, Port Harcourt, River States, valued at N928 million and bought through Blue Nile Estate Ltd; 13 numbers of 3 bedroom with one room maid’s quarter, situated at Mabushi Gardens Estate, Plot 1205, Cadastral Zone B06, Mabushi, Abuja, valued at N650 million and bought through Azinga Meadows Ltd and six flats of three bedroom and one boys quarter, located at Plot 808 (135) Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, valued at N805 million and bought through Vistapoint property Development Ltd.
The order followed a motion by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), seeking the permanent forfeiture of the property.
The motion was brought pursuant to Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Fraud Related Offences Act No. 14, 2006, Section 44 (2) (B) of the Constitution and the inherent jurisdiction of the court.
The anti-graft agency while urging the court to grant the motion argued that the property sought to be attached were reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities.
Having listened to the submissions of EFCC’s lawyer, Anselem Ozioko, Justice Anka granted the motion as prayed.
In granting the motion, the judge noted that there was no response to the applicant’s motion on notice for final forfeiture by any of the respondents despite been served with the hearing notice.
“The only document seen in the court’s file is a motion filed by one, Nnamdi Ezewochi of the chambers of Babajide Koku (SAN) since September 7, 2017, seeking an order of court for the applicant to serve the 3rd to 6th respondents an earlier ex-parte motion already filed and granted by the court.
“The motion also seeks extension of time to hear the final forfeiture proceedings for the respondents to come and show cause. Their grouse was that the applicant failed to serve them the ex-parte motion.
“With due respect to the counsel, ex-parte motions by their nature, are not meant to be served, except when ordered by the court in line with the Federal High Court rules. The respondents’ applicants are however not before the court today to proceed with their application despite the service of hearing notice on them.
“The motion seems to have been abandoned by the respondents’ applicant and it is accordingly strike out.
“I have also read the affidavit of the 2nd respondent, Donald Chidi Amamgbo, explaining the role he played in the entire transaction and that he cannot stand in the way of the court to make any order it deemed fit to make in relation to the property.
“I have gone through the affidavit attached to motion for final forfeiture as well as the submissions of the EFCC’s counsel, A. B. C. Ozioko. The court has no option considering the incontrovertible evidence filed by the EFCC than to grant the application. The motion for final forfeiture is accordingly granted as prayed. All parties have a right of appeal”, Justice Anka held.
Joined as respondents in the suit are Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke (1st respondent), Donald Chidi Amamgbo (2nd respondent), Chapel Properties Limited (3rd respondent), Blue Nile Estate Limited (4th respondent), Azinga Meadows Limited (5th respondent) and Vistapoint Property Development Limited (6th respondent).
The last of such forfeitures happened on February 28 when Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of a Federal High Court in Lagos ordered permanent forfeiture of two penthouses valued at $4.764 million belonging to Alison-Madueke to the Federal Government.
The judge had earlier on December 5, 2017 after granting an ex-parte motion filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), ordered the temporary forfeiture of the two buildings described as Penthouse 21 building 5, Block C, 11 floor (Bella Vista Estate) Banana Island, Ikoyi and Penthouse 22, Block B (Admiralty Estate) also in Ikoyi, Lagos to the Federal Government.
In granting the final forfeiture of the houses, Justice Olatoregun said: “I have observed the facts and exhibits attached and I am also mindful that the second, third and fourth respondents have no objections to the application. I therefore, have no hesitation in ordering a final forfeiture of the property to the Federal Government.”
Joined as respondents in the suit marked, FHC/L/CS/1793c/17 are; Diezani Alison-Madueke, Donald Amamgbo, Schillenburg LLC and Sequoyah Property Limited.
In an affidavit in support of the motion deposed to by an investigative officer of the EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, it was averred that during investigation into the ownership of the two property, one, Mr. Fadi Basbous, the Deputy Managing Director of YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited, volunteered extra-judicial statement, wherein he stated that the two property which were sold at $3.570 million and $1.194 million respectively was owned by Sequoyah Property Limited and Schillenburg LLC.
The deponent also stated that the payments for the Penthouse 22, Block B, 8, Gerrard Road, Ikoyi and Penthouse 21, Building 5, Block C, 11 floor, Plot1, Zone N, FGN layout, Banana Island, Ikoyi, were made by one, Mrs. Angela Jide-Jones and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Limited.
It was further averred that the said Mrs. Angela Jide-Jones, was the wife of Jide Omokore, while the said Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Limited, was registered and promoted by the said Jide Omokore.
The deponent also stated that Omokore paid for the property through his wife, Angela, and one of his companies and directed the developers of the property to sign agreements with Schillenburg LLC and Sequoyah Properties Limited, both of which were linked to Allison-Madueke.
According to the deponent, Schillenburg LLC was registered in Hong Kong, and was on March 30, 2012 transferred to Donald Chidi Amamgbo as the sole owner.
He further averred that Sequoyah Property Limited was registered in Nigeria on October 11, 2011 with fictitious names of Chukwudima Nwako and Olisa Eloka, as shareholders and directors.
The deponent added that Donald Chidi Amamgbo stated in his extra judicial statement that he incorporated Schillenburg LLC and submitted same to Allison-Madueke for a transaction.
The former minister was also named in some cases involving some politicians and officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
In one of such cases, an INEC official, Yisa Olanrewaju Adedoyin was on March 5, 2017, convicted by Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos for receiving N70.05 million from the $115 million allegedly shared by Allison-Madueke to compromise the 2015 general election.
He was convicted based on a plea bargain arrangement he had with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Ofoke: How Ebonyi revived justice system
Ebonyi State Justice Commissioner and Attorney-General, Chief Cletus Ofoke in this interview with UCHENNA INYA, speaks on justice delivery system, rule of law, police, prison reforms, among others
How has it been as Chief Law Officer in Ebonyi State?
Well, God has been faithful and government is a continuum. When I met activities in the ministry, I quickly adapted to them and started discharging my duties accordingly. So, it has been God all the way.
That ministry belongs to a lawyer and as a trained lawyer, nothing is strange to me. In terms of administration, I have the experience. I have run my law firm for seven years before I got the appointment. I have also held many positions of trust that had to do with administration. So, combining administration with practice of law to me is not a strange thing.
What is your assessment of justice system in the state?
In Ebonyi state judicial system, the spirit is very high. The justice sector to me, is living up to its expectations; it is not a one way traffic. There are stakeholders in the justice system; the judiciary, the prison and others. Those bodies brought together have been collaborating to ensure that justice is done to all manner of people in the state.
But as a ministry, we have been discharging that which the Constitution says we should do; we have been vetting files, filing information, ensuring that people who are not connected with any offence are discharged accordingly because that is our mandate and ensuring that people that has one case or the other in court are prosecuted accordingly.
Immediately I came in as Commissioner, I had a series of meeting with Heads of Departments of the ministry and in those meetings, we were able to marshal out points on how to deliver effectively on the issue of justice dispensation in the state and they all agreed that those points were apt and that they were going to abide by it.
I think the HODs are doing their best. One, no file from police stays more than a day in our ministry without being vetted. Immediately it is vetted, if we find out that there is a prima facie case established against the accused person, we charge that person accordingly. I have also made sure that the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) is unburdened. In other words, I met backlog of cases files that were not given attention but immediately I came on board, I ensured that that those files were given urgent attention.
Again, the Department of Public Prosecution is a life wire of this ministry in terms of justice sector dispensation. Because of this, we injected more people into that department so that it will not lack manpower and that has really paid off because the law officers in that very particular department has to do with justice sector we are talking about and they are up and doing.
So, we brought on board people that are seasoned, people that have done the job for years and people that know what it takes to prosecute and what it takes to counsel where necessary. It has not been without challenges anyway but we have been able to surmount them.
The problems we are having is that at times we don’t get case files from police as quickly as possible the way they are supposed to be doing and that hinders the operation of justice dispensation in the ministry. By and large, the ministry is doing very well.
In what way would you say the backlog of case files you inherited affected justice delivery system?
The effect although we have cleared them, innocent people were languishing in prison. People that were not connected to the offences they were charged with were languishing, praying that God should intervene on their behalf. But with the promptness and with the zeal the people we have deployed to the ministry have shown, we have been able to clear those backlogs and that is what gave rise to filing of information.
In fact, more than 60 informations have been filed since I came on board and I can assure that authoritatively that we have discharged not less than 20 people.
This has to some extent decongested our prisons. Like I told you, justice sector is not about ministry of justice alone; we have other critical stakeholders. So, in terms of prison decongestion, that has really helped. Situations up to 50 files have been given attention by way of filing information and more are still coming. As a matter of fact, last week, the Department of Public Prosecution filed eleven information awaiting assignment by the state Chief Judge.
For the other ones, we discharged them because we looked at the files, why they were brought to prisons and we saw that they were innocent of the offences they were charged. When I came on board, we had about 70 case files that were not given attention but we have cleared them.
What role is the state government playing in prison decongestion?
The governor has done a lot in the area of prison decongestion. He is constructing an ultra-modern building for the state federal prisons which is about 90% completion.
He has also charged the state Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy to be up and doing and that committee is headed by myself the Honourable Attorney General. The Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy has met with the Chief Judge of the state; we have met up to three times and part of it is the release from prisons about 26 inmates sometime in February this year.
You can agree with me that a situation whereby 26 inmates were release from prisons will go a long way to decongest the prisons. So, the government is doing quite a lot. The Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy is currently looking at cases of inmates who deserve to be granted state pardon.
How cordial is the relationship between your ministry and the security agents in the state?
The relationship is very cordial. Of course, we are all partners in justice delivery and when I came on board, the first point of call was to meet with the state Commissioner of Police, Titus Lamorde and we had a robust discussion on how to be getting case files from police as when due so that we can vet them accordingly in line with the directive court. And I can assure you that that meeting has yielded positive result because the office of the officer in charge of legal gives us attention. Anytime my ministry staff goes there to get those files for vetting, he treats that as a priority.
In respect to the prison, we are very strong partners in progress; the relationship is very cordial. In fact, you cannot talk about prison decongestion without involving the prison officials. The Controller of prisons is a wonderful woman; Mrs. Oputa is a good woman. She came up with an idea of decongesting the prison and that position of her gave birth to a meeting with the Chief Judge of the state which resulted to releasing of 26 inmates like I told you. If the relationship is not there, that wouldn’t have been possible. Other security agencies; SSS,
Civil Defence are good partners and we have not had any challenge resulting from their various offices. We work hand in hand to make sure that our state remains number one in terms of prison decongestion.
Is rule of law on trial in the state?
Well, you already know the answer. In Ebonyi state, everything is done according to the rule of law and the dictates of the law.
Our governor believes in due process and let me inform you that he has not only been acknowledged in Ebonyi state, in the south east, but in Nigeria. He has won prestigious award of Ambassador of rule of law, good governance and anti-corruption.
That summarizes the state of rule of law in Ebonyi state. For somebody to have won the laurels among other states, tells you that in Ebonyi state law is supreme.
In terms of checks and balances, in terms of accountability, in terms of due process, our governor is number one. Whatever he does, he ensures that it is backed up by law. He is a man that listens to the wise counsel of not only jurists but also the ministry of justice which primary role is to advise government on law. And you can see that in the state, people can sleep with their eyes closed because of the attention he has given to security, because of the attention he has given to human empowerment.
In terms of the legislature, the Ebonyi state House of Assembly is an organ of government that does its own constitutional job the way it pleases the Honourable members. His Excellency, the governor does not interfere with the running of the House of Assembly.
They are free to legislate on any matter that has direct positive bearing on the people of the state and that is democracy and that is the rule of law we are talking about.
So, if our governor does not believe in rule of law, he would have been interfering with the functions of the legislative arm of government and that of the judiciary. Our Judges go about dispensing justice; our government does not interfere with how judgments are giving. In fact, some judgments are even given against government and government obeys them. We advise government and government to obey them. So, rule of law reigns supreme in Ebonyi state.
What role would the newly created Criminal Prosecution department play in justice system?
It is to monitor the inflow of criminal cases in all the courts in the state. I told you that we vet files and other things we do to ensure that there is justice delivery in the state.
The department is a very vital department in the ministry of justice and it has helped to a very large extent in ensuring that criminal prosecution go very well in the state.
The job of the Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Criminal Prosecution, who is in charge of that department, does not stop at criminal prosecution. It looks at other cases that of interest to both government and individuals.
In other words, inferring with the police, the office of the O/C legal, the Nigerian prisons, the DSS because these are the agencies responsible for apprehension of criminals. He interfaces with those security agencies in respect to criminal matters that are to be given attention by both the agencies and the ministry of justice.
‘Why pupilage is sacrosanct’
Emmanuel Oche Ochai attended Benue State University, Makurdi and was called to the Bar on November 13, 2007. He speaks on his career, judiciary, fond memories, among others. AKEEM NAFIU met him
He was called to the Bar about a decade ago having obtained his LL.B degree from the Benue State University and a BL after one year compulsory training at the Nigeria Law School.
Emmanuel Oche Ochai, now an associate partner at the law firm of B. Aguegbodo & Co., attended Boys’ Secondary School, Gindiri, Plateau state for his secondary education.
He, however, shared his foray into the legal profession with New Telegraph this way:
“My name is Emmanuel Oche Ochai. I had my primary school at the National Veterinary Research Institute staff Nursery/Primary School, Vom, Plateau State between 1986 and1995. I proceeded from there to the Boys’ Secondary School, Gindiri, Plateau State between 1995 and 2001 and Benue State University, Makurdi, where I studied law from 2001 to 2006. Thereafter, I moved to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos Campus, between 2006 and 2007. I am presently pursuing my Masters at the University of Lagos, Akoka. I was called to the Nigerian Bar on November 13, 2007. I practice presently in Lagos with the law firm of B. AGUEGBODO & Co.”
Growing up as a kid, I watched a lot of movies and was privileged to read a lot of novels as well. Whenever I came across a character in those books and movies who was a lawyer I really admired those characters especially the ones I saw in those movies. All I wanted was to be like those lawyers I watched and read about. I guess that was a major factor in my decision to be a lawyer today.
First day in court
My first day in court was at the High Court of Ondo State, in Akure, as a corps member. I was asked by my principal to move a motion ex-parte. I participated in moot court sessions in my university days and as such I was familiar with the procedure of moving a motion and being the most junior counsel in court that day, my matter was called last. By then, I had watched senior and experienced lawyers move different applications, so, I learnt a lot. When it got to my turn, it was a smooth ride.
My most embarrassing moment in court was years back when I newly started practice. I was arguing an application and I relied heavily on a particular law. Unknown to me, the law had been repealed. The court drew my attention to the fact that the law has been repealed. People in court were all laughing at me. It was really embarrassing.
I have a lot of fond memories in this profession, like the first case I handled a case from beginning to the end and judgment was delivered in my favour. But one that will always stand out for me happened in my very early days in practice. I appeared before the High Court in Lagos and the matter was for hearing. The counsel on the other side was a very experienced and senior lawyer. I was appearing in the case for the first time that day. The other counsel noticed my inexperience and naivety, so he decided to take full advantage of the situation. The judge noticed what was going on and stylishly hinted me to take an adjournment so I can be better prepared. The experience really gave me faith in the system and the icing on the cake was that judgment was delivered in my favour in that case.
There are a lot of things that cannot be taught in the classroom as far as this profession is concerned and that is where pupillage comes into play. It is advisable that young counsel should find good law firms and attach themselves where they can learn a lot of things. Pupillage is very important and I support it.
Judiciary of my dream
Autonomous judiciary, an impartial judiciary, a judiciary that dispenses justice without fear or favour and without delay is my dream judiciary that will embrace the development and innovations in the I.T. world, where one will from the convenience of his office file a process in court. Also, my dream judiciary is the one that will be the last hope of the common man.
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