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Kazeem: Blame magistrates for detaining underage in prison

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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.

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Re-instatement: NRC’s MD risks arrest

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Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of a Federal High Court in Lagos has threatened to issue a bench warrant against the Managing Director of Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), Mr. Fidet Okhiria, over his failure to appear before the court.
The judge frowned at Okhiria’s refusal to show up in court to face a committal proceedings slammed on him by a former employee of the Corporation, Benedict Iheakam, for allegedly disobeying a court’s order.
Iheakam had through his lawyer, Johnson Esezoobo, asked the court for an order committing Okhiria and NRC’s Secretary/Legal Adviser, Canise Oklahoma, to prison over their alleged refusal to comply with a court’s order handed down more than 14 years ago.

Justice Dan Abutu (Rtd) had on February 18, 2003, while delivering judgement in a suit marked, FHC/L/CS/926/95, ordered the NRC to reinstate Iheakam into its fold and pay all his entitlements.
At the last hearing of the matter, Oklahoma’s lawyer, Opeyemi Igbayiloye, informed the court of his meetings with Esezoobo but did not file any document before the court in that regard.
He said: “At the last proceedings, the court directed that our client should show cause why he did not comply with the court’s order. It is unfortunate that we did not have documentary evidence that there is a cause to resolve the matter and comply with order of court.”

In his response, Esezoobo while confirming Igbayiloye’s submissions regarding the meetings added that he was informed by the NRC’s legal adviser that the MD is currently in China.
Piqued by the development, Justice Olatoregun asked if Okhiria is bigger than the law.

“Order of the court must always be obeyed. He must not show himself to be above law. Is he too big to appear in court? I give him a week to obey court”, the judge said
The matter has been adjourned to February 21 for Okhiria to appear in court.

Justice Abutu had in his judgement held that a purported retirement letter of Iheakam, a Principal Technical Officer at NRC, dated November 1, 1994, is contrary to his contract of employment and is therefore unlawful, null and void.
The judge noted that NRC had sometimes in 1992, nominated Iheakam as one of those to attend a three-month Commonwealth sponsored course in Zambia.

“During the three months period, they were given $500 per month. The total amount for the three months was $1,500, given to them in Zambia currency. They were not given estacode, but were orally told that on their return to Nigeria, they would be paid all entitlements.

“I have carefully perused the standard conditions of service of the defendant, which govern the appointment of the plaintiff admitted as exhibit 2 in this case and I am unable to see any provision thereof, which permits the retirement of an employee for no reason.

“I hold that the retirement of the plaintiff is invalid, null and void. The plaintiff is entitled to continue to have right to be treated as an employee of the defendant, notwithstanding his purported retirement vide letter dated 1st November 1994 admitted as Exhibit 11A in this case.

“The defendant is hereby ordered to reinstate the plaintiff forthwith to its employment and to restore him to his rank as Principal Technical Officer 1(Metal) with full salary and all entitlements from October 1994 to the date of judgment herein.

“The sum of $21,285, being the total of estacode allowance for 93 days is hereby awarded for the plaintiff to be paid by the defendants,” the judge ordered.
The management of NRC has refused to comply with the court’s order till date despite losing out in all their motions to appeal the judgment from 2005 to 2014 when the last application was struck out for incompetence.

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Row over reordered sequence of elections

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AKEEM NAFIU writes that although lawyers were at the weekend unanimous that the National Assembly was constitutionally empowered to make and amend laws for the good of the country, they, however, faulted the assembly’s committee on Electoral Act (amendment) Bill for a reordered sequence of 2019 general elections

 

 

Notwithstanding last week’s disagreement among members of the National Assembly on a report of an amendment carried out on the Electoral Act which reordered sequence of the 2019 general election, lawyers at the weekend expressed disgust for the National Assemblymen to dabble into the issue when the elections were already near.
They said the amendment was carried out in bad faith while querying the rationale behind the lawmakers’ action for the amendment.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had on January 9 at a news conference in Abuja released guidelines and schedule of operations as well as the time-table for the 2019 elections.
Its chairman, Professor Mahmud Yakubu, said the notice of the general election would be out on August 17 in accordance with Section 30 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 which provided that the notice of election be made not later than 90 days before the elections.
Besides, the INEC chairman said the conduct of party primaries including resolution of disputes arising from the primaries would take place between August 18 and October 7.
Yakubu said: “The campaigns of political parties for Presidential and National Assembly elections should begin by November 18 while that of governorship and House of Assembly is December 1.”

According to Yakubu, the last day for the submission of nomination forms by political parties for the presidential and the National Assembly elections was December 3, while the governorship and the House of Assembly was December 17.
However, going by the schedule and guidelines, the presidential and the National Assembly poll would hold on February 16, 2019 while the governorship and the House of Assembly elections were fixed for March 2, 2019.
But, these guidelines and time-table for the 2019 general election as released by INEC on January 9 had already set the stage for an unending clash between the National Assembly and the electoral umpire over which of them had the power to actually fix time-table for a general election following an adoption of the National Assembly’s committee report which had reordered sequence of the 2019 elections.
The adoption of the committee’s report had reversed the time-table already released by INEC.

Following the adoption of the reordered sequence of elections, the presidential election would no longer hold on February 16, 2019 should President Muhammadu Buhari give assent to the proposed bill.
Although the adoption of the reordered sequence of the elections had caused a sharp disagreement among member of the National Assembly, it is believed that such tinkering with the sequence of the elections would no doubt trigger an unending legal disputes ahead of the 2019 general election especially when such adoption was coming a few weeks after the assemblymen amended the Electoral Act 2010 with an inclusion of Section 25(1).

The amendment would now reorder the sequence of the elections to begin with the National Assembly, followed by the governorship and the state Houses of Assembly and ending it with the presidential election.
However, a twist was added to the development when the House of Representatives began a process to amend the Electoral Act 2010 with the inclusion of Section 25(1) in the law.

This was to reorder the sequence of the elections, to commence with the National Assembly, followed by the governorship and State Houses of Assembly, and presidential as last.
This, however, countered the sequence announced by INEC which had put the presidential and the National Assembly elections first and the governorship and the states assembly second.
The exercise reached its climax last week when the National Assembly Conference Committee on Electoral Act (amendment) Bill adopted the reordered sequence of the 2019 general election.

The Chairman of Senate Committee on INEC, Suleiman Nazif, insisted that the bill did not in any way violate any provisions of Section 76 of the 1999 Constitution which empowered INEC to fix dates and conduct elections.
He said: “Empowering INEC to that effect was duplicated in the bill just as powers conferred on the National Assembly by Section 4 (2) of the Constitution were exercised in relation to rescheduling of elections.”

Nazif was of the view that the inclusion of Section 25(1) which changed the sequence of election different from the one earlier released by INEC had not violated any provision of the laws governing the operations of the electoral body.
He was echoed by the House of Representatives’ chairman Committee on INEC, Edward Pwajok, who said that the House concurred with the Senate on the issue because of the need to give credibility to the electoral process.
Pwajok said: “The sequence of election provision in the bill is not targeted at anybody but aimed at giving credibility to the electoral process. This is by giving the electorate the opportunity to vote based on qualities of candidates vying for National Assembly seat.

“Whether it would be assented to or not by the president, as far as we are concerned, remains in the realm of conjecture for now but if such eventually happens, we will know how to cross the bridge.”
According to Pwajok, the National Assembly would have no option than to go ahead and adopt the reordered sequence of the elections should President Buhari refuse to sign the amended bill.
A Senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District and member of the committee, Dino Melaye, also shared the same view.

He said that while date for election was within the prerogative power of the electoral umpire, extant laws had also given schedules for such elections as sole responsibility of the National Assembly.
“So, contrary to reports and comments by some Nigerians on the reordered sequence of election, National Assembly has not overlapped its boundaries,” he said.

But INEC insisted that it had the sole power under the Electoral Act 2010 to fix dates for elections as released on January 9 as it was a follow-up to the announcement of dates for the elections that was earlier made on March 9, 2017.
INEC chief Yakubu said the commission had arrived at the schedule of activities after its meeting held on the same day.
He said: “In a clear departure from past practice when dates were

announced close to elections, the commission decided that henceforth our Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on the 3rd Saturday of the month of February of each election year, while governorship and State Assembly elections will hold two weeks later.

“When the end of tenure of the FCT Area Councils coincides with the general election, the FCT Council elections are to be combined with the governorship and State Assembly elections.
“By these decisions, the commission has fixed Saturday, February 16, 2019 as the date for Presidential and National Assembly elections while governorship and the States Assembly elections will hold on Saturday, March 2, 2019.

“Since the tenure of FCT Chairmen and Councilors will end in 2019, the Area Council elections will also hold on Saturday, March 2, 2019. Consequently, while other Nigerians elect their governors and members of States’ Assemblies, citizens in the FCT will elect Chairmen and Councilors for the Area Councils.”

Meanwhile, the Senate last Wednesday passed the conference committee report on amendment to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Act.
The passage of the report was followed by dissenting voices calling for points of order within the chamber.

The amendment to the electoral act, if approved by President Muhammadu Buhari, will uphold the change in the order of election as adopted by the lawmakers.
The federal lawmakers want their election held first in 2019, before that of the state lawmakers and state governors, with the last being the presidential election.

Since 2003, the presidential and National Assembly polls were being held first on the same day, followed by governorship and state legislative polls on the second day of the general election.
The House of Representatives was the first on January 23 to amend the Electoral Act and effect a change in the order of the 2019 general election.

The change recommended by the lower chamber came barely a month after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the time-table for the general election.
The amendment by the House was made at the Committee of the whole House, presided over by Deputy Speaker, Yussuff Lasun.

The lawmakers amended the Act while considering the report of the House Committee on Electoral Matters which proposed amendment of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
The House amended Section 25 of the Principal Act and substituted it with a new Section 25 (1).
According to the section, the elections shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly election (b) State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections (c) Presidential election.
Similarly, Section 87 was amended by adding a new Section 87 (11) with a marginal note “time for primaries of political parties.”

Lawyers speak
Apparently fumed at the engineered reordered sequence of elections by the National Assembly, lawyers at the weekend said the assemblymen erred by their action.
Notwithstanding the National Assembly’s view on the reordered sequence of the elections, lawyers were unanimous that neither Mr. President nor the National Assembly had legitimate powers to dictate to INEC on how it would organize and conduct general election.

To them, since INEC would always rely on its powers as guaranteed by the Electoral Act 2010 and its guidelines without recourse to the other arms of government, the power to roll out guidelines and time-table for the general election was exclusively within INEC.

Besides, the lawyers in separate telephone interviews with New Telegraph Law at the weekend while acknowledging that the lawmakers were indeed empowered by the provisions of Section 4 of the Constitution to make and amend laws, said the rationale behind the amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 and the purported adoption of the reordered sequence of the elections was self-serving.

For instance, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Chief Mike Ozekhome, believes that nothing stops the National Assembly from altering the election sequence through an amendment of the Electoral Act.
He said: “What the National Assembly is not allowed to do is to change this law less than six months to any election. We still have 14 months before the election, so they can amend the law to change the order.

“But, beyond it, it is more responsible and more politically correct to put lesser elections first before the biggest election. The little masquerade first dances in the village square before the biggest of them all comes out.
“It will have a negative effect if you hold the presidential election first before others. Others like governors or senators would want to go where the president had gone so that they would not be in opposition.
“Not only that, the person who has won the presidency can decide to muscle others and remove those they don’t want within one week.

“So, let the small elections come first, which will make the presidential candidate to lobby, work very hard and go down to the remotest parts of Nigeria to campaign, because he cannot take anything for granted. So, I think the National Assembly is right in terms of political correctness and morality.”

But another Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Seyi Sowemimo, disagreed with Ozekhome’s view.
Sowemimo while acknowledging the power of the lawmakers to make laws for the country, berated them for putting their interests above those of other Nigerians they claimed to represent.
He said: “Definitely, if they alter the time-table that INEC has done, they are acting in bad faith. The situation of the country is one that public office holders no longer act in public interests. As we have it now, the lawmakers are only interested in having their own elections when their interest will be protected.

“The lawmakers are entitled to make any law, even when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it is acting within the law, the National Assembly can change the law. They are the lawmakers and they can change the law to suit themselves.

“However, what I think is more important is to focus on the fact that what we are dealing with is a political matter. It is one in which all the parties are interested in having a time-table that serve their best interests. The lawmakers will want their own election to occur when their interests will be protected.

They would not want to support some other people in other elections and those ones succeed and when their own time comes, the rules of the game would have changed.
“So, I think the action of the lawmakers is more of political expediency than any other thing. The lawmakers are trying to adopt a political strategy. They make the laws and whatever the law is at every point in time they can always alter it to suit their purpose.”

Sowemimo was echoed by a rights activist, Mr. Jiti Ogunye, who noted that the silence of the law in mandating the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to fix the order of election was what the legislature now exploited to stipulate the order in which election will be conducted.
However, ogunye berated the legislators for changing an electoral law for selfish reasons and political survival in office.

He said: “There are issues that have arisen in the action of the lawmakers. This is because we can debate the reasonableness with respect to all the members of the National Assembly of the act that they have done. Why will you stipulate the order of elections and then not allow INEC to exercise its discretionary powers as to the order in which elections should be held? What is the good reason behind this action? INEC should fix the election date and when we are saying this, the implication is that it should fix the order in which the election is to be held.

The silence of the law in mandating INEC to fix the order of election is what the legislature is now exploiting to stipulate the order in which election will be conducted. If you ask me, that shouldn’t be the business of the legislature.
“What I think the National Assembly is trying to do is to protect the interest of its members who are interested in contesting election and those who are members of the ruling party who will soon fall out and all of that.

“What they are trying to do is to put the presidential election last. In which case, it would not be possible for the executive branch of government and the party leadership to compel them and coerce them to work for the candidate of their party, indeed, presumably, the current president.

“So, they want to secure their position first and leave the current president if he is going to contest election in the cold to sort out himself. This is bad for party politics. Look, you don’t change an electoral law for selfish reasons and political survival in office. It is an indication that the lawmakers are allowing personal interest and consideration to override their sense of duty to the country. There is no good reason to stagger the election that way.

“With this arrangement, we are going to spend more money and shut down the economy for at least a month, among other attendant implications. This is ridiculous. The Nigeria people do not exist for legislators. But on the contrary, the legislators exist to serve the Also speaking in that line, lawyer and National President of the Campaign for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwumadu, disclosed that the action of the lawmakers was self-serving and self-centered.

He was of the view that the promulgation of the Electoral Act 2010 has put the burden of specific business of general management and conduct of elections in Nigeria on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He said: “If you take it from the angle of the constitutional provisions of the core mandate or responsibility of the legislature, you will be tempted to argue that the lawmakers are at liberty to do what they have done. The legislature under Section 4 of the Constitution is empowered to make and amend laws. With this, one may think that the lawmakers are in order to make laws reordering the sequence of elections.

“However, if you take a closer look at the Act of the National Assembly already promulgated by the same legislature, which is the Electoral Act 2010, you will found out that the specific business of general management and conduct of elections in Nigeria is the sole responsibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). If this is the case, you cannot isolate the issue of the sequence of elections from that global responsibility of INEC.

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‘I had uneventful first court appearance’

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Funke Adeoye, an alumnus of the University of Benin (UNIBEN), was called to the Bar in 2013. She tells AKEEM NAFIU how her journey into the legal profession began

 

Background
Funke Adeoye is an associate lawyer at Azright Legal, a full service law firm in Abuja. She was called to the Bar on November 28, 2013. Adeoye, who attended Gladys College, Ketu, Lagos and LL.B at UNIBEN, is an associate of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIarb) UK as well as a member of Young International Council for Commercial Arbitrators (ICCA).

I am ‘Funke Adeoye (Mrs), called to the Nigerian Bar on November 28, 2013. I currently practice law at Azright Legal, a full service law firm in Abuja. I am also the Executive Director of Humans Behind Bars Aid Initiative, a social-profit organization that offers legal, medical and restorative aid to women and juvenile awaiting trial in Nigerian Prison.

I had my O’levels at Gladys College, Ketu, Lagos and my LL.B degree from University of Benin. I am an Associate of Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIarb) UK as well as a member of Young ICCA (International Council for Commercial Arbitrators)”.

Why law?
I chose to study law because I love writing, reading and talking. At the time I made my choice, law seemed like the best option suitable for my ability.
Speaking on challenges confronting her as a female lawyer, Adeoye regretted inability of some male clients to distinguish between professionalism and their dealings with female lawyers. This she said had made her to always assert her stance in every discussion with male clients.

“In my experience, people especially the male folks consider female lawyers to be incredibly smart, and at times some male clients find it hard to draw the line between a professional and a pleasure seeker. Most times, I have to go out of my way to assert my stance that I am a female, I have brains and beauty but I never mix business with pleasure,” she said.

Though she managed to move a motion for substituted service on her first appearance as a lawyer in court, Adeoye could not forget how she was frightened on her first appearance in court while trying to announce her appearance.
She said: “My first solo appearance in court was uneventful. I had accompanied my senior colleagues quite a number of times before my “baptism”. Apart from having cold and shaky feet before I announced my appearance, every other thing went well. I overcame the shaky feet as soon as I announced my appearance and went straight up to move my motion Her fond memory revolved round an event in 2016 where her determination helped in securing freedom for 20 persons accused of murder.

She relived the memory this way: “One time in 2016, while I was practicing in Lagos, My senior colleague asked me to stand down a criminal matter we had both been handling at a Federal High Court presided over by Hon. Justice Abang. The prosecution counsel had informed my learned senior that he had an emergency and will be late for court and my senior colleague had a contentious motion to argue at the High Court.

“My lord had always granted us the grace of standing down the said matter as we had 20 accused persons arraigned and the courtroom was very small. I went to court and announced my appearance, after which I intimated the court on the state of things. The court’s words after my plea to stand down the matter was resounding “stand down refused, counsel go on with your case or I will adjourn this case till after vacation”
The accused persons at the time had been denied bail and had been in prison for close to two years. We were lucky to have a day-to-day trial and an adjournment since vacation was never contemplated.

So, despite my not been mentally prepared to go on with the trial, I called our next witness to the box (one of the accused persons) and went on with examination-in-chief and tendering of documents. In the course of that, the prosecution counsel appeared suddenly and cross-examined the witness why I made my objections where necessary.

Needless to say, the court commended my grit in front of my senior colleague and other lawyers at the next adjourned day. Today, the accused persons have been discharged and acquitted of all the charges filed against them which included but not limited to murder, pipeline vandalisation and conspiracy and every time I think of it, I can’t help but smile that I fully participated in letting justice run its full course.

On her dream judiciary, Adeoye said she envisioned a truly independent judiciary devoid of executive or legislative interference which is willing and ready to apply technology in dispensing justice.
She said: “A judiciary independent of the other arms of government (executive and legislature) as well as a judiciary that would make the most of technology in swift dispensation of justice is the judiciary of my dream.”

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