The rank and file members of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) was last week depleted following the withdrawal of the coveted title from two members of the Body over allegation of professional misconduct. FOLUSO OGUNMODEDE reports
For about 43 years, the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee (LPPC), empowered by the Legal Practitioners Act 207 Section 5 (1) had not stopped conferring the title of Senior Advocates of Nigeria on lawyers, who had distinguished themselves in the practice of law.
And to be considered for the coveted title of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, a lawyer must have been in legal practice or academics for not less than ten years. Its composition includes the Chief Justice (as Chairman), the Attorney-General, a Justice of the Supreme Court, President of the Court of Appeal, five of the Chief Judges of the states, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and five legal practitioners who must be Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
Besides, Legal Practitioners Act 207 Section 5 (1) requires applicants for the rank of SAN to be of good character with no complaint relating to professional misconduct must be against them.
It also requires candidates to demonstrate professional and personal integrity, be honest and straightforward in professional dealings, be of good character and reputation as well as be candid with clients and professional colleagues.
It says: “A candidate shall be considered ineligible if, in the opinion of the LPPC, the candidate is adjudged to be of the following disposition: “Bad behaviour, whether in or out of court; poor temperament or propensity to insult or assault people or cause bodily harm or put them in a state of fear of bodily harm and evidence of moral depravity or other socially unacceptable behaviour.”
However, LPPC in its 43 years had churned out no fewer than 479 distinguished lawyers, adorning them with silk wig with other revered privileges.
It had its first Senior Advocates on April 3, 1973 when it bestowed the prestigious title on two lawyers—the late Chief Fredrick Rotimi Alade Williams and Dr. Nabo Graham-Douglas, who had distinguished themselves in the profession of law.
Two years after Williams and Graham-Douglas bagged the coveted title, 13 other distinguished lawyers joined the privileged BOSAN.
They are the late Premier of the defunct western region, Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and R.A. Fani-Kayode. Others were the late Baba Oba of Lagos, T.A. Bankole Oki, E. A. Molajo, Kehinde Sofola, Chief Richard Akinjide, Chief G.O.K. Ajayi, Chief Olisa Chukura, Dr. Nwakanma Okoro, Dr. Mudiaga Odje, P.O. Balonwu, Professor Ben Nwabueze and Dr. Augustine Nnamani.
All were conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria on December 1, 1978.
43 years on, no fewer than 464 distinguished lawyers had bagged the title.
Although majority of the first generation SAN title holders have passed on, LPPC as at October 2017 had conferred the title on 479 other lawyers, who had distinguished themselves in the practice of law.
But between 2010 and 2018, the Body of Senior Advocates suffered a dent following misdemeanor of some of its members which had prompted the LPPC to strip them of the coveted title.
No fewer than five Senior Advocates had been sanctioned by the privileges committee in the last eight years.
BOSAN members, who had received LPPC’s big stick, were a former Justice Minister and Attorney-General, Chief Michael Kaase Aondoakaa, Chief Ajibola Aribisala, Otunba Kunle Kalejaiye, Adekunle Babatunde Ogunba and Mrs. Oluwatoyin Ajoke Bashorun.
While Aondoakaa, Aribisala’s titles were suspended by the LPPC, Kalejaiye and Ogunba were stripped of their titles just as Bashorun’s nomination for the coveted title was not only withdrawn but barred from applying for three years on the grounds of misconduct.
Adekunle Babatunde Ogunba was elevated into the Inner Bar as Senior Advocate of Nigeria alongside foremost activist lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome and 17 others on December 4, 2009.
Nine years after, Ogunba was stripped of the coveted title by the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee (LPPC) over allegation of professional misconduct.
The decision of the committee which was with immediate effect was contained in a statement dated January 11 and issued at the end of its 129th plenary meeting.
The statement signed by the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court and Secretary of the LPPC, Mrs. Hadizatu Mustapha, stated that the decision to strip Ogunba of his rank was based on a petition filed against him by a firm, Honeywell Group.
Honeywell Group had accused Ogunba of professional misconduct following “institution of multiplicity of proceedings before different judges of the Federal High Court on the same subject with the deliberate aim of abusing the process of court and derailing the course of justice.”
This, the statement said the committee had found merit in the allegation.
Like Ogunba, Mrs Oluwatoyin Ajoke Bashorun also lost the privi
lege of being admitted into the privileged rank.
Reason: The LPPC found a petition of misconduct against her meritorious.
It, however, announced the withdrawal of her nomination for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate.
According to a statement, the committee found that the petition against her was meritorious “having found that the respondent stayed and continued to stay in a rented property for nine years without paying rent and that Oluwatoyin Ajoke Bashorun Esq. being an officer in the temple of justice and an aspirant to the exalted position of Senior Advocate of Nigeria has conducted herself in a manner which is clearly in contravention of the provisions of paragraphs 18(2) (a) & (c) and 19 (a) (b) (c) & (d) of the Guidelines for the Conferment of the Rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria 2016.”
At the last emergency meeting of September 15, the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee (LPPC) by virtue of Section 5 (1) of the Legal Practitioners Act CAP L11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 as amended, decided to suspend the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria on Oluwatoyin Ajoke Bashorun Esq. pending the investigation of all petitions filed against her.
However, after a thorough investigation, the body came to a conclusion that the nomination for conferment of the award of Senior Advocate of Nigeria on Oluwatoyin Ajoke Bashorun Esq. on July 6, 2017 should be withdrawn.
The committee also barred Oluwatoyin Ajoke Bashorun from applying for the award of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria for the next three years or three applications beginning from 2018, after which she would only apply for the rank subject to good behaviour as assessed by the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee.
He was in 2010 suspended by the Legal Privileges Committee (LPPC) from using the rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria for two years following a petition by the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) and a ruling by a Calabar Federal High Court on June 1, 2010, which declared him unfit to hold the office of the Attorney General or any public office in Nigeria.
LPPC said it decided to suspend him from the use of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria and all other privileges attached to the rank pending the outcome of an investigation by the sub-committee set up by the LPPC.
Although Aribisala’s title was restored on October 27, 2014, the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee (LPPC) put the title and privileges attached on hold for 20 months.
While restoring Aribisala’s SAN title, the then LPPC’s Secretary and Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Mr. Sunday Olorundahunsi in a statement said Aribisala’s SAN rank was restored at a meeting of the committee held on Monday October 27, 2014.
According to the statement, the decision to restore the lawyer’s SAN rank followed withdrawal of petitions against him and consideration of the terms of settlement between parties concerned in the petitions.
Aribisala’s SAN rank was suspended by the LPPC on February 26, 2013 after it received two petitions of “allegations of flagrant breach of professional ethics and professional misconduct” made against him.
In the allegations, Aribisala charged for certain legal services he allegedly rendered to Fidelity Bank which were in excess and breach of Rules of Professional Conduct in the legal profession.
The statement reads: “You may all recall that on the 26th day February, 2013 the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee at its General meeting suspended Chief A. A. Aribisala (SAN) from further use of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria based on two petitions received by the LPPC on allegations of flagrant breach of professional ethics and professional misconduct.
“On the 27th day of October, 2014 the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee at its General Meeting has decided to lift Chief A.A Aribisala’s suspension, after consideration of all material facts (Notices of withdrawal/discontinuance and subsequent letter of withdrawal of petition and terms of settlement).
“Pursuant to the committee’s decision, Chief Aribisala is hereby restored to the Rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria with effect from the 27th day of October, 2014.
“Furthermore, the committee hereby declares that any future act by Chief Aribisala that runs foul of paragraph 22 of the LPPC rules shall attract a stiffer sanction.”
Kalejaiye lost his coveted rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria on May 21, 2015 following allegation of misconduct initiated against him.
Having found guilty of the allegation, LPPC stripped him of the title.
Kaleijaye allegedly exchanged text messages with an election tribunal judge, Justice Thomas Naron during election litigation between former governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun State and his successor in office, Governor Rauf Aregbesola.
Kalejaye, who represented Oyinlola at the tribunal, had faced an inquiry into his unethical conduct since 2008 when a series of text messages between him and the judge were made public.
He was not only stripped of the SAN title but the LPPC also directed the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court to immediately remove his name from the official list of legal practitioners in the country.
The committee also directed that its decision should be served on the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the Chief Judges of all the states of the federation, the Chief Judge of Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and all states’ Commissioners of Police. It also directed that the decision be published in the media for public consumption.
The verdict passed on Kalejaiye followed the conclusion of work by a five-man investigative panel led by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa.
The panel had swung into action following a complaint against Kalejaiye by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), represented by Jibrin Okutepa (SAN).
Unveiling the directive of the Committee, the then Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ekiti Division, Justice Paul Galinje held that the prosecution h
ad proved a three-count complaint beyond reasonable doubt as Kalejaiye violated provisions of Sections 1, 15, 30, 31, 34 and 55 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners (2007).
However, Kalejaiye’s counsel, Niyi Owolade, a former Attorney General of Osun State, faulted the decision of the Committee, saying his client was about filing his appeal at the Supreme Court.
According to the Legal Practitioners Act (LPA), Kalejaiye had up to 28 days to appeal the decision, failing which it would become effective.
Section 11(8) of the LPA states that “a directive of the disciplinary committee under subsection (1) or subsection (2) of this section shall take effect: (a) where no appeal under this section is brought against the directive within the time limited for the appeal on the expiration of that time; (b) where such an appeal is brought and is withdrawn or struck out for want of prosecution on the withdrawal or striking out of the appeal; and (c) where such an appeal is brought and is not withdrawn or struck out as aforesaid, if and when the appeal is dismissed, and shall not take effect except in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this subsection.
Kalejaiye had between March and June 2008, while representing the Peoples Democratic Party candidate in the Osun State Governorship Election Tribunal, engaged in “confidential, private and confidential telephone conversation with the tribunal’s Chairman, Justice Thomas Naron, without the knowledge of the other party.
It was at the tribunal which heard the petition by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and its candidate at the 2007 governorship election.
Justice Naron had since been compulsorily retired having been found guilty of professional misconduct by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Kalejaiye’s defence was rejected by the LPPC on the grounds that his telephone number was cloned while he was able to show, by expert evidence, that spoofing, as a general phenomenon was possible, he failed to show that spoofing was possible on the MTN network which owned the lines with which Kalejaiye and Naron communicated rather than demonstrating such possibility with Etisalat and Glo networks.
Kalejaiye’s documentary evidence, mostly newspaper publications including advertorial sponsored by Kalejaiye, faulting the authenticity of the call log from MTN, was also punctured by the Committee.
According to the Committee, it would have been more helpful had Kalejaiye applied and got his call log from MTN to prove that the one tendered by the prosecution was not the actual one.
B. I. Nwofor
The decision to withdraw Nwofor’s SAN tittle was taken at the LPPC’s 126th general meeting held on June 22, 2017. The decision was contained in a letter from the privileges committee signed by the then Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Ahmed Salleh.
Nwofor was a lawyer to the sacked National Chairman of PDP, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.
The Committee had noted then that it considered extensively a complaint filed by the Court of Appeal against B. E. I. Nwofor with his response to same and all material facts and had decided that B. E. I. Nwofor conducted himself in a manner unbefitting of a holder of the esteemed rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
It was based on this reason that the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, including all its privileges was withdrawn from B.E.I Nwofor.
$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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