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Court acquits 14 dismissed policemen of murder in Calabar

A Cross River State High Court on Friday acquitted 14 dismissed policemen who were attached to the Special Anti Robbery Squad of the murder of 24-year-old, Derek Maurice, and five others in Calabar.

Derek, a 300-level student in the Department of Accounting, University of Calabar, and the five others were killed on April 17, 2014 on alleged robbery-related matters.

But the family of the deceased that initiated investigations into the matter insisted that Derek was killed while he was in police detention.

A former Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Zone Six, Mr. Musa Daura, had conducted an orderly room trial which indicted the 14 policemen for extra judicial killings upon which they were subsequently discharged from the Nigeria Police Force.

However, after two years of trial in suit No. HC/37C/2016, the judge of the state High Court (Four), Justice Obojor Ogar, in his ruling, said that the prosecution did not prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the accused were guilty of the charges against them.

“Each of the accused persons pleaded not guilty from the day they were arraigned in court. The accused persons are not standing trial for killing six suspected armed robbers alone but that they killed Derek Maurice. It has not been proved. I find the accused persons not guilty, they are therefore acquitted and discharged,” he said in parts.

“The court has given its ruling today and it was very clear that the prosecution could not prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. Fourteen accused persons were standing trial for the murder of Derek but there was no evidence in court by name Derek Maurice. The police were simply on operation and there was a robbery attack which was repelled by the police,” he said.

The prosecution counsel could not be contacted for his reaction but Derek’s mother, Mrs. Enoh-Maurice Enang, said they would take the matter to a higher court.

While the court became a theatre of jubilation by families and friends of the 14 acquitted policemen, mother of the prime deceased, Mrs. Enoh-Maurice Enang, wept silently.

One of the counsels for the defendants, Mr. Gregory Bisong, expressed satisfaction with the judgement, saying the prosecution could not provide enough evidence to prove that the men committed the crime.“The court has given its ruling today and it was very clear that the prosecution could not prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. Fourteen accused persons were standing trial for the murder of Derek but there was no evidence in court by name Derek Maurice. The police were simply on operation and there was a robbery attack which was repelled by the police,” he said.

The prosecution counsel could not be contacted for his reaction but Derek’s mother, Mrs. Enoh-Maurice Enang, said they would take the matter to a higher court.

In an emotion-laden voice, Enang said, “This is just the beginning of the matter. Derek had a right to life. He did not commit any crime. He did not have any problem with the police. They just killed him because they felt nothing would happen. My son has been deprived of his right to life. I would not be deprived of justice in this case.”


Nigeria monitors probe of killings in South Africa

The Federal Government says it is following police investigations on the death of two Nigerians in South Africa and also taking action to protect its citizens.

A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja on Wednesday, signed by the Spokesperson, Mr Tope Elias-Fatile, said their death occurred in two separate incidents.

“The mission informs that the first incident involved Mr Ikechukwu Mmanwoke Edmond, an indigene of Anambra State, who was murdered in front of his home in Marvern, a suburb of Johannesburg.

“The second incident involved Mr Eluka Agu, who was beaten to death during a robbery alongside some unidentified persons in Olievenhoutbosch, Centurion, near Pretoria.

“The Federal Government wishes to assure that the Consulate-General of Nigeria in Johannesburg has been following Police investigations on the sad development.

The government further commiserated with families of the deceased.

“Meanwhile, our missions in South Africa would continue to engage their host authorities to ensure the safety of Nigerians residing in various parts of the country

Grief-stricken Nigerian community in South Africa confirmed the vicious killing of the two members in that country within 48 hours barely a month after President Jacob Zuma was honoured by the Imo Government.

In October, a Nigerian man was shot dead in South Africa over an alleged 300 Rand (about N7,500) parking lot debt.

No fewer than 116 Nigerians have been dispatched to their early graves in the country through extra-judicial means in the last two years, according to Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa.

A dependable source close to the Nigerian community told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on telephone from Johannesburg on Tuesday that the first victim, Ikechukwu Mmanwoke Edmond, 40, was killed on Nov. 11.

The source said the deceased, a businessman and native of Ihembosi, Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra, was killed in front of his house on Amant Street, Malvern, Johannesburg.

It quoted an eyewitness and neighbour of Ikechukwu, Sibongile as saying that six men came to their house and started breaking doors and taking out their personal effects.

“ When she (Sibongile ) raised alarm, they started beating her. When Ikechukwu came in and saw what was happening, he brought out his phone to call the police.

“A member of the gang took a brick and hit him in the face and he fell down. When the police arrived, he was already dead,” the source told NAN.

According to the source, police said they have commenced “investigation’’ into the death of the businessman.

The second victim, Eluka Agu, native of Ihiala also from Anambra, was allegedly robbed and then beaten by some South Africans at Oliven, Centurion on Monday (Nov. 13).

The said the police came and took him away to his house for a search.

“The victim pleaded with the police to take him to the hospital for treatment but they refused.

“ After searching his house without finding anything, he died as a result of the severe beating’’.

As usual, the Nigerian community in the area which expressed worry about the incidents, had vowed to take up the matter with “appropriate authorities’’, the source added.

Dabiri-Erewa, while reacting to the gruesome killing of a Nigerian, Tochukwu Nnadi, by police in South Africa which has brought the number of Nigerians massacred in the country to 20 in 2016 alone, had described it as “unacceptable to the people and government of Nigeria’’.

“The barbaric behaviour of the perpetrators is not only unacceptable, but also calls for urgent attention by diplomatic authorities in Nigeria and South Africa,” she said, reiterating President Muhammadu Buhari’s call to Nigerians to avoid crimes such as drug peddling which attracts stiff penalties, sometimes death.

Dabiri-Erewa urged the South African government to ensure that justice prevailed by carrying out investigation and bring the culprit to book.

NAN also reports that On Oct.11, Mr Jelili Omoyele, a 35-year-old cellular phone technician, was allegedly shot dead in Johannesburg while Olamilekan Badmus, a 25-year-old from Ogun, was also killed at Vaal Vreneging, near Johannesburg.

On the same day, a third Nigerian identified as Ifeanyi, a chicken seller, was accidentally shot in the head by the police.

On Oct. 15, Imo Gov. Rochas Okorocha unveiled a statue in honour of South African President Jacob Zuma, who witnessed the event.

Apart from the statue, a road was also named after Zuma with a traditional title of Ochiagha Imo by Eze Imo, Samuel Ohiri, to crown the state honour bestowed on him.

During the military administration of the then Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria spearheaded the struggles that ended Aparthied in South Africa.

Among other efforts, the military administration of Gen. Obasanjo contributed $3.7 million to the fund and also committed personal donation of $3,000 to the fund.

All Nigerian civil servants and public officers at the time made a 2% donation from their monthly salaries to the fund while Nigerian students skipped their lunch to make donations, and by June 1977, the total contribution to the fund had reached $10.5 million.

Between 1973 and 1978, Nigeria contributed $39,040 to the UN Educational and Training Programme for South Africa and in 1976, Nigeria boycotted the 1976 Olympics and Commonwealth games in 1979 as part of protest against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

From 1960 to 1995, according to available records, Nigeria spent over $61 billion to support the end of apartheid more than any other country in the world.

The late Sunny Okosun of Nigeria composed a song called “Fire in Soweto” in 1977 to show support for the fight against apartheid. (NAN)


Why Nigerian Govt Must Enforce Laws Against Female Genital Mutilation

The federal government has been urged to ensure implementation of laws against Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, across Nigeria to bring an end to the practice in the country.

Lola Alonge, the Executive Director of Child Health Advocacy Initiative, CHAI, made the appeal in a press statement made available to PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday.

She said FGM is unhealthy and violates the right of women.

FGM is a procedure involving partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organ for non-medical reasons. The act is globally recognised as an extreme violation of the rights of women and girls.

In some societies, it is considered a rite of passage. In others, it is seen as a pre-requisite for marriage or attributed to religious beliefs. The practice is considered a means of maintaining chastity and preventing promiscuity or infidelity.

A UNICEF recent statistics shows that the five states with the highest prevalence of FGM in Nigeria are Osun 77 per cent, Ebonyi 74 per cent, Ekiti 72 per cent, Imo, 68 per cent and Lagos 45 per cent.

According to Mrs. Alonge, about 20 million women and girls had undergone FGM in Nigeria and many more are at risk. More than 200 million women and girls are reported to have undergone FGM globally.

Warning of its dangers to women, Mrs. Alonge called on faith and traditional leaders in Nigeria to act as change agents and challenge the misconception that FGM is a religious and cultural requirement for a girl child.

Stressing the need to focus on ending the practice, she said it can cause short and long-term complications, including chronic pain, infection, increased risk of HIV transmission, anxiety and depression, birth complication, infertility and in the worst cases, death.

Mrs. Alonge explained that FGM violates human rights principles and standards including the principles of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the rights of the child and the right to physical and mental integrity and even the right to life.

“About one in five girls who have been subjected to FGM had the procedure performed by a trained medical professional and UNICEF data indicates that 28% of FGM cases are carried out by a health professional.

“FGM can never be “safe” and there is no medical justification for the practice even when the procedure is performed in a sterile environment and by a health care professional, there can be serious health consequences immediately and later in life.

“FGM performed in hospitals gives a false sense of security. FGM has no known health benefit and it causes lifelong physical and psychological harm. It affects the family, community, relationships and economic development” she added.

Mrs. Alonge recalled that former President Goodluck Jonathan had signed the federal Violence Against Person’s Prohibition Act into law.

Among other issues, the law bans FGM and other harmful traditional practices. But the VAPP Act only applies to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Abuja.

“It is up to each of the 36 states to domesticate the 2015 VAPP ACT and pass it into law. Previously 11 out of 36 states had enacted laws banning FGM (Edo, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Rivers, Delta, Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, and Oyo).

“However, there is an inconsistency between the passing and enforcement of laws in Nigeria. That is why some states like Osun and Ekiti where they have existing laws have started training law enforcement officials on the law banning FGM”.

Though, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Jide Idris, said FGM is one of the most barbaric forms of killing and harming women, he however, disagreed that health workers in Lagos conduct the act.

Mr. Idris said any health worker caught doing such will be prosecuted.

According to him, Lagos has such high percentage because the state is multicultural.


Nigerian Government Officials Beat Up Dr Brimah, Two Women At The Nigeria Consulate, New York, Over Passport Delays

Officials of the Nigeria consulate in New York molested two women frustrated over the problems with the issuance of their passports and as Dr Perry Brimah, a Rights Advocate recorded the scene and intervened on behalf of the victims, three officials of the consulate pounced on him, beat him up and seized his two cell phones.

The afternoon of November 14th was perhaps just another day at the Nigeria Consulate in New York, except that the people who came for their passports said this time they were not taking it any more. Weeks to months delays to receive passports are common place at the Consulate.

One of the victims, name withheld, who complained that she had been on the passport issue since July, had said she was not leaving the embassy without her document. As another lady with similar issues complained and protested bitterly, a female consular official walked out and told the frustrated citizens in the hall that “getting their passports was a privilege and not their right.” This was the turning point. As Dr Brimah recorded, he immediately retorted that she did not have a clue about her duties and that it was the right of citizens to get passports and not a privilege.

Ruckus ensued as the Nigerians present vented their displeasure at the embassy staff, calling her all sorts of names and telling her that she probably did unmentionable things to get her job.

As other more senior staff came out, they continued to disparage the frustrated clients, manhandling ladies and telling them that they could sleep there if they wished.

Dr Brimah intervened and rapped them for molesting the ladies and disrespecting them. The staff replied that Dr Brimah did not witness how the ladies vexed at them initially. To which Dr. Brimah responded that there was simply no justification for their unprofessional, chauvinistic and disrespectful behavior to the women. A man who appeared to be the Consular General who said he had just been posted to that embassy days earlier and was trying to straighten things out was directly involved in the manhandling and initial disrespect to the victims.

A female official again came out and told everyone that they should be quiet and respectful, to which Dr Brimah told her that she did not understand that she was a public servant, whose duties were to serve the Nigerian populace who paid her and all staff at the embassy their salaries. This got the lady to lose her mind, literally disclaiming that fact and saying that those present were her servants and not the other way around. Calling Dr. Brimah and his mother all sorts of names.

Later things calmed down as the “consular general” realized the happenings on tape were not a good look. But then another official came out and again began disrespecting the ladies and telling them that they had no rights and could be chased away. This happened shortly after a foreigner had gotten so mad and an embassy official got into physical confrontation with him. The foreigner complained that he was disappointed witnessing how Nigerians were treated in the consulate

As the latest official continued to ridicule and insult the ladies, Dr Brimah again began recording. This provoked the wrath of the government officials present who said he must not record in spite of no warning against recordings on the walls of the waiting room. As Dr Brimah objected, begging the officials to call the police, three hefty embassy staff pounced on him and gave him a thorough beating, ripping his clothes to seize his two cell phones.

His cell phones were never returned to him as the Nigerian embassy officials kept them in their possession till the close of day, despite Dr Brimah asking the “consular” if he had to beg to get his phone and getting on his two knees in a dramatic show of frustration while telling the “consular general” that “I realize you are god, can I get my property?”

New York police department could not get involved because the events at the embassy are on Nigerian soil.

Dr Brimah has promised to continue to fight injustice and the god-complex, beyond human feeling of Nigerian government officials. He calls on all Nigerians to never entertain disrespect from public officials paid by us the people no matter what they stand to lose. “Do not pay them bribe. Do not sway for them whatsoever. Even the Nigerian president is a public servant, paid by you to serve you. Unlike many of us who earn our living from decent jobs, they live off of us from our tax money and our resources. If we do not fight them today, we leave them to cheat us and others including our parents and children tomorrow,” he said.

Dr. Perry Brimah is convener of the @CabalMustGo movement against oligarchical corporate, government institutionalized greed, and has announced that he is contesting for President of Nigeria in 2019.


‘Children were sleeping inside’: Amnesty urges Nigeria to end bulldozer evictions

Amnesty International has called on the Nigerian government to stop the violent evictions of people from waterfront communities in Lagos that have left 11 dead.

The human rights organisation says 30,000 people have been evicted and 11 have died in midnight evictions in which police have set houses on fire, shot live ammunition and teargas at residents and then sent bulldozers in to destroy their homes.

These fishing communities live on land that has become very desirable for property developers in a city where the rich mostly inhabit islands linked to mainland Lagos by long causeways.

The evictions have been carried out in defiance of court orders. Residents have told of children being killed by bulldozers.

“The children were still sleeping inside when the demolishers started tearing their house apart,” Pastor Ashegbon, a resident of Otodo Gbame, told the Guardian in May, while Pastor Mallon Agbejoye said: “We sleep in these piles of ruins. When it gets dark we make tents of mosquito nets and sleep inside them with our children. We are stranded with our family with no money and no shelter. Accommodation inside the city is expensive and we cannot afford it.”

Celestine Ahinsu, from the evicted Otodo Gbame community, told Amnesty: “After a couple of days, we started seeing the bodies floating. I saw three – a man with a backpack and a pregnant woman with a baby on her back. The community youths brought the bodies from the water. The relatives of the pregnant woman and child came to take their bodies.”

Over 19 months Amnesty interviewed 124 people and analysed photos, videos and documents, including hospital records and court rulings. Forensic experts analysed photos of corpses of evictees, bullet casings and teargas canisters found in the Otodo Gbame community.

Despite repeated evictions, hundreds of thousands of people still live in Makoko, wryly nicknamed the “Venice of Africa”, but Otodo Gbame is now just acres of white sand.

“For the residents of these deprived communities, many of whom rely on their daily fish catch to make a living, the waterfront represents home, work and survival,” Amnesty’s Osai Ojigho said. “Forced evictions mean they lose everything – their livelihoods, their possessions and in some cases their lives.

“These ruthless forced evictions are just the most recent examples of a practice that has been going on in Nigeria for over a decade, in complete defiance of international law.

“The Lagos state authorities must halt these attacks on poor communities who are being punished for the state’s urban planning failures. The instability and uncertainty created by forced evictions is making their lives a misery as they are left completely destitute.”


12,000 Nigerians In Libya Prisons, Stranded

No fewer than 12,000 young Nigerians are in prisons or stranded in different parts of North African country, Libya.

The National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCRMI) has confirmed and said that 3,887 have been deported since February this year.

Eight days after 149 Nigerians voluntarily returned from Libya, another batch of 258 were received in Lagos on Tuesday night.

They were deported from the North African country where they had been stranded enroute Europe.

The returnees were brought back aboard a Libyan Airlines aircraft with Registration Number 5A-LAU.

The Airbus 330-200 aircraft touched down at the Cargo Wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos at about 8.45pm on Tuesday.

The returnees, who were assisted back to Nigeria by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), comprised of 238 female adults, seven teenage girls and one infant, while the male were seven adults, two teenage boys and three baby boys.

No fewer than 149 Nigerians had on Nov. 6 returned from Libya.

The NCRMI South-West Zonal Director, Mrs Magret Ukegbu, said the whole of the deportees were received from Feb. 1 to Nov. 6.

Ukegbu said that the commission had been working with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other relevant organisations in receiving the deportees.

“These young Nigerians, mostly girls from age 14, were received in different weeks during the period.

“We have found out that the IOM, European Union (EU), Dutch and Swiss governments are involved in the deportation of these Nigerians from Libya,’’ she said.

She said that some of the young people returned with pregnancy.

According to her, there are more than 12,000 young Nigerians in prisons or stranded in different parts of Libya.

Ukegbu expressed worry at the situation.

She said that the commission was working to ensure durable integration of the deportees into the Nigerian society.

“The commission believes that it is not enough to receive these young Nigerians; it is important that they are urgently given the needed mentoring, training and rehabilitation.

“My federal commissioner is really working at ensuring that durable solutions are sustained,’’ she said.


People for sale: Where lives are auctioned for $400

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) — “Eight hundred,” says the auctioneer. “900 … 1,000 … 1,100 …” Sold. For 1,200 Libyan dinars — the equivalent of $800.

Not a used car, a piece of land, or an item of furniture. Not “merchandise” at all, but two human beings.

One of the unidentified men being sold in the grainy cell phone video obtained by CNN is Nigerian. He appears to be in his twenties and is wearing a pale shirt and sweatpants.

He has been offered up for sale as one of a group of “big strong boys for farm work,” according to the auctioneer, who remains off camera. Only his hand — resting proprietorially on the man’s shoulder — is visible in the brief clip.

After seeing footage of this slave auction, CNN worked to verify its authenticity and traveled to Libya to investigate further.

Carrying concealed cameras into a property outside the capital of Tripoli last month, we witness a dozen people go “under the hammer” in the space of six or seven minutes.

“Does anybody need a digger? This is a digger, a big strong man, he’ll dig,” the salesman, dressed in camouflage gear, says. “What am I bid, what am I bid?”

Buyers raise their hands as the price rises, “500, 550, 600, 650 …” Within minutes it is all over and the men, utterly resigned to their fate, are being handed over to their new “masters.”

After the auction, we met two of the men who had been sold. They were so traumatized by what they’d been through that they could not speak, and so scared that they were suspicious of everyone they met.

Watch full documentary: Libya’s migrant slave trade

Crackdown on smugglers

Each year, tens of thousands of people pour across Libya’s borders. They’re refugees fleeing conflict or economic migrants in search of better opportunities in Europe.

Most have sold everything they own to finance the journey through Libya to the coast and the gateway to the Mediterranean.

But a recent clampdown by the Libyan coastguard means fewer boats are making it out to sea, leaving the smugglers with a backlog of would-be passengers on their hands.

So the smugglers become masters, the migrants and refugees become slaves.

The evidence filmed by CNN has now been handed over to the Libyan authorities, who have promised to launch an investigation.

First Lieutenant Naser Hazam of the government’s Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency in Tripoli told CNN that although he had not witnessed a slave auction, he acknowledged that organized gangs are operating smuggling rings in the country.

“They fill a boat with 100 people, those people may or may not make it,” Hazam says. “(The smuggler) does not care as long as he gets the money, and the migrant may get to Europe or die at sea.”

“The situation is dire,” Mohammed Abdiker, the director of operation and emergencies for the International Organization for Migration, said in a statement after returning from Tripoli in April. “Some reports are truly horrifying and the latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages.”

The auctions take place in a seemingly normal town in Libya filled with people leading regular lives. Children play in the street; people go to work, talk to friends and cook dinners for their families.But inside the slave auctions it’s like we’ve stepped back in time. The only thing missing is the shackles around the migrants’ wrists and ankles.

Anes Alazabi is a supervisor at a detention center in Tripoli for migrants that are due to be deported. He says he’s heard “a lot of stories” about the abuse carried out by smugglers.

“I’m suffering for them. What I have seen here daily, believe me, it makes me feel pain for them,” he says. “Every day I can hear a new story from people. You have to listen to all of them. It’s their right to deliver their voices.”

One of the detained migrants, a young man named Victory, says he was sold at a slave auction. Tired of the rampant corruption in Nigeria’s Edo state, the 21-year-old fled home and spent a year and four months — and his life savings — trying to reach Europe.

He made it as far as Libya, where he says he and other would-be migrants were held in grim living conditions, deprived of food, abused and mistreated by their captors.

“If you look at most of the people here, if you check your bodies, you see the marks. They are beaten, mutilated.”

When his funds ran out, Victory was sold as a day laborer by his smugglers, who told him that the profit made from the transactions would serve to reduce his debt. But after weeks of being forced to work, Victory was told the money he’d been bought for wasn’t enough. He was returned to his smugglers, only to be re-sold several more times.

The smugglers also demanded ransom payments from Victory’s family before eventually releasing him.

“I spent a million-plus [Nigerian naira, or $2,780],” he tells CNN from the detention center, where he is waiting to be sent back to Nigeria. “My mother even went to a couple villages, borrowing money from different couriers to save my life.”

As the route through north Africa becomes increasingly fraught, many migrants have relinquished their dreams of ever reaching European shores. This year, more than 8,800 individuals have opted to voluntarily return home on repatriation flights organized by the IOM.

While many of his friends from Nigeria have made it to Europe, Victory is resigned to returning home empty-handed.

“I could not make it, but I thank God for the life of those that make it,” he says.

“I’m not happy,” he adds. “I go back and start back from square one. It’s very painful. Very painful.”


NBA Should Advocate Better Funding of Judiciary

All said and done it is laudable and must be supported. However as the saying goes no pain no gain. The Federal Government must be ready to do the work to achieve the result.

What do you mean by this?

That means painstaking investigations, equipping and training their personnel in the anti graft agencies and raising awareness amongst the citizens to ensure their buy-in and active co-operation.  Attempting to take a short cut such as the recent ‘Ex Parte’ order forfeiting funds belonging to depositors without BVN, is an example of a shortcut that will lead to an arid desert, which can never be fruitful. How do you appropriate monies belonging to citizens because they have not complied with a CBN directive? It simply beggars belief! I am an administrator in an Estate that has not been settled over 20 later. So, if there are bank accounts belonging to the deceased, the beneficiaries will lose their entitlement because they could not wake up the dead to be finger printed? What about Nigerians in the Diaspora with bank accounts in Nigeria? Many are not in touch with Nigeria and unaware of these directives. There are so many different scenarios that can result in the lack of a BVN on an account through no fault of the bank or the depositor.

How  can anti-graft war be strengthened to  reduce loss of high profile cases?

The outcome shows that the EFCC may have rushed to Court without taking their  time to investigate and prepare for the cases. Strategic preparation is the key to victory in any litigation, including prosecution for financial crimes. For instance, the EFCC generally will  charge the accused with numerous counts of various offences at the same time. As you well know, the onus is on them to prove each and every count,  but  I would approach it differently.

How would you approach it?

I would take just one or two counts that I am certain I can prove to the very high standard required in criminal prosecution, that is, “beyond reasonable doubt’ and ensure that I adduce sufficient evidence to achieve a conviction on one or the other or both. The more cases the EFCC lose, the more the tendency to impunity so they really have to make more of an effort to ensure a higher success rate as a deterrent.

Should EFCC  focus be limited to financial crimes?

Corrupt politicians are also more often than not, accused of financial crimes and, therefore, come under the purview of the EFCC, when, as it invariably does, the alleged act of corruption involves money. I don’t think the issue is who prosecutes, rather it is how well they prepare their cases  before rushing to court.

Presumably, legal opinions are sought prior to the decision to prosecute. That’s usually the case with prosecutions initiated by the Attorney General’s office, at least, at state level where I assist with prosecution. If that is the case, a lawyer from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) usually provides his legal opinion. Naturally, the MoJ lawyer is often not a subject matter expert and, therefore, not fully conversant with all the factual elements required to succeed. It is important that in complex financial transactions, they enlist the help of subject matter experts before  hand. You can be assured that the defence, usually much better funded, will have subject matter experts working with the lawyers as consultants and providing expert opinion where necessary. Funding is key to success. The EFCC has to be better funded to enable the agency pay counsel.

You recently promoted a mega law firm, Primera Africa Legal (PAL) . Can you give us insight into what informed the formation of the mega law firm?.

I would not describe us as a mega law firm when our global competitors  have lawyers and partners in their thousands. There are law firms with income in the billions of dollars, and we are tiny compared to them and yet, we have to compete with them. The formation of PAL is driven by the need to serve our clients better on a truly national scale from the North to the South and everywhere in between.

What do you consider to be the greatest challenges facing commercial law practitioners in the country?

The greatest challenge is the economy. We are not insulated from the effects of the recession as commercial lawyers. When business slows down due to the various factors that we know led to this recession, it impacts on the number of transactions and, therefore, on the transaction advisers too.

What is the global perspectives in the current operations of the law firm?

We are part of an ever smaller and interconnected world. Our competitors, law firms from other jurisdictions, who are already playing in our space whether we like to accept it or not, are generally far better resourced than we are. This is because they have modernised their rules to allow none lawyers invest in law firms and some law firms are even  quoted on the stock exchange.

In Mexico for instance, they allow none Mexican law firms to invest in their local law firms although these investors are not permitted to practice in their jurisdiction. It is something we have to consider in this jurisdiction if we want to hold our ground against the foreign law firms.

How do we strengthen the whistle blowing policy to make it more efficient and effective?

A robust whistle blower protection scheme in addition to the cash incentive will increase confidence in the system. And that’s what we  need! The British police get some of the best results in the world and that is due to the confidence the citizens have in their local Bobby. They know that he will not reveal his sources and if need be, will go to any length to protect the whistle blower. That confidence means that people are eager to assist the police if they are aware of any criminal activity. This is where we need to be, where Nigerians feel confident enough to approach the police to report any criminal activity around them, not just corruption in high places.

What is your view about agitations?

Indeed, it is most worrisome. Words can be extremely hurtful and we need to be mindful of what we say about each other if we truly want to continue to live together as one nation. The politicians have led the country in this direction with their incendiary remarks every time we have an incident of inter tribal violence. Sadly, it has become so ingrained that it is now almost our default mode to make derogatory statements about our fellow Nigerians because of their tribe, religion or gender.

We have to start reversing this trend and in this case, I would urge us to actually believe that; “Change begins with me”. Think about the words we use and the origin before we use them. For instance, why are we still referring to grown up men and women as ‘house boys’ and ‘house girls’? Domestic workers are productive members of our society as deserving of our respect as lawyers or any other profession. There is dignity in labour and we must bear this in mind always. Ask yourself, honestly, do I judge competence and even  character by this primitive yardstick called tribe? How do we employ in our businesses? At PAL, we employ on merit and every tribe is represented in our offices in Abuja and Lagos. This shows that there are capable Nigerians in every part of the country and from every tribe of the nation.

How do you think we can restructure Nigeria within the ambit of the law?

Well, what is it that we wish to restructure in the first place and what do we mean by restructuring? This is a new buzz word for politicians and I really think we should examine this very critically before jumping on the band wagon. The three tiers of government have a lot of independence from each other, it is up to each tier to protect its constitutional powers from encroachment by another, and we will find if this is done, that what we actually have in place at the moment, is more than sufficient. If we restructure, whatever this means, and do not implement, there still would not be much progress.

The Judiciary has been generally referred to as the last hope of the common man. Can you honestly say that about  Nigerian judiciary?

The judiciary is still the last hope of the common man, no question about that. I am very encouraged by the changes the  current CJN has instituted. We are already seeing the results of these specialised courts. The corruption trials are moving along much faster, as criminal matters. I am an active practitioner  in the courts across the country on a very regular basis and I have to say that the judiciary has been much maligned. Our Judges work tirelessly to dispense justice at the expense of their health and well being in a lot of cases. The working conditions are abysmal.

How do we correct this?

We need to invest more in this very important arm of government and the Bar should advocate better funding for the courts. We are there every day, we see the decaying infrastructure, we see the overworked registry staff and we say nothing. Rather, we prefer to stand outside the court rooms in our wigs and gowns advocating our cases before the media. It’s atrocious and sadly seems to have become the norm in this jurisdiction. In England, you would never hear a Barrister who is directly involved, comment on a case to the media whilst it is sub-judice. And even after that matter is concluded, the only comment would be to read a statement on behalf of the client.

By: John Austin Unachukwu
The Nation News