Nigeria Lacks Political Will to Implement Human Rights Agreements – Rights Groups

A coalition of the Nigerian Human Rights Community has said that the Nigerian government has failed in the implementation of the 126 Universal Periodic Review, UPR recommendations because it lacks the political will to honour the agreement.

They expressed worry over the inability of the government to implement the international human rights treaties it signed on behalf of the citizens.

They noted that the government has been very slow in the implementation of the recommendations it wilfully signed without duress and urged the civil society organizations and the citizens to pile pressure on the government to live up to expectations.

The group made the observation at a sensitization workshop organised by the Partnership for Justice to assess the level of implementation of the UPR recommendations in Nigeria held in Abuja.

The UPR is a unique process which involves a periodic review of the human rights of all 193 UN member states established in 2006 by the UN General Assembly in resolution 60/251.

It is a state-driven process under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each state to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their country and to fulfil their human rights obligations.

The coordinator of the Coalition of UPR in Nigeria, Ivy Bassey Ofili, deplored the slow implementation process of the UPR in Nigeria by government and also blamed it on poor awareness on the part of citizens.

Ofili said it is expected that each member state sends a review to the UN periodically stating steps and how far they have been able to comply but expressed dismay that Nigeria has not sent a midterm review for the past three circles, wondering why it could take the country so long to do the needful

By Emmanuel Elebeke

Condonation And Compounding Of Offences In Nigeria

I reported my neighbor to the police and they have charged him to court. Now I have forgiven him and I don’t want the matter to proceed but the police are insisting that they will go on with the case. Is it possible for me to withdraw it without their consent?

Well, as a general rule the answer is yes. You can withdraw a matter filed by the police without their consent if you are the complainant/victim and such is called compounding of an offence. Compounding of an offence is an act on the part of the victim pardoning the offence committed by an accused person and requesting the Court to exonerate him. It means the victim is willing to pardon the accused, or has accepted some form of compensation for what she or he has suffered, so the compounding of the offence terminates the legal proceedings against the offender and he/she is entitled to an acquittal.

In FRN v. Ononye (2018) LPELR-45067(CA), EFCC filed three count charges of issuing dishonored cheques against ONONYE at the High Court of Anambra State, Onitsha and Ononye pleaded not guilty to the said charges. After Ononye was arraigned, one Barrister Hippo C. Onwuegbuke announced his appearance for and on behalf of Chief Kenneth Ndejiobi and applied for the withdrawal and striking out of the charge and termination of the proceeding, consequent upon which the Court struck out the charge. EFCC appealed against the withdrawal of the suit and argued before the Enugu Division of the Court of Appeal that the complainant was not a party to the suit. That the complainant was merely a victim of the offence. So, only EFCC could withdraw the case, not the complainant or his lawyer who was merely holding a watching brief.  The appealed failed. The Court of Appeal held that a victim has the right to compound (pardon) an offence committed against him even when the matter is before the court and a victim can withdraw the matter without the need for the consent of the state (subject however to certain exceptions were consent must be sought).

See also the case of PML (NIG) LTD v. FRN (2017) LPELR-43480(SC) where the Supreme Court pronounced on the above position of the law.

WHAT ABOUT CONDONATION?

It is a term in family and military jurisprudence which simply means an implied pardon of an offence by treating the offender as if it had not been committed.

In Family Law, condonation is a defence to an action for divorce that the innocent spouse having forgiven the adulterous spouse cannot now take proceedings. In other words there is condonation when one spouse, with full knowledge of the matrimonial wrong committed by the other spouse, reinstates the offending spouse to his or her earlier marital position, with the intention that the spouse whose wrong is so condoned does not henceforth, commit any further matrimonial offence. In such an instance it would be too late to sue your spouse because the marriage cannot be dissolved anymore. See section 26 of the. Matrimonial Causes Act and Sagay’s book on Nigerian Family Law.

As for Military Law, Section 171 (1) (c) of the Armed Forces Act provides that-

“Where a person subject to service law under this Act

(c) Has had an offence condoned by his commanding officer, he shall not be liable in respect of that offence to be tried by a Court martial or to have the case dealt with summarily under this Act”

In Nigerian, Army V. Aminu-Kano (2010) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1188) 429, Aminu Kano pleaded that by virtue of a document (Exhibit P45), in which charges against him were withdrawn and substituted with a “final warning letter”, he could not be subjected to trial anymore as it amounted to condonation by his commanding officer as provided by Section 171 of the Armed Forces Act. This plea was dismissed and at the end of the day, he was found guilty, convicted and sentenced. The Court of Appeal allowed his appeal, and in dismissing the appeal filed in the Supreme Court, Oguntade, JSC, observed-

“It is not in dispute that Section 171 of the Act divest any Court or Tribunal of competence to subject the Respondent to any further trial after having been condoned by the appropriate authority. Thus, if any Court or Tribunal should proceed to make pronouncements on persons such as the Respondent in spite of the condonation and damning the consequences of lack of competence, this Court cannot close its eyes on such abnormality or illegality.”

Let me quickly state by way of concluding remarks that compounding of offences by victims operate within a limit. In FRN v. ONONYE (supra) Per OGUNWUMIJU, J.C.A expounded on the limitation as follows:

“Of Course, I understand the public policy implication of compounding offences by complainants. It is clear that where the offence is committed against tax payers and the citizens of this country, (for example, cases of corruption) no one citizen can come out as a complainant to presume to compound such an offence. Only the State itself who could complain against corruption can withdraw the charge by way of Nolle Prosequi. Also for public policy reasons, where Life has been lost, the State is the complainant as the State must protect the right of the person whose life was unlawfully taken away by another who is not in a position to compound the offence even if he/she would have been willing to do so if alive”

By O.G Chukkol .

O.G. Chukkol is a student, Faculty of Law, ABU, Zaria. For corrections/criticisms, he can reached via oliverchukkol@gmail.com or 08032470318

Administration Of Criminal Justice: Winning The Argument

Before proceeding with this issue at hand, I want to first correct an error I made in the last week write-up titled: STILL ON DEFENCE OF THE HOLDERS OF LLB DEGREES IN SHARIA AND COMMON LAW wherein I referred to Dr. Saheed Ahmad Rufai as a lecturer at Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto. My attention was drawn to the fact that he is not a lecturer at the said institution but that he currently works at a Development Bank overseas. I derived the initial information from a source I had no course to doubt.However, the error is regretted.

Now to the issue at hand, sometime last year Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN did a series of articles on the “Validity or Otherwise of Elevated Judge Continuing case at Lower Court”. The summary of the series by the learned Senior Advocate was that Section 396 (7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) was a frontal attack on the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,particularly Sections 238 (2), 240, 250 (2) and 253 of the said Constitution . In the words of Chief Ozekhome opening the argument:

“The question that beg for answer is whether , a judge, having been elevated to the Court of Appeal, can still sit to try cases at the High Court or Federal High Court, relying on section 396

(7) of ACJA. Our humble answer is in the negative.”

The learned silk put up some arguments that seemed to be very beautiful which I personally did not buy into but some of our colleagues fell for Chief’s argument and joined his school of thought. I remember then that a colleague even said that he had submitted a case to the Court of Appeal on that same issue. On this platform, I did two series on 2nd December and 9th December 2018 respectively titled: SITTING OF JUDGES: DISAGREEING WITH A LEARNED SENIOR ADVOCATE and ELEVATED JUDGES: WHAT IS THE ARGUMENT ON THE OTHER SIDE? to join issues with Chief Ozekhome’s school of thought . For the purpose of clarity, there is the need to again quote the said section 396 (7) of ACJA in controversy:

“Notwithstanding the provision of any other law to the contrary, a judge of the High Court who has been elevated to the Court of Appeal shall have dispensation to continue to sit as a High Court Judge, only for the purposes of concluding any part-heard matter, pending before him at the time of his elevation and shall be concluded within reasonable time, provided that this section shall not prevent him from assuming duty as a Justice of the Court of appeal”

While I will not like to repeat all my previous arguments here except where it becomes extremely necessary , what I want to show here is how far our own school of thought have won the argument.When I said our own school of thought ,am talking about all those who share the view that the said section 396 (7) of ACJA is not in any way a frontal attack of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but rather that the said section is innovative and revolutionary in the dispensation of criminal justice in Nigeria. Before I go into how our position have justified by the Court of Appeal recently, it is necessary to quote here a colleague from the other side of the divides who said in the course of the argument after referring to the Section 253 of the Constitution that :

“It says FHC shall be duly constituted if it consists one judge of that court .For instance, is Idris JCA a judge of FHC having been elevated to the CA and sworn in? Have your read the case of Oloriegebe Vs. Omotosho where Section 63 (1) of the High Court Law of Northern Nigeria was declared inconsistent with Section 238 of d 1979 CFRN which is pari material with S. 253 of 1999 CFRN? In that case , S.63 of the HCNN Law provides that when a High Court is hearing appeal from Shariah Court, it shall be duly constituted if it consists of three judges including a khadi or grand khadi of d Shariah Court of Appeal . Section 238 CFRN on its own says the High Court shall be duly constituted if it consists of one judge of that Court. The Supreme Court held that a Khadi or grand Kadi is not a judge of the High Court of Kwara State. They cannot constitute that court only a judge of that court can for all purposes”

It may not be necessary here repeating my response to the above submission as I have done that in my rebuttal titled: ELEVATED JUDGES: WHAT IS THE ARGUMENT ON THE OTHER SIDE? Since the issue was eventually submitted to the Court of Appeal for the proper interpretation of that section 396 (7) of ACJA, the question now is: what is the position of the Court of Appeal? Before bringing the intervention of the Court of Appeal, I want to say that like what appeared to be the CLOSING CHAPTER on this issue then, apology to Lord Denning, I at a point submitted that:

“…What prompted this present reaction is that upon reading the part three of the learned silk’s argument, I observed that this issue is being blown out of proportion and over flogged. Chief Ozekhome’s school of thought is still trying to convince us that the said provision is unconstitutional citing several case authorities that am of the view are grossly misconceived and irrelevant to the issue at stake. This is a very good instance where one will even appreciate the intervention of the Supreme Court when the occasion arises so that the issue can be put to rest once and for all…”

Examining Section 396 (7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) in the case of UDEH JONES UDEOGU Vs. FGN & 2 ORS., Appeal Case No. CA/L/1064C/2018 and delivered on 29th April 2019, the Court of Appeal per M.L. GARBA, JCA has this to say:

“The Ruling on the no case submission by the Appellant and the other Defendants (2nd and 3rd Respondents) bears the titled “judge” after the name of the Hon. Justice M.B Idris ,to indicate and leave no doubt that it was delivered by the learned JCA, sitting as a judge of the lower court.Novel and absurd as it may be, the provisions of section 396 (7) of the ACJA , apparently vests, the requisite power and authority on the Hon. Justice M.B. Idris ,to sit and exercise the jurisdiction of the lower court for the purpose of concluding the part heard criminal matters he had commenced but did not conclude as a judge of the lower court before his elevation to the Court of Appeal. The cases of Ogbunniya V. Okudo and our Linc Limited V. SCC Nigeria (Supra), I agree with the Learned SAN for the first Respondent ,were decided on the state of law at the material time and in the absence of any statutory provisions such as Section 396 ( 7) of ACJA, allowing ,permitting or authorizing the affected Hon. Justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme court respectively, to go back to the courts from which they were elevated ,to conclude the matters they commenced ,but could not conclude before their elevations. ”

The Court of Appeal further held that :

“The principle laid down and stated in the two (2) cases that a judge elevated or appointed to a higher court would cease to be a judge of the court from which he was elevated and would therefore lack the requisite jurisdiction to sit in that court in the absence of relevant and specific statutory provisions allowing or authorizing him to do so,is still extant and applicable in appropriate cases.It is however not applicable in the Appellant case since the provisions of Section 396 (7) of the ACJA specifically permit and authorize the Hon. Justice M.B.Idris ,JCA to sit in the lower court as a Judge of that court for purpose of concluding part heard criminal matters commenced but not concluded by him before his elevation.In the result, I am persuaded by the arguments of learned silk for the 1st Respondent on the issue which is resolved against the Appellant.”

The above is how the position of our school of thought has been justified. By this have we not won the argument? I had once said that ,it is those who want their criminal matters to be frustrated or delay unnecessarily that would continue to see the said section as a frontal attack on the Constitution. It is an accused or a Defendant that has skeleton in his cupboard and has no defence to the charge against him that will revolt against this innovative provision aims at checkmating the delay in administration of criminal” justice. Mr. Femi Falana, SAN recently made some remarks that I personally consider very valid. According to the learned silk:

“Today in England, if you file a motion that is meant to delay the case, you are disciplined by the law society.But here, these are the lawyers we are celebrating…The case of James Ibori, without trial, he was discharged and acquitted.The judge carelessly forgot that the $15 million seized from him when he wanted to bribe (former EFCC Chairman Nuhu Ribadu) was still there as an exhibit. He did not make any order on the money .When the same man got to England, he pleaded guilty .You know why he pleaded guilty? When the lawyers saw his defence, they told him it was a sham and they could not go on with the case. He asked if they could not file an appeal, and they told him, ‘we don’t do that here’. They told him that if they went on and he got convicted, he would get the highest punishment .But that is not the real problem.They told him they were afraid they would also lose their license to practice law, because they would be charged for wasting the resources of her majesty’s court.”

In this country, we equally need to move with the world in the ways things are properly being done in the developed countries. If we want to be taken very serious by other countries in terms of justice delivery system, we must do away with the attitudes akin to playing heed and seek game in our court of law.I do not think it will be in our own interest to encourage things that are irrational.Our laws must be amended where necessary to sanction those who are taking our judicial system for a ride. This will go a long way to deter those who derive pleasure from such acts.

KWARA GETS NEW JUDGES AND KADIS

On Friday, 10th May 2019, the Governor of Kwara State, Dr. Abdulfatai Ahmed swore in two new High Court Judges and two new Kadis for the state. The new Judges of the Kwara State High Court are Hon. Justice Olalekan Moses Adegbite and Hon. Justice Aliyu Hammed Gegele while the new Kadis of the Kwara State Shariah Court of Appeal are Hon. Kadi Sharafu Hannafi and Hon. Kadi Abdurraheem Ahmad Sayi .The swearing ceremony followed the approval of their appointments by the National Judicial Council (NJC).While congratulating the newly swore in Hon. Judges/Kadis, we pray the Almighty Allah to give them knowledge,wisdom and the courage to dispense justice without fear or favour .

REMARKABLE PRONOUNCEMENT ON STATEMENT OF AN ACCUSED PERSON

In passing, and for future guidance to Police Officers entrusted with the investigation of crime, it is most undesirable, as happened during the investigation of crime the subject matter of the case on appeal, to take the statement of the an accused or suspect in the presence of the other suspects or accused persons. One reason which comes readily to mind is the possibility of one accused or suspect making a statement in the fear of another either involving himself or exculpating the other. Statement of the accused persons or suspects should as far as is possible be taken out of the hearing and /or presence of each other.

Per TAYLOR, (FJ) JSC in Mika Vs. Queen (1963) 1 All NLR 220, Pgs. 224

THE SETTLED PRINCIPLE OF LAW

On bail pending trial as constitutional right

It is now settled that bail pending trial is a constitutional right so, the burden is on the prosecution, to prove that the facts relied upon by the applicant, do not warrant the granting of the applicant to bail. This is because; there is a constitutional presumption in favour of the liberty and innocence of the individual.

See Lt. Col Enebeli Vs. The Chief of Naval Staff & 2 Ors (2000) 9 NWLR (Pt.671) 119-124-125 C.A; SHAGARI Vs. COMMISSIONER OF POLICE (2005) ALL FWLR (Pt. 262) Pg. 473 Para H. By Abdulrasheed Ibrahim

NEW LAW: Confessional Statements Taken By Security Agents In The Absence Of Accused’s Lawyers Are Inadmissible And Useless In Law

I suppose that, growing up, I was some kind of bookworm. I liked tarrying in libraries and reading. Reading any book that I could lay my hands on. Especially English and American Literature. So, was it that I read “Rip Van Winkle”.

The book was a short story by an American Author called Washington Irving. He wrote about a Dutch-American villager who fell asleep in the Catskill Mountains and slept for 20 years. While he slept, the American revolution took place. But Rip Van Winkle missed it all, because he was asleep. He slept through a revolution.

Like 1800s America, a revolution has been taking place in Nigeria criminal justice administration since 2015, but many people in law enforcement, like Rip Van Winkle, are sleeping through it.

It is common knowledge that Nigeria security agents routinely do not investigate criminal cases. This is because they lack knowledge or competence in modern crime detection methods, like surveillance, staking out, crime scene investigation, forensic investigation, DNA bio science, polygraph tests to determine the veracity of suspects, etc. Majorly, Nigeria security agents rely on suspects’ confessions to initiate and obtain convictions in criminal prosecutions.

This reliance on confessional statements produced officers who perceived it as an acceptable strategy to obtain confessional statements from suspects at all costs and using all and any methods. Consequently, in most criminal trials where the Prosecution seek to tender a confessional statements, it is familiar for the Defence Counsel to object to the admissibility of confessional statements sought to be tendered in the case, on grounds of duress, use of violence and promises as a basis for the making of the confessional statements.

Then the Court will conduct a trial within the main trial to determine whether the confessional statements will be admissible as voluntarily made or not. Many bloody battles in criminal trials were fought on this point.

Hitherto, all that the Prosecution needed to prove was that the Accused person made the confessional statements voluntarily. The principal method of proof was through the evidence of the Investigating Police Officer and other police officers who will merely give oral evidence that the accused was never tortured. The accused person will contradict the assertions equally by oral evidence only, for it will be almost impossible for the accused to obtain independent evidence to corroborate his story of torture at the police station.

Significantly, during the often lengthy period between investigation and trial, wounds would have healed and evidence of torture permanently erased, witnesses at police station may either be unwilling to come forward or may have moved on since the tortuous events at the police station.

Under those circumstances, the question which usually loomed in the courtroom is who the court would believe as between the supposedly public spirited police officers who presumably wants to bring a criminal to justice, or the supposed ‘criminal’ himself?. Mostly, the Courts prefer to believe the testimonies of the angelic police officers.

But all that changed with the promulgation of the Evidence Act 2011 and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and domestication in several states in the Nigerian Federation.

The revolutionary criminal procedure law is now two fold:

1. That the burden on the Prosecution is to prove the voluntariness of the confessional statement BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT. (Capitalisation mine). Hence, where there is any doubt, such doubt must be resolved in favour of the Accused person and the confessional statement will be rejected. See section 29 (2) of the Evidence Act, 2011.

2. That whenever a suspect volunteers to give a confessional statement in writing, such a confessional statement must not be taken from the suspect unless and until a lawyer for the suspect is present. The evidence of the lawyer’s presence must be given in court. Alternatively, the confessional statement must be video recorded and tendered in Court.

See the following provisions, amongst others:

A. Sections 15 (4) and 17 (1) and (2) of the ACJA. By the way, the word “may” which appears in Section 15 (4) as regards recording of the confession in a video format has been held not to confer a discretion on the police, but a directory, mandatory, imperative command. See Nwakuche Jerry Nnajiofor v FRN (2018) LPELR-43925.

B. Sections 9(3) of the ACJL of Lagos State, 2015.

C. Sections 15 (4) and 17 (1) of the ACJL of Delta State 2017.

D. Sections 15 (4) and 17 (1), (2) and (3) of the ACJL of Edo State, 2016.

In Zhiya v People of Lagos State (2016) LPELR – 40562 (CA), the Court of Appeal held that unlike the Judges Rules, the provisions of the ACJA have the force of law. Non compliance with the above provisions would automatically throw a purported confessional statement out of the window. Yes, those were the words of the eminent Justices of the Court of Appeal.

In conclusion, the question that you should answer is whether the security agents are complying with the mandatory provisions of the Law by insisting on the presence of Defence lawyers or using video recording equipment when taking or recording confessional statements from suspects. If the answer is “No”, then such a written confessional statement will be rejected in evidence and thrown out of court.

I rest my case.

(Dele Igbinedion Esq. is a lawyer and Author of “A Guide to Successful Human Rights Litigation-Vol 1”. For comments or questions about this or any other article, Telephone or Whatsapp 08059863558)

How NNPC moved to stop an NGO from fighting oil pollution but met a brick wall at the Supreme Court.

Background Facts

A Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) known as Centre for Oil Pollution Watch, commenced an action (as Plaintiff) at the Federal High Court, Lagos, against the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) sued as Defendant over an alleged oil spillage in Acha Community of Isukwuato Local Government Area of Abia State. The NGO claimed that the oil spillage had terribly affected the Community and its environment, making life miserable for the inhabitants. The NGO therefore claimed reinstatement, restoration and remediation of the impaired and/or contaminated environment; potable water supply as a substitute for the contaminated streams; and provision of medical facilities for the evaluation and treatment of affected victims of the oil spillage.

– NNPC filed a defence in which it raised a preliminary point of law, challenging the locus standi (that is, right to sue) of the NGO to commence the action and prayed the Court to strike out the suit. The trial Court upheld the contention and struck out the suit. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal filed by the NGO. Still aggrieved, the NGO approached the Supreme Court.

– The apex Court had to invite some ‘Friends of the Court’ (amici curiae) to assist in the determination of the issue of whether the NGO has a right to institute the action.

Centre for Oil Pollution Watch v. NNPC [2019] 5 NWLR (Pt. 1666) 518

– At the Supreme Court, learned Counsel for the NGO (the Appellant), Prof. Joseph Mbadugha, amici curiae – Aiwaju Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, Lucious Nwosu, SAN and A. B. Mahmoud, SAN were of the view that the Appellant has the requisite locus standi to sue, having shown and demonstrated the required interest to entitle it to sue. They argued that any person with genuine and public-spirited intention should be permitted to approach the court with respect to public interest matters such as the one in the instant case. They urged the Court to expand the frontier and relax the concept of locus standi as applicable to environmental litigation.

– Learned Counsel for NNPC (the Respondent), Victor Ogude Esq., and amicus curiae – Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN and Dayo Apata, (Solicitor-General of the Federation representing Abubakar Malami, SAN (the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice) sought to persuade the Court that the Appellant is a mere busybody or troublemaker (with an abstract corporate soul), usurping the rights of the affected citizens to complain. They also argued that extending the scope of locus standi to accommodate an NGO such as the Appellant in respect of environmental degradation matters would have the effect of usurping the powers conferred on agencies and offices like the Attorney-General’s office established by various State and Federal Laws to protect the environment on behalf of the people. They relied on several statutes which they submitted, have taken care of the Appellant’s grouse. It was also contended that allowing the Appellant standing to sue would open the floodgates to frivolous litigation which will overwhelm the courts’ dockets.

– The submissions against the Appellant standing to sue is, with the greatest respect, most unfortunate. Where are the said statutory agencies in the face of the hardship being suffered by the affected citizens? Where has the Attorney-Gneral been all this while? What prior effort has been made to save the situation? Will the whole body of available laws enforce themselves from the shelves? Was it ever considered that the affected citizens may lack the financial means to enforce their rights and seek remedies? Of what use are the courts’ dockets if cases that can save the life of citizens are not allowed in? The courts are ever empowered by the Rules of Court to strike out frivolous suits with attendant award of costs.

– Thankfully, the Supreme Court came to the rescue. After a review of a host of local and international authorities, statutes and case law, and after due consideration of the compelling submissions of learned Counsel and Senior Counsel invited as ‘Friends of the Court’, the Supreme Court rightly observed and unanimously concluded as follows:

  • The Appellant has the right to institute the action (thereby expanding the scope of locus standi on environmental matters).
  • There is nothing in the Constitution that says the Attorney-General is the only proper person clothed with standing/power to enforce the performance of a public duty or institute public interest litigation such as the instant suit.

at p. 580-581, paras. G-B, of the report, Aka’ahs, JSC unequivocally stated:

“There is no gain saying in the fact that there is increasing concern about climate change, depletion of the ozone layer, waste management, flooding, global warming, decline of wildlife, air, land and water pollution. Both nationally and internationally, countries and organizations are adopting stronger measures to protect and safeguard the environment for the benefit of the present and future generations. The issue of environmental protection against degradation has become a contemporary issue. The Plaintiff/Appellant being in the vanguard of protecting the environment should be encouraged to ensure that actions or omissions by Government agencies or Multi-national oil companies that tend to pollute the environment are checked. Since other commonwealth countries such as England, Australia and India have relaxed their rigidity in the application of the concept of locus standi in public interest litigation, Nigeria should follow suit. The communities affected by the spillage leading to the environmental degradation may not muster the financial muscle to sue and if good spirited organizations such as the Plaintiff is denied access to sue, it is the affected communities that stand to lose.”

While commending all counsel including the amici curiae for their contributions, the Supreme Court is highly applauded for its findings, holding and the ultimate unanimous decision, allowing the appeal.

Confessional Statement Not Obtained In The Presence Of Accused’s Counsel Is Inadmissible

CHARLES v. FRN (2018) LPELR-43922(CA)

In the Court of Appeal

In the Lagos Judicial Division

Holden at Lagos

ON MONDAY, 19TH MARCH, 2018

Suit No: CA/L/727A/2017

Before Their Lordships:

JUMMAI HANNATU SANKEY Justice, Court of Appeal

ONYEKACHI AJA OTISI Justice, Court of Appeal

JOSEPH EYO EKANEM Justice, Court of Appeal

Between

AKAEZE CHARLES – Appellant(s)

And

THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA – Respondent(s)

BACKGROUND FACTS

The appellant was arraigned before the Federal High Court, Lagos Judicial Division on a two-count charge of conspiracy to commit an offence and failure to declare the sum of $102,885 to the officers and men of the Nigerian Customs Service contrary to the provisions of Section 2(3) and Section 18 respectively of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended by Act No 1 of 2012). He is charged along with two other persons in respect of the count on conspiracy and alone in respect of the substantive offence.

The trial of the appellant and his co-accused persons commenced on 25/4/2016 presumably after they pleaded not guilty to the charge. The prosecution called two witnesses. In the course of the evidence-in-chief of the second witness for the prosecution, Hakeem Lasisi the prosecution sought to tender through him several documents including appellant’s statement made on 9/10/2015, another statement made by appellant on the same date and a further statement made by the appellant

on 19/11/2015. Appellant’s counsel objected to their admissibility. The objection was on the basis that the statements were obtained contrary to Section 29 of the Evidence Act, id est, that they were involuntary. The trial Court directed a trial-within-trial.

During the trial-within-trial, the prosecution called four witnesses while the appellant testified for himself. Written addresses were filed in which the appellant contended, inter alia, that the respondent did not comply with Sections 15(4) and 17(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 in taking the statements of the appellant. The prosecution took the stand that the provisions were directory and not mandatory.

In its ruling delivered on 15/5/2017, the trial Court held, inter alia, that the presence of the appellant’s legal practitioner during the taking of his confessional statements pursuant to Section 17(2) of the ACJA was not mandatory on account of the use of the word “May” therein. The trial Court ruled in favour of the respondent and accordingly admitted the statements of the appellant in evidence as exhibits.

Aggrieved by the ruling, the appellant appealed

ISSUE FOR DETERMINATION

“Whether having regard to the intendment and purpose of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA) the learned trial judge was right when he interpreted the provision of [Section] 17(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 to be permissive and not mandatory”

ARGUMENTS ON THE ISSUE

Appellant’s counsel submitted that having regard to Section 1 of the ACJA 2015, the learned trial judge was wrong in interpreting Sections 15(4) and 17(2) of the ACJA to be permissive. He set out the said provisions and further submitted that the law provides safeguards to guarantee transparency in the taking and making of confessional statements. Failure to comply therewith would result in the rejection of such statements, he stated. He noted that before the promulgation of the ACJA, 2015 there was no provision in our law regulating the making and taking of confessional statements, thus making room for abuse by intimidation by the investigating police officer. He contended that it is this mischief that reveals the true intention of the legislature behind Sections 15(4) and 17(2) of the ACJA, 2015. He called in aid of his position Ugwu V Ararume (2007) 12 NWLR (Pt.1048) 367.

Counsel was of the view that the said provisions have stipulated a particular method of obtaining confessional statements from suspects which must be adopted. He relied on CCB V AG Anambra State (1992) 8 NWLR (Pt.261) 528, among other cases, to buttress his position.

He stated that none of the prosecution witnesses testified that in the making and taking of appellant’s statements, there was recording in a retrievable compact disc or audio visual nor was there any evidence that the statements were taken in the presence of his legal practitioner, a member of the Legal Aid Council, Justice of the Peace or any member of the civil society. He stated further that the appellant testified that he demanded for the presence of his lawyer before making any statement but his request was jettisoned.

Continuing, counsel argued that the provisions under consideration were inserted for the benefit and protection of accused persons and therefore ought to be construed as imperative and mandatory. He cited in support Fabian Mathew V The State, unreported decision of this Court in Appeal No.CA/L/1126/2011 delivered on 11/12/2015, Kingsley Akhabue V The State, unreported decision of this Court in Appeal No. CA/L/1056/2011 delivered on 11/12/2015 and Ismaila Fatoki V The State, yet another unreported decision of this Court in Appeal No.CA/L/1125/2011 delivered on 11/12/2015 etc.

Counsel went on to contend that the word “may” in the provisions under scrutiny is mandatory since the provisions are aimed at the protection of the rights of citizens. He urged the Court to adopt a beneficial construction of the provisions.

On his part, Respondent’s counsel stated that the legislature deliberately used the word “may” in Sections 15(4) and 17(2) of the ACJA 2015 in order to confer discretion on and options to a police officer and other law enforcement officers in the exercise of their powers. He submitted that, that position is re-inforced and made clear by the use of the word “shall” in other sub-sections of Sections 15 and 17 of the ACJA. He urged the Court, in essence, to adopt a literal interpretation of the provisions. Citing the cases of Mokelu

V Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing (1976) LPELR – 1904, Counsel submitted that the cases cited by appellant’s counsel were inapplicable to the instant matter. He referred in particular to the unreported decisions of this Court cited by appellant’s counsel and contended that the decisions were based on Section 9(3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) of Lagos State 2011 which uses the word “shall”.

Counsel submitted that a beneficial construction of a statute, as advocated by appellant’s counsel, is applicable where a Court is faced with equally open alternatives of interpretation and not according to him, as in the present case, where there is no ambiguity in the provisions of Sections 15(4) and 17(2) of the ACJA.

He finally, on this issue, stated that the electronic recording of a suspect’s confessional statement and the presence of his legal practitioner are optional.

DECISION OF THE COURT

It is pertinent to set out the provisions of Sections 15(4) and 17(1) and (2) of the ACJA, 2015. They state as follows:

Section 15(4)

“Where a suspect who is arrested with or without warrant volunteers to make confessional statement, the police officer shall ensure that the making and taking of the statement shall be in writing and may be recorded electronically on retrievable video compact disc or such other audio visual means”

Section 17(1)

“Where a suspect is arrested on allegation of having committed an offence, his statement shall be taken”

Section 17(2)

“Such statement may be taken in the presence of a legal practitioner of his choice, or where he has no legal practitioner of his choice, in the presence of an officer of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria or an official of a Civil Society Organisation or a Justice of the Peace or any other person of his choice. Provided that the legal practitioner in this subsection shall not interfere while the suspect is making his statement.”

​A communal reading of the foregoing provisions shows the following position in regard to the statement of a suspect arrested with or without a warrant on an allegation of having committed a crime:

(i) where he volunteers to make a confessional statement;

  • the police officer (this includes any officer of a lawenforcement agency established by an Act of the National Assembly – Section 494(1) of the ACJA 2015) shall ensure that the making and taking of the confessional statement shall be in writing;
  • such statement may be recorded electronically onretrievable video compact disc or such other audio visual means;

the statement of a suspect, confessional or not,may be taken in the presence of a legal practitioner of his choice, or where he has no legal practitioner of his choice, in the presence of an officer of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria or an official of a Civil Society Organisation or a Justice of the Peace or any other person of his choice.

It is not in contest that in the making and taking of the statements of the appellant, which are admittedly confessional in nature, the officers of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) did not record the same electronically on retrievable video compact disc or such other audio visual means and none was tendered during the trial-within-trial. It is also not in doubt that the statements of the appellant were not made and taken in the presence of appellant’s legal practitioner though he said he asked for the presence of a legal practitioner of his choice. None of the other persons listed in Section 17(2) of the ACJA was in attendance.

It was the contention of appellant’s counsel that the requirements set out above are mandatory thus rendering the confessional statements of the appellant impotent and inadmissible. The respondent’s counsel, of course, took a contrary position. The trial Court, as earlier stated, agreed with respondent’s position on the basis that the word “may’ used in the provisions of Sections 15(4) and 17(2) of the ACJA 2015 is permissive and not mandatory and so their non-observance was not fatal to the admission of the statements.

In Edewor V Uwegba (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt. 50) 313, 338, Nnamani, JSC, stated as follows

Generally the word “may” always means “may”. It has long been settled that may is a permissive or enabling expression. In Messy V Council of the Municipality of Yass (1922) 222 SRNSW 494 per Cullen, C.J. at pp 497, 498 it was held that the use of the word “may” prima facie conveys that the authority which has power to do such an act has an option either to do it or not to do it. See also Cotton, L.J. in Re Daker, Michel V Baker (1800) 44 Ch. D 282. But it has been conceded that the word may acquire a mandatory meaning from the context in which it is used. See Johnson’s Tyre Foundary Pty Ltd V Shire of Maffra (1949) A.L.R. 88. The word may also acquire a mandatory meaning from the circumstances in which it is used.”

It has been established by a long line of decided cases that the Courts would interpret the word “may” as mandatory wherever it is used to impose a duty upon a public functionary to be carried out in a particular form or way for the benefit of a private citizen. See R V. Barlow (1693) Carth. 293 cited in R V. Bishop of Oxford (1879) 4 Q.B.D. 245, 258, Mokelu V Federal Commissioner of Works and Housing (1976) 1 All NLR (Pt.1) 276, 282, Edewor V Uwegba (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt.50) 313, 339, Ude V Nwara (1993) 2 NWLR (Pt.278) 638, 661, Ogualaji V Attorney General of Rivers State (1997) 6 NWLR (Pt.508) 209, 233, Adesola V Abidoye (1999) 14 NWLR (Pt. 637) 28, 56, John V Igbo-Etiti LGA (2013) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1352) 1, 16 Galaudu V Kamba (2004) 15 NWLR (Pt.895) 31, 52, and Corporate Affairs Commission V The Registered Trustees of Celestial Church of Christ (Nigeria Diocese) (2009) 11 NWLR (Pt.1151) 40, 60.

Sections 15(4) and 17(2) of the ACJA impose a duty on public functionaries (police officers and other officers of any law enforcement agency established by an Act of the National Assembly and this includes the EFCC) to record electronically on retrievable video compact disc or such other audio visual means, the confessional statements of a suspect and to take statements of suspects in the presence of the person/s set out in Section 17(2). The provisions are for the benefit of private citizens who are suspected of committing crimes so that the enormous powers of the police or other law enforcement agencies may not be abused by intimidating them or bullying them in the course of taking their statements.

I should also add that the provisions also have another side to it, viz; to protect law enforcement agents from false accusation of coercion in taking statements from suspects. The use of the word “may” in those provisions are in those circumstances mandatory and not permissive.

In the cases of Fabian Mathew V State supra., Kingsley Akhabue V State supra. and Joseph Zhiya v. The People of Lagos State (2016) LPELR – 40562 (CA), this Court held that failure to comply with Section 9(3) of the ACJL, 2007 of Lagos State, which requires video recording of the making of a confessional statement or, in its absence, the presence of the suspect’s legal practitioner, during the writing of such statement, rendered such statements impotent and inadmissible.

The trial Court distinguished the above cases from the instant matter on the basis that they were decided based on Section 9(3) of the ACJL, 2007 of Lagos State which uses the word “shall”.

In the light of my holding that the word “may” in Sections 15(4) and 17(2) of the ACJA carries a mandatory meaning, the distinction made by the trial Court becomes one without a difference.

In the discharge of its interpretative function, Courts are concerned with finding, the intention of the legislature and giving effect thereto. In doing so, the Court may consider the object and scope of the statute. This is so when the words used in the statute are not plain or are capable of various interpretations or the literal interpretation would result in injustice.

In the case of Ugwu V Ararume (2007) 12 NWLR (Pt.1048) 367 the Supreme Court quoted with approval the postulation of the Barons of the Exchequer in the sixteenth century in Heydon’s case, reported in (1584) 3 Co. Rep. 8 as follows:

“That for the sure and true interpretation of all statutes in general (be they penal or beneficial, restrictive or enlarging of the common law) four things are to be discerned and considered: (1) what was the common law before the passing of the Act; (2) what was the mischief and defect for which the common law did not provide; (3) what remedy the Parliament hath resolved and appointed to cure the disease of the commonwealth, (4) the true reason of the remedy. And then the office of all the judges is always to make such construction as shall suppress the mischief and advance the remedy, and to suppress subtle inventions and evasions for the continuance of the mischief and pro private commodo, and to add force and life to the cure and remedy according to the true intent of the makers of the Ad pro bono publico.” That has formed the basis of the mischief rule of statutory interpretation which considers the state of the law before the enactment, the defect which the statute sets out to remedy and/or prevent, the remedy adopted by the legislature to cure the mischief and the true reason of or behind the remedy. See Ugwu V Ararume supra.

In Odgers’ “Construction of Deeds and Statutes” 5th ed by Gerald Dworkin, it is stated at p. 445 that

“This method of approach is easy to apply when the objects and reasons of the Act are set out therein …” Section 1(1) of the ACJA 2015 sets out the purpose or object of the Act as follows

“The purpose of this Acts (sic; is) to ensure that the system of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crime and protection of the rights and interests of the suspect, defendant, and the victim.”

One of the objects and reasons for the Act is to protect the rights and interest of suspects and defendants for the interests and rights of suspects and defendants are as important as the interests and rights of the victims and the society. After all, the suspect or defendant is presumed by the Constitution of Nigeria to be innocent until proved to be guilty.

Before the enactment of the ACJA, 2015 there was no binding law regarding the making and taking of statement by and from suspects though there were and are still are the Judges Rules which rules are made by English Judges to guide Police officers and have no force of law. Rather they are rules of administrative practice. The rules say that when an accused person makes a confessional statement before a junior Police Officer, the statement and the accused person should be taken before a superior Police Officer for confirmation. Where the practice is not followed, the statement would not be rejected in evidence on that account nor would it necessarily be viewed with suspicion. See Nwigboke v The Queen (1959) 4 FSC 101 and Hassan v State (2017) 5 NWLR (Pt.1557) 1. The situation left the suspect at the mercy of Police Officers who in many instances intimidated or beat the suspects into giving confessional statements.

In Owhoruke v. Commissioner of Police (2015) 15 NWLR (Pt.1483) 557,575 Rhodes – Vivour, JSC, stated as follows:

“Confessional statements are most times beaten out of suspects, and the Courts usually admit such statements as counsel and the accused are unable to prove that the statements were not made voluntarily. A fair trial presupposes that Police investigation of crime for which the accused person stands trial was transparent. In that regard, it is time for safeguards to be put in place to guarantee transparency. It is seriously recommended that confessional statements should only be taken from suspect if, and only if his counsel is present, or in the presence of a legal practitioner. Where this is not done, such a confessional statement should be rejected by the Court.”

The trial Court in essence treated the above pronouncement albeit obiter dictum as not being relevant. I think with all due respect, the trial Court missed the point. The dictum was quoted by appellant’s counsel to show the state of the law or lack of it on the making and taking of a confessional statement by the Police or other investigatory authorities; and to show the mischief the Legislature set out to cure by enacting Sections 15 (4) and 17(2) of the ACJA, 2015.

Given the foregoing, to hold that the word “may” in the said provisions carry a discretionary or permissive meaning would not suppress the mischief the provisions are aimed at curing nor would it advance the remedy for it. It would also not add force and life to the cure; rather it would add strength to the mischief and that would not be pro bono publico.

Given the objective of the provisions, to give a permissive colouration to the provisions would mean that the Legislature gave a cure to the mischief with one hand and also took away the cure with the other hand. That would reduce the provisions to futility and defeat their purpose. Courts are to adopt construction that would bring out the purpose of legislation. See Coca Cola (Nig.) Ltd v Akinsanya (2017) 17 NWLR (Pt.1593) 74, 123.

Furthermore, as was rightly argued by the appellant’s counsel, Sections 15 (7) and 17(2) of the ACJA, 2015 are procedural rules for the benefit of a suspect and therefore must be construed as being imperative. See Fabian Matthew v. The State supra in which this Court followed the decision of the Supreme Court in Okegbu v State (1979) 12 NSCC 157, 174 that:

“As is well known, enactments regulating the procedure in Courts are usually construed as imperative; and that is a cardinal principle of interpretation of statutes especially where procedural provisions … are inserted for the protection of the accused person. With respect, this accords with the views of Lord Hudson in his speech in the House of Lords in The Secretary of State for Defence V Warn (1968) 3 W.L.R. 609 at 614 where he stated:

“Procedural sections are usually mandatory and there is nothing which points to the contrary in this case. Procedural provisions are, as here, often inserted for the benefit of accused persons…”

I therefore enter a negative answer to issue 1 and resolve it in favour of the appellant.

In the light of my answers to issues 1 and 2, I reach the conclusion that the appeal has merit. It succeeds and is therefore allowed. The ruling of the trial Court admitting the extra-judicial statements of the appellant made on 9/10/2015, 9/10/2015 and 19/1/2015 is hereby set aside. In its place, I direct that the said statements be rejected in evidence and shall be so marked.

Consequently, it is directed that the case file shall be remitted to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for assignment to another judge other than Anka, J. for hearing and determination.

APPEARANCES

Edwin Anikwem, Esq. For Appellant(s)

Joy Amahian For Respondent(s)

Limits of Trial Publicity & Right to Free Speech: A Diagnostic Enquiry into the Recent Threat by Nigeria’s Court of Appeal to Penalize Public Discourse on Judicial Proceedings

A news report on May 08, 2019 came under the headline, “We Won’t Accept Public Analysis of Our Proceedings, Presidential Tribunal Warns.” (see https://www.thecable.ng/we-wont-accept-public-analysis-of-our-proceedings-presidential-tribunal-warns accessed May 10 2019.  An online news medium, TheCable reported that the 2019 Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (2019 PEPT) had warned against public analysis of its proceedings. Handing down the warning in Abuja during the inaugural sitting of the Tribunal, President of Nigeria’s Court of Appeal and Chairman of the 2019 PEPT, His Lordship, the Hon Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, lamented “the practice of analyzing court proceedings on social media,” threatening that offenders would be punished. While urging parties to the case, lawyers, public commentators and journalists to refrain from public discourse of the proceedings until the 2019 PEPT pronounced its judgment, His Lordship continued thus, as reported by TheCable:

“Any breach will not be condoned and we will not hesitate in taking necessary action against such offenders. We assure all stakeholders that each litigant will be given equal opportunity to present his case in a mature manner before us. We are witnesses to what has been happening in high-profile cases where such cases are being discussed and publicly decided prematurely in both the social and electronic media before the announcement of the verdict by the court. We pray that this time would be an exception for the benefit of the nation. We don’t expect counsel to any of the parties to hype the polity after any sitting by making a public analysis in the media as to what transpired in court …. These proceedings should be treated as would any other low-profile case, where proceedings in court are not discussed publicly until a decision is pronounced by the court… This admonition is also extended to the parties, their respective counsel and the members of the press. We, on our own part, will make relevant information available as and when due.”

Since this declaration by the 2019 PEPT, lawyers and non-lawyers alike have been preoccupied with discussions as to what extent (if at all) public analysis of pending court proceedings might constitute a contempt of court in Nigeria. On a lighter note, most respectfully, it appears the 2019 PEPT in its very first proceedings, has already thrown up the first issue for public discussion. I honestly hope the present discourse might not be viewed as an infraction of the admonition under consideration. Be that as it may, the mere fact that public comments erupted following the declaration of the 2019 PEPT is a clear indication of the seeming impracticability of vetoing or interdicting such open comments, more so in a constitutional democratic setting, such as ours.

Now, with the kind indulgence of the Hon Tribunal, the present paper is a humble assessment of the admonition of the 2019 PEPT in the light of extant law on trial publicity with a view to establishing whether, or to what extent, public analyses of court cases might reasonably constitute contempt of court in a constitutional democracy founded on rule of law. Assessments such as the present one, are needed, especially in view of eminent verdict of Nigeria’s Supreme Court in the case of MILITARY GOVERNOR OF LAGOS STATE v. ODUMEGWU-OJUKWU (2001) FWLR (Part 50) 1779 at 1802 & 1799: “the Nigerian Constitution is founded on the rule of law, the primary meaning of which is that everything must be done according to law. Nigeria, being one of the countries in the world which profess loudly to follow the rule of law, there is no room for the rule of self-help by force to operate.” Besides, section 39 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), 1999, as amended, bestows on every Nigerian an immutable right to “freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” In summary, mine is a  humble discourse on what I see as an unnecessary attempt by the Court of Appeal, sitting as the 2019 Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, to interdict free speech and expand the Rule on Trial Publicity beyond its legitimate frontiers. Off I go!

Significance of Holding Judicial Proceedings in Public

Section 36 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), as amended, provides that “in the determination of his civil rights and obligations, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.” Court proceedings relating to all matters mentioned in section 36 (1) CFRN must be held in public, and each litigant before the court or tribunal must be given a fair hearing in public (see section 36 (3) & (4), CFRN). One major reason for the mandatory constitutional requirement on public trial is to ensure that the general public is satisfied that trial is fair, that nothing is hidden and that justice has been done in each particular case in line with laid down rules. As stated by Lord Heward, C.J., in R. VS. SUSSEX JUSTICES, EX P. MCCARTHY (1924) 1 K.B. 256, 259 that “it is not merely of some importance, but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.” Another vital reason is to afford members of the public an opportunity of forming and offering (in public or in private, as they may desire) opinions about the manner court proceedings are being conducted. Perhaps, the most important reason for mandatory public access to trial proceedings is to constantly awaken the judges and the courts, involved in adjudication, to their paramount responsibility to act and talk fairly and impartially, bearing in mind that proceedings before them are being observed by members of the public. How fair and just is it, therefore, for a court or judge to expect that people who witness court proceedings should not freely analyze and comment?

The Scope the Rule on Trial Publicity in Legal Ethics

The Legal Professional Ethics prescribes minimum standards of proper conduct for lawyers, and imposes duties which are meant to uphold and safeguard the nobility of the legal profession and the integrity of law. The Nigerian Legal Ethics, known as the RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT FOR LEGAL PRACTITIONERS (the RPC) are made by the General Council of the Bar in exercise of its powers under section 12 (4) of the LEGAL PRACTITIONERS ACT, Cap L11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, to regulate the conduct of legal practitioners in Nigeria and instill professional etiquette. The Legal Ethics is a code of honour and its breach attracts penalizations. Lord Denning, MR (in RONDEL V. WORSLEY) put it more succinctly: a lawyer who flouts Legal Ethics is offending against the rules of the legal profession and is subject to its discipline.”  This is also captured in Rule 55 (1) of the RPC, 2007, which provides that “if a lawyer acts in contravention of any of the rules in these Rules or fails to perform any of the duties imposed by the Rules, he shall be guilty of a professional misconduct and liable to punishment as provided in Legal Practitioners Act.”

The previous Legal Ethics in Nigeria (known as the Rules of Professional Conduct in the Legal Profession (made on 25 November 1967, and published in Official Gazette No. 107, in Volume 54 of December 14, 1967, but amended on 15 January 1979, as published in the FRN Official Gazette No. 5, in Volume 67 of 18 January 1980) dealt with Trial Publicity under the heading, “Newspaper Comment on Pending Litigation, Etc.” Rule 27 of the 1967 Rules (now repealed and replaced by the RPC 2007) provided thus:

“Newspaper comment by a lawyer on pending or anticipated litigation may interfere with a fair trial in the Courts and otherwise prejudice the due administration of justice. It is to be avoided save in exceptional circumstances. A particular case may possibly justify a statement to the public, but it is unprofessional to make it anonymously. An ex parte reference to the facts should not go beyond quotation from the records and papers on file in the court, and is better avoided entirely.”

If the threat to punish “lawyers, public commentators and journalists” who engage in public discourse of proceedings of the 2019 Presidential Election Petition Tribunal was made under the 1967 Rules as amended in 1979, such threat would not have generated so much rumpus, because the provisions of Rule 27 of the 1967 Rules (as reproduced above) was an out-and-out prohibition of lawyers’ involvement in public analysis of pending court proceedings.  But, even at that, one would still have interrogated the appropriateness and legitimacy for outspreading such a threat to journalists and other non-lawyer members of the public to whom Legal Ethics are not applicable, RPC being itself a bye-law applicable to only persons duly called to Bar in Nigeria?

Anyway, as I stated above, the provisions of Rule 27 of the 1967 Rules are no longer applicable, having been repealed and replaced with a brand-new Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) for Legal Practitioners in Nigeria in 2007, which now is the applicable Ethical Code whose objective is to ensure that Nigerian lawyers observe minimum professional etiquette in their conduct and utterances. The relevant provision for our present discourse is Rule 33 of the RPC (2007) dealing with Trial Publicity. Rule 33 appears to have left no one in doubt that things have changed; the era of choking lawyers or unduly constraining lawyers’ freedom of speech and expression, is over. The Rule provides as follows:

“A lawyer or law firm engaged in or associated with the prosecution or defence of a criminal matter, or associated with a civil action shall not, while litigation is anticipated or pending in the matter, make or participate in making any extra-judicial statement that is calculated to prejudice or interfere with, or is reasonably capable of prejudicing or interfering with, the fair trial of the matter or the judgment or sentence thereon.”

It is obvious from this provision that only lawyers and law firms who are involved in the prosecution or defense of a pending case are barred from engaging in extra-judicial comments (public analyses) on the proceedings. Even at that, it appears that there is no absolute bar, because such lawyers/law firms are still at liberty to make extra-judicial statements on such proceedings, in so far as such statement are not reasonably capable of prejudicing or interfering with the fair trial of the pending matter.

Further, from the clear wording and purport of Rule 33 of the RPC, 2007, it may not be out-of-place for one to conclude that lawyers, journalists, and other non-lawyer members of the public are completely excluded in the duties imposed by Rule 33, and are thus at liberty to freely offer their comments (privately or publicly, as they may wish) on pending proceedings, including even such comments as one might adjudge to be reasonably capable of prejudicially interfering with the fair trial of the matter. That is the position of the law in Nigeria, under the RPC, 2007.

Honestly, I am still unable to see how practicable it is for comments made outside the courtroom (by persons who have no connection with the case in court) could reasonably influence or interfere with the fair trial of the matter in court. For God’s sake, the court is strictly required to hear and determine the case before it on the basis, solely, of the evidence, law, and facts properly placed before it, and not based on public commentaries outside the courtroom. It is absurd, even illegitimate and intolerable for a court of law to pay heed to or to permit itself to be swayed by chinwags and annotations in the social, electronic or print media. The duty of court not to be influenced by (private or public) sentiments, assumptions, and extraneous considerations was emphasized by IBIYEYE, J.C.A, in ODOCK V STATE (2006) LPELR-9776 (CA) (at pp. 28-33, paras. F-A):

“I agree with the submission of the learned counsel for the appellants that this approach by the learned trial Judge in fishing for materials not placed before him and relying on such materials and facts to give his decision is, with due respect, an unusual procedure to be adopted in adjudication in our adversary system. It is trite that since the facts he relied on to form an opinion which he used to decide a matter were not before him, he has no responsibility to embark on an investigation to fish for them. …The Judge should not … fish out for facts not demonstrated before him …. It is trite to say that for a Judge to proceed on its own motion to take judicial notice of facts without a party laying the foundation and calling upon it appropriately to take such a judicial notice is a very dangerous thing to do in our adversary system of adjudication where the Judge is supposed to be an umpire and hold the balance. That will amount to the Court acting on instinct, sentiments and relying on speculations. The Court is not at liberty to act on any of those factors. In order words, instinct, assumptions and sentiments have no role to play in adjudications. See KATTO v. C.B.N. (1991) 9 NWLR (Part 214) 126 at 145. I agree with the learned counsel for the appellants that these philosophical postulations were not based on any materials before the trial Court. They are at best borne out of instinct, assumptions and sentiments which are not good premises for adjudication and the Court should not indulge in them. See STATE v. AIBANGBEE (1988) 3 NWLR (Part 84) 548 at 555; A.I.C. LTD. v. N.N.P.C. (2005) 11 NWLR (Part 937) 563 at 597; UBENE v. C.O.P. (2005) INCC 624 at 640. It is equally the law to state that no Court has a right apart from taking judicial notice of a notorious fact in a proper case to draw conclusions outside the available evidence…. I accordingly resolve the three issues in favour of the appellants.”

Besides, the Supreme Court of Nigeria has on several occasions warned that, in forming its opinions for purposes of determination of the case before it, a court of law is not entitled to have recourse to any evidence, facts, materials, issues other than what is placed before it by parties to the case. See the dictum of Oguntade, J.S.C in NDOMA-EGBA V. ACB PLC (2005) LPELR-1973 (SC) (at C (p. 27, paras. A-C). Moreover, in OKAFOR V. OKAFOR (2016) LPELR-40457 (CA), Agube, J.C.A (at pp. 106-107, para. E), while explaining the role of a judge in a trial, observed:

“A trial is not investigation, and investigation is not the function of a Court. A trial is the public demonstration and testing before the Court of the cases of the contending parties. The demonstration is by assertion and evidence and the testing is by cross-examination and argument. The function of a Court is to decide between the parties on the basis of what has been demonstrated and tested. What was demonstrated in Court failed to support the prosecution’s case and the Magistrate should have dismissed the case. It was not part of his duty to do cloistered justice by making an inquiry into the case outside the Court not even by the examination of documents which were in evidence, when the documents had not been examined in Court and the Magistrate’s examination disclosed things that had not been brought out and exposed to test in Court, or were not things that at least must have been noticed in Court.”

Why Public Comments on Trial Proceedings are Legitimate & Inescapable

Apart from the explanation above, on the duty of the courts to not be influenced by matters outside the courtroom, nothing is hidden about court trial proceedings, since trial is held publicly. Section 203 of the Criminal Procedure Law of most states in Nigeria makes it mandatory that “the room or place where any trial is to take place … shall be an open court to which the public generally may have access as far as it can conveniently contain them.” Also, Sowemimo, J.S.C in OVIASU V. OVIASU (1973) LPELR-2836 (SC), p. 12, paras. B-F, citing Halsbury’s Laws of England. reiterated this mandatory requirement:

“`Every Court of Justice is open to every subject of the King.’ To this rule, there are … certain strictly defined exceptions. Applications properly made in chambers, and infant cases, may be particularized. But publicity is the authentic hall-mark of judicial as distinct from administrative procedure.”

 In view of the above, one may ask this question: How reasonably practicable is it to allow public trial of cases in court, and at the same time try to bar members of the public from making comments on their perceptions about the proceedings? I personally do not see the workability! I think a better way to have avoided open discourses on court proceedings is to preclude the public from having access to pending proceedings. Therefore, one may suggest that where a court of law is not prepared to tolerate public comments on its proceedings, let such court conduct its trials secretly (trial in camera). Such trial in camera may find legal support in section 36 (4) (a) of CFRN 1999, as amended, section 203, Criminal Procedure Law (CPL), section 225 Criminal Procedure Code Law (CPC), and relevant provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015. The proviso though is that the court in such circumstances must be prepared to show that such exclusion of the public from its proceedings is reasonably justifiable “in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, the welfare of persons who have not attained the age of eighteen years, the protection of the private lives of the parties or to such extent as it may consider necessary by reason of special circumstances in which publicity would be contrary to the interests of justice;” else, the court’s action would be adjudged unconstitutional, null and void, on grounds that publicity of trial is a fundamental aspect of fair trial. See section 36 (1), (3) & (4), CFRN, 1999. There is a problem with this alternative. Requirements of extant law on this subject appear to render it reasonably unworkable to completely remove proceedings of courts from public view and scrutiny because even when the court finds it legally justifiable to exclude the public from its proceedings, there are persons who are legally required to be present during such (secret) proceedings. These include parties to the case, their witnesses and legal practitioners, accredited journalists, and court officials who by the very nature of their work are required to be present in court sittings – orderlies, court clerks, etc. See section 36 (4) (a) CFRN and section 205 CPL.

Based on the aforesaid, there is no-gainsaying that, however hard the court tries to move its proceedings away from public view, in the end, the proceedings would still come to public knowledge and, of course, would naturally attract open comments. Legit no cogit ad impossibilia is apt here! Take for an instance, while I was writing the present paper in my hotel room, in Abuja, early in the morning of Monday, 13 May 2019, I watched a public discussion on national television, of another issue that arose directly from the May 08, 2019 inaugural proceedings of the 2019 Presidential Election Tribunal (2019 PEPT): “Should the current President of the Court of Appeal who is also the Chairman of the 2019 PEPT, recuse herself from further participation in the PEPT , based on the Nemo Judex rule, on account of the allegation that her husband is a Senator-elect from one of the disputing political parties in the election petition pending before the PEPT?” That issue is not in focus in the present paper, but I am compelled to point it out, to demonstrate the impracticability of barring open discussions about pending court proceedings, especially in respect of such a high-profile case as Atiku versus Buhari, touching directly on the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. No wonder then, the framers of Rule 33 of the RPC 2007 were proactive in having wisely recognized and taken care of this unescapable reality when they drafted Rule 33 to allow some room for such obviously harmless open comments. The makers of the RPC 2007 were in conformity with William Blackstone’s observation that law is the embodiment of the moral sentiment of the people. No doubt, the people’s good is the highest law, as declared by Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman, orator, lawyer and philosopher (106 BC – December 07, 43 BC). What is more? A German jurist and historian who later became a leader of the sociologist school of jurisprudence, Friedrich Karl von Savigny (1779-1861), had adopted and advanced German cultural precepts that recognized the need for law to pay solidarity with the volksgeist (the unique spirit and character of a nations’ people), the reality on ground in a country, because, as he suggested, “law is made for man and not man for the law.” Lastly, on this point, the prolific English writer, William Godwin (1756 –1836) said, “Law is made for man and not man for the law. Wherever we can be sure that the most valuable interests of a nation require that we should decide one way, that way we ought to decide.”

Position of Case Law Regarding Extra-Judicial Statements on Court Proceedings: Extent of Citizens’ Rights

In the Court of Appeal case of DANIEL V. FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (2013) LPELR-22148 (CA), his Lordship, Dongban-Mensem, J.C.A explained the limits of the rule relating to trial publicity and the principle of sub-judice (at pp. 46-50, para. C) as follows:

“I must say that in recent times, I wonder whether the legal principle of subject “sub-judice” has been abolished from our legal system. Usually, a matter which is “sub-judice” should be protected from the media, it is expected to be treated with some measure of restraint in reportage on the subject while proceedings are on-going. However, the rider/caveat which qualifies this expected restraint is that the publication is “calculated to impugn the fairness of the trial.” While some publications can be so obvious, the intention of some are not so easily discernible. The focal point then is not whether there is a publication on the subject matter but whether such publication is “calculated to impugn the fair trial” of the pending suit. The Courts which are not given to speculation will have to be swayed with legal evidence to procure a finding that a certain publication is calculated to impugn fair trial. The publication of the report of an inquiry on the subject matter of the trial of the Appellant could be intimidating. That is a subjective factor which would not impact legally on the subject of consideration. The case of Mohammed v. Kano Native Authority (1986) 1 ALL NLR 422 on fair hearing finds no application on the facts of this appeal strictu sensu. The reasonable man in Mohammed’s case “is that man who was inside the Court and who observed the conduct of the proceedings from the beginning to the end. Thus, when the proceedings are taken out of the domain of the Court of trial to the public domain, the test of fair hearing becomes unruly like the unbridled horse. It is not the public that does the evaluation and adduction of value to the adduce evidence; it is the Court and that is done only upon credible legal evidence. At the enquiry, all manner of extraneous matters could be considered. All such must be eliminated through the legal sift. … Further, the impression of the reasonable man referred to in adjudication is not deciphered from newspaper publications. It is the impression of that reasonable man who was in Court all through the proceedings keenly and dispassionately observing the trial. …. The test of fair hearing is not the effect of a publication on the average members of the public but the opinion of a reasonable man who watches the proceedings in Court.Extensive media publication perse, does not therefore constitute an impediment to a fair-hearing. The Apex Court found no such disability in the case of FRN v. Nabara (2013) 5 NWLR (Pt.1347) p.332. In the case of R v. West (1996) 2 Cr App R 374 @ 306 Lord Taylor CJ explained the judicial attitude to adverse publication in these terms:- “…But however lurid the reporting, there can scarcely ever have been a case more calculated to shock the public who were entitled to know the facts. The question raised on behalf of the defence is whether a fair trial could be held after such intensive publicity adverse to the accused. In our view, it could. To hold otherwise would mean that if all allegations of murder are sufficiently horrendous so as inevitably to shock the nation, the accused cannot be tried. That would be absurd. Moreover, providing the judge effectively warns the jury to act only on the evidence given in Court, there is no reason to suppose that they would do otherwise. In (R v. Kray (1969) 53 Cr. App R 412 at 414, 415), Lawton J said: “The drama….of a trial almost always has the effect of excluding from the recollection that which went before”. That was reiterated in (R v. Coughlan (1976) 63 Cr. App R. 33 @ 37. In (Exp Telegraph Plc. (1993) 2 All ER 971 at 978, (1993) 1 WRN 980 at 987, I said. A Court should credit the jury with the will and ability to abide by judge’s direction to decide the case only on the evidence before them. The Court should also bear in mind that the staying power and detail of publicity, even in cases of notoriety, are limited and that the nature of trial is to focus jury’s minds on the evidence put before them rather than on matters outside the Court room.” (Emphasis mine)

On the other hand, in BELLO v. AG, LAGOS STATE (2006) LPELR-7585 (CA), the Court of Appeal explained the circumstances in which public commentaries or analyses on pending proceedings may amount to contempt of Court. His Lordship, Salami, J.C.A (pp. 41-46, paras. F-C) had this to say:

“It is crystal clear from the publication set out above that a suit was pending. It transpired from the publication that an application for interlocutory injunction was equally pending. The publication was made to coincide with the date the application for interlocutory injunction was fixed for hearing, 18th September, 2001. The last paragraph had the effrontery of anticipating the relief sought in the motion on notice. In other words, learned counsel for appellant arrogated or ascribed to himself the power to grant the interlocutory injunction, This, respectfully does not only constitute interference with the judicial proceedings, in suit ID/564M/2001 pending before Lagos Slate High Court but also amounts to usurpation of the proper function of the Court, a Court of record. It also has the effect of inciting people against the constituted authority; in addition to bringing the Court into contempt and ridicule. The crux of the matter is that the learned counsel for appellants and the purveyor of the publication respectfully seems to have prejudged the issues in both the suit and the pending application before the learned trial judge. The objectionable conduct of the counsel is intended to prejudge the issues in the action, which was pending. It therefore amounts to contempt, a criminal contempt for that matter. See paragraph 26 of the Halsbury’s Laws of England, Fourth Edition- “26. Prejudging Issues. Comments on pending legal proceedings which purports to prejudge the issues which are to be tried by the court is intrinsically objectionable as being usurpation of the proper function of the Court. This it seems may be punished or restrained as a contempt irrespective of the effect or likely effect on the particular proceedings in question.” (italics mine) See Re “Finance Unions”, Yorkshire Provident Assurance Co. VS. “Review” Publishers (1895) 11 TLR 167 at 168 per Wills J. Attorney-General vs. Times Newspapers Ltd. (1973) 3 All ER 54 at 65 (1973) 3 WLR 298, 65 where Lord Reid said- “I think that anything in the nature of prejudgment of a case or of specific issues in it is objectionable not only because of its possible effect on that particular case but also because of its side effects, which may be far reaching. Responsible ‘mass media’ will do their best to be fair, but there will also be ill-informed, slapdash or prejudiced attempts to influence the public. If people are led to think that it is easy to find the truth, disrespect for process of the law could follow and, if mass media are allowed to Judge, unpopular people and unpopular causes will fare very badly. Most cases of prejudging of issues fall within the existing authorities on contempt.” At page 68 of the same report Lord Morris of Borth- Y-Gest said- “Furthermore, not only is it from the public points of view unseemly that in respect of a cause awaiting the determination of a Court there should be public advocacy in favour of one particular side or some particular points of view but also the Courts, I think, we owe it to the parties to protect them either from the prejudices of prejudgment or from necessity of having themselves to participate in flurries of having pretrial publicity. In this connection, I agree with Lord Denning MR when he said (1973) 1 All ER at 821, 822 (1973) 2 WLR at 460 – ‘We must not allow “trial by newspapers” or “trial by television” or trial by any medium other than the Courts of law’. Many judicial expressions of opinion illustrate the viewpoint that I have set out. Lord Hardwicke, L.C. in the St. James’ Evening Post case (1742) 2 at K 469 said that “there was nothing of more pernicious consequence, than to prejudice the minds of the public against persons concerned as parties in causes, before the case is finally heard.” The newspaper article, which was under consideration in Re Crown bank, Re O’Malley (1890) 44 ChD 649 was published after the presentation of a petition to wind up a company.” The appellant’s comment went beyond fair and temperate criticism, which is legitimate. Its motive was to put pressure on the plaintiff and the Court, there was no other reason for the publication other than to influence the persons who might read it and persuade them to take side. The publication was consequently not impartial but a deliberate or calculated propagation of the views of one of the parties. Trial by newspapers, television and other medium other than Court is not only unacceptable but also objectionable. The Court will however only find contempt where the risk of prejudice is real, substantial or serious. The facts in this case shows that the appellant without ascertaining the facts of the case in the nature of the defendants’ response and in absence of submissions of counsel hijacked the functions of the Court and predetermined the issues or the relief sought in their application for interlocutory injunction. The only proceedings of Court in which there could be unrestrained criticism is where judgment had been delivered even if that judgment were on appeal. See AG. v. Times Newspapers Ltd. (supra) at 65 and 310 per Lord Reid. The appellants’ conduct, nay those of their counsel should not only be restrained, it should be punished. Their conducts including that of The Punch newspaper that aired the publication, to say the least, is reckless.”

Looking at Rule 33 of the RPC 2007, as well as the legislation and case law considered above, it would appears that two major inferences are thrown up:

  • Any one (lawyer and non-lawyer alike) not involved in a pending case may make fair, temperate and non-prejudicial public analyses on the case.
  • Lawyers and parties to pending proceedings are entitled to make public comments on the proceedings, provided that such comments are not reasonably calculated or likely to impugn the fair trial of the suit.

At this juncture, I consider it crucial to respectfully recall that the dictum of Hon Justice Salami in BELLO v. AG, LAGOS STATE (supra) appears to be directed only at the parties to the pending proceedings and their counsel, and thus excluded lawyers and persons not directly involved in the case. This notwithstanding, I am of the opinion that a proper, reasonable approach to a realistic resolution of these issues would be to hold that, whether or not the author, instigator or publisher of the affected public comments is a party or lawyer involved in the pending proceedings, publications which purport to prejudge the issues which are to be tried by the court or which constitute an undue interference with pending judicial proceedings or amount to usurpation of the proper function of the court are objectionable and therefore should be avoid by members of the public — lawyers, litigants, commentators and all. This is because such might be viewed as a sort of media trial of the pending case. It must conversely be emphasized that fair and temperate public comments, analyses, and even criticisms, of pending proceedings are appropriate, the same being unavoidable and legally permissible in any civilized society governed by law and common sense.

Conclusion

With the greatest respect to the 2019 PEPT, chaired by His Lordship, the Honourable President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), I most deferentially disagree with any suggestion that Nigerians are legitimately ineligible to make comments on the proceedings of the Honourable Tribunal. I strongly recommend that the best approach in the circumstances should be as unambiguously indicated in the case of DANIEL V. FRN (supra): “the focal point then is not whether there is a publication on the subject matter but whether such publication is calculated or is reasonably likely to prejudicially interfere with or impugn the fair trial of the pending suit.” As I have explained above, one major significance of throwing court proceedings freely accessible to all and sundry is for everyone to have the opportunity of beholding how the proceedings are conducted, which opportunity, I submit, extends to the observers’ right to (privately or publicly) discuss their thoughts on the proceedings as the trial progresses. These things are unpreventable.

I therefore suggest their Lordships, the Chairman and members of the 2019 PEPT should just focus squarely on the live cases before them and completely ignore what people (outside the courtroom) say or do not say about the proceedings, because such public talks are bound to happen; yet, they ought to not be their Lordships’ business and ought rightly to not concern nor affect them, nor interfere with the impartial and just determination of the cases before them. Speaking generally, we all need to be careful so as to not unnecessarily overstretch extant Rules, Case Law and Legislation with a view to wrongly importing issues and matters that are not originally there, nor meant to be there. In the instant case, such attempt or threats to interdict free public speech might be viewed as a breach of citizens’ rights under the constitution and a brazen rupturing of the hallowed legal maxim, legit non cogit ad impossibilia (the law does ought to not command the doing of what is practically impossible) with its attendant consequences for an organized, modern society, unless we are prepared to build more prisons, to accommodate Nigerians who, in exercise of their inalienable constitutional rights, would naturally engage in open discussions of ongoing proceedings of Nigeria’s 2019 Presidential Election Petition Tribunal. It was not, I humbly suggest, the intentions of the framers of the RPC 2007 to gag free speech, interdict public commentaries or choke public analysis of court proceeding by observers thereof.

In addition to my earlier suggestions on the realistic intentions of the RPC 2007, I think the makers of the RPC must have considered the famous declaration of George Orwell in favour of the universal respect for unassailability and immutability of free speech: “if a large number of people believe in freedom of speech, there would be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it….” Put differently, if we desire respect for our laws, we must first make our laws law respectable (per Hon Justice Louis D. Bradeis of the United States’ Supreme Court). Rule 33 of RPC 2007 on trial publicity is a liberal and realistic rule, which wisely recognizes and respects citizens’ undeniable right to free public speech and expression. I implore us to consider that taking this natural right away from citizens, even for a moment, would negate the true intentions of the framers of the law. In a letter to Justice William Johnson of the United States, Sir Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and the 3rd President of the United States of America, had this to say:  “On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or intended against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.” 

Without prejudice, respectfully,

Sylvester C. Udemezue (udems),udemsyl@hotmail.com

ICC arbitrators target opportunities in construction disputes

With increasing budgetary allocation for infrastructure by the Federal Government, arbitrators under the aegis of International Chamber of Commerce say they are poised to help resolve possible disputes that may arise from construction contracts.

As a result, they have listed “Presenting Damages in Construction Arbitration,” as one of the topics to be discussed at the 4th ICC African Regional Arbitration Conference, holding in Lagos between June 18 and 19.

The chairman of the conference planning committee, Mr Mike Igbokwe (SAN), who briefed journalists earlier in the week alongside ICC Secretary General in Nigeria, Mrs Olubunmi Osuntunyi; Mrs Funke Agbor (SAN), and Mrs Josephine Akinwunmi, said arbitrators, policymakers and stakeholders in the construction sector would find the topic beneficial as it would provide them with insight into possible construction disputes and how they are resolved.

“In view of the infrastructure deficit in Nigeria and what the government has promised to do – right now, the government is spending a lot of money in the area of infrastructure – we believe that stakeholders in the construction industry will have a lot to benefit at this year’s conference; they will gain an insight into how construction disputes are resolved when they arise. Not just the policymakers, practitioners in the construction sector will also find the conference rewarding,” Igbokwe said.

But apart from construction dispute, the SAN said the conference with the broad theme, “Africa: Open for Business?” would also be considering other topics, such as “Arbitration of Banking and Financial Disputes”; “Drafting of Enforceable Awards”; “Diversity and Disqualification: Recent Trends in Domestic and International Arbitration”; and “Dispute Resolution under the AfCTA: A New Look at the Calvo Doctrine”; among other topics.

According to him, in the line-up of resource persons are experts from Egypt, Rwanda, Paris, Mali, Tanzania, the United States, the United Kingdom and Nigeria.

Igbokwe said the speakers would be led by the President and Secretary General of ICC, Mr Alexis Mourre and Mr John Denton, respectively.

He described the ICC conference, over the years, as strategic for the Nigerian arbitration community, as it “keeps creating a growing awareness of the importance of arbitration in the dispute resolution process.”

He explained that the theme for this year was informed by “the desire to determine whether Africa is ready for investment by both foreign and local investors and to explore possible ways of making arbitration work in Africa.”

Igbokwe urged intending participants to take advantage of the early-bird registration rate, which would close on May 17.