When Lawyers go to Jail – Abdulrasheed Ibrahim

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Scene One

When a lawyer goes to jail or is sent to prison, it is always big news that everyone will be interested to know the rationale behind that. It is no longer   news that two lawyers that were assigned by their law firm to render legal service to Senator Dino Melaye in his face-off with the Police eventually found themselves in the prison on the order of a Magistrate Court in Abuja. Two things became very clear in this incident. First, it shows the high level of hatred some policemen have for lawyers in the course rendering services to their clients on issues that involved Police. Second, it shows that some judicial officers that sit on our judicial bench should have no business in being on the bench. This is so because I am always of the view that a judicial officer that cannot give a bench ruling on bail application in any case similar to that of Melaye’s lawyers should be sent packing and be asked to reapply to the law school. Any judicial officer that worth his name should be able to give instant ruling on bail application made on arraignment of an accused or a defendant regardless of the fact whether those being arraigned are lawyers or not, in as much as the offence is bailable.

The fact that the victims, Messr David Amaefule and Pius Udo-Inyang are lawyers was strong enough for the Magistrate to exercise his discretion judicially and judiciously but that was not to be but sent them to prison for days to prepare his bail ruling. A fearless and courageous judicial officer bearing in mind that those being arraigned before him are ministers in the temple of justice would have granted them bail instantly on self-recognition. But unfortunately we had a situation where the harmless lawyers were subjected to ridicule by being handcuffed by the Police who dragged them before the Magistrate who endorsed the Police’s illegality and arrogant show of power.

Scene Two

The sending to jail of Dr. Joseph Nwobike, a Senior Advocate Nigeria by Hon .Justice Adebiyi of the Lagos State High Court to one month imprisonment may go a long way to convince people that when it comes to the Rule of Law, the legal profession is no longer George Orwell’s Animal Farm where all animal are equal ,but some animal are more equal than the others. This news has been greeted with a lot of mixed feelings but whichever side of the divides you belong to, one thing that is very apparent is that nobody should be above the law. When the learned Judge was performing her duty, the story went round that some senior lawyers were trying to pressurize the father of the Judge to prevail on his daughter not to convict their colleague facing trial before her. But an independent investigation revealed that   the Judge’s parents had both died long ago and as such the story of pressurizing was a ruse and cheap blackmail. Therefore the learned Judge must be commended for being courageous.

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Anybody that offends the law must be sanctioned to serve as deterrent to others. Dr. Nwobike was convicted for perversion of the course of justice and must pay the price for that. There is a big lesson for every one of us here particularly we the lawyers. We must not be desperate to win cases all the time or get our cases assigned to a particular judge. If our clients’ cases are bad, why must we insist on going to court rather than reaching out to the party on the other side for settlement?  Our courts of law have on several occasions advised counsel particularly in the case of  KALLAMU Vs. GURIN (2005) ALL FWLR (Pt. 241) Pg. 351 Paras C-D that:

“It is also settled that it is no credit to any counsel who takes a brief knowing fully well that there is not a slim chance of success, to blindly prosecute the case. There is need for counsel, to have confidence in the success of a case, before accepting it.”

It is the failure of some lawyers to heed this type of warning that eventually put them in problems like the proverbial saying that: “A fly that has no one to advise it follows the corpse to the grave”. But can a person that has a credible adviser but refuses to heed the adviser’s advice blame anyone except himself? What has happened to Dr. Nwobike has equally given credence to the agitation of those clamouring for the abolition of the Rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Our senior lawyers as well as judges should be positive role models to the present and future generations of lawyers. This is one of the reasons why we put together the book titled LEGAL LUMINARIES: THE HEROES OF LEGAL PROFESSION IN NIGERIA. If you don’t have a law hero, you will surely get one there.

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Scene Three

Lawyers go to prison or are sent to prison for different reasons, but it is good for lawyers to go to jail for positive reasons. The first time I visited the law office of my former Chairman of NBA Lagos branch, Mr. Martin Ogunleye (a.k.a. Akanbi Ogun ), I saw a portrait of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SAN hanged on the wall of the office and I exclaimed that “this man is one of my literary heroes”. I was a very young boy in 1979 when he contested for the Nigerian Presidency and lost , but I began to have much respect for him when I came across his book titled MY MARCH THROUGH PRISON and by the time I finished reading the book I became one of his admirers. Any bookshop or library I went to the first book I always asked for is any book written by Chief Awolowo. A good friend of mine lent me AWO’s autobiography which was published in 1960 long before I was even born and was equally very interesting. I later bought collection of his speeches in series. In the course of our discussion, my Chairman told me his father was one of the Awolowo’s disciples and showed me a book titled THOUGHTS ON NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION personally autographed as gift by Awo himself to my Chairman’s father.

I borrowed the said book from Mr. Martins Ogunleye  to read. You cannot believe that Chief Awolowo  wrote the said book while in was  in Calabar Prison serving the  prison terms of the treasonable felony he was controversially  convicted for. He said on one of the reasons he wrote the book that:

“Having played a leading role in the work of constitution- making in Nigeria since 1949, I feel strongly that I owe it as a duty to our people to avail them of the benefit of my views.”

 Chief Awolowo ’s imprisonment seemed to pay off as upon his released in 1966, he was made the Federal Commissioner of Finance and Vice Chairman Supreme Military Council under General Yakub Gowon. I have continued to argue that it was a great minus to the Nigeria’s development that Awolowo did not succeed in his efforts to rule this country. I have not seen a politician as brilliant and prolific in this country as Awolowo. I stand to be corrected. Our present politicians who do not know how to positively make use of power will learn a lot from his indelible written works. They will equally do well if they read MY ODYSSEY by Dr. Nnamid Azikwe and MY LIFE by Sir Ahmadu Bello as these were people that selflessly served their people. FROM THIRD WOLRD TO FIRST by Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore will equally make a very good reading to our politicians.

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Reading through the history of legal profession in Nigeria, I have till date not seen a lawyer that has gone to prison as many time as the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi. In the book LEGAL LUMINARIES it is written about Gani that:

“ Gani in the cause of crusading his philosophy got himself brutalized, arrested, detained and even imprisoned by those in authority but all these did not deter him from what he strongly believed in.”

Our great teacher in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Professor Ademola Popoola wrote in the book titled STAND UP FOR WHAT IS RIGHT… (Fawehinmiism Lecture Series 2005-2014) published by NBA Ikeja Branch:

“His tribulations and travails are however, almost as legion as his attainments. He has, for his principles, been locked up in Police and Security Cells thirty two times. He has been detained in prisons by the various military governments on eight occasions. His passport has been seized ten times. His houses and offices have been searched by government security agents eleven times. Criminal Charges have been filed against him on thirty occasions. His person has suffered major assaults on six occasions…”

The lesson we must all learn is that if a lawyer goes to jail , it must be for good and positive reasons that will be apparent to the public  that the lawyer is just being victimized or oppressed because of his philosophy. If the reasons are otherwise, it means that such lawyer must have succeeded in throwing his dignity and integrity to the dogs. Before I rest my case on this issue, I think a passionate appeal need to be made to our judicial officers who are empowered to grant bail on any bailable offence to always exercise their discretion judicially and judiciously. A situation where a bail is granted but the perfection of same is being made very difficult and the accused or defendant continue to remain in prison custody indefinitely for the offence he is yet to be convicted for does not help the administration of the criminal justice.

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