Lawyers, Conduct Election Petitions for Free or Risk Prosecution

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Last month, Nigerians went to the polls to elect the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Simultaneously, elections were also conducted for the legislators who would occupy the green and red chambers. Similarly, in the next 3 days, Nigerians will again go out to vote for persons who would occupy the governorship and legislative positions in their respective states.

The aftermath of these series of electioneering are primarily two; there would be winners and there would be losers. While the winners would be returned elected, the losers would be faced with two options;  either they for the sake of whatever catches their fancy walk away and embrace their loss or where they feel their mandates have been stolen and have no reason to compromise anything approach the Election Tribunals. This brings me to the essence of this piece.

There has been some level of excitement in the legal community emanating mostly from the expectations of who gets which loser’s brief at the election tribunal. The excitement are sometimes expressed in humorous remarks which leaves one rolling in laugher. For instance, I recently stumbled on a Facebook post which reads: “Elections don finish, lawyers, food don ready make we chop“. As hilarious as this post came across to me, I felt there is need for more sober reflections on the realities of the present times in the legal profession. Make no mistakes about it, this is indeed juicy times for lawyers, especially those who have carved a niche for themselves in the area of Election Petitions. Their mobile phones would begin to vibrate constantly with alerts in excess of six digits. But then, beneath the excitements and the comic lies the unfortunate and dangerous fate which has gradually and steadily befallen the noble profession.

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Whether you agree with this position or not, the fact which has become very clear is that this situation would become worse because many legal luminaries are no longer able to distinguish issues from sentiments. The truth as it stands today is that Nigerian lawyers can be prosecuted for earning their professional fees especially from election petition cases. So, in my small corner, I am wondering how exactly lawyers intend to go about ensuring that they are able to protect themselves in future when their remuneration for prosecuting Election Tribunal cases  is called to question. I am wondering if lawyers should not just offer pro bono services to these politicians. That way, there would be no “you reasonably ought to have known.” Let me break it down.

The President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN is presently facing a ten count charge of alleged money laundering brought against him by the EFCC. Despite the fact that Mr. Usoro had presented credible document to show that these monies were paid into his law firm, Paul Usoro & Company (PUC)’s account as professional fees for works evidently done, the EFCC claims that Mr. Usoro “reasonably ought to have known” that the money belongs to Akwa Ibom State Government. Seriously?

Therefore, since we are not clear on what the present jurisprudence on remuneration for legal practitioners as it relates to Election Petitions (i.e., we are not sure if the law now requires lawyers to conduct forensic investigation of the source of the monies they would receive as legal fees for conducting Election Petitions), is it not better that lawyers remain safe by just doing this work without pay?  A small window which can be explored to circumvent this may be to interview the clients on the source of the professional fees (if possible obtain a written attestation) before perfecting the brief. To those who would treat this advice with kid glove and those who refuse to see beyond these veiled charades for some selfish motives, I can only hope for the sake of posterity that things begin to get better.

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I conclude with the below excerpt from the thought provoking speech by the NBA President, Mr. Usoro SAN on the 19th of December, 2018

“…There may still be a few of us who believe that the charges against me in Charge No. FHC/L/418C/18 are personal to me. They are not. What is at stake in this Charge is well beyond me as a person and includes, only in part, the right of a lawyer to earn his living and, in my instance, my fees, without being criminalized, hounded, persecuted and unlawfully regulated and audited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (“EFCC”). What has been dressed up as money laundering charges is nothing more than trumped-up charges that not only serve personal vendetta motives but also seek to subvert, intimidate, humiliate and subjugate the Nigerian Bar Association. (to read the full release visit here).

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