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Lagos AG, Shasore : I’d Have Pressed for Stiffer Sentence on Cecilia Ibru

19 Oct 2010

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Despite the movement of the nation’s capital to Abuja, Lagos has continued to retain its status as Nigeria’s commercial capital. The result is a myriad of developmental challenges in trade, environment, housing and infrastructure.
A team of senior lawyers recently came up with the initiative of Kuramo Foundation. The foundation is organising its maiden international conference at the Eko Hotel and suites from November 2 – 4, 2010.
JUDE IGBANOI met the co-chairs of the Planning Committee: Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Olasupo Shasore SAN,  Professor Yemi Osinbajo SAN and Dr. Babatunde Ajibade SAN. They gave an insight into the rationale for the conference and spoke on other burning issues in the polity
 
The suspension of the former Attorney-General of the Federation, Michael Aondoakaa, from the Inner Bar has generated responses from different segments of the legal profession. Some have argued that the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) went too far with that decision. Others are of the view that the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar should have been in a better position to deal with the issue. What is your own view on this?
I heard the news of Aodoakaa’s suspension like everybody else. It came to me as a surprise. But I think that we should be careful about the comments we make on issues like this.
I really cannot say what informed the decision of the LPPC because I have not seen the transcript of the proceedings to be able to understand the basis of their decision. I don’t think any of these people who are making comments now have either.
I would rather be circumspect. But suffice to say this; I believe the LPPC is a creature of statute. By its very nature and its name, it’s a regulator. It cannot just see itself as merely an appointing body. It is entitled to regulate the privileges it confers. It is therefore a natural ingredient of that power of the Committee to exercise its power to regulate the conduct of the people it confers those privileges.
 
An interdiction, which is suspension, is a normal ingredient of an appointing power that is totally different from termination.
I think people are expressing those diverse opinions because some think it’s a natural consequence leading to termination of the title.
Interdiction is based on either conflict of interests, abatement of further harm and so on.
I think it’s a right and proper thing for the Committee to mete out such punitive actions if they are convinced that what they have observed goes contrary to the set standards of ethics and behaviour expected of those who hold that title.
There shouldn’t be this hue and cry about the action of the LPPC’s action to suspend the former Attorney-General. It’s about time we respected the LPPC.
 
The former Chief Executive of Oceanic Bank, Mrs. Cecilia Ibru has just been sentenced to 6 months in prison. Many are of the view that the sentence is too light for such offences. Lagos is one state that is known to be very firm in sentencing. Chief Bode George’s case is still fresh in people’s minds and some say it is one of the reasons the EFCC prefers to prosecute its cases in Lagos. But the Federal High Court just gave this judgment. What, in your opinion, would the outcome have been if it had been handled by the Lagos Judiciary? The view by many is that it didn’t do justice to the depositors.
Again, I must advise caution. This is a question of a convicted person who has the liberty of an appeal. I do not think that she has exhausted her options to appeal both her conviction and her sentence.
I do not therefore think it would be prudent for me to say whether the sentence is adequate or appropriate. She has a right of appeal and I don’t think she has exhausted that right.
But generally, there are guidelines on appeal. Judges are guided by so many different considerations when it comes to sentencing. They consider previous sentences, they consider alocutus, conduct during trial and indeed certain public policies that have to consider.
 
Was there justice to depositors?
You know justice is a three way street. There must be justice for the parties and for the prosecutor. You can see justice from different perspectives. There is victim compensation. That is justice.
If I were prosecuting, naturally I would have pressed for stiffer sentence. But again, it’s a question I think that would be subject to a line of decided cases. People forget that sentencing is part of the body of judicial precedents that guide judges. Until one knows those considerations, I can’t really say what informed the sentence. But if I were prosecuting, I would have asked for stiffer sentences.
 
The state of some Magistrate Courts in Lagos State is appalling and cause for concern for counsel and litigants. Last week a counsel was so bitter about the state of the Tapa Magistrate Court, where there was no electricity and an incinerator exuding obnoxious fumes is sited next to the court. The court was forced to rise early as the Magistrate, litigants and counsel were so uncomfortable. Lagos State recently completed and commissioned an ultramodern Magistrate Court Complex at Igbosere. Why do we have such rot in Magistrate Courts when a brand new court complex is lying at Igbosere?
We have built a new Magistrate Court at Igbosere Road. That court is supposed to service several Magisterial Districts including Tapa.
We are only just awaiting the Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission and the Judicial Service Commission to designate Magistrates that will populate those 22 courtrooms there. This will enable us collapse many magistrate courts, including that at Tapa.
 
That means a solution is in sight?
Yes, the building on Igbosere road was designed to absolve the Tapa Magistrate axis, so there is no problem at all. The court will soon move to the new building.
 
What are the objectives of the Kuramo Foundation? Can you throw more light on it?
The Kuramo Foundation is a non-profit organisation that is in formation. The name Kuramo is one that is often associated with Lagos, but it’s not confined to a particular location.
The objective of the Foundation is to propagate knowledge, and one of the first things we are doing is a conference. It’s an international colloquium on areas of law and development. Its set objectives are public spirited, public oriented and knowledge based, in order to advance knowledge within the international community in Nigeria. It is to show that Nigeria is a resource centre.
We all know that Nigeria is gifted with a lot of human resources and the country has a lot to offer as far as skills are concerned.
We think it’s about time we exhibited all of those skills in this sort of fora in an international conference to be held in Lagos. That is why this collaboration is necessary. It’s public/private sector collaboration between the Lagos State Government and certain highly placed professionals in different professions. The idea is to bring about not just a foundation, but also skills.
 
What aspects of the conference is targeted at addressing development issues like you mentioned?
Development is the key thing here, because in the last 50 years the area of law and development were shaped by people who put their ideas together and were able to influence changes in both content and practice in public and private lives.
This is an opportunity for us to gather again like people did many years ago to bring bright people who have expertise to share. To try and shape ideas for the next 50 years and to try and build a platform to influence policies as well as practice in decades to come.
 
There have been many conferences of this nature in Nigeria. Most end up being mere talk shops. What makes this conference different? What are the unique features of the conference? What should conferees look forward to?
It’s not a law conference per se, but it’s a conference that lawyers have a lot to gain from. However, there are other developmental issues for other practitioners in different  areas. We have experts from the agricultural sector, trade and development experts, and intellectual property practice and there is a whole session devoted to international economic crime.
We have the International Association of Prosecutors that will be sending delegates here for the conference. So, it promises to be a nice mix of professionals and experts in different areas.
 
After the conference we’re going to make sure that there is a deliberate attempt to distill the decisions, package the ideas and identify the concepts that are of importance, and then try and use them to develop public policies for government and the private sector.
The advocacy element of it is something that is unique to the conference. We think that participants and delegates will not only enjoy the exchange of knowledge but the networking opportunities that it will present. This will enable them to participate in shaping future ideas.
 
Although you are all lawyers on the organising team, it appears other professionals are also expected to play an integral part in the conference. Which other professions are expected outside of the legal profession?
Now, the legal profession is such that it is so central to development that you can only ignore it at your peril.
Typically, certain modules in the conference are going to be populated by non-lawyers. We have environmental issues, environmental governance being driven by experts in that area. There is a session on housing and mortgage finance which is being driven by bankers and asset management experts.
Then we’ll have a session on trade and development that will be driven by people who are used to developmental issues; so, there will be a lot to be benefit to non-lawyers.
 
The international perspective of the conference is attractive. The programme features an array of global scholars, lawyers and businessmen. Who specifically are those international experts expected as resource persons?
For the topic “Developing Economies: Rethinking the Present, Shaping the Future”, we have Mary Robinson. She is the President, International Commission of Jurists and former President of Republic of Ireland.
For “Urban Citizenship – Rights and Obligations”, Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson who was Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa in Clinton’s administration will be speaking.
Over the past thirty years he has played a pivotal role in virtually every movement for empowerment, peace, civil rights, gender equality, and economic and social justice in the United States.
On Developing Economies: Rethinking the Present, Shaping the Future” we’ll have the Right Honorable Lord Paul Boateng speaking.
 
Some other speakers include Professor Fidelis Oditah, QC, SAN, Mrs. Funke Adekoya SAN, Mr. Yemi Candid-Johnson SAN, Professor Yinka Omorogbe, His Excellency, Judge Bola Ajibola SAN, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu and many others from abroad.
What is the nexus between the Mega-City Project of the Lagos State Government and this conference?
The Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN, is one of the inspirations behind the entire idea. He believes very strongly that there is a need to have changes in the international legal and economic order. He believes that from the generational point of view and from a practical perspective we should be participants in that international dialogue and that is why he is putting the rest of the state government behind this initiative.
 
He has even provided the enabling environment for us to have a fantastic conference. He will deliver the welcome address, attend some of the sessions and will be the Chief Host of the entire conference. He’ll be paying very close attention to the entire proceedings of the conference. This is because the challenges in Lagos right now are beyond borders; they are international in nature.
To that extent, the attainment by Lagos of the status of a mega city is at the heart of this conference.
 
This is conceptualised to be a perennial conference; why not yearly?
We decided to have it on a perennial basis because of the sheer logistics involved in organising a conference of this nature.
Also, we feel that the intervening period allows the Foundation to adequately take on the advocacy and policy aspect of what comes out from the preceding conference. This will give the foundation enough time to do its work and have the necessary impact.
 
The issues that this conference will generate are such that will affect virtually every state of the federation: environmental, governance, trade, arbitration, housing and others. Did the Forum make any effort to reach out to the other 35 states of the federation and even West African countries that may also stand to benefit from the issues that the conference intends to tackle?
We are relying on our friends in the media to ensure that enough information is put out there to create the awareness. Beyond that, I have reached out to my colleague Attorneys-General of the states to send delegates and the response has been quite positive.
 
The federal and state Ministries of Environment are sending delegates to the conference.
The Lagos State Ministry of Housing is actually responsible for one of those modules. It’s one of the prime movers of that session in collaboration with the Strategy for Housing in the UK; sowe are looking forward to national participation.
The International Association of Prosecutors (IAP) have recently adopted the Kuramo Conference as an IAP event. It will be the first IAP event in Africa! We have got confirmation that the Attorneys-General and DPPs from Mozambique, Cameroun and other African countries are coming. In fact the Secretary General of IAP, who himself is the Prosecutor-General of Holland will be coming.
Also the African Forum of the International Bar Association will be lending its support for the conference.
 
What will lawyers and other professionals be missing if they don’t attend this conference?
The most important thing they will be missing is the rich exchange of ideas.
I feel really privileged working with gentlemen like Professor Osinbajo SAN and Dr. Tunde Ajibade SAN.
Prof. Osinbajo has spent several decades in law, both in private and public sector.
Dr. Ajibade is an expert in investment law and is well-groomed in every aspect of the law. I feel very honoured to deal with talented people on the Committee. We have been able to put together a very good package. I don’t wish anybody would miss this opportunity for a vast international exchange of ideas and networking.
 
You said the conference will be setting a development agenda. How do you intend to make this happen?
The fact that the sessions will be thought provoking, we believe that the speakers and participants are skilled enough to draw out the issues. People will not only learn, but will contribute. In contributing, there will be that exchange which we believe will throw up fresh perspectives that will guide government development in the next ten years. By doing that, we would have set the tone and come up with the weaponry that will be attacking developmental issues not only in Nigeria, but in Africa and the entire international community.
Over the last 50 years, the justice sector has performed creditably, but we still need leadership. We need to evolve a very clear judicial policy; one that will bind all the stakeholders in the justice sector - the judiciary, law enforcement, members of the Bar and members of the official Bar.
 
We must have tested judicial policy that everyone can rely on. That is what I think is missing. We have kept very well to the tenets of our profession. We have done very well, but I think its now time to move the profession to its service level. Justice is service and we have been crying for that sort of rallying point.

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