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That Speech by Chris Grayling

12 Mar 2013

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The Wig & Skirt By Funke Aboyade. Email, olufunke.aboyade@thisdaylive.com

The swearing-in over the last two weeks, of two new state Attorneys-General and Commissioners for Justice (Mr. Wale Fapohunda - Ekiti and Mrs. Bimbo Akeredolu - Ogun) got me thinking seriously about the role of Attorneys-General and Commissioners for Justice/Minister of Justice and the public’s expectation of them.

It brought to mind Chris Grayling’s powerful speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham last October. Grayling, for those who may not know, was appointed Secretary of State for Justice last September, sworn in as Lord Chancellor on October 1, 2012 and is the first non-lawyer to serve as Lord Chancellor since 1558. Barely one week after his swearing-in, he set a decisive tone which pulled no punches.

His speech was some 2,000 plus words but I think the following words, moments after he began speaking, best encapsulate the direction he intends to go on the job: ‘Too often those who offend think that nothing will happen to them. Our job is to make sure it does’.

In a country such as ours, that’s serious food for thought. The investigation and resolution of serious crimes such as murder, rape, gang rape, incest, lynchings, assassinations and mass killings is greatly undermined because the Nigeria Police is largely hamstrung due to factors ranging from inadequate funding, to inadequate training and orientation to corruption to lack of political will. This laid the grounds for the setting up of specialised agencies (EFCC and ICPC) under President Obasanjo’s government to tackle financial and economic crimes, of which official corruption forms a huge part. The impunity with which these crimes were carried out was because the offenders thought ‘nothing will happen to them’.

Now, it is not the duty nor does it lie within the power of the office of the Attorney-General to investigate these crimes; that office can only prosecute if the Police and other agencies have done the spade work as expected. It must be quite frustrating for the office of the Attorney-General to be unable to take the required next steps if that ground work has either not been done or been shoddily done by the investigating agency. So in that wise, I acknowledge that the contexts are different – Chris Grayling’s Britain (served by a largely efficient and effective Police force) and Nigeria (served by a largely inefficient and ineffective Police force).

And that is why the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation now ensures charges are in order and the necessary ground work in place before, for instance, the EFCC charges suspects to court. Before the present dispensation, EFCC’s prominent suspects received their trial in the news media; their arraignment was accompanied by much media hype (hailing the agency for netting the ‘big fish’) which soon fizzled out along with the trial. The charges were usually dead on arrival, for in order to play to the public gallery the agency usually rushed to court without thinking through whether the charges would stick. Any half bright lawyer could then run circles round them and spring the unfortunate catch who would then be released to go and sin some more and with even more impunity.

Too often those who offend think that nothing will happen to them. Our job is to make sure it does.

Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, obviously shares this eminently sensible and straightforward view. Braving unpopularity and media backlash, his office spearheaded the EFCC Regulations which have largely now ensured that trial by media and the dead-on-arrival syndrome have largely come to an end or been minimised. There has since been a spike in the number of cases filed and prosecuted to logical conclusion by the EFCC.

Pension thief, John Yakubu Yusufu, is now being retried on different charges with the expectation that his punishment will be commensurate with his aggravating crime. Too often those who offend think that nothing will happen to them. Our job is to make sure it does.

Here are some other salient points in Grayling’s speech: ‘I’ve made no bones about my intention to be a tough Justice Secretary. That means I want our justice system to be firm, fair and transparent. One in which the public have confidence. A system that punishes offenders properly. A system that supports the hard work done by our police. A system which looks after the victims of crime. But that’s not enough on its own. It also has to be a system which recognises that our prisons are full of people who face huge challenges.  A system which is designed to ensure that they do not return to a life of crime when they are released.  Public confidence issue is so important. We cannot deliver the reforms that are so desperately needed unless the public believe in us’.

He ended on a powerful, unrelenting and resonating note: ‘My goals for our criminal justice system are simple. I want to send a message to law-abiding citizens that says “we are on your side”. I want to send a message to victims that says “we will support you”. I want to send a message to criminals that says “we will send you to prison, but we will also help you go straight”. This is what I believe a tough, fair justice system should look like.  This is what a revolution in rehabilitation should look like. And that is what we will deliver.’

This is a challenge, in my view, that our justice delivery system ought, rightly, to take up across board.

Former Enugu State Governor, Chimaroke Nnamani, was last week re-arraigned by EFCC for money laundering. Too often those who offend think that nothing will happen to them. Our job is to make sure it does. I want our justice system to be firm, fair and transparent. One in which the public have confidence. A system that punishes offenders properly.

Former MD Intercontinental Bank, Erastus Akingbola was last month re-arrested and re-arraigned for theft and fraudulent conversion of N47.1bn. Too often those who offend think that nothing will happen to them. Our job is to make sure it does. I want our justice system to be firm, fair and transparent. One in which the public have confidence. A system that punishes offenders properly.

Irrespective of the reasons they are being re-arraigned (retirement, sacking, promotion or transfer of judges), one message comes through – the will to prosecute and see the cases to conclusion.

Pensions thief, John Yakubu Yesufu, has been re-arraigned. A system that punishes offenders properly. I want to send a message to criminals that says “we will send you to prison”.

They will all have their day in court, as will other prominent former public office holders being prosecuted by EFCC. Former Governors Orji Uzor Kalu, Rashidi Ladoja, Gbenga Daniel, Jolly Nyame, Timipre Sylva, Ayo Fayose, Joshua Dariye, Mohammed Hassan Lawal, to name but a few. Public confidence issue is so important. We cannot deliver the reforms that are so desperately needed unless the public believe in us.

For former Delta State Governor, James Ibori (who was tried under the dispensation of the most disastrous Attorney-General of the Federation ever, Michael Aondoakaa) the lesson was brought home in sharp relief in the UK. I want to send a message to criminals that says “we will send you to prison”.

I wish Bimbo Akeredolu and Wale Fapohunda all the very best in their new assignments. I challenge them and their counterparts in other states to rise to the challenge presented in Chris Grayling’s speech. And I commend the Attorney-General of the Federation for ably setting the right tone.

The sad death late last month of former NBA Lagos Branch chairman, Akin Akinbote brought once again into sharp relief the near pandemic of renal failure in Nigeria. Akin was an affable, quiet gentleman and well liked what with his French speaking skills and other remarkable talents. Lawyers were shocked to hear that his death had been due to end stage renal failure. All the more shocking because he had up till at least October last year been seen at various law programmes and events.

In a bid to draw attention to the growing menace of renal failure, we have on these pages in the past featured at least two (female) lawyers who’d had a close shave with death after being diagnosed with kidney disease. The Section on Business law of the Nigerian Bar Association had also, under the leadership of pioneer chairman Mr. George Etomi, taken to giving health talks to lawyers at their annual conferences. Nigerian physicians in Diaspora as well as home-based, regularly showed up to give us health talks and checks on the heart, kidney, lifestyle and stress, amongst others. As tests were also carried out there and then, it was at the venue of those conferences that some lawyers realised that they were actually walking corpses or in danger of becoming so. Many had high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease without knowing it. Lawyers, generally careless or laid back about their health, were beginning to slowly realise that health is wealth.

With Akin’s death and burial last week in Lagos, and with the World Kidney Day coming up this Thursday, we saw that this was an appropriate time to once again draw the attention, not only of lawyers but of everyone to this insidious illness. Hardly does a week pass without one newspaper or the other reporting on yet another Nigerian with end stage renal failure in dire need of funds to go to India for transplant surgery. Sadly, before many realised Akin was even ill or the nature of his illness and before money could be put together for his trip to India, he succumbed to his illness and passed away.

In the course of researching who to profile I learnt that Gbenga Ajibola had just had a kidney transplant in India last summer and had in fact taken Akin’s blood samples to India. I reached out to Gbenga who had been my classmate at Great Ife and asked if he wouldn’t mind talking about his illness for the benefit of all. Very graciously he agreed to not only speak, but speak frankly. Not just about the illness itself but about the financial toll it has taken on him. Given that in these climes where any type of illness is only to be spoken about in hushed tones if at all (and in some instances, particularly of public or government officials, even denied outright), Gbenga’s candid revelations are quite remarkable.

We also reached out to Dr. Mike Etomi (George’s identical twin brother), a nephrologist  who is also the President of the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas, to educate us further about basic facts we should all be aware of concerning our kidneys. Mike was also very gracious and his response was immediate.  In his usual simple and readable style, he touched on every facet of kidney care and awareness.

All said, today’s cover is a compelling read - even if I say so myself.

Of course, if government (at any level) is reading this as well, the realisation that we have a crisis situation on our hands just may spur them on to overhaul our health care delivery system and make health care safe and affordable for all. On the other hand, seeing as the Nigerian state simply opts for the easy way out by footing the bill for officials – and even spouses - to get treated, willy nilly, abroad this may amount to hoping in vain…

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