Kasim Sumaina in Abuja
A former President, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and the Coordinator, Rule of Law Development Foundation, Chief Joseph Bodunrin Dauda (SAN), has said that it was unfair for President Muhammadu Buhari and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, to blame defence lawyers for the delay in prosecuting corruption cases.
Speaking in Abuja wednesday at the second quarter seminar of the Rule of Development Foundation (ROLDF), Daudu queried the way and manner the president and several other personalities, including members of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption maligned defence lawyers as being unpatriotic in the administration anti-corruption war.
Daudu said that rather than blaming lawyers, critics should take a critical look at the criminal justice system.
“Obviously, there is something innately wrong with a system where people seem to think that crime and criminality pay and the people either take delight in committing criminal offences or glamorise those who have benefited from the proceeds of crime,” he added.
He noted that this was not the first time the grievous allegations against lawyers was being made.
According to him, it was first alluded to by no greater personality than the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, on the occasion of the opening of the Annual Bar Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association at Abuja in August 2015.
He said: “The chosen topic, ‘The Remit of Criminal Courts and Role of Legal Practitioners in Corruption Cases Under Existing Law’ is apt and is coming on the heels of extensive analysis of government and other stakeholders review of the current fight against corruption in Nigeria.
“On July 18, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption held or participated in a seminar for stakeholders in the criminal justice sector who are involved in one way or the other in the apprehension, investigation and prosecution of corruption cases at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja. It appears as if the committee does not consider members of the Nigeria Bar who are defence lawyers as stakeholders in the fight against corruption, hence they held the seminar without inviting them and at a point during the workshop, concluded that the defence lawyers were frustrating Government’s fight against corruption by resorting to the use of delay tactics in the course of the discharge of their professional duty as legal practitioners.”
Speaking further, Dauda said, “Indeed, the President queried why lawyers should defend persons alleged to have been engaged in looting the country. In the course of the year, several other personalities including members of the Presidential Committee referred to above, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman and senior lawyers affiliated to them took turns in maligning defence lawyers as being unpatriotic just because they defended persons accused of committing crimes against the treasury and coffers of the state.”
He said: “The frequency and tenacity of these allegations have begun to assume propaganda dimension such that, if the truth as to the mode or way and manner of prosecution and defense of corruption cases is not clearly brought to the fore of national discourse, then defence lawyers will be a much maligned breed of professionals (endangered species) in the country and reputations that have taken years to construct will be evaporated in a brief moment.
Continuing, he added that, “Undoubtedly, if left unaddressed, these allegations will no doubt have a deleterious effect on the image of legal practitioners in this country especially when they have been accused and tried in absentia for effectively frustrating Government’s anti-corruption agenda.
According to him, the phenomenon of the accused persons defending themselves is cruelly referred to as ‘corruption fighting back’. Had government thought it fit to invite all the stakeholders to the aforedescribed seminar or round table discussion, the truth would have emerged that defence counsel are ministers in the temple of justice and would do nothing outside the Rules of Professional ethics in the course of the discharge of his duties.
It is imperative so that the truth maybe told about our criminal justice system. Because Nigeria is not isolated from the world and because it is part of the human community, it possesses it’s fair share of social deviants and others who flout the law,” he said.
He explained that, the difference between Nigeria and some other countries is that while those other countries are able to contain the rampancy of crimes through their own justice system, Nigeria is unable to achieve that benchmark. If we get it right in Nigeria, our criminal justice system should be sufficiently empowered to contain the excesses of those who have a penchant to flout the law.”