Endlessly Awaiting Trial in Nigeria; A National Shame!

by Paul I. Adujie

A compelling and very engrossing journalistic feat appeared in the pages of The Guardian Newspapers on Saturday, October 5, 2007. Courtesy of GODWIN IJEDIOGOR, JOHNSON ADEBAYO AND SUNDAY ORISAKWE who have just earned the respect of every Nigerian, and decent people everywhere. Their report was titled, Our Stories, By Awaiting Trial Men; and women, I suppose there are women in endless detention in Nigeria as well?

This is great journalism, thorough investigative and dynamic reporting! Names, dates, details of course of the plights and predicaments of those poor citizens Awaiting Trial in Nigeria

First, I was instantly gratified by the great presentation of part of our national shame that is so well concealed and hidden from public view. I was also delighted by the very high quality of journalism, as epitomized by the two journalists who crafted the detailed report. It contained specifics, such as names, dates, age and trumped-up charges against particular detainee. This breakthrough report, attuned readers to the excruciating experiences the average Nigerian, unlucky to be detained, detained with flimsy excuse or no excuse at all.

Given the fact that everyone politician in Nigeria have recently been singing and regurgitating rule of law, rule of law, rule of law, any thinking person would therefore wonder, upon reading this reportage on the plight and predicaments of detained persons in Nigeria, as encapsulated by journalistic marvels at The Guardian. This report rekindled my faith in Nigerian journalists, who have been too partisan in recent years. Some of us have become disenchanted as a result of this glaring partisanship in addition to, worries that when news from Darfur Sudan is to be had, it is unexpectedly absent from Nigerian news sources, but instead in non-African news sources.

Nigeria is not too far from Darfur; Nigerian journalists are closer to Darfur than the American and European journalist or counterparts.

Why do we have so many poor people detained without trial? Corruption and elitism are the major factors. Corruption is 90 percent responsible for needless detention. Detention is used by corrupt police officers to extort money from those who are innocent and know that they are innocent beyond reasonable doubt. But such innocents would pay bribe to extricate themselves from endless detentions, because they know full well, that they cannot rely on the criminal justice system to save or deliver them from evil policemen

Elitism explains why no one in the judiciary, in the police force, in the political leadership from local government to state to federal levels, seem not to be losing even one night sleep, over the sorry state of affairs of Nigerian citizens who are detained, without justifications and poor Nigerian citizens who are falsely accused of serious crimes, such as armed robberies!
It is often said that a good society is measured by how it treats its underprivileged citizens. It does appear that Nigeria shamefully or shamelessly scores below zero when it comes to treatment of poor Nigerian citizens. No one seem to lose sleep over the hardships and the sufferings of the downtrodden.

Why is it, that we hear hypocritical preachments of the rule of law and due process, when it comes to serving corrupt governors and other politicians their just deserts in legal penalties and consequences, but everyone seem silent regarding the wasted and ruined lives of poor Nigerians citizens, who are falsely arrested, falsely accused and falsely detained endlessly?

It is my position that Nigerian lawyers can do so much to change these awful plights and predicaments of 100,000 Nigerian citizens who are detained endlessly without charge, without trial and without mercy. Nigerian lawyers can volunteer time, to represent and advocate the cause of those fellow Nigerian citizen who are detained endlessly by bribing grubbing evil policemen.

It is again, often said, that extent of human refinements in a given society is measured by, willingness to act selflessly, without compensation or such expectations, and for the benefit of others. And in this instance, acting for the benefit of Nigerian underprivileged citizens. Who in Nigeria is better suited to undertake this task? The Nigerian lawyer!

Nigerian lawyers can, through the Nigerian Bar Association or Non-Governmental Organizations and even through the Nigerian Legal Aid Council etc, help in enlightening the Nigerian public about individual rights and freedoms.

Additionally, Nigerian lawyers, can, as individuals or as groups, advocate the causes of Nigerian citizens who are detained without trials. Nigerian citizens who are routinely detained without being afforded any opportunity to have their day in court.

It is absolute perversity to detain citizens without trials. It is gross injustice to falsely charge any citizen with any crime and worse, armed robbery which carries death penalty!

In the United States, any person charged with an offense, who is unable to afford the services of a lawyer, is provided with the service of a public defender, at the expense of the taxpayers. I understand and reconcile myself to the fact that the situation is not the same in Nigeria. But there is something else that happens in the US, which we can emulate in Nigeria. And it called pro bono work; It simply refers to lawyers working for free.

There are instances where American lawyers engage in legal work for free. Individual lawyers engage in this sorts of work and so do major law firms. So, apart from belonging to country clubs and rotary club and lion clubs and such other seemingly elitist clubs in Nigeria. Nigerian lawyers can take interest in pro bono work and target so legal work for the direct benefit of Awaiting Trial citizens.

In the United States, lawyers, especially within the first five years of admission to practice law, are required to undertake Continuing Legal Education or CLE, seminars or workshops; and frequently, doing pro bono work is recommended and, it is credited toward in CLE classes certain practice jurisdictions.

There should be a holistic approach in Nigeria towards the banishing of this national shame of detention of our citizens, innocent citizens detained without trial or even a charge in any criminal proceedings. First, there should be police reforms and enlightenments to eradicate bribery and corruption, the major factor for these false arrests and detentions in the first place. These raids in which Nigerian citizens are falsely arrested, falsely detained endlessly, are mostly motivated by police search for bribe money, “income”

Then, in the eventuality that persons are detained, the judicial system should be active in determining proper arrests, detentions and proper procedures are adhered to by the police and prosecutors. Nigerian criminal justice sys

tem should be awake to its national duty.

I have had cause to be critical and upbraid the Nigerian Bar Association, which in my view, seem to have become too partisan, just like their journalists counterparts in Nigeria
How else does the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association explain the fact that the NBA have in the preceding eight years reserved their legal support and defense for egregiously corrupt public officials? Why is it that the NBA has been fixated on matters of impeachment of errant governors?

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