Mr Tope Alabi is a Lagos-based activist-lawyer. He is well known for his suit seeking the removal of controversial police chief Mbu Joseph Mbu. He also got a judgment against the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) banning imposition of fines on erring motorists, except by a mobile court. Alabi tells JOSEPH JIBUEZE what drives him.
What motivated you to sue Mbu Joseph Mbu?
I am a social crusader. I studied law, not to make money per se, but to defend the cause of the poor masses. This is my calling. I sued Mbu Joseph Mbu because of the statement he made that for every policeman killed, the lives of 20 to 100 civilians would go in exchange. To say the least, it was an inciting statement that could have caused mass killings of civilians, including myself. To prevent such occurrence, I sued him. Actually, I was not asking for his head, but to checkmate him and other lawless police officers, who believe that with their uniform, they can do whatever they like as if they are above the law.
I sued FRSC for violating the provisions of the Constitution and ignorance of the provisions of the Federal Roads Safety Commission (Establishment Act) 2007 and the National Roads Traffic Regulation 2012. The law says driving with shattered windshield or without windscreen is illegal, but they arrested me because of a cracked windscreen. Its men directed me to pay a fine without justification or court trial. I won the case at the Federal High Court Lagos. We are now on appeal.
What was your most memorable day in court?
That was when I appeared in the FRSC case and that of Mbu. The senior lawyers, who represented the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, the National Assembly and FRSC will not forget how we spat fire at each other.
What was your worst day in court?
My worst day in court was the day judgment in the Mbu case was delivered without hearing notice, even when our motion to adduce further evidence was still pending. I was sad because judgment was delivered when the case was yet to be concluded and Mbu escaped punishment.
What kind of person do you think should be appointed Attorney-General of the Federation?
An AGF should not be for cash and carry. The position should be for someone with specified expertise and demonstrable competence. It should also be for a person with clean record. It should be for someone who has achieved credit in the legal profession. It should be someone, who can prosecute corrupt politicians without fear or favour, not someone who will embark on selective prosecution.
If you were to recommend, who would it be?
I will strongly recommend Femi Falana (SAN). I believe he is an honest man, who will not compromise. He has contributed immensely to the legal profession. His appointment will add credibility to the government of the day. I am very sure he will sanitise the legal profession and the judiciary and help rid Nigeria of corruption.
Who are your role models in rights activism?
The late Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), Falana and my mentor Kunle Adegoke.
What challenges do you face as a young activist?
One problem is the issue of locus standi. When former House of Representatives Speaker Aminu Tambuwal was facing political challenges, I prepared a case to stop the police and the Federal Government from harassing him, but I could not go forward because I found it difficult to reach Tambuwal to sign the affidavit in support of the originating process. Besides that, I have several public interest cases I would like to litigate on, but I do not have sufficient financial capacity to pursue them. I am still a young lawyer.
Is that all?
I also face the challenge of my colleagues, who are aiding criminals to escape the axe of the law. For instance, a client was defrauded of millions of naira. The fraudster was ready to refund the money and directed his lawyer to negotiate with us. Instead of negotiating, the lawyer went to court to file for enforcement of right to stop the process.
What is your advice to other young lawyers?
They should be focused. They should pursue the knowledge first; money will come later. I got a good training under Dr Muiz Banire (SAN). I also learnt from my mentors, such as Adegoke, Taiwo Kupolati, Falana, Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN) and Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who is a father to me.
If you were not a lawyer, what would you likely have been?
Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
I don’t like the bench. I don’t see myself being a judge. But I pray I become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) as well as a Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM).