IN every constitutional democracy, adherence to the rule of law is the fulcrum on which the principle and tenets of democracy stand. The rule of law demands obedience of the law (including court orders) as it is and not as it ought to be. Anything short of this is a recipe for anarchy.
Therefore, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA’s) recent caution to this effect is timely and should not be ignored.
The NBA intervention came against the backdrop of the manner in which the anti-corruption crusade of the Federal Government is being handled by its agencies. At its just concluded quarterly National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Jos, Plateau State, NBA President, Augustine Alegeh (SAN), expressed the Association‘s zero-tolerance for graft and its readiness to work with government agencies in this direction. He, however, added a necessary clincher: the war must be executed in deference to due process of the law.
As desirable as the quest to recover our alleged looted funds from past public officeholders is, the NBA insists on the primacy of the rule of law. The legal requirements are that anyone accused of economic or financial crimes must undergo proper trial by the state but with their right to defence by lawyer(s) fully guaranteed. There is no fair trial where either of the two is absent.
As a minister in the hallowed temple of justice, the duty of the prosecution is to prosecute and not to persecute, no matter the gravity of the allegations and weight of the evidence against the accused person. The prosecution also owes the court the responsibility of making all facts available even if such disclosure may aid the defence.
Conversely, it is incumbent on the defence counsel to present the defendant’s case diligently before the trial court and not resort to unethical tricks to protect his client. A lawyer who indulges in unprofessional conduct must be adequately sanctioned. It is important to point this out because of the festering erroneous impression that lawyers defending accused persons are aiding corruption. Whichever side they represent in a criminal trial, lawyers are merely performing their legitimate professional duties as constitutionally guaranteed.
The constitutional provision of presumption of innocence of an accused until proven guilty before a court of competent jurisdiction must be upheld. Such a person should not be deemed convicted on the basis of mere allegations.
The war against corruption can and must be won within the ambit of the law and not by extra-legal means.