Gift Agbagbuo

INTRODUCTION

In Nigeria’s constitutional democracy, the third estate of the realm (the Judiciary) is the exclusive preserve of the members of the legal profession, which is the umbrella body of lawyers who have been called to the Nigerian Bar, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Legal Practitioners Act, 2004. A lawyer, therefore, as an officer of the court – the very sacred temple of justice, helps the society in several ways, but chiefly, to achieve the jurisprudential aphorism that “the judiciary is the last hope of the common”.

It is at the background of the aforesaid, that lawyers were always, and indeed, should always be held in very high esteem in the society. It is indeed, quite germane to place it on record here, that by the very nature of our constitutional, judicial and general jurisprudence – relative to the judicial arm of the government, there would not be a judicial arm of government without the legal profession or discipline of law.

DUTIES OF LAWYERS TO THEIR CLIENTS

A lawyer, in the practice of his profession, owes his client several duties in their relationship. Rules 14—25 of the Rules of Professional Conduct For Legal Practitioners, 2007, have itemized the various duties a lawyer owes his client. However, for purposes of this paper, we shall dwell more on rules 14, 16 and 24.

Rule 14(1) provides:

It is the duty of a lawyer to devote his attention, energy and expertise to the service of his client, and, subject to any rule of law, to act in a manner consistent with the best interest of his client.

Sub rule 5 of the same rule 14, provides:

Negligence in handling of a client’s affairs may be of such a nature as to amount to professional misconduct.

Rule 16(1) (c) and (d) provides:

A lawyer shall not;…

(c). neglect a legal matter entrusted to him; or

(d). attempt to exonerate himself from or limit his liability to his client for personal malpractice or professional misconduct.

Rule 24 provides:

It is the duty of a lawyer to accept any brief in the court in which he professes to practice, provided the proper professional fee is offered,unless there are special circumstances which justify his refusal.

From the forgoing, it could be gleaned that once a lawyer-client relationship is established between a lawyer and his client, the lawyer becomes duty-bound to devote his energy, time, skill and expertise in handling the matter. For the avoidance doubt, a lawyer-client relationship is established, once the client makes an offer and the lawyer accepts same.

Indeed, visit to the police station for and on behalf of the client, is one of the lawyer’s responsibilities to the client. And of course, the laws of the land, including the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), hereinafter, referred to as “the Constitution”, have spelt out the rules of engagement between a suspect in detention and his right to a counsel of his choice.

Section 35(2) of the Constitution provides:

“Any person who is arrested or detained shall have the right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his choice”.

Furthermore, section 6(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) provides:

The officer or the person making the arrest or the police officer in charge of a police station shall inform the suspect of his right to:

  1. Remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice;
  2. Consult a legal practitioner of his choice before making, endorsing or writing any statement or answering any question put to him after arrest; and
  3. Free legal representation by the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, where applicable.

The gravamen of the above stated provisions of the law is that a suspect arrested by the police, has a right to legal representation at the police station.On the strength of this fact and the fact that the Rules of Professional conduct for Legal Practitioners, as copiously cited above, has placed some duties on a lawyer who is engaged by a client, it therefore behooves the lawyer to ensure that he renders his professional services to such client, with devotion, energy and expertise. However, it is regrettable that in doing this, the lawyer is often harassed and/or bullied by the men of the Nigerian Police Force. This is more so for the young lawyers.

POLICE BRUTALITY OF LAWYERS IN NIGERIA

The issue of Police brutality of lawyers in Nigeria, has in recent times, taken a dramatic turn for the worse. This often arises as a result of the manner of police treatment of suspects in Nigeria. Indeed, it is common knowledge to an average Nigerian that the men of the Nigeria Police Force, in flagrant violation of the law, often times, unleashes unnecessary violence and brutality of epic proportions on suspects during arrest and detention. This practice, of course, is usually not taken kindly by lawyers, whose legal services are retained by these suspects. Hence, the men of the Nigeria Police Force are often reminded of their illegal acts and excesses by these lawyers engaged by the suspects as it were. In most of the cases, the police often consider this attitude of the lawyers as an affront to them, and oftentimes, respond to it with harassment on the lawyers.

In fact, oftentimes, it is not even a case of a lawyer to the client drawing the attention of the men of the Nigeria Police Force to the fact of their illegal actions in beating up suspects—their clients, it is rather one of outright denial of access to the lawyers in seeing or having conference with their clients, to which the lawyers often insist upon and demand that their clients be allowed access to them (the lawyers). Of course, this face off, where not carefully handled by the lawyer, oftentimes result in his being beating up and publicly embarrassed! There is no doubt that this conduct of the men of the Nigeria Police Force is illegal, unconstitutional and against the police code of conduct. Unfortunately and quite regrettably, long years, and quite particularly, recent attitude of tolerating such brazen illegality by the Nigerian society, particularly, the national leadership of the NBA, has tended to normalize it.

Indeed, the young lawyers between the ages of 1—5 are often at the receiving end of this ugly trend of police harassment. Of course, given the kind of society we live in, where material wealth is not only respected but worshipped as well, the frequent harassment of young lawyers may not be unconnected with the fact that about 80 percent of them may not have acquired household names in the legal profession or command the kind of material wealth and social influence that the men of the Nigerian Police force can respect.

SOME OF THE REPOERTED CASES OF POLICE BRUTALITY OF LAWYERS IN RECENT TIMES

It would be recalled that on June 5, 2018, a young lawyer, by name, Mr. Bernard Oyabevwe, of the Warri branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, was beaten to a pulp by policemen, attached to a police station in the “A” Division of the Delta State Police Command in Warri for defending his client at the said police station. In an attempt to quickly cover up their unlawful action, the police detained the lawyer and quickly arraigned him before a Magistrate Court on a trump-up charge of obstructing officials of the EFCC by conducting himself in a manner that caused the breach of the peace and assaulting a police officer.

Similarly, on April 24, 2018, Messrs David Amaefula and Pius Udo-Inyang who are of the law firm of Messrs Rickey Tarfa & Co. Abuja office, were arrested by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) office Guzape, after they were dispatched to the Zanki Medical Centre, Mabusshi, Abuja to secure justice for Senator Melaye, who was being admitted there. It took the intervention of Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, to get them released.

Recently, precisely on July 5 2018, officers of the Nigeria Police Force attached to the Lions Building Police Command in Lagos State, reportedly brutalized and injured a lawyer, Olukunle Karimu, for allegedly demanding his salary arrears from his employer.

It should be importantly noted that the above mentioned incidences of police brutality of young lawyers in Nigeria are just few of the so many reported and unreported cases, for committing no known offence, other than defending the interest of their clients in accordance with the Rules of Professional Conduct for Lawyers in Nigeria or even asserting their legal and constitutional rights under the laws of the land.

FAILURE OF THE NATIONAL LEADERSHIP OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is a non – profit umbrella professional association of all lawyers admitted to the Nigerian Bar. Her primary objectives include; the promotion and protection of human rights, the rule of law, good governance and legitimate interest of her members.

Although, the NBA has branches across the 36 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, which in deserving occasions, makes or issues statements for and on behalf of the NBA on issues touching on or having to do with the primary objectives of the NBA within their respective branches, yet, it is our view, and strongly so, that when a particular trend of action that is both unlawful and against the interest of members of the association occurs(as in the case under discussion), a statement and consequent action from the national leadership of the NBA would no doubt, send a stronger message to the police authorities in the highest level and of course, the Nigerian society at large. Such a statement, it is submitted, would consequently command the action of the authorities to ensure that justice is done in the matter. It is in this wise that the deafening silence of the national leadership of the NBA in the face of these several cases of police brutality of young lawyers, human rights violations and governance ineptitudes in the land, is considered highly unfortunate and quite regrettable!

It is on record that in the three notable cases of police brutality of young lawyers cited above, the national leadership of the NBA has not issued any statement condemning same or better still, taken any concrete action aimed at addressing the menace. Indeed, there cannot be a better scenario that best defines leadership incompetence and gross incapacity!

One remembers with fond memory, the golden years of eminent and ebullient national leaders of the NBA in the recent past; such as the leadership of the NBA under Wole Olanipekun, Olisa Agbakoba and Rotimi Akeredolu, to mention but a few, that confronted human rights violations, unconstitutional actions of government and other issues of bad governance in Nigeria, with courage, candor and a clear-mindedness that sent a clear and unambiguous message of the pride of place of lawyers in Nigeria’s democratic journey, thereby projecting and protecting the dignity of lawyers.

Indeed, it flows with common reason and natural order of things that the young lawyers of today, would definitely grow up to become senior members of the legal profession and consequently leaders of the NBA tomorrow. The question that then begs for answer is this: if nothing is done today to ensure that justice is done in these cases of police brutality of our young lawyers today, would they not grow up and become timid national leaders of the NBA who would have accepted as normal, police brutality of lawyers in Nigeria –particularly, the young ones? Your answer to this poser is as good as yours sincerely.

It is important that the national leadership of the NBA does not give the young lawyers in Nigeria the impression that they (NBA) are only after the bar dues and conference fees of this already impoverished young lawyers! This, in our strong view, would be the highest form of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man; particularly given the fact that these young lawyers have to overwork themselves to get the peanuts paid them by their senior members.

In conclusion, it is in the light of what has been canvassed above, that it becomes imperative for lawyers in Nigeria—particularly, the young ones to be more discerning and circumspective in the forth-coming national NBA election, in order to ensure that they look beyond the smokescreen of fine rhetoric to cast their votes to candidates who would genuinely protect, promote and advance the objectives of the NBA.

GIFT AGBAGBUO is a Port Harcourt based constitutional lawyer.

EMAIL: giftagbagbuo@gmail.com

TELL: +2348038903103; +2348154533627.

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