Olakunle Edun few months after his election into the office of the National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association has been very active and vocal in matters that are of paramount to lawyers.
In this interview with TheNigerialawyer(TNL), Kunle expresses his views on several contemporary issues ranging from incessant brutality of lawyers by law enforcement agencies, NBA collaboration with relevant local and international human rights organizations/agencies on the human rights abuses, EFCC interfering with lawyers’ fees and so many other pressing issues.
In respect of brutality of Law Enforcement Agencies to lawyers, and with the recent assault involving a lawyer and a female official of the Federal Road Safety Commission in mind, what is your advice to lawyers?
It is true that the friction between security agents and lawyers have increased lately. This may not be unconnected with the hard stand of the present NBA administration against lack of respect for human rights and rule of law by security agencies. The NBA shall not shirk in its responsibilities to always protect the rights of Nigerians and will never support the suppression of human rights.
Lawyers are honorable and noble by training. We cannot condescend to the bestial level of some security agencies. We must remain calm and apply wisdom when confronted menacingly by security agents. Our weapon is the law and we must use it effectively. It is always a better option.
Inspite of all the assaults and harassments inflicted on late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN by Security agents, he was never reported to have fought or got himself involved in any violent fracas. His humility and resort to using the weapon of the law whenever his rights were being trampled upon eventually made him a hero and the government security agencies, ended up as villains.
Regarding the recent incident involving one of our colleagues with some officers of the Federal Road Safety Corps, I would say that it is most unfortunate. The colleague in question has been confirmed to be a humble, unassuming and peaceful person. Without prejudging the merit of the case, I urge FRSC to properly train its officers whenever they are doing their road work. I personally see the act of the officers seen in fistcuff as an image disaster.
I have had cause to question the rationale of security agents including FRSC officials setting up barricade or constituting themselves into human road blocks. FRSC officials are not supposed to be in the middle of a road stopping vehicles. There is no law that allows such unsafe act. They ought to be doing more of patrols and should stop standing in the busy of the roads. I do not know what motivates them to always do this but certainly it cannot be for lawful purpose.
The NBA is in liaison with the Chairman of Aguata branch and I understand that some legal actions have been initiated by our colleague.
NBA pledges to collaborate with relevant local and international human rights organizations/agencies on the issue of human lives and stemming, human rights abuses. what step has NBA taken so far?
The motto of the NBA is promoting the Rule of Law and an essential component of rule of law is the respect for human rights. The NBA has consistently engaged relevant players in the human rights community and the synergies have been productive. We constantly engage the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, NGOs on better and new approaches in our fight against abuse of human rights. We are firming up collaborative effort with the office of the Inspector General of Police on improvement of lawyers/police relationship and reduce frictions. We intend to also engage the Nigerian Prison too. The McArthur Foundation has also been very helpful in this cause, particularly on assistance to IDPs and sponsorship of various seminars and enlightenment programmes on human rights. We are also reaching out to more international partners and the responses are encouraging.
NEC has given an approval for the Constitution of new Executive committee for Young Lawyers Forum, when do we expect the new YLF committee to be constituted and are there requirements for selection?
The YLF Committee is one of the Committees that the NBA President takes special interest in, because of his promise to institute a proper mentoring programme for the younger lawyers. The President shall decide the best approach in constituting the membership of the Committee. However, be rest assured that wide consultations will be made with stakeholders and every person that will be part of the Committee will be there based on merit.
With the vexed issue of EFCC interfering with lawyers’ fees, what step has NBA taken or intends to take to protect lawyers? And is there concomitant advice to lawyers on the need to investigate the source of the fees they collect?
Let me tell you straight away. The NBA shall resist every attempt to make lawyers do the jobs for which security agencies have been employed to do. As much as a lawyer believes that he has been paid for the services lawfully carried out by him and he plays no role in sourcing of the funds from which his fees were paid, I do not think it is incumbent on any lawyer to be asking his client to divulge the source of his or her fees. The NBA National Executive Committee at its last Quarterly Meeting categorically rejected this incursion and further action are being considered to protect lawyers in the course of performing their professional duties.
Recall that earlier some obnoxious provisions in the Money Laundering Act which sought to compel law firms to be reporting lodgments in their accounts were struck down by the courts as an unlawful interference into lawyers’ privileges and confidentiality with their clients.
The NBA is willing to collaborate with security agencies but such collaboration must be on the basis of respect for rule of law and individual liberties as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. The Nigerian Police, EFCC, SSS and there enforcement agencies are all creation of statutes and therefore must not be above the laws setting them up and the Constitution of Nigeria.
What is the NBA doing to avert the action by the Executive arm of the Government to unwittingly take the responsibility of the NJC by appointing Judicial officers.
I recall that during the Austin Alegeh, SAN’s administration. NEC members were urged by the then NBA President to forward complaint of any irregular judicial appointment to the NBA President, who promised to intervene by bringing it to the attention of the NJC or relevant authorities. I urge NEC members to still do same. The NBA President is ever ready to act on such complaints of executive interference in judicial functions. The present administration will not encourage any attempt by the Executive arm of government to dictate, influence or take over the constitutional roles of States’ Judicial Service Commissions or the NJC. It is a threat to rule of law and Independence of the Judiciary. A bigger problem such unlawful interference causes is that the people lose confidence in the judiciary knowing very well that a particular Judge was an appointee of a Governor or Federal Minister. The NBA will ensure that the people’s confidence in the Judiciary is not eroded. You know if it does, it sure has a way of impacting negatively on our jobs as lawyers. However, the NBA is fully assured of the power and competence of the National Judicial Commission to always protect the Independence of the Judiciary.
There have been several incidences recorded about the incessant killings of lawyers, what do you think is the cause of this?
It is most unfortunate and painful that we lost some of our dear colleagues as a result of violent crimes. This administration is a caring administration and would always be with the bereaved families in their times of need. It is in view of this that the NBA Welfare insurance scheme is being looked into for the purpose of reviving it .
Insecurity in the land is as a manifestation of the failure of our security agencies to protect lives and properties of Nigerians. Any Government that cannot protect lives and properties of its citizen is a failed Government and a breach of the social contract that Nigerians entered with them. Rather than police doing more of street patrols, they prefer assigning Policemen to protect politicians and setting up road blocks everywhere. For crying out loud this is the 21st century. Our investigation system is still grossly analogue. Forensics play no measure role. It is only in Nigeria that a State Governor would be having 20 armed Policemen attached to him, just one person but they find it difficult to pay N30, 000 as minimum wage. If a leader is truly sincere and honest he does not need such heavy security around him.
I also see the over-centralisation of the Policing system as another major problem. In the 21st century and in an increasingly populated country like Nigeria, policing Should be everyone’s business. I am yet to understand why the office of the Inspector General of Police should be investigating a case of land, assault or theft emanating from a town in a State. That office should be dealing more with crimes that affect federal institutions like what the FBI does. The policing system in Nigeria is certainly not working.
The NBA works through it’s Sections and Committees. Recently, the NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL) held a conference where the discussion was on the Policing system. The NBA will continue to escalate the fault lines in our security system for the relevant authorities to address them.
How effective is the NBA Human Rights committee?
Constitutionally, the 1st Vice President of the NBA is the Chairman of the NBA Human Right Committee. At the last NEC Meeting, the President informed NEC of his intention to constitute the Committee, amongst other Committees, and it was approved. The members of the Committee will be announced soon and upon inauguration, the Committee will strengthen on-going efforts in the human rights space.
What role can the NBA play in seeking justice in the Ochanaya case?
The NBA is collaborating with the local NBA branch on this case and monitoring the trial as it progresses. The NBA shall ensure that justice is done at the end. The NBA in conjunction with other NGOs, has already taken a stand against child rape and other sexual harassment cases by constituting pro bono network of lawyers to provide free legal services for such victims.
What’s your take on the attempts to criminalize lawyers’ fees?
The criminalization of lawyer’s fees is an admission by the security agencies that they have abdicated their responsibility of investigating crimes. Lawyers will not do their jobs for them. I know of no lawyer that will get involved in knowingly stealing public funds in the name of fees. For crying out loud, except there is a clear evidence that the lawyer personally partook in the sourcing of the fees from the public source, he has no business asking his client where he got the money from. Would a medical doctor ask his patient the source from which he paid his medical bills or would a hotel manager ask a lodger where he got the money from which he paid his lodging bill? Should lawyers defending persons charged with corruption or robbery be asking them the source from which they paid the legal fees?
Lawyers should not bear responsibilities that is not theirs. It will set a very bad precedent and intrude into our privileges and confidentiality with our clients.
Are you in support of the sponsoring of the conferences by prosecutorial agencies for judges? Give reasons.
When a Judge is sponsored by EFCC to attend a conference (which seems to be the norm now) lodging and traveling expenses are fully paid by EFCC. Estacode that runs into hundreds of thousands of naira (if it is an international conference, dollars) will be paid by EFCC. The NBA or any member of the bar is not invited or also sponsored to balance the equation. Probably, the only participants would be the Judges, EFCC officials and the resource persons. ICPC does it too. Of course there would be alot of interactions amongst the participants.
Now Mr. A, knowing all these facts, appears before such a Judge to answer to a charge filed by EFCC or ICPC. Do you think a reasonable man will expect Mr A to get a fair trial?
The NBA National Executive Committee at it’s last meeting condemned this new trend as it may tend to erode the Independence and impartiality of such judges. This is another form of undue interference by an agency of the Executive arm into the affairs of the Judiciary. EFCC is not a donor agency and we are not told if such expenses have budgetary approvals. I think it is high time that some of their activities should also be investigated so that they can be seen to be above board.
What’s your assessment of the 2018/2019 Q1 Financial Statement?
The policy thrusts of the present administration are transparency and accountability. Since we assumed office, all the activities of the NBA are published almost on daily basis to all members of the bar. We believe that it is the right of members to know how the Association is being managed. The NBA President promised Quarterly publication of the financial statements. We have even done more than that by also publishing a diagnostic report of our finances. Our books are now open to all. This is a first and unprecedented.
The present administration wants to entrench the practice of regular publication of our financials into the NBA system so that it will not stop after the end of our tenure. We have also engaged in cost savings measures, which would be better captured in subsequent reports. A new cost saving measure is the stoppage of the continuous printing of NEC members’ tags. It was announced at the last NEC that NEC members’ tags would only be printed once during our tenure since NEC membership is just for two years. Therefore, NEC members would continue to use the same tags for the period of their membership of NEC.
What do you think is different from the NEC meeting held before and the first one under the PAUL USORO led administration?*
It is not our intention to compete with any previous administrations. All of them did their best. The present administration intends to run on its own record. The publication of quarterly financial reports is unprecedented for two reasons: the financial reports were published for all members of the bar to see (not only NEC members) and they were published ahead of the NEC Meeting so that members can read and understand them very well before the meeting date and make quality contributions.
Also, for the first time in the history of holding NEC meetings, we did away with papers and the usual NEC bundles. This is a huge cost saving measure and moreso, we are now in the e- world where Conference papers are now sent online to participants. With the free WiFi facilities provided by the NBA and NEC members following discussions on their laptops, iPads and Androids, the last NEC meeting that was held at the NBA house, Abuja on the 6th of December, 2018 was a great success. The last NEC meeting was also business-like and devoid of much ceremonies. It was strictly for NBA business.
Should members be expecting any further innovation soon?
Yes, there are many coming but the one that will be implemented soon is the shift from teller based payment system to online payment system for all NBA related payments which would include practising fees, stamps and seal fees, purchase of NBA branded products . We are also going to integrate into the NBA portal all the NBA branches so that branch members can also pay their local dues and other branch levies online into the branches designated accounts on the portal. The NBA National Secretariat does not control the branch accounts. Our duty is just to create an enabling platform for use by the branches. The funds paid into the branches accounts can only be accessed by the branch signatories.
With this new payment system, e- receipts will replace tellers. Receipts would be more secured and will never get lost as members can easily access the portal to print their receipts. This is part of the revamp of the NBA website.
You were elected the NBA Publicity Secretary, can you tell us your challenges so far since you mounted this office?
Challenges? I guess image makers are always in the eye of the public. It has not been easy. Serving the NBA is a privilege and one ought to consider the advice and comments from members in good faith. That is the feedback mechanism that we have entrenched in the present administration. This is a listening administration. I am not a perfect being but will continue to do my best at all times for the greater good of the NBA. So far I have had the cooperation of members of the bar, particularly senior colleagues who personally call me to give me words of encouragement and advice. Above all, I am lucky to have an able assistant, Akorede Habeeb Lawal. I wish all our members a happy and prosperous 2019.
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