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‘No section of Criminal Justice Act violates rights to fair hearing’

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Onigbajo

Onigbajo

Nigeria as a great country is faced with issues that are challenging to its existence which raises the need for rules of engagement that can bind its entities if it has to continue as a country. In this interview with GODWIN DUNIA, a Lagos-based litigator and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Moyosore Onigbanjo speaks on this and proffers solution to some of the challenging national issues. 

Some lawyers are advocating that some sections of the Criminal Justice Act should be nullified, adding that they are unconstitutional and violate the rights to fair hearing. What is your view on this?

I don’t agree with that because the changes made by the administration of Criminal Justice Act are meant to speed up cases and I think people who were complaining that criminal cases never come to an end, that they are too long that people who are facing trial many years ago have not had there cases concluded. And now that the new law has come to say that trial must continue day to day and there should be no stay of proceedings people are still complaining.

I think the better good it served by this new radical departure from the past is that it did not prevent criminal trial from being concluded. We hardly conclude trial in Nigeria without interlocutory appeal, stay of proceedings and now that trials are going on faster, I don’t think it is a breach of anybody’s rights to fair hearing.

What the constitution says is that you are entitled to fair hearing, which means the court must give you the privilege to present your defence on daily basis and this I think has been going on.

Do you think capital punishment is the right solution to kidnapping?
I don’t think capital punishment will stop kidnapping in our society, take for example laws that have already imposed capital punishment when they are breached, like arm-robbery, murder, treason and all that, they have not stopped people from committing these crimes. You will agree with me that in spite of the death penalty imposed on robbery, it has not stopped the crime.

And since it has not stopped all these crimes, I don’t see how it will stop kidnapping. But what I think will stop kidnapping is if the police make sure that whether you sentenced the kidnappers to 10, 15 or whatever terms imposed on them, so far the police ensure that the suspects are apprehended and charged to court and is convicted, I think that will serve as a deterrent because people will know that if they breach any law whether kidnapping or any other crime that they will be prosecuted and send to jail if found guilty upon conviction, then that is a great deterrent.

But in most cases, people do these things because they know they can get away with it and that the authority will not go after them. So I’m not of the view that imposing capital punishment will stop the spate of kidnappings in the society.

Do you think the grazing bill will put a stop to the incessant crisis between the herdsmen and farmers that has resulted in wanton killing in the country?
I am also of the view that the grazing bill will not curb the current disturbances going on between the herdsmen and farmers in some parts of the country.

Like I read in the newspapers, the greater friction between the herdsmen and farmers has to do more with climate, that is global warming because the places they can get water for the livestock is reducing due to global warming in the North and as such they have to come further down South for search of water.

To me, I don’t think it is appropriate to seize some people’s land to satisfy individual businesses because if you look at it they are doing their business, so why will they expropriate my own land for others people’s business. Am I not entitled to do business on my own land?
So government needs to be more creative rather than thinking that to take other people”s land will cure the problem caused by the herdsmen. Because if the people you want to take their land started to agitate and start fighting the herdsmen that are going to use or benefit from the land what will the government do? I think I don’t subscribe to the idea of the bill.

Government must be creative like I said earlier on by building ranches and watering them where the herdsmen can get facilities for their cattle.

And we are in the twentieth first century and it is time that a re-culturisation has to take place because cattle cannot continue to wander all over the places. Those days are soon to be done away with and give room for development. Will herdsmen say they want to come to V/Island or Banana Island in Lagos? So government needs to be more creative than all this talk of grazing bill.

The Governor of Kaduna State, Malam El’Rufai, is proposing a bill against preaching in places of worship in the state, do you think this is in line with the secular state of Nigeria?

I don’t think the bill being proposed is constitutional. Because what the constitution says is that there shall be no discrimination against anybody on the ground of religion, sex, tribe and so on. On what ground shall one say that nobody should preach. Though, I have not seen the bill but I think you can regulate it such that it will not disturb the public beyond normal. But if the bill intends to stop people from preaching, then that wont work.

Even then how do you enforce such law? For instance, I am sitting next to you in my little gathering in my house are you saying you will stop me from convincing those people from practicing my faith? It is difficult and not everything can be legislated upon or legislation can deal with and this is one of those things.
It can only be properly dealt with by moral persuasion not by passing a bill because it has generated a lot of controversies than the evil it intends to cure. So if that is what the bill says I don’t support that.

Recently, Professor Sagay (SAN) stated that we should expect ‘Special Court’ that will try corrupt cases, what is your view about this proposed court?
I have never supported Special courts or Tribunals from taking away jurisdiction from states or Federal High courts as the case may be. This is because very soon we will fall into the dangers of having several courts to try every plaque we have as a country.

Then how many Special Courts are we going to create, soon the banks will come up and say our money are trapped, give us special court, the EFCC, other organizations will also request for special court to help them achieve one aim or the other and at the end of the day how many special courts are we going to have?
The problem created by the creation of the, Federal and States’ High Courts. When you go into any of these courts one of the first thing the defendant raises is the issue of jurisdiction, if you are in state high court defendant may say, you ought to have gone to Federal high court and if you are in Federal high court they say you ought to go to NJC. So if we create more courts, the problems are expanded than they intend to solve.

I would rather say that if judges of the existing courts are trained, the present state of the courts is equipped and amend the procedure, the judges can deal with all these issues because when we are in the university, we all study law then later prospective lawyers specialize. So I see no reason why we need special courts.

Are you in support of the separation of the office of Attorney General from the Ministry of Justice?
Yes! I am absolutely in support of that idea, so that if we have an Attorney General who is not subject of appointment of the President, a party member or benefactor then it can be more independent. Then the Attorney General can even initiate and prosecute cases against the President or government functionaries, but when you have the AG and Commissioner for Justice appointed from the President party, not necessarily from this present administration but the previous ones, what you realize is that they tend to look other ways when a member of the government runs fowl of the law.

But if you have an independent office of AG, then they can go after anybody who ran fowl of the law whether at the Federal or State level or even at the local government level because it is independent, it is not part of the government party and can render independent advice.
But I must warn that even if we have the office of the AG separated from the Ministry of Justice, we may not achieve that objective because in Nigeria, everybody bows to the Executive even when it is called Independent. For instance, INEC, apart from Professor Jega era, you often see the Chief Executive of INEC running after the President to do his bidding.
It is good to have an independent office but can we have an independent AG who will still not go cap in hand to the President or the executive all the time?

What do you think about the performances of the Corporate Affairs Commission going by the time and what it costs to procure documents and Certificates?
One of the things this present administration and the management of the Commission have been looking at is to reduce the cost of doing business in Nigeria and they have realized why most of these fees need to be reviewed.
To me, I will not worry much about cost of getting these documents from CAC as much as it is efficient and I think that is what we should be looking at and not the cost because if you reduce the cost to the extent that they cannot even function or pay salaries then what do you get or gain.

I think we should look at making it more efficient rather than targeting the cost for now.

If it is more efficient the cost will come down, it will now become less expensive doing business there because one will believe that going there is to waste time, what should take two days to accomplish will not end up in twenty days.

Efficiency is the greatest promoter of reducing cost, then people will gain more and I have been privileged to work with the current management of the CAC in instituting some reforms and I can tell you they are looking at all these and proposing changes to there guidelines and a lots of changes that will soon result into efficiency that is needed.

They are also looking at where their server will be hosted and I’m sure in not too long a time, all these will transform into reduction of cost for everybody.

And if you are given the privilege to manage the affairs of the Commission what are the things you will do to bring about improvement of the place?
Though I am not applying for the job, but then it is some of the things I have said earlier on, that will improve services and making sure that services are delivered efficiently and that complaints are treated with utmost seriousness and within a frame of time. Of course, it is all about service.



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