Partisan judicial officers threaten 2023 poll, Lawyer warns
*Urges gov’t to decongest prisons to avoid further jailbreaks
A human rights Lawyer, Edward Ejembi Omaga, has warned that bias judicial officers pose potential threat to the successful conduct of the 2023 general election.
He expressed concerns over instances where politicians have continued to engage in ‘illegal political forum shopping’ to achieve their ambitions
Speaking at the unveiling of a legal consulting firm, Graylaw Practice Limited Partnership, in Abuja, the legal practitioner, said the indiscriminate granting of ex parte orders, especially on political issues and delivering conflicting judgements may erode credibility of the poll.
“My fears for the 2023 elections is that some of our judges have been influenced by politicians and in much as that though, a larger percentage of them have integrity. One would wonder why someone would be appointed to serve in an election petition tribunal and the next thing is to throw a party? What we know is election petition work is very tedious and time bound. You read everyday, you write everyday. So what is that judge celebrating? The reason why some of them celebrate is just due to pecuniary interests”, he stated.
Omaga, who is a principal partner in the law firm also called on the federal and state governments to decongest correctional centres as a measure to prevent incessant jail breaks across the country.
He suggested the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution in settlement of conflicts as a way to reduce the case load for judges and giving them adequate time to focus on serious cases.
Since October 2020 when hoodlums took advantage of the #ENDSARS protest to attack three Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) facilities in Edo and Ondo states, releasing over two thousand inmates and killing about a dozen security agents manning the facilities, the country has continued to witness more incidents of prison breaks.
At least 2,051 inmates escaped after the October 2020 jailbreaks in both states while some of the inmates voluntarily returned and turned themselves in.
There have been at least 13 other jailbreaks since the October 2020 incident with at least six of them successful.
Omaga said: “Decongesting the prison is what we should be doing now. We believe that you solve a problem before it arrives by preventing it. For instance, for somebody who has spent five years awaiting trial for stealing bicycle, how do you reconcile that?
“And another politician is released from prison after three months, either because of no conviction, or no case to substantiate. These are because of plea bargain.
“The young man who is in prison for five years because he steals a motorbike, or bicycle is so angry that he could do anything, even in the prison. And that is why you hear of jailbreak. But if a man goes into prison awaiting trial, and in the next three months, his case is decided, whether convicted or released to go free, there won’t be a need to worry.
“For instance, if a young man who fought at with someone is kept in prison with terrorists, rapists, the tendency is that after a very short while, the young man who went as an innocent person to prison becomes a criminal.
“I can assure you that what they’re discussing in prison is beyond what we can say here. They do all manner of things, all manner of atrocities because the system is loose. Imagine people making phone calls right from prison, so that is a level of rot we’re talking about. So unless we decongest prison, we’ll be having 1000 People in the prison that we should have 300 people, then there is hygiene, health and jailbreak problem”.
Speaking on allegations of money laundering and corruption against lawyers, he said politicians should rather be blamed for the illegality.
He observed that the present administration to a larger extent understood the concept of separation of power, including obeying the rule of law.
Omaga added: ” I will agree with you that there are some cases that lawyers were involved in either money laundering or whatsoever. But I can also tell you that there are too many lawyers who are doing well in practice. If you say a lawyer is involved in money laundering, the question you should ask is who gave him the money to launder.
“I think we should be talking about the politicians who give money to a lawyer or give whatever brief to a lawyer to use it as a way of laundering money. But by and large, we advocate that lawyers are the engineers and touch bearers of the society.
He said the firm was established to accommodate expansion in different legal practice areas and to serve different categories of clients both locally and internationally.
Noting that the legal outfit was already contributing to good governance in the country, he disclosed that many issues that has to do with human rights abuses are handled pro bono by the firm in the interest of justice.
He explained: “One of the fundamental things we do in this chamber is what we call public interest litigation. It goes to show that we are development and transparency.
“How do we make the society a better place for people to live in? So most times, you’ll see that people different types of cases, either for human rights sake, or cases, corruption or something of that nature, just to make sure that the country is on the pedestal of growth, stability and development, we handle that free of charge.
“From this office, lawyers are deployed to do a lot of work with government and private dealers to make sure that there is peace.”