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Stamp and Seal project has exposed over 1000 fake lawyers, says Alegeh


Alegeh (SAN)

Alegeh (SAN)

When the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), introduced the Stamp and Seal project, aimed at curbing the rising cases of fake lawyers in the system, not many believed in its feasibility. But the NBA president, Austin Alegeh (SAN), said over 1000 fake lawyers have been discovered through the process. He also spoke on other topical national issues in this interview with select journalists. JOSEPH ONYEKWERE was there.

The Human Rights Commission set up a committee to review all anti human rights laws. What areas would you advise they look at?

We must understand the functions of the Commission. The Human Rights Commission was basically set up to protect human rights and to ensure that all our laws are created to respect human rights. So when the Commission now creates a committee to look at legislations, you start asking what their function is as a Commission. The committee is being giving principal function of the Commission. When any law is being proposed, it is their job to look at how it observes the protection of human rights at all levels. Are they saying that they have not been doing that? We must not take a fire brigade approach to ensure that human rights are enthroned. Even if this committee discovers those laws that does not ensure that human rights are protected, what then happens? You then need to go for legislative amendment. I admire the great work that the Commission is doing, but they need to be proactive. It is easier to ensure that those legislations don’t get to be laws, than to wait till the end of the day before trying to get the law back to the assembly to amend.

Your administration just impaneled a committee of the NBA to go and investigate human rights violation in the North Eastern part of the country, specifically in Maiduguri. Why did you choose to embark on such dangerous journey?
We are not going to investigate human rights violation. There has been talks from amnesty and every person that our troops in trying to quell insurgency by Boko Haram is committing the violation of human rights. Amnesty and human rights commission said they have investigated. Our duty is to sensitize the military. So we are not having investigative foray into Maiduguri. We are going to have a human rights workshop with the military, where the former attorney general of the federation and minister of defence, Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN) will present a paper, trying to highlight what they have to do. We want to have a collaborative effort with our military. There are rules of engagement, even in war situations. Our duty is to sensitive the military. What we want to do is to let those who are leading them to know what they can do in war situation and what they cannot do. Sensitization is critical. If we all investigate and investigate and nobody has told them this is the minimum of standard expected of you, in a war situation, then we will be doing the same thing that amnesty has done. To our own risk, we want to engage them constructively. Additionally, we are working with the military command to create response team. We are going to set up NBA monitoring team. One thing is to tell them what to do, but another is to monitor them to be sure they are doing it. Conversely, we would like the military to provide us with numbers so that the soldiers can easily be identified. But from my interactions with the military, you will discover that these are perfect gentlemen. They are not people interested in abusing human rights but are preoccupied with how to quell the insurgency. We have members in those Branches such as Damaturu, Maiduguri, Gombe, Wukari, Mubi. They live there and pay their practicing fees. It is from that, that we raise funds to build our secretariat. So how will it lie in our mouth to say the places are too dangerous for us to go? But we must show that we love our people that we have not abandoned them. We love our country too and must ensure that every part of Nigeria remains.

Will foreign countries not use this as an excuse to deny us the opportunity of buying arms?

We feel that as a group in NBA our task should not be to complain but should be to do something positive to affect the situation and not to complain. Yes, everybody is complaining, but on our part, we are not supposed to accuse the military of having human rights atrocities.We can also not exonerated them from it, because we have not done any investigations.We have heard all these hue and cry of the military saying “no atrocities “ and civil society groups and amnesty international saying “there are atrocities” .We don’t want to take sides, but what we think we know is that, there are rules of war that has long been established.

What agenda would you like to set for the new Attorney General and Minister of Justice?

Firstly, we are extremely grateful to Mr President for appointing a good number of our members in his cabinet. Secondly, we have assured them of our support and urge them to be ambassadors of the Bar and that whatever they do when they are there will have an impact on the Bar, whether positive or negative. For the honourable attorney general of the federation, Alhaji Malami (SAN), he is somebody whom I know closely. He is passionate about law; he is passionate about democratic values; he is passionate about our judiciary as well. He should be above board at all times. He should fix our legal system. And one of the ways of fixing our legal system is to put in place certain legislative interventions. If that is done, it will make everything fall into place and we will have a good justice administrative system. I have no doubt in my mind that with his sense of committment and purpose, he will make good success of the office.

Is it true that the contract for the construction of NBA building in Abuja was giving to an unregistered company? Have you conducted any investigation about this and if yes, what are your findings?

I want to tell you that our auditorium has been roofed. The building hs reached the last floor. The stage where we are now, the carcass is done and the block work has started. So we have achieved a lot. I dont know of any law that says you must give your contract to a registered contractor. In any event, the company is registered. We pay them through their bankers. Bankers have done their due diligence also. All the chques are routed through their bankers. At times, we dwell too much on frivolities. People who have no sense of responsibility try as much as possible to cast aspersions on others. All of us are lawyers and we know the company we give the contract to. If you go to CAC and you do a name search, they will give you the result.

On the NBA pro bono project, what state is it now?

We are not as far as we ought to go. We have interviewed people because we need an experienced director of pro bono services to head that office. Though we have interviewed, we have not found somebody suitable. So the secretariat is still managing it. But our view is that our pro bono director would be totally free from NBA but supported by NBA. So, if we don’t have our chief executive in place, it would be difficult to achieve anything. Pro bono is important to us. We are looking for somebody who shares the passion with us.

Are you making success on the stamp and seal project?

The success of stamp and seal is monumental. Fake lawyers are fighting back. All oppositions you see in pages of newspapers are from them. They are being discovered on daily basis. Even today, if you see the applications we have received and the story is that their names are not found in the list. And any application that comes to us is signed by the branch chairman. I can assure you that as at September, when I asked, we have found over a 1000 fake lawyers. In fact, we discovered that the treasurer in one of the biggest NBA branches in the country is a fake. There are people I see regularly at National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, that you cannot say they are not lawyers. When you see their forms, check everywhere and their record cannot tally, its amazing. Before long, they vanish.
How can crises be avoided in Kogi state.

There is a provision on what happens if a candidate dies before an election commences, in which case, the election can be countermanded and rescheduled for another date. Then the party is allowed to produce another candidate. There is provision for what happens after the voting before swearing him. You have what is called vested right. Before the election result is declared, you have a candidate and a running mate. It’s a whole world of difference after that. After the results are declared, you have a governor elect and deputy governor elect. So if anything happens, there is vested right, the deputy governor elect takes over. But there is no determination of what happens when voting starts. The bar association is an umbrella for all and the welfare of our members is paramount. I have no doubt in my mind that the matter will end up in court. For the NBA, an umbrella body that would provide lawyers for the plaintiff and for the respondents to start to take a position one way or the other, we cannot have an opinion. All we can say is that there is a lacuna. Going forward, INEC needs to make a decision. After the decision is made, if the parties don’t accept it, they can go to court. INEC is an umpire. It cannot go to court. It did not participate in the election. The Honourable attorney general of the federation is also not a party to the election. So only the parties can go to court and parties can go to court when there is decision taken.

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