We lack mentorship in legal practice, says Zakariyau
Hussaini Zakariyau is the youngest of the 72 lawyers, which the, conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) by the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee (LPPC) late last year. In this interview with AHMADU BABA IDRIS in Birnin Kebbi, he charged his colleagues to take mentorship of young lawyers as a serious duty to help them get to the peak of the profession.
Recently, Kebbi State Government signed into law the anti-rape and kidnapping bill, which proposed the death penalty for convicts. How do you see the law?
It is a welcome idea. All suspects will have their days in criminal court to face justice. Assenting the bill into law would ensure that anybody found guilty of kidnapping faces the death penalty, while rape convicts would face life imprisonment.
I salute the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Hajiya Rahmatu Adamu Gulma and the Governor, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu for making the law a reality. Under the law, kidnapping suspects would be tried under Section 247, which specifies the death sentence.
Further, rape cases would be tried under Section 259 sub-section 1 of the code under which offenders would face life imprisonment.
That is not the only law the governor assented to. He also assented to the Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2021; the Justice Law 2021; the Model Penal Code Law 2021 and a law to repeal and to re-enact law No. 3 of 2002. All of those would help the State in reducing the activities of criminals in the state. With the coming into law of the administration of criminal justice, there would be less custodial sentencing, as the courts would have the flexibility of non-custodial sentencing for minor offences. The implication of this is that the prisons would therefore be less congested and there would be accelerated as well as speedy trials of criminal offences.
What are your advice to other state governors and the Federal Government in terms of enacting similar laws?
The Federal Government and other states, which are yet to get such laws, should also emulate Kebbi State because they would go a long way to curbing crime and promoting peace in the country.
There are allegations that lawyers and judges are aiding crime in society when lawyers defend notorious criminals, while the judiciary usually buckles under the influence of politicians when it comes to election petition matters. How can these allusions be checked?
Actually, there are lots of allegations of such in this country. To me, it is a consequence of the knowledge gap between those who are not lawyers and those who are lawyers. A criminal, who is accused of murder, armed robbery or stealing is still innocent until proven otherwise by the courts. Nobody has the right to pronounce anyone guilty whether the fellow really killed, stole or lied except the court of law. That is what we have in our system of criminal jurisprudence. Until evidence is provided and proved before the court of law, it cannot make a guilty pronouncement. And Nigerian constitution provided that every person that is accused of a crime has a right to taking a lawyer to represent him or her before the court. If such a person can do it by himself, nobody will prevent him from doing so and if he chooses to have a lawyer it is a constitutional right. And any lawyer that chooses to represent the fellow has committed no offence as well. It is also a constitutional right. When such a constitutional right is denied such an accused person, the trial cannot go on. This is because the law as I earlier said, presumes an accused person innocent until when the final pronouncement is done by the judge. And the only thing the judge can do is to see how evidence is presented before the court. And when evidence is presented and the judge agrees with such evidence, he would pronounce judgment. So a lawyer who defends a suspect is not doing anything wrong. He is just trying to help the suspect to present his case because you cannot just accuse a person and say he should not talk. Such a suspect has the right to put in his defence or give an explanation of whether he was the one that did it or not. And since some will not be able to defend themselves personally, they would require the services of lawyers to do it. Interestingly, the constitution provides for such a right to an accused person. So, a lawyer who is speaking on behalf of an accused person is complying with the provisions of the law.
What are your expectations of the judiciary in 2021, considering the allegations of judicial corruption plaguing the sector?
Let me start with the legal practitioners first. I want to see a legal practice that can be described as entrepreneurial, particularly in the northern part of the country. Here, we don’t see the legal practice as a business. So my intention and dream are that entrepreneurial legal practice can be entrenched in the North and exported to other parts of the country that are yet to embrace it too and even export it outside the country. So that’s my dream. For the judiciary, they have been doing very well in my view. However, the Judiciary is overworked. The Judiciary needs to be overhauled so that judges will have a better condition of service to deliver. They have been doing well, but the government also needs to employ more hands and upgrade court facilities. It may interest you to know that all the courts in the country up to the Supreme Court are still writing in longhand. So, I expect the government to do better. I believe we can improve and the judiciary would be better off for it.
You are among the newly appointed Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN). Can you briefly say how you feel about this promotion, your advice to other aspiring colleagues and how you intend to leverage the rank to advance the course of justice?
From day one of my practice, getting to the peak of my carrier has always been my dream and my aspiration when I put in 10 years in the practice. The first condition to apply is that you must have put in 10 straight years of practice. So, when I did, I applied for the first time and got it. I feel very satisfied that at this young age, I could get to this position without lobbying for it. My advice to younger ones is that determination, hard work and uprightness pay a good dividend in this profession at the end of the day. My advice for the new silk and my seniors in the inner bar is that legal practice is frankly lagging behind. We lack mentorship in legal practice. Most of our seniors don’t like to mentor the younger ones to get to the peak of their career. And the younger ones too are not patient enough to pass through the rudiments of practice for them to get there. So, I advise we cultivate the habit of mentoring our younger ones, so as to assist them to get to the peak of their carrier.
There are insinuations that the attorney general of the federation and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) sponsored your application for SAN, being that you are from Kebbi State like him. How true is this?
Honestly speaking, Malami was not even aware that I applied for SAN. Actually, he is my boss but he did not know about it. He just heard that my name has been mentioned among the confirmed applicants. God and not man facilitated the conferment of SAN on me. Interestingly, that was the first time I applied and I got it with God’s support. I am the youngest among the recently conferred SANs.
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