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Coronavirus Lockdown: How agencies are denying violators fair hearing in Abuja – NBA

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The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Bwari Branch in Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, has accused the bodies set up by the FCT Administration as Mobile Courts at various locations in Abuja of denying violators of the lockdown order a fair hearing.

The various places in the FCT where the Mobile Courts sit are AYA Junction, Mpampe junction managed by Directorate of Road Services (Vehicle Inspection officers) (VIO) and Eagle Square, life camp/ Gwarimpa, Zuba, Nyanya bridge, Area 1, Kubwa, Dutse, Utako, and Central area constituted by Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB).

NBA in a report sent to POLITICS NIGERIA by its chairman, Clement Chukwuemeka, said while the mobile courts is a good initiative, the manner in which proceedings are being conducted in the said Mobile Courts especially the AEPB controlled mobile courts is poor.

“While the VIO manned mobile courts at AYA and Mpampe discharged their responsibilities with fairness but in absence of legal representation, the areas manned by AEPB were clouded with opaqueness hence they refused to disclose the laws empowering them to carry out their prosecution during the briefing at the Eagle Square Abuja in the morning of Friday 17/04/2020 and were hostile to the Chairman of NBA Bwari branch that was present to appraise their preparedness towards the beginning of the mobile court sittings in Abuja.”

“The AEPB were primarily set up to impose fines without any recourse to the rights of the alleged defaulters as they were busy sharing cash payment booklets to their staff as all arrested defaulters were meant to plead guilty and pay prescribed fines .”

“We equally condemn the cruel and barbaric manner in which security officials treat citizens all in the name of enforcing the sit at home order, we may not have witnessed any death from the security lawlessness in FCT, but we use this medium to request from the Taskforce team to stop and or reduce the number of security operatives with ammunition since it is the enforcement of civil order and not after criminals.”

The NBA Bwari team in response to the establishment of the Mobile Courts swung into action and visited the various Mobile Courts in the FCT to witness proceedings first hand.

The chairman said they “were broken-hearted to find that the entire proceedings left much to be desired particularly at a time in our national life when Nigeria as a country should be doing everything possible to rebuild and rebrand its battered image in the eyes of the International Human Right Communities – many of whom view Nigeria as a pariah State.”

“We found to our dismay that there was no consultation with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) – FCT Branches before these Mobile Courts were set up in the FCT hence the absence of any COVID-19 duty solicitors to render legal services to alleged defaulters of the stay at home order.”

“We should not be misunderstood! The NBA is not trying to be a clog in the wheel of progress or work at cross purposes with the Mobile Court so set up. Like we have stated earlier, we support the Presidential directive that everyone should sit at home and the subsequent setting up of the Mobile Courts in the first place. The NBA is a major stakeholder in the justice delivery process in this country and we challenge anyone to prove us wrong. The input and partnership of the NBA particularly the FCT Branches would be useful in the entire process.”

“In most of the proceedings observed, the Defendants were denied their inalienable and inherent rights to fair hearing and were not given adequate time and facilities to prepare for their defense. They have no legal representations. The Mobile Courts were made up of just the Magistrate and the Prosecution. In fact, most of the Defendants were pleading guilty without even knowing the offence for which they were charged or the legal implications.”

“More worrisome also is the fact that there is absence of Legal Aids Services to the Defendants concerned. One would have expected that the FCT Administration would have made provisions for Legal Aid services for the Defendants who are mostly indigent commuters looking for their daily bread.”

“Under the Constitution and the Legal Aids Act, the Government is dutybound to provide free legal services or give platform for free legal representation to the Defendants who cannot afford to pay lawyers.”

“We equally find it very bizarre that the Directorate of Road Service (VIO) and the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) would be the ones leading the setting up of Mobile Courts in FCT. This is a brazen abuse of office and a usurpation of the powers of the judiciary. The fact that the Mobile Courts are manned by members of the judiciary notwithstanding. The Power to set up Courts under whatever guise lies with heads of our Courts and should regulate it accordingly. ”

Call for action:

“We therefore call on the CJN, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Mohammed Tanko who is the head of the Judiciary to rise up to this occasion and take charge of his jurisdiction that is being usurped by interlopers. The same way the CJN cannot set up a task force of lawyers to perform the functions of the AEPB or the VIO, the bodies CANNOT perform the functions of the judiciary. These are different arms of government and against the principles of separation of powers as propounded by Baron Monstesque.”

“We wish to use this medium to call on the CJN and indeed the National leadership of the NBA to press hard on the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to recognize and include lawyers forthwith as part of those who render essential services to the nation in this period of Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. Our roles as lawyers in this country cannot be overemphasized. To underestimate lawyers and the Nigerian Bar Association(NBA) particularly in a democratic society like ours is akin to threatening the corporate existence of this country.”

“In making the above proposition, we wish to quickly refer the CJN and the National leadership of the NBA to the recent Supreme Court decision in Kenya: wherein the apex Court recognized lawyers in that country as essential workers for the purpose of the stay at home order of the government of Kenya.”

“The Supreme Court of Kenya acknowledged the fact that in the course of enforcing the sit at home order of the government of Kenya, rights of citizens would be abused by overzealous law enforcement officers like we have witnessed brazenly in our country in the last few weeks and as attested to by the recent reports by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), therefore lawyers should be readily available to render services to those whose rights have been trampled upon.”

NBA further urged the CJN to be persuaded by the decision in the case in Kenya and press hard so that we can have something similar here.

“This move will also make lawyers have unhindered access to attend to their other matters in Court during this period of lockdown. It is pertinent to state that apart from representing purported offenders of sit at home order, some lawyers do attend to other matters in Court that are timebound but many of them have faced very stiff resistance from law enforcement agencies.”

“Finally, we call on the Government to call its security officials to order. They should desist from seeing the masses as an enemy of the State. They should NOT be hostile to the people they are paid to protect. They should endeavor to create a good public relationship with the masses if they must succeed in fighting crimes and gathering intelligence.”

“The government should also note that the reason why the masses are defying the ‘sit at home’ order is simply because of hunger. There’s poverty in the land government should make adequate provisions for the people to enable them feel comfortable in staying at home.”

“NBA Bwari Branch is very concerned about the plight of people, and shall do everything within her powers to protect rights of citizens in Nigeria during this pandemic and equally solicits the cooperation of all to obey the directives of government by staying at home and maintain social distancing”.

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