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Legal experts decry violation of rule of law in Nigeria

Experts have decried the flagrant violation of the rule of law by governments, institutions, and lawyers in the country.

The experts comprising renowned lawyers, judges and security personnel said this violation is manifested in the use of law enforcement agencies to achieve civil wrongs.

They spoke at the 2019 business luncheon series of the SPA Ajibade & Co. in Lagos with the theme: “the forum for the resolution of civil disputes: The courts versus law enforcement agencies.”

Former attorney general and commissioner for justice, Lagos, Mr. Oladipo Shasore SAN in his presentation warned that the police must revert to her role of law enforcement.

His words: “Law enforcement does exist in civil disputes here in Nigeria. We submit our civil disputes to law enforcement officers for settlement. We must insist on the strictest compliance of the law and get the law enforcement officers to revert solely to their roles?

“The police are the most frequently used in Nigeria. Police are the most point of contact in dispute resolution. More people go to the police to settle civil disputes in error. To suggest that police can be strengthened on none crime disputes is also an error.”

According to him, there is a strong connection with rule of law compliance and national productivity. The countries, he said, with the lowest productivity have the highest no compliance to rule of law. “Nigeria placed 106 out of 103 in the latest ranking on the rule of law compliance. Rule of law should be strengthened,” he counseled.

Justice Biobele Georgewill of the Court of Appeal wondered why every dispute is criminalised in a country that is undergoing transformation to real civil rule.

“In civilised societies, you don’t arrest, detain and investigate. You investigate, arrest and detain. It is very unfortunate for the police and the EFCC to be doing the opposite. There should be preliminary investigation because if that happens, we will not be criminalising everything.

“Until our security officers begin to obey rule of law, they will become victims of the same violation of rule of law in the future, when they leave the office. Without rule of law, there is no democracy. As a police officer, you cannot arrest any man without an offence created by law. You may be there today violating the rule of law and enjoying it, but tomorrow, you will need its protection,” he said.

Justice Georgewill said the worst culprits in the matter are the lawyers. He explained that they are the ones who write the petition and embellish it so as to ensure that an innocent man is victimised.

“Lawyers should stop criminalising every civil matter. Immediately lawyers repent, there will be no need for police officers to arrest innocent people,” he said.

According to the former commissioner of police, Lagos State, Mr. Fatai Owoseni, rule of law is interpreted based on which side of the divide one is in today’s Nigeria.”Police should not be used as debt collectors. Lawyers are encouraging it. If a poor man approaches a court and you cannot hire an influential SAN, you are finished,” he said.

Owoseni criticised lawyers for their role in criminalising civil wrongs. According to him, Lagos has the highest level of condition where complainants become suspects.

He said: “Even now in retirement, I still fight that rule of law be maintained. Even members of the NBA Ikeja, when they had a leadership crisis, were coming to Police, trying to arrest each other over their disagreement and we resisted them.

“There is a clear difference between criminal and civil matters. We need to look at how to ensure that there is a way of enforcing judgments of courts in civil matters. We need to strengthen the capacity of the police. If you don’t strengthen the capacity of the police, then the judiciary will have to create an enforcement unit. The police is a victim, it is an orphan. They suffer when they are in and out of the office.”

Chairman of the Lagos NBA, Mr. Lateef Akangbe said people think that the judiciary is not very efficient, so they tend to go to where they can get quicker results. The elites, he said are the problems of the country.

“The court system is very slow. We should come together to make the court system more effective and efficient. By so doing, we will ensure that our courts remain the only place for settlement of civil disputes. The courts should also make punitive awards against security agencies that overstep their bounds,” he suggested.

Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Benin, Helen Ogunwumiju said the judiciary is also the weeping child. “Why we talk about the police officers who take interest in civil matters, we are not saying anything about the kind of laws that our lawmakers are making trying to criminalise civil offences,” she pointed.

Managing partner, ASP Ajibade & Co. Dr. Babatunde Ajibade (SAN) warned that lawyers would run themselves out of jobs through their attitude of patronising security agencies for issues that are meant for the courts.

He noted that the tradition jobs of lawyers are declining gradually, insisting that it is now time for lawyers to sit up and begin to explore other new opportunities.

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