Law News
Insurgency: FG should explain terms and condition of ceasefire – Alegeh

Mr. Austine Alegeh, SAN, is the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA. In this interview, he spoke on the released abducted former NBA President, Mr Okey Wali, SAN, among other national issues, as well as those affecting the NBA. Excerpts:

By Innocent Anaba

AFTER 12 days your predecessor in office, Mr. Okey Wali SAN who was abducted by kidnappers in Port Harcourt has just been released. What was the experience like and what does it say about the security of members of the legal profession in Nigeria?

It was a very sad, harrowing and traumatic experience for the entire Nigerian Bar. It shows the vulnerability and the level of insecurity of Nigerian lawyers. Okey Wali SAN is a man of peace, a man who has served this country and the legal profession. Sadly, we have also received the news that a lawyer has been kidnapped in Sapele Branch. Lawyers in other parts of the country had been kidnapped, even judges and magistrates. But the kidnapping of our past president shows the level of insecurity the nation has descended.

It is shocking that we now have people in this country who believe that the only way they can make a living is to toy with the lives of other people, inflicting pains and hardship on fellow Nigerians.

Augustine Alegeh  SAN

Some people said ‘Okey Wali is so high up there, why didn’t he get police security?

But I tell you this; there was a business man in Benin City who had six policemen protecting him. But when the kidnappers came, they took out the policemen and kidnapped him.

Kidnap of policemen

It shows where we have reached, where kidnappers can now confront armed policemen. They know the person is being protected by armed police men, and yet confront them, shoot the policemen and kidnap their victim.

Nigeria over the years has constituted the second largest delegation to any International Bar Association Conference. But you were conspicuously absent at this year’s conference in Tokyo, Japan, when you were supposed to have led Nigerian lawyers?

I had made all arrangements to be at the IBA Conference in Tokyo. I had bought tickets for my wife and I, paid for hotel accommodation and concluded every other arrangements. But it would have been irresponsible for me to travel out of the country when the immediate past president of the Bar was in captivity. I was in contact with members of his family and with the security agencies and I needed to be physically present in Nigeria to do that. So, I could not travel to Japan for that conference.

On national security, Nigerians received with cheers, the news that a truce and ceasefire had been reached with members of Boko Haram. What is your assessment of that truce, especially now that we hear that it has been broken?

We were not involved in any way in the process of the ceasefire agreement. We don’t know the terms of the ceasefire. But like all other Nigerians we just heard the news. As peace-loving Nigerians we welcome the truce. Anything that will end the hostilities in that part of the country is welcome.

But we now hear that Boko Haram has again commenced attacks during the period of that ceasefire. It makes one to wonder if truthfully there was such an agreement. If there was that agreement, why was there a breach of it? We also heard that the Chibok girls will be released that same week, surprisingly this has not happened. So I call on the federal government to please disclose to Nigerians the terms and the basis of this ceasefire. And we’ll encourage the cessation of hostilities that will assist in the final resolution of this crisis which has lingered for too long.

We have also heard that the leader of the Boko Haram sect, Shekau has been killed. But we have heard that in the past too. What should we believe now?

Again we do not have the full details of Shekau’s death or how he died. However, killing the leader of the insurgents does not stop insurgency. This is because any other leader can arise in the group. A new leader can emerge and they may have other commanders.

Amnesty International recent report alleges massive violations of human rights in the North East by the Nigerian military in its efforts to curb insurgency. America also gave it as the main reason it refused to sell arms to Nigeria. What is your assessment of the situation as president of the bar?

We have always condemned human rights violations in any shape or form. Even in a situation of war, the rights of people must be respected. However, we have asked our branches in those areas to be on the watch and report such violations of human rights to us. Also, we have the Human Rights Watch which has been monitoring rights violations for us in those areas.

Monitoring of rights violations

You can be rest assured that we’ll do our best to ensure the rights of persons in those areas are protected. It must be further noted that those figures that Amnesty International has been parading are quite doubtful. One is not sure it’s as high as that.

A few weeks after you were sworn in as NBA President, some lawyers filed an action against you and Mr. Jide Koku, SAN over the chairmanship of the NBA Section on Legal Practice. They are challenging the chairmanship of Mr. Koku, yet the NBA is going ahead to hold the SLP conference in Uyo in a fortnight. What is your comment on this? Would that not be subjudice?

boko-amnestyFirstly, I would say that as an association of lawyers we must practice what we preach. We preach due process and democracy. We preach obedience and observance of the rule of law. As I said in my inaugural address, SPL had nominations and elections where scheduled to be held at the last annual general conference. But no elections held. Rather than hold elections, some people were allegedly coroneted. Under the bye-law, there must be nominations and there must be an election before anyone can become the chairman of a section. But this never happened in SLP.

In the NBA-AGC programme of events in Owerri, the election was scheduled to be held on Tuesday. But that election didn’t hold. So, to prevent a lacuna and to prevent an illegality, I took a decision that we must have somebody coordinate the activities of the Section until a proper election is held.

A shameful act occurred in Oshogbo recently where lawyers engaged in fusty cuffs at the election tribunal. Ekiti State also just witnessed the desecration of the temple of justice when a judge was physically manhandled by hoodlums. What is the NBA doing about this?

I must confess that we have challenges. In any association there are touts and there are charlatans. In the case of the Oshogbo incident, we have identified those involved and we have written to them. We are awaiting their responses, after which we’ll take the necessary actions. In the case of Ekiti, we have set up a high power committee to investigate the incident and we’ll do all that is necessary to ensure that proper action is taken against whoever is indicted.

What are your comments on the ongoing moves by the National Assembly to remove or modify the Immunity Clause in the Constitution?

I have always said that immunity is for the office. The holder of that office shouldn’t be jumping from one court to the other defending cases against him at a time when he is supposed to be doing the work he is elected to do. If you look at the number of people who have immunity, it’s just few. We have the 36 state governors (the president and vice president). If you multiply that by two, we have just 72. In a country of 170 million people, I don’t think 72 persons with immunity should be such a cause for worry. I believe immunity is not necessarily to cover up the office holder, to enable him to do the work he was elected to do.

What are your views on the provision of 180 days to conclude election petitions?

Some have continued to criticize it. That it has occasioned injustice in many instances. I don’t agree with that position. I was involved in the Adam Oshomole petition and we went from trial to Court of Appeal, to Supreme Court within the stipulated time. The issue of dragging election petition interminably should be discouraged and stopped. It should be made a thing of the past!

Returning to tribunal

If you use your 180 days wisely, you can finish your petition. I was involved in another petition when after they gave judgment at the Court of Appeal, the petitioner waited for 42 days before returning to tribunal. These are 42 days he could have used to start and finish the case. So, he went to the Court of Appeal and he was told that he was out of time and he still lost.

You have just inherited a huge project, the building of the NBA National Secretariat. Looking at the enormous financial outlay that would be required to complete the project, how do you intend to raise such funds and still run the programmes of the association successfully in your two-year tenure?

When there is a will, there is a way. We’ll do all within out power to ensure that the project is completed on schedule. The present place the NBA uses as its National Secretariat is not befitting of our association. It’s too cramped up and inadequate.

Result of the Nigerian Law School’s Bar Final examination released is quite disappointing. Out of 6000 students who sat for the exam, only 2000 passed. Part of your campaign promises is that you will declare a state of emergency when elected president. What do you intend to do about this?

I have looked at the results and the campus by campus analysis. I must confess that it gives one cause for alarm. The failure rate is really high.

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