Ibrahim Abdullahi is a legal practitioner with offices in Abuja and Lagos. He is a specialist in civil, commercial and corporate law. He spoke on the circumstances in which lawyers can defend certain cases like the leader of the Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau’s. He also spoke on the establishment of court marshals for enforcement of court orders. Excerpts:
Is it wrong for lawyers to represent certain kinds of offenders?
Every lawyer was taught in law school that it is not for you to decide which case to take or not. Every client that comes to you, you should take his or her brief. But the exception is when you have conflict of interest on maybe religious grounds; or certain principles that you have.
You can decide on your own not to take certain briefs. For instance, there are people I know that do not take dissolution of marriage cases. I know a senior lawyer who throughout the time I worked with him, did not take armed robbery cases. Maybe it was because of his personal experience or his fear that he may defend somebody who has committed the offence.
Does this border on ethics of the profession?
That is subjective decision for the lawyer to make. There are things I wouldn’t want to say. For example, when there is an allegation against someone, maybe from the reports in the newspapers which gives someone an opinion that this person has committed that offence. Even if you have not seen the evidence before the court, but from these reports and some documents flying around, some people can make up their mind not to take such a case.
Recently, the president called on the leader of the Boko Haram sect, Abubakar Shekau and his members to come out and lay down their arms. Such a man, will you take up his case if he briefs you?
That is what I said, that it depends on beliefs. It also matters what you do with the case. Do you go in denying even the evidence that this is so clear that this person has committed this offence and try all you can to discredit those evidence which are genuine? Or do you just put the prosecution to the strictest proof of those evidence? Or are you there to ensure that person’s prosecution follows due process? If your aim is to, by whatever means defeat the course of justice, I think that is wrong. But if it is to ensure that due process is followed in his prosecution and you advise him on the right thing to do, that is right.
So, it depends on how the lawyer defends Shekau. Put the case before the court and let’s see what you have; and let’s see that his rights are not being violated in his prosecution. Not because he pays you so much money, you say Shekau has not committed that offence and you do whatever to stop the trial. Even some lawyers go beyond what is allowed to ensure that their client is not convicted. I think that is not right.
As Nigeria enters a new decade from 2020, are there concerns with the country’s adherence to the rule of law?
Yes, to some extent. There have been several orders given by court which have not been obeyed. And sometimes the people in power select some of the orders to obey. And I think that is unhealthy for the law and even the development of the country, because if you need investors, and if you need citizens to have faith and believe in this country, laws that are made need to be obeyed. If you don’t obey the law, we become a banana republic where everybody will do what they want. Everybody will not resort to courts or to laws but to self-help. And when we have that kind of situation, we are turning ourselves into anarchy, then barbarism. And before you know it everybody will be on his own.
A military man may decide to shoot you or police officer will say he wants to arrest you even if you have valid court order that says he shouldn’t do that. Tomorrow the minister of FCT may decide to come and demolish your house or office even though you have a court order that says ‘wait let me hear all of this’.
It has been suggested that lack of institutions that can stand stronger than the individual political leaders is the bane of the rule of law in Nigeria. What do you suggest as a way out?
The electorate have a role to play in this. They need to elect people whom they feel have shown from their antecedents they will respect the rule of law, and are responsible. They should ensure that these are not people who are known to bypass or circumvent the laws. Aside from the electorate electing people who have the pedigree and integrity, another way to build strong institutions is for lawyers to practice the law according to the letters of the law. We shouldn’t just practice to defeat the aim of justice.
People at the helm of the judiciary can also help by giving judgment according to the law, without fear or favour but based on their conviction of the law; not the judgment that has been procured.
There is the belief that the legislature should insert clauses in the appointment of heads of regulatory agencies to ensure the individuals are either elected or detached from the executive, at the federal or state levels, so that their loyalty is not to the chief executive?
Well for now I will stick with what we have on ground. The constitution provides for appointment of persons into various positions in the country. I think the problem is not in the appointment but the people that man the positions. How they come into the positions, whether in the judiciary or executive, I think plays a little role in what they usually do in those positions.
I think what matters most is what they have to offer. That is why we have a lot of problems in the country now. So long as the constitution has not been amended, any other suggestion is invitation to chaos. If you say the IGP should become elective, they tend to play politics with it.
Should there be a non-partisan panel voting or electoral college for such appointment?
Maybe by way of suggestion in the future holders of certain positions such as the attorney general, some people say should be appointed by the judiciary. But you see, the problem with most of these things is that as far as the executive is still in charge of finances to some of these agencies, it is not going to be easy for them to function without the executive.
Considering what happened in the attempted re-arrest of Sowore in court last year, do you support calls for either activist union for judges to collectively boycott cases from parties that disregard court orders or court marshals to ensure the enforcement of court orders?
If we have to do that, especially the court marshals, my fear is let it not conflict with the powers of the police and prison wardens. If we are going to have a smooth operation of the two, I support that. A court should not just hand over an order which cannot be enforced. It is very demeaning if this kind of situation is allowed to continue, that a judge gives an order and nobody executes it and the judges can’t do anything about it.