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SPECIAL REPORT: Human Rights, Justice Suspended, As Nigeria’s Courts Goes Under Lock And Key

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Doctor, Anuoluwapo Adepoju, of the MedContour Services Limited is a controversial cosmetic surgeon in Nigeria who has been in the news since at least 2019.

She was arraigned in Lagos State, South-West Nigeria last year (2020) after a failed cosmetic surgery that allegedly led to the death of a client, one Miss Nneka Onwuzuligbo.

Series of allegations about her being a quack doctor had also resulted in her indefinite suspension by the Federal Competiton and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) as well as the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN).

In mid-May 2021, an allegation of another botched surgery sprung up.

In viral pictures of her blighted buttocks, a client of Dr. Anu explained that she had engaged the services of the medical practitioner because she had no knowledge about previous allegations against her.

According to the lady, she is based in New York, USA, and had returned to Nigeria 10 years after she left the country.

She noted that it was after the surgery that she became aware of Dr. Anu’s past records.

Dr. Anu (1st from left)

NewsWireNGR reports that with this development, Dr. Anu – whose case is alive at the law court – may be breaching terms of bail, by still consulting and conducting procedures.

NewsWireNGR gathered from a top source at the FCCPC that the Commission is in the process of filing to revoke her bail and remand her in custody for the rest of the trial. However, lack of access to court occasioned by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) strike hampered the move. Hence, FCCPC Nigeria is considering the law enforcement option.

Trials not holding in Nigeria’s top courts

Rundown of JUSUN strike

JUSUN workers nationwide (except Edo judicial workers) have been on strike since April 6, 2021.

The judiciary staff are agitating for the financial autonomy of that arm of government in Nigeria, particularly at the state level.

Courts at both the state and federal levels across the country have now been shut for over 40 days as a result of the strike.

Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad

Meetings between Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, the head of the judicial arm of the government of Nigeria, and the leadership of JUSUN over the ongoing strike have not yielded any positive outcome.

The last time Nigeria witnessed the JUSUN strike was 2015, and it was a four-week action (except for Edo state chapter which lasted for six months).

No justice for rape in ‘courtless’ Nigeria

The current situation in the Nigerian judicial sector is clearly thwarting the administration of the law.

A rape case involving two young men, one, a son of an affluent Nigerian, and which has the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) as complicit is being clogged.

The rape suspects

Don-Chima George and Rasaq Oluwasegun are the suspects. Their case, which was to go down on Tuesday, 18th of May, was postponed – due to the ongoing industrial action by JUSUN.

The two men had gang-raped a 23-year-old lady in 2019 at the De Lankaster Hotel, Lekki, Lagos.

The hashtag #JusticeForRapeInNigeria had been used to canvass for justice across social media. However, many people on social media were stunned to discover that the case involving George and Oluwasegun is still in court.

Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) did a report on March 29, where it exposed how the DPP had bungled up the case by failing to call in key witnesses who could have helped in getting a conviction. The case (Suit Number ID/8813C/2019) was brought to the Sexual Offences Court, Lagos High Court, Ikeja headed by Justice Abiola Soladoye.

The last hearing for the two men was held on March 23 and lasted barely 10 minutes before the case of the prosecution was closed.

Ex-Nigerian petroleum minister’s corruption case impeded

Former Nigerian Petroleum Resources Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke is facing money laundering charges – since 2017.

Alison-Madueke was a prominent member of former president, Goodluck Jonathan’s cabinet from 2010 to May 2015 – a period when US$ 20 billion went missing from oil receipts, according to Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, a former Central Bank governor.

Her scheduled hearing did not hold on Monday, May 17 due to the JUSUN strike.

Alison-Madueke

The case against Alison-Madueke, who is believed to be in the United Kingdom (UK), last came up before Ijeoma Ojukwu, the trial judge at the Federal High Court in Abuja, on March 3.

Without anticipating the JUSUN strike would start on April 6, Mrs. Ojukwu had adjourned the matter till Monday, May 17 for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to appear and report on its effort to have the former minister extradited to Nigeria to face her charges. The adjournment was the latest in the series of postponements the case has been suffering due to the absence of Alison-Madueke who is believed to have fled to the UK shortly after exiting office in December 2015.

JUSUN strike effectively scuttles possibility of closing out another matter involving the Nigerian government

The Federal High Court was supposed to deliver judgment on Monday 17th of May concerning a criminal matter that commenced in 2017: the Federal Republic of Nigeria vs Mabman Oil and Gas Limited.

NewsWireNGR scooped that the petrol tanker of the company was confiscated and the company was charged to court for illegal oil bunkering.

The JUSUN strike effectively scuttled the possibility of closing out the matter. Now, it is until further notice.

‘People held in police cells have a lifeline, but no remedy for inmates’

According to a 2020 statistics from the Nigerian Correctional Service top hierarchy, seven out of every 10 inmates currently in Nigerian prisons are awaiting trial, but they will remain behind bars due to the JUSUN strike.

Congestion is expected to get worse. A legal practitioner, Cyprian Adikpe tells NewsWireNGR what the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is doing to ensure the correctional centres are not overcrowded.

“The NBA through its state branches is providing legal services pro bono to assist those held in police cells across the country,” Adikpe told this reporter.

“Every branch of the NBA has a human rights committee headed by the Vice-Chairman. The mandate of the committee at the moment is to visit the police and other detention facilities, interface with heads of such facilities and offer legal service where appropriate. However, not all cases can be covered by this arrangement.

“Yes, those held in the correctional centres (formerly called prisons), unfortunately, there’s no remedy for them because they’re there lawfully either after conviction or are awaiting trial, and so the NBA cannot help.”

On the effect of the strike on him, Adikpe bemoaned a lack of income: “Personally, as a private legal practitioner, I’m affected. When courts are not open how do you earn fees?” he asked rhetorically.

Another lawyer, Fejiro Umukoro, who is based in Warri, Delta State, South-South Nigeria described the impact of the strike as “unimaginable”.

“The impact of the strike is simply unimaginable,” Umukoro said to this reporter.

“One month of judicial time was lost due to COVID-19 last year. After the lifting of the lockdown, courts didn’t all resume immediately. Only specific classes of matters were being handled here. So there has been so much backlog.

“In all of this, courts went on annual vacation something between July and September (2020) depending on the state.

“After the annual vacation, things became to pick up then #EndSARS came along.

“On October 19th, one of my matters was adjourned because I could not make it to court. And it was adjourned to January 2021. This is just an instance of the backlog already existing.

“Now, to the different impact of the strike on cases. One of the duties of the police is to arrest and prosecute alleged suspects.

“Usually, police arrest, detain, and then charges the suspect to court, and the suspect is either remanded or granted bail.

“Now, courts have been on strike. The Police have been arresting folks. They can’t charge them to court. They can’t keep them in detention indefinitely. But trust the Nigeria Police Force to capitalise on the situation. It’s either you play ball or you suffer in detention. You either pay over the odds to secure bail or stay behind bars.”

The police cannot detain anyone for more than 48 hours without a court order. Now that courts are on strike. What happens? Does it mean people are held on?

Umukoro explained that because there are no courts to charge people to, “the 48 hours rule can’t count”.

“The 48 hours rule can’t count now. There’s no court they can charge anyone to because of the strike.

“The police are eating good this period.

“For folks already standing trial, their cases have suffered unusual delay.”

Umukoro’s stance was corroborated by a Nigerian Lawyer, Adetola Onayemi @adetolaov, who posits that arrested disadvantaged Nigerians are now “at the mercy of the Police”.

“The biggest threat to fair hearing and Justice for anyone arrested by Police today in Nigeria is that Judicial workers (JUSUN) strike means courts are closed and anyone arrested by the Police can’t approach the court to access bail promptly, and so are at the mercy of the Police,” Tola wrote on his verified Twitter handle.

“Now even when the courts were opened, it still took a lot of pressure to ensure arrested persons were taken before a court. Now the courts have been closed nationwide for over one month now. Just imagine the plight of anyone who has been arrested over the last one month.

“The court has served as the means to check the excesses of law enforcement, ensuring bail is granted and rejecting attempts to hold people wrongly as we saw during the #EndSARS protests. Now imagine what happens when there are no courts to hold the police accountable.

“Many persons arrested, regardless of their innocence, are at the mercy of the Police, and in many cases have had to part with huge sums just to get their freedom. There is no justice when you have no access to the court to make your case. The court system has ground to standstill [sic].”

Commenting on the 48-hour rule, a serving Nigerian police officer, who doesn’t want to be named, told this reporter that the police – naturally – do not care about the rule. “Even before the court strike, ‘Nigeria Police no send you if you no get mouth’,” he said.

“It depends on the discretion of the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), and the gravity of the offence.

“Offences like murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape etc are serious offences and the police can keep suspects beyond the 48-hour threshold, albeit with a court order (Section 294 of the administration of criminal justice law).”

NewsWireNGR understands that State Counsels in the DPP, State Ministry of Justice are mobilised to decongest police cells of suspects.

Magistrates under the Administration of Criminal Justice Law are also empowered to visit Police stations and detention facilities. And during those visits, they can grant bail to anyone who they think is deserving.

Ekiti-based Barrister, Temitope Omotayo, added: “The strike has caused a lot of havoc on the justice system in Nigeria. However, that does not mean people should use that opportunity to abuse human rights or to breach the rule of law in Nigeria.

“Ordinarily, there are some cases that bail is not as a matter of cause. For example, in robbery matter. Naturally, an accused person may not have a right to bail until legal advice is out, or until court grant such.

“And in capital offences for that matter, court hardly grant bail to suspects, for example.

“Since we found ourselves in this situation, the police and all other agencies concerned with security have the right in various laws that established them to grant bail, based on individual matters.”

NewsWireNGR‘s message to Frank Mba, spokesperson of the Nigeria Police Force, seeking his comments on the conduct of the officers at this time went unanswered.

Lawyers having a hell of a time

Israel Geraldine, a Realtor at SelVio Guaranteed Properties Limited, Nigeria, cited a couple working in the same law firm whose earning have been severely hit due to the JUSUN strike.

“I know couples working in the same firm. This is exactly where they earn and the strike is going to two months now,” Geraldine said.

“They haven’t been at work lately because of the strike.

“There have been peaceful protests, but then, nothing is being done.

“Some secretaries are asked to stay at home for some time. They can’t be paid from an empty account.

“So it’s basically affecting both the lawyers, secretaries, and since court isn’t sitting for now, we have worse cases of rape, abuse, kidnap and threats. But then, there won’t be court case for now. They will have to wait till sitting resumes.

“I really pity the abused women. They will be there, get no justice for now, till the strike is being called off. Until further notice.

“For a tenant facing unlawful eviction, this strike is a nightmare as the landlord could resort to self-help and throw the tenant out of the house.”

Reminder that the role of the courts in the administration of justice is sacrosanct to the stability of human society. The judiciary is ideally regarded as the last hope for the common man, considering the lofty responsibility of justice dispensation assigned to them by society. 

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