The Sun News

Fire-for-fire between lawyers

According to their professional convention, lawyers are mutual “learned friends,” even when they are bickering. That seemed to be the situation a while ago when the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and a colleague (of international status) got involved in public exchanges.

It all started with general public dissatisfaction against the pace and pattern of prosecution of crooks, who looted the Nigerian treasury. As discovered one after another, the accused were tainted with the theft of millions and billions of naira, U.S. dollars as well as British pounds, in some cases. Government, in the belief of dealing with human beings, suddenly found itself wrong-footed all over the place. Judges became billionaires overnight while lawyers, in the guise of professional practice, were passing for accomplices, at best, if not criminals, in their own right.

Suspected to be in the mafia were state prosecutors from all spectrum, along with lawyers. A way to dislodge the mafia was, therefore, found in the decision to involve prosecutors with international standing, all with the hope of earning a semblance of  credibility for even the most embarrassing of judgements. By the way, despite the revelations on many of those who looted funds, there is yet not a single significant conviction of any of the suspects.

It was, therefore, another setback when some officials of the Supreme Court earlier listed to be involved in the looting of over N2 billion of public funds were reported to have opted for plea bargaining in which they would feature as prosecution witnesses in other cases. So far, there is no indication whether they will return their loot, how much of the loot they will return or how much they have returned. Not unexpectedly, the plea bargain of the Supreme Court officials attracted attention and generated gossip for their ethnic affinity with high-ranking Federal Government officials and public office holders. It was not clear if such gossip had to do with the sudden purported withdrawal of a top prosecutor in the on-going corruption trial of a Supreme Court judge.

Even though he did not say so, it was obvious that the top state prosecutor was laying claim to high moral standard against the dramatic turn of events. The AGF’s office instantly returned the fire, with charges angrily querying (or condemning) what was portrayed as the not-too-neat (if at all neat) attitude of the hired prosecutor. The AGF’s office alleged that, contrary to the claim of the prosecutor withdrawing, he was, in fact, sacked. The dismissed prosecutor was accused of allegedly not disclosing interest in another case against the government.

In plain language, the prosecutor (before his sack or withdrawal) was advocating the case of the state (Federal Government) against an accused but, at the same time, (the prosecutor that is) was also defending another accused in a case against the Federal Government’s effort to recover looted funds. That claim by the AGF’s office was not disputed.

A curious aspect is also not yet clear. Which side first briefed the prosecutor concerned? When did the dismissed prosecutor take the second brief? After arriving in Nigeria to prosecute for the Federal Government or before taking the brief of the Federal Government? It would only have been self-dignifying for the state prosecutor to acquaint both the Federal Government and the accused in the second trial of his (state prosecutor’s) double involvement, instead of allowing itself to be labelled as pursuing conflict of interests.

That is not to say double involvement in legal practice is unprecedented, at  least, in Nigeria. After the controversial 1983 elections characterised by widespread malpractices, Chief Rotimi Williams advocated the election petition of Ondo State governor, Adekunle Ajasin, against the National Electoral Commission, which earlier returned NPN candidate, Akin Omoboriowo, as the new governor. Ajassin won, courtesy of Rotimi Williams.

In a change of role, the same Chief Rotimi Williams defended NPN candidate, Christian Onoh, declared by the National Electoral Commission to have defeated NP governor of (the then) Anambra State, Jim Nwobodo. In short, Chief Rotimi Williams, in one case, succeeded in nullifying the verdict of the National Electoral Commission and, in the second case, succeeded in validating the verdict of the National Electoral Commission.

While Chief Williams might not have appeared specifically for NEC in both cases the net effect of his appearance for two different clients, at the end made NEC’s job easier.

There was another instance, when ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo tried to disqualify a major party’s candidate for the 2007 presidential election. The candidate employed the services of a top lawyer, who successfully argued the case. The elections held and the candidate lost. In a subsequent election petition, the lawyer who won the case for the candidate to contest the presidential election turned round and appeared for the man declared the new president. I queried the lawyer concerned on the moral of advocating the case of a client to contest an election only to turn around and (to) argue for the man’s (i.e. his client of yesterday) defeat in the election. 

The lawyer, somewhat convincingly, explained that, before accepting the brief of the candidate, who fought against disqualification, he (the lawyer) told the client that he had been a retained advocate for the new president for decades. Arguing a case against disqualification is different from defending an election verdict against an election petition. So, there were no ill feelings.

However, the matter of theft of public funds is an entirely difficult and sensitive exercise. It is not any easier by the fact that prosecuting an accused and defending an accused under the same law, especially for and against the same  complainant, are unlikely to pass without some bruises. That was what happened in the dispute between the AGF’s office and the dismissed prosecutor.

Incidentally, government should streamline its policy of plea bargain. Still not entirely accepted by Nigerians, government (not excluding EFCC) explained that the implied cover-up for crooks, who stole billions of the nation’s funds was for legal reasons. Such cover should, therefore, be for all of them involved, who have returned or forfeited billions to the state.

Why, therefore, should some of such suspects’ identities be so fortified while the identities of others, who have forfeited landed property and vehicles be disclosed? As Nigerians, their identities should also, for legal reasons, be preserved so that, as the flimsy excuse goes, they, too, in future, do not take legal action for purported defamation by Nigerian authorities.

Ugly face of gratitude

Ordinarily, gratitude offers or must offer good taste for the beneficiary. But the manager of Leicester Football Club, the current defending champions in the English Premier League, Claudio Ranieri, has just experienced the ugly face of gratitude, which in history always baffles humanity. The only consolation is that the Italian has gone into the history books.

A memorable one of such was Britain’s Winston Churchill, who, on the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War, virtually rebelled against Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

Churchill, reflected and exploited public anger that Chamberlain was lily-livered before Germany’s Adolf Hitler. The British Prime Minister had gone to Germany for a peace agreement with Hitler, an agreement he brought back, as glory with peace and honour. Churchill, a hawk, would have none of it, as he believed the prevailing uncertainty should be settled in the battlefield.

In a palace coup,  Churchill led Britons in a revolt to emerge the new Prime Minister, who forced a showdown with Hitler. Through a combination of courage for war-time leadership and manipulation of foreign rivals like French President, Charles De Gaulle, and America’s Franklin Roosevelt, Churchill won the war for Britain.

It was, therefore, expected that Churchill would be easily swept back to office, as Britain’s Prime Minister in the 1945 general election. Human beings? Churchill lost the elections to the Labour Party. Ingratitude?

Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya for 42 years consecutively, during which he dared Britain, the United States and France, providing a haven for wanted terrorists while maintaining an iron rule on the domestic front such that, by the time he faced his people’s revolt, he miscalculated. The dissidents had the support of United States and Britain, until Gaddafi was assassinated through public lynching. His corpse was on the floor of a seeming cold room for over a week to contain the anarchy.

Even rival groups couldn’t agree on the booty of a new, stable government and America had to assist all the way. Then months later, hell descended on Libya, as a faction embarked on unrestrained anarchy. Their main target was defenceless Americans, including top embassy personnel, who were not spared despite the widely-recognised immunity of such designated places.

American Ambassador, Chris Stevens, famous as spokesman for state independence for many years, was burnt alive inside the embassy.

It seemed there could be no worse case of ingratitude until the latest development in English football. For over 100 years, Leicester City was never reckoned with in any football competition. In fact, so irrelevant and hopelessly rated was the city that for the 2015-2016 football season, betting shops offered punters 5,000-1 (five thousand to one) against Leicester, winning the English Premier League competition. People never considered Leicester. The club’s then new manager, Claudio Ranieri, himself did not believe a miracle was in the offing. But, here was the man, doing his job. With clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United in unprecedented and unending crises each in its own way, Ranieri steered, in fact, sneaked Leicester City to Premier League Championship, a shock to the entire football world. Ranieri and Leicester emerged an instant world phenomenon. Leicester never had such a hero and achievement in its history.

Then came the 2016-2017 (current) football season. The record is the complete opposite. In fact, Leicester has dropped to the last three (relegation) zone, on the way to the Championship League, a kind of second division. While on the downward trend less than a month ago, the club’s management publicly pledged its support for Ranieri, a standard, fraudulent assurance for any manager on the way out, and so it proved.

Claudio Ranieri, last year’s hero in the soccer world was sacked. His downfall was speculated to be the result of a mutiny by overpaid footballers, a development fast gaining ground in English soccer.

Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas Boas, both of Chelsea, fell similar victims. Louis Van Gaal of Manchester United was similarly treated. Sabotage of manages by footballers, a growing menace in Britain.

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