Olatunde Adejuyigbe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in this interview with AKEEM NAFIU, speaks on National Assembly’s invasion by officers of the Department of State Services (DSS), Supreme Court’s pronouncement on stay of proceedings in criminal trial, Executive Order 6 of 2018 and sundry issues
What is your take on the recent invasion of the National Assembly complex by officers of the Department of State Services (DSS)?
The condemnation that it has attracted globally is a clear indication that it is an unlawful act and there was no basis for it at all. It is unconstitutional and illegal. There was no basis for anyone to prevent lawmakers from having access to the National Assembly. It is totally an affront to the rule of law. Even, if there is any need to prevent a breakdown of law and order at the National Assembly, it should be the duty of the police and not the DSS. It should not be in the way the exercise was carried out with people wearing mask. There can be no justification for it at all. This is evident in the way the Federal Government has reacted to the incident.
Do you share in the views that the Supreme Court’s validation of Section 36 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 which outlawed stay of proceedings in criminal trials has abolished basic constitutional principles?
What I consider to be basic constitutional principles is the right of an accused person to fair hearing. When you are talking of fair hearing, it has to do with the right of an accused person to present his case within a reasonable length of time. I think the proper way to look at it is when the prosecution has finished its case and the accused person should present his defence. Of course, along the line, the accused person may think no case has been made against him. That would also be part of his defence. However, the major issue is what we have seen in the past where an accused person asked the trial court to stay proceedings because of an interlocutory appeal. This action is the reason where cases are stalled for an upward of a decade. But what the ACJA has said is that all the issues that an accused person want to canvass while a case lasted will be taken together in the final determination of an appeal against that decision. However, nothing should be allowed to truncate the criminal proceedings. With all these, I cannot see how the ACJA provisions have infringed on the rights of an accused person. If you look at what happened in the case of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, before he was cleared by the Supreme Court, the CCT continued with his trial while he was pursuing his appeal. So, I do not think the ACJA’s provision is prejudicial to the right of an accused person. The accused person can pursue his appeal while his trial is continuing and if at the end of the day the appellate court makes a pronouncement, that might settle the whole thing.
Beyond the ACJA’s intervention, what other things do you think should be done to ensure speedy trial of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs)?
Part of these problems also stemmed from the preparation of both the investigating and prosecution teams. A lot of time, there are a number of amendments to a criminal charge and this does not augur well for the prosecution. In essence, governments need to strengthen the team handling the prosecution. It’s a job that should only be given to people who have the competence. You cannot blame an accused person whose legal team is able to pick holes in the case being put together by the prosecution and succeeded in knocking it off. Some of the lapses may be due to the way the charges were drafted or in the course of the prosecution presenting its evidence.
Part of the problems is that most times you just discover that criminal cases are being poorly prosecuted and in the process, the cases are bungled. The truth of the matter is that no matter how much of sensation is added to it, the Constitution is very clear that an accused person is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty. The onus is on the prosecution to establish the guilt of an accused person by proving the offence beyond reasonable doubt. This means from the onset, the prosecution must ensure that it put together a solid case before going to the court. Regrettably, this is not always the case. This to a large extent has been responsible for the delays in deciding some of these high profile cases.
Would the shifting of the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defence offer any help to overcome anticipated delay?
I don’t think so. It will not help us. It is the person who alleges a wrong has been done by someone that should establish the committal of such offence in court and not the other way round. It is expected that the prosecution will have evidence to prove its case against an accused person as it does not just wake up one day to file the charge. So, the prosecution is expected to prove its case using those evidences it had gathered.
What is your take on the Executive Order 6 of 2018 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari to prevent owners of assets suspected to have been fraudulently acquired from using proceeds realized from the sale of such assets to pervert cause of justice?
The Executive Order is unconstitutional because the Executive cannot play the role of the Judiciary. Knowing our environment, that Executive Order will not be implemented by the president but by those within the system and it will be abused. If government has a solid base to make an accusation that this is an ill-gotten wealth, it should be placed before the court. But it would be illegal to just begin to clamp down on citizens on the suspicion that an ill-gotten wealth is somewhere. The point I am making is that if the president wants to implement this kind of thing, he should come up with an appropriate bill for the legislature to deliberate upon. This is because there must be constitutional safeguard for the right of individuals against any abuse. I believe the best thing to do now is to withdraw the bill because it can’t go far.
Do you support the clamour for state police?
When people are saying the country is not ripe for state police, I don’t know what they are talking about. I even think we are addressing the issue belatedly. We say we are practicing federalism every state has its civil service, the executive and the judiciary. But when it comes to the security of the states, it’s in the hands of the Federal Government. It is obvious that the Federal Government does not have the manpower as well as the resources for the police force. The immediate past Chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), Mike Okiro, was making the point at a time that a substantial number of about 300,000 policemen that constitutes the force are providing security for high profile individuals, so what are the ordinary Nigerians left with?
Secondly, if you look at Lagos State, there is what is known as the Security Trust Fund which has been the major source of funding, even for the police within the state. So, the question is; when will the country be ripe for state police? Is it when all the citizens are killed? Concerning the fears about abuse by state governors, I think we should have a re-orientation on how these policemen were deployed for assignment. About 30,000 policemen were deployed by the Federal Government for the Ekiti governorship election. The implication of this action is that a lot of states will be porous and insecure by the weekend of the election. This will not augur well for the security of people in those states that were left unpoliced. So, clearly we desire state police in this country.
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