Lawyers split over proposal to create special courts for bandits, kidnappers
Should the Federal Government create special courts to deal with cases of banditry and kidnapping? Lawyers say no, yes. AKEEM NAFIU reports
Some senior lawyers have expressed divergent views on a proposal by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and an islamic cleric, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, for the establishment of special courts to deal promptly with cases of banditry, kidnapping and unlawful possession of firearms.
The lawyers while baring their minds on the issue at the weekend could not speak with one voice on the desirability of special courts for the prosecution of bandits and kidnappers. To the proponents of the proposal, creation of special courts for banditry and kidnapping cases will hasten the trial of suspects and also decongest Correctional Centres and regular courts.
However, those who are opposed to the proposal believed that it is a needless adventure. They opined that the existing courts in the country can deal with the menace once the delay mechanisms in the system are removed.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Sheik Gumi had Sunday last week called on the Federal Government to create special courts for prompt prosecution of bandits, kidnappers and those unlawfully in possession of firearms.
The call was contained in a statement jointly signed by the duo after a meeting at the former president’s penthouse residence inside the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta.
Sheik Gumi had led seven other islamic clerics to a meeting with Obasanjo in furtherance of his efforts at proferring solutions to the rising insecurity in the country, particularly the menace of banditry, kidnapping and ransom payment.
Other islamic clerics in company of Sheik Gumi are: Prof. Usman Yusuf; Mallam Tukur Mamu; Dr. Umar Ardo; Dr. Ibrahim Abdullahi; Suleiman Gumi; Alhaji Suleiman Yakubu and Mallam Buba Mohammed. Gumi and his people were received in Abeokuta by Obasanjo; Agura of Gbagura, Oba Babajide Bakre; Chairman, Ogun State Chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Bishop Tunde Akin-Akinsanya; Chief Imam of Egba land, Sheikh Sa’addallah Alade Bamigbola; Chief Kenny Martins; Chief Ola Babajide Jaiyeoba; Rev. Tony Ojeshina; Chief Imams of Oke-Ona, Gbagura, Owu and Mr. Vitalis Ortese.
In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, Obasanjo and Gumi while noting that security is the responsibility of everyone called on well-meaning Nigerians to work together in finding solution to the menace of rising insecurity.
The duo described banditry, kidnapping, other crimes and atrocities leading to the current general insecurity, as a nationwide phenomenon which has gone beyond tolerance. They also appealed to Nigerians not to advertently or inadvertently, in words, action or inaction, encourage or support criminality.
The statement reads: “We identified the crisis as micro-ethnic conflict between the Fulani and many host communities mainly in the North West. We identified the remote causes as educational and economic disparities, and the negative use of religion and ethnicity by unscrupulous politicians.
“Solutions must be seen and provided on short, medium and long-term bases and must be composed of stick and carrot for the offender and the vulnerable. All well-meaning Nigerians have to be involved in finding solutions by desisting from blame game, desisting from ethnicising these crimes, desisting from religionising these crimes, desisting from regionalising these crimes.
“Respecting one another individually, community-wise, locally, ethnically, religiously and socially; showing tolerance and accommodation where necessary; condemning criminal acts no matter where it is committed and by whom it is committed in Nigeria; encouraging more of carrot solution as may be found necessary; sharing information at all levels; not accepting criminality as a way of life for any individual or group in our nation.
“Since the end of the civil war, the military are the strongest and most potent instrument and symbol of national unity that we have and we must keep them so. State governments must have adequate means of providing security for their people and as chief executives and chief security officers of their states, they must have the means at their disposal to ensure security for all within their states.
“Federal government must be proactive, secure necessary and updated intelligence to deal with organised crimes and have common policy for the nation. It is not solving the problem when one state goes for negotiation and molly-cuddling of criminals and another one goes for shooting them. Nor should one state go for ransom payment and another one going against it.
“Education is one main key to solve the problem in the long run but it must start now. The 14 million children that should be in school and are out of school must be put in school with local authorities, state governments and federal government working together.
“Wean those who are ready to be weaned out of the bushes and crime, settle and rehabilitate them, give them skills, empower them and let them have employment. The hardened criminals must be hard hit with stick. Unlawful carrying of arms should be very seriously punished.
“Federal Government should take the issue up seriously within ECOWAS to work for a regional solution. Every community must be encouraged and empowered to stand firm and strong against criminals.
There should be protection and reward covertly for whistle blowers against criminals living in the community. “Special courts should be created to deal promptly with cases of banditry, kidnapping, ransom demanding and unlawful carrying of weapons. Let the slogan be: Security is the responsibility of all Nigerians”.
Practice Direction on criminal cases
Prior to Obasanjo and Gumi’s proposal, there were existing court protocols by way of Practice Directions put in place by Heads of Courts to ensure accelerated hearing of criminal trials relating to offences of terrorism, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, rape, corruption, as well as money laundering cases.
For instance, on April 30, 2013, the then Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, in exercise of the powers conferred on him by Section 254 of the Constitution and other enabling powers, made a Practice Direction that amended Order 48 Rule 4 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rule 2009. The action was intended to fast track and eliminate delays in criminal trials being handled by the court.
The amendment which took effect from June 3, 2013, was also carried out to ensure that cases are not unduly delayed by filing of documents outside the time allowed by the Rules, and to address counsel/litigants induced delays. It was also aimed at establishing, a system of case management that will provide for a fair and impartial administration of criminal cases by judges.
The Practice Direction was intended to fast-track criminal trials, relating to offences of terrorism, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, rape, corruption, and money laundering cases. Under it, judges are to ensure that criminal cases are fully ready for trial before hearing dates are agreed to minimise undue adjournments and delays, while parties involved in the trials are to focus only on important matters.
On May 1, 2013, the then Acting President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, in exercising the powers conferred on her by Section 248 of the Constitution and other enabling powers, also came up with the Practice Direction for appeals of criminal and civil cases.
The purpose of the Practice Direction is to establish, a specialized system, of case management in the Court of Appeal, that will provide for fair and impartial administration of criminal and civil appeals to eliminate unnecessary delay in the transmission and conduct of appeals and reduce the expense and time spent on appeals by all parties before the court.
The Practice Direction also enabled the Presiding Justice of the Divisions of the Court to fast track the hearing and determination of appeals in respect of cases which fall under the offences of terrorism, rape, kidnapping, corruption, money laundering and human trafficking, among others.
Similarly, on July 15, 2013, Practice Directions were also issued by Justice Maryam Aloma Mukhtar, the then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) for the Supreme Court, in line with the powers conferred on her by Section 236 of the Constitution, Order 10 Rule 2 of the Supreme Court Rules, 1999 (as amended) and other enabling powers, to fast-track hearing of criminal appeals.
Lawyers on Obasanjo, Gumi’s proposal
Opinions were sharply divided among some senior lawyers on the propriety of having special courts to try bandits and kidnappers as being proposed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Sheikh Gumi.
Those in opposition were of the views that the proposal was misplaced as there was no need for it.
However, those in support did not see anything wrong in having the special courts as long as it will help in stemming the rising tide of insecurity in the country.
For instance, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome, said he is in support of creation of special courts for the prosecution of bandits and kidnappers as long as it will stem the rising tide of insecurity in the country. He said: “Why not, if it will help stem the horrific tide of murders, mayhem, kidnaps, banditry and rape that have combined to turn Nigeria into a large crimson sprawling theatre of blood, sorrow, tears, pains and pangs”.
Speaking in the same vein, the Editor of Nigerian Weekly Law Report (NWLR), Mr. Oluwole Kehinde, believed creation of the special courts will hasten the trial of bandits and kidnappers.
“It will be a good and welcome idea to establish special courts for bandits and kidnappers. But, the Constitution must be amended to accommodate that. That will follow the pattern of Election Tribunals which are accommodated in the Constitution. Such a development will hasten the trial of suspects in that area and decongest correction centre and the regular courts”,
Kehinde said. However, in his opposing views, Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN) does not see any need for the creation of special courts for bandits and kidnappers. He believed the existing courts can deal with the challenge. Layonu said: “It’s unnecessary.
The existing courts all over the country can cope. it’s for us to remove the delay mechanisms in the system generally especially long hand recording, etc. and gearing the appellate courts to rise up to the challenges too”.
Layonu was echoed by another member of the Inner Bar, Mr. Hakeem Afolabi, who sees Obasanjo and Gumi’s proposal as totally misplaced and unnecessary.
“Granted that everyone is entitled to his own opinion, the call for special courts for prosecution of bandits and kidnappers is totally misplaced. Bandits and kidnappers are not different from other criminals like armed robbers, murderers, rapists and other felons.
The existing court structure can take care of the needs of the prosecution, hence, there is no need for any special court to try these criminals”, the silk said. Dr. Fassy Yusuf wants the Federal Government to reform the judiciary rather than creating special courts to try bandits and kidnappers.
He said: “To my mind, this is a needless adventure. The judiciary should just be reformed in a manner that should make it responsive and dynamic in the speedy dispensation of justice.
To create or establish special courts to prosecute alleged bandits and kidnappers would mean putting other cases in abeyance and or overloading other judges.
“What the judiciary should do is to look at issues delaying justice administration or constituting a clog in the wheel of justice administration, and drastic efforts should be made to address them. Every aspect of the judiciary should be looked at holistically to ensure that justice is not only done but seen to have been manifestly and speedily done.
Justice delayed is justice denied. The victims and or relatives of banditry and kidnapping should have trust in our judiciary”. Mr. Ige Asemudara was also particular about revamping of existing courts rather than creating additional courts. He said:
“There is absolutely no need for special courts. Let us revamp the existing courts. More judges need to be appointed, more courts built, more judicial assistants employed.
The judiciary should truly be independent. The mode of the appointment of judges should be transparent. Due diligence should be thoroughly done on persons to be appointed judges. Let us make our institutions work. Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) is currently on strike, government should yield to her demands”
A rights activist, Mr. Malcolm Omirhobo, was also against the creation of special courts for bandits and kidnappers saying it will amount to sheer waste of public funds. “I am not in support of the establishment of special courts for prosecution of bandits and kidnappers as a way of tackling rising insecurity in the country because it a sheer waste of public funds, time, energy and resources.
The regular State High courts and Federal High court can take care of this problem. “The proponents of this idea are not sincere and patriotic Nigerians as they failed to proffer cogent, enduring and lasting solution to the menance of banditry and kidnapping in Nigeria”,
Omirhobo said. Mr. Chris Ekemezie expressed fears that the creation of special courts for bandits and kidnappers will endanger the lives of judicial officers. He said: “The government of the day has encouraged it.
Establishing the special court will be endangering the lives of the judicial officers who will man the courts. Imagine what just happened in Owerri where guarded police headquarters and Correctional Centers were bombed and taken out. These two institutions are just within the precincts of the government house. It means the governor could have been taken out.
The government should get serious and do the needful. Neutralize them in the battle field. Else, tomorrow they will be given amnesty and put back to the system.