Why We Chose Not To Represent Kidnap, Robbery Suspects, Says Edo NBA Chairman
Mr. Collins Ogiegbaen has responded to a query sent to the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) by NAIJA CENTER NEWS on the recent declaration by the Association to boycott legal representation for robbery and kidnapping suspect in Edo State.
The association said it was withdrawing its services from all suspects whose offenses are related to kidnapping, against the background of incessant cases of kidnap and attempted kidnap of its members.
Mr Ogiegbae who is the Chairman of the NBA disclosed to our correspondent what informed the decision of the Association.
According to him, kidnappers in the state had of recent targeted his members while some lost their lives in the process.
He said “The cases of kidnapping has been a preponderance of the kidnapping cases, it has been really incessant and they recently started targeting lawyers. The former chairman of the branch was kidnapped, sometimes ago another chairman of the Auchi branch and his wife were kidnapped and his wife was shot dead in the process; another of our member, the coordinator of the legal aid centre for the state was also assaulted. They were about to kidnap her but the vehicle security failed but they made sure that they left her and her husband seriously bloodied.
“So, we looked at it and I summoned an extraordinary general meeting of the branch and, you know, it is a market place of ideas. Members were infuriated, members were not happy and we said, look, we are going to tighten a noose around their neck, if they are going to start targeting lawyers, it’s not just about lawyers but looking at the general public too, we said then we tighten the noose around their neck because firstly if they do not get legal representation in this state, they would have to go through the inconvenience of having to look for lawyers outside the state. Secondly, we wanted to also use the opportunity to call on the state counsel in the ministry of justice.
“There is no doubt that they are trying, the pressure of work is much, but we just felt we should also call on them to also tighten their own end in terms of their approach to prosecution. It is not an indictment on them because we work together and we know that they are trying, but we just wanted to, you know, a kind of a wake up call and then also call on the state government to invest and reinvest in the state counsel. we just wanted to urge them to rekindle their commitment. “
When asked on how he arrived at the conclusion that a suspect is guilty without proven otherwise particularly in a country where the security agents charge innocent Nigerians on bogus charges, Mr. Collins said “There is no smoke without fire. I tell you, the process of investigation is quite rigorous. I recognize the fact that they might not have the right equipment in terms of advancement of science but the process is quite rigorous and most of the persons charged with the offences of kidnapping, I want to tell you that one way or the other, they have a hand in it. They participated in one form or the other, in the chain of kidnapping or the process of collecting money and all that. Is just that what we are against, we see many of them, maybe because of indolence prosecution, perhaps things were not done properly, or the investigation was not so diligent, we find them going free. There were cases that these persons that were granted bail came back to the society and became a menace to society until they were arrested and apprehended again only to find out that these persons were granted bail from the Oko prison or one of the prisons.
“We agree that the constitution places a presumption of innocence on a person accused of one crime or the other but what we have done here is, it is possible that some persons may suffer in the process but it is not a permanent boycott, it is just a boycott to send a message to them, let them learn that if you are targeting members of the public, we don’t expect them to do this, leave my lawyers alone and that is exactly what I am doing here. We will review it in our next meeting though.”
The Creation of LAPI
In his further defence, Mr Collins disclosed some of his initiative to help decongest the prison and bring justice to many who are wrongfully imprisoned. He said “Immediately I was sworn in as Chairman of the branch, I set up what they call the legal assistance and prisoner right initiative and I appointed the back public defender and, if you find out, that committee has been the most viable committee of the bar in recent times.
“The reason I did that is that I have always been interested in the cases of indigent members of the society who are languishing in the prisons without trial because I believe detention without trial offends the Nigeria constitution and many instruments of prisoners right. That committee has as at today taken upon itself 300 such cases of indigent persons who cannot afford the services of a lawyer. In doing that we helped to a large extent to decongest the prison. The state government and state ministry have recognized it, they have written to us on several occasions to praise our effort.”