With over three weeks, justice is still being delayed across all Courts of Justice in Ondo State.
The reasons for the delay, is not far fetched, say observers of the continuing story. The boycotts of all state Court proceedings and activities by members of the legal profession comes with a directive from the State Chapter of the Nigeria Bar Association, or NBA.
The aggrieved lawyers in Ondo State under the auspices of the association, had held several protests across major courts of the state, and had staled court activities.
Their claim for protesting, they say, is on behalf of the Common man, who ultimately does seek redress or compensation of justice from the Courts. Yet, so the argument goes for the lawyers, is the government seems to not be looking in their direction. Thus, the continued delays of justice in Ondo Courts across the state.
Just last week, the governor purportedly used his veto power, and had stationed military vans in front of the Ondo State High Court. The governor ordered the arrest of any lawyer who deem it fit to protest at the front of the Court.
Unfortunately for the governor, and other state officials who remain unsympathetic, no arrests were recorded.
SaharaReporters has learned that Members of the Bar are in loggerheads with the Chief Judge of the State, Justice Olasehinde Kumuyi, over a decision the lawyers described as one capable of turning the state into a de facto ‘Police State’.
Justice Kumuyi had instructed the office of the Chief Registrar of the State High Court to issue a letter, with a directive that ‘a pre-condition for approval/perfection of all bail applications shall, among other directives, include ‘the production of evidence’ of tax payment for the current year, or tax clearance by the surety/sureties’.
The Circular letter was signed by Toyin Akinrinsola, the Chief Registrar of the High Court, and pasted in all Ondo Courts of Justice in the state. The letter has a reference number listed as, CROD/0012/01/61, and it was addressed it to all Magistrates and Registrars of the state High Courts, including the Magistrate’s Court. The circular letter is considered an extraordinary initiative within legal circles.
At one of the protests held in the state, Kayode Dare, Chairman of the Akure branch of the Nigeria Bar Association, had disclosed that his members would “never accept the decision.” Dare also said his members would not succumb “to any threats from the government of the state,” adding that bail condition is a constitutional right of the people.
‘The grant or refusal of bail is at the discretionary power of the judges or Magistrates. The Conditions of bail can only be imposed by the trial judge, or Magistrate, and the same cannot be dictated by anybody, or authority, whatsoever,” Dare had said.
"Bail is a constitutional right,” he added. “It cannot be used as ‘punishment’ to an accused person. Attendance of an accused person in court is the essence of bail,” he said.
While the lawyers and the Chief Judge continue battling it out, accused persons in prison custody of security agencies in the state, are feeling the brunt of the crisis. They are hopeless, legal observers say, with their fate hanging in the balance. For many of them the key question is simply, ‘when will they eventually be charged in court, to either be sentenced, whether guilty or not, over the legal matters they have been detained for.
A tour around of some of the courts today by SaharaReporters revealed that relatives of accused persons are not having patience. Many in fact are losing patience with the authorities of the State Ministry of Justice, and with the members of the Nigeria Bar Association. Many are simply frustrated over the prolonged strike action, which has crippled judiciary activities in the state.
Many of the relatives are claiming that their family members and loved-ones arrested by Security agencies in the state, are being detained in custody for weeks, mostly at Police cells over frivolous charges.
Some of them who spoke to a SaharaReportes correspondent on the condition of anonymity said, they now have “sleepless nights over the issue,” as the police officer in charge of the cases had told them to “wait till court resumes from their strike action.”
They also claimed that Policemen in many stations now chased them away for visitation, because the place is now overcrowded with visitors.
“We have been visiting the police station for the release of our loved ones, but all they tell us is that they would be charged in court. This can only happen when the court resumes (functioning after) their strike,” said one relative of a person being held by police.
“They don’t even want us to visit the station again, because the place is now overcrowded. They told us to go, and prepare ‘a good lawyer,’ and that cannot be done when they are on strike. We are tired over the delays of justice in the state,” said yet another relative of an accused person who spoke with our correspondent.
The detainees ought to have been charged in court, but the strike lawyers embarked upon by all the members of the legal profession in the state right now is causing more harm to them than good.
SaharaReporters learned that most of the Police cells in the state are now crammed to capacity. Most detainees languish in custody, with many praying for the quick end of the strike.
A police officer in the state who spoke with a SaharaReporters correspondent on the condition of anonymity said, they “now have many arrested victims in their custody, with the hope of charging and arranging them to court. But, the strike is delaying the arrangement.
A food seller interviewed by SaharaReportes and speaking on the condition of anonymity, who is close to one of the police stations in the state, told our correspondent that, policemen who came to eat earlier in her restaurant had revealed that, “only those who cannot pay for heavy fines will have to wait for arrangement in court. They will have to wait until the business resumes after the strike.”
Apart from the accused in custody, those seeking redress in the Courts of Justice in the state are also having their fate hanging in the balance.
Our correspondent reports that many seeking redress, now throng in large numbers in the Court premises on daily basis. Those numbers have grown since the commencement of the strike, with most present there to seek information on when the Strike would be called-off.
An investigation at major courts in the state revealed that the strike did not only paralyze court proceedings and activities, but also affected many cleric staff members, courts secretaries, and Clerks of the Courts as well.
Countless numbers of the Court Clerks come in the morning after marking their day register, and will resort into gossiping. To bide the time they play games on their phones, or sleep, with their heads placed on the Courts table. This habit is one that has characterized many government officials of the country.
Many Police prosecutors who always besieged the court for cases were not available to comment, but sources hinted, they have refused to come over because of the strike.
Observers in the state told SaharaReporters that, if the striking lawyers, and the Chief judge failed to reach a compromise, then it might be a booming business for security agencies in the state. It would then allow them to indiscriminately arrest innocent people in the streets, with a threat to arrange them in court. In so doing, thereby, making their families or love ones to pay out heavy funds for their quick release, since the courts are closed down with the on-going strike.