Nigeria’s senior lawyers, called the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN), have urged the Federal Government to wage the war against corruption without violating Nigerians’ fundamental rights or undermining the rule of law.
BOSAN made the call at the end of a meeting of its members held at the Nigerian Law School in Lagos. The organization disclosed that its members were opposed to acts of corruption, adding, however, that the fight against the scourge should not be at the expense of Nigerians’ human rights.
The senior lawyers accused some agencies of the Federal Government, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), of acting in ways that raise serious concerns about human rights violations and violations of due process.
BOSAN’s statement, signed by Ebun Sofunde and Seyi Sowemimo, declared that the organization abhorred “all forms of corruption and money laundering by anyone, lawyers inclusive, and wholeheartedly supports appropriate efforts of the Government aimed at curbing the menace of corruption through thorough investigation and prosecution of offenders in a fair trial that complies with due process of the law and ensures equal access to justice by the prosecutor and the accused, while guaranteeing the fundamental rights of all persons as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).”
While endorsing the investigation of any lawyer, BOSAN urged the government and its agencies to respect due process in order not to violate the rights of suspects. It declared that its members had “a duty and a responsibility to hold ourselves to the highest professional and moral standards and are determined to continue to ensure that those standards are maintained.”
BOSAN’s statement also deplored any disrespect displayed by persons or agents of the government to court orders, adding that such disrespect amounts to “a step towards anarchy, which does not and cannot augur well for a democratic society such as Nigeria.”
BOSAN’s communiqué cautioned against the “spate of disparaging remarks and attacks on the Judiciary and judicial officers, often made in a generalized manner and perhaps calculated to intimidate and infuse fear in Judges, who are sworn to dispense justice without fear or favour.” It added that such blanket attacks on the judiciary were “unfair to the many honest and hard-working judges in our country.”
BOSAN urged lawyers not to join the bandwagon of those who disdain the judiciary through “generalized statements of a disparaging nature.”
The organization’s statement also drew attention to the “evolving practice of delays and non-payment of judges and judicial workers their salaries and allowances.” It cautioned that the practice gravely undermines the independence of the judiciary.
BOSAN also reaffirmed its belief that accused persons are entitled to their choice of counsel, urging lawyers to give the best possible defense to their clients. The communiqué warned that “the harassment and intimidation of lawyers in any form in the course of their legitimate work is unlawful and counter-productive in a democratic society,” describing such harassment as “not only unlawful but antithetical to the rule of law.”
According to the communiqué, “Nothing is further from the truth that once a lawyer undertakes the defense of an accused person, particularly a professional colleague, then he must be in active support of the alleged crime or be working against the anti-corruption crusade. The Nigerian Constitution, for good reason, presumes a person innocent until proven guilty before a court of competent jurisdiction following a fair hearing, with an opportunity to conduct his defense by a counsel of his choice.”
Affirming its belief in professional excellence, integrity, industry, professional ethics, and leadership by example, BOSAN called on lawyers to represent their clients “to the best of their abilities, within the ambit of the law, and in compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007.” The communiqué added that BOSAN had “taken appropriate measures to ensure that the rank is not brought to disrepute as a whole by the actions of those adjudged of wrong-doing.”