Author Archives: Daniel Ehighalua

Nigeria: The Shame of a Nation!

The recent barbaric, brutal and gruesome ‘murder’ of 4 University of Port Harcourt students in Nigeria has left majority of Nigerians in shock and dismay. Attached is a video excerpt of the incident. Readers’ discretion is strongly advised, as some of the actions therein are very upsetting, and in some cases too gruesome.http://www.naijaurban.com/video-of-the-4-uniport-students-burnt-alive-for-stealling-phones-and-laptops/  

The incident has been roundly condemned, but it brings to the fore, the nagging questions of: the quality of justice; the level of trust and (dis)belief in the justice system; what the police should be doing and how communities should collectively deal with such outbursts of irrational emotions. As one commentator rightly stated, the genocide in Rwanda started with such piecemeal actions, before it spiralled into a national conflagration.

 The blame must be laid squarely at the door steps of the police. The incident lasted for hours. Where was the police? Agreed the actions of the mob – very few of them if you watch the video clip -were evilly motivated, the intervention of the police would have saved the lives of the students. I don’t buy into the idea of lack of equipment, logistics et al, this was a clear case of a vengenful group of people prepared to take the law into their own hands.

The response of the police was not only shoddy, it was unprofessional, but typical. It shows why the average Nigerian remain lukewarm, unfriendly and hostile to the police. That said, it does not excuse the stone age response of the mob, resorting to jungle justice or self help. Nigerians are increasingly resorting to self-help. I blogged recently about this growing and strange phenomenon. Read here http://wrongfulconvictionsblog.org/2012/06/29/nigeria-trading-justice-for-self-help/    

We can only hope that this incident will be investigated by the authorities and they should get to the bottom of the immediate and remote causes of the Port Harcourt incident. A larger remit of the enquiry should seek to understand why Nigerians look down and undermine the police; the nature of the Nigerian police as an institution, its structure and effectiveness. And of course, a conversation about the latest weasel words – the desireability of state or community police. Above all, the perpetrators must be found and made an example of!

The Gambia: At Last, Reprieve of Some Sorts

I blogged recently in a post entitled: Bloody August in The Gambia. Then, there were confirmed indications that The Gambia intended to proceed with further ‘executions’ of death row inmates. In Nigeria, an application was already lodged with the ECOWAS court to determine amongst others, the legality of the action itself and the proposed future plans to carry out further ‘executions’. This drew the ire of the international human rights community. The condemnation was almost total. Now, it appears a halt has been put to further executions being carried out. Read BBC News report here

Whilst this is cheering news of some sorts, reading between the lines of the news report, you get the sense that this has only been suspended, or put in abeyance because of the hue and cry that attended the earlier execution of the 9 death row inmates. For now, this is no more than a window of opportunity to unmask and lift the veil on the Gambia legal system to study the delivery and effectiveness of the justice sector and judicial administration; providing opportunity also for policy, legal and regulatory reforms.

Due legal process and respect for fundamental human rights, remains the surest safeguard to avoid miscarriages of justice; and the possibilities of the innocent being sent to the gallows for offenses they either did not commit, or the police did not properly investigate.

Bloody August in The Gambia!

The Gambia is a small West African country. It was colonized by the British. You would naturally expect the people to be inheritors of the British common law traditions of justice, equity and fairness. Ironically, The Gambia is headquarters to several human rights, regional and continental organizations. The Gambia president’s disdain for the rule of law is legendary.

Torture, unlawful detention of journalists and extra-judicial killings has been the hallmark of his administration since taking over power in a 1994 coup. Even so, the execution of 9 death row inmates last month took the human rights record of The Gambia, and Jammeh’s presidency to an all time  low. Read report in the Nigerian guardian here.  This is in a country where common law principles and Islamic practises intertwine.

It is yet unclear the level of judicial transparency, fairness and justice that the ‘executed’ inmates were exposed to, or provided in the course of their trials. What is certain however, is that, The Gambian judiciary is not entirely as independent as it should be. We do not yet know the extent the inmates were granted due processes. If the recent application lodged with the ECOWAS court of justice on behalf of 2 Nigerians, being amongst  the remainder 48 inmates slated for execution, is anything to go by, then the appeal process in The Gambia leaves much to be desired.

There is everything wrong with a system that produces such skewed outcomes, preceding the denial of basic rights of innocence, fair trial before an independent judiciary; rights of appeal and to legal representation; right to seek all legitimate avenues of redress when those avenues are yet to be exhausted. The Gambia is a member of the ECOWAS commission and is bound by the decisions of the ECOWAS court; even though with a very poor record of compliance with judgements of the court.

The application by the 2 Nigerians before the ECOWAS court will test the court’s jurisdictional capacity with respect to domestic criminal matters, as well as, the extent to which The Gambia government is prepared to flout and undermine the international community. Read report entitled: The Gambia sued over Execution of Nigerianhttp://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/the-gambia-sued-over-execution-of-nigerians/124840/

The international community is waiting and watching patiently as to the outcome of the threat to proceed with the ‘execution’ of the remainder inmates on death row.

Lessons from Abroad: Reforming the Nigerian Police

In Nigeria, the police is vilified virtually by everybody that have had the ‘misfortune’ to come into contact with them. Much of this vilification, hinges on their lack of professionalism, indiscipline, corruption and bad policing strategies. The response of the police to this, has always been lack of resources, proper training, and the fact that they are also a mirror, reflecting the values – positive or negative – of the larger Nigerian society. The truth of the matter lies in-between both contentions.

The Police Service Commission is the apex Commission charged with the discipline, promotion and regulation of all police officers in Nigeria. They have the statutory responsibility of shaping the values, ethos as well as enforcing those good and bad conducts of the police. The Commission ironically is still obscured to many Nigerians, except of course during elections and electioneering campaigns, when they put out warning and information notices to appeal to Nigerians.

Reading the article by A. M. Blackmore entitled – Correcting Miscarriages of Justice http://www.odpp.nsw.gov.au/speeches/CORRECTING%20MISCARRIAGES%20OF%20JUSTICE.html you cannot but get the feeling that the Nigerian Police Service Commission needs to be re-jigged; in concert with the Office of the Federal Attorney General of the Federation. As identified by Blackmore in the said article, the usefulness of the outcomes of the Royal Commission in the New South Wales Police Service, cannot be over emphasised; same can be deployed to deal with the Nigerian situation. Of course, with necessary modifications to suit the Nigerian clime.

A top to bottom strategy will ensure proper reform is achieved, which can then be passsed down the line to the rank and file. The recurring cases of miscarriages of justice in Nigeria leaves much to be desired. Without prejudice to the numerous Commissions, Committees and ‘White Paper’, there is the urgent need to shake up the Nigerian police force. With the recent confirmation of the new Inspector General of Police, M.D. Abubakar, there is no better time than now, to start re-thinking alternative policing strategies that will deliver for the Nigerian people. Read report here http://saharareporters.com/news-page/md-abubakar-confirmed-inspector-general-police-photos

The root causes of miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions in Nigeria, can be tackled in large part with a functional and professional police force.

An Exoneree’s Perspective on the Quantum and Adequacy of Compensation

Jeffrey Deskovic is not your archetypal exoneree. He holds strong views about the subject of wrongful conviction, and even stronger views on the sufficiency of state compensation for victims of wrongful convictions. In his article entitled – A Critique of Innocence Project Report on Exoneree Compensation ‘Making Up for Lost Time’ – he critiqued some of the recommendations made by the Innocent Project.

His views were in direct response to  the Project’s report on the question of legislating compensation and the reasonableness thereof. See pdf report – http://www.innocenceproject.org/docs/Innocence_Project_Compensation_Report.pdf

Jeffrey goes on in his article to make the point that, compensating the innocent must be sue generis. It must take account of each individual’s circumstances; station in life, pain and suffering, education, present and future earnings et al. Read his article herehttp://www.examiner.com/article/a-critique-of-innocence-project-report-on-exoneree-compensation-making-up-for-lost-time

While his criticism does weigh up the issues, and on balance, seem to tilt towards a case by case consideration of each application, it is submitted that, the courts still remain the best fora to determine what is best, or what represents adequate compensation for each victim. No legislation can set the amount of compensation in stone for every given situation. What a Statute does, and can do, is to set a benchmark, albeit a guide for the courts to be guided by in coming to a decision on compensation. The ultimate decision will always boil down to each individual circumstances.

James Taylor:A Life in Ruin!

One of the troubling after effect of a wrongful conviction, remain how victims come to terms with their present situation; how they go past it, put it aside and move ahead. Some never do. Others just resign themselves to fate and the vicissitudes of life. The system is so skewed and unfair to leave a man stranded for apparently no fault of his.

The vexed question of post wrongful conviction compensation, whether and when to pay, indeed, if there is a right to restitution remain a moot point – both with adversarial and inquisitorial jurisdictions. It sounds strange that the system would continue to stigmatise a man for an offense he did not commit or has not been found culpable by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Despite the ‘giant’ stride that has been made in the United Kingdom, and the long line of cases of miscarriages of justice – from the days of the Birmingham Six,  to the establishment of the Criminal Cases Review Commission – it seems cases still seep through the system undetected and uncompensated when they come to light.

James Taylor deserve to get his life back. He must explore all in his power and within the law to see to that, if the pronouncements of Judge Peter Clarke QC is to make any sense. Judge Peter Clarke QC is reported to have said that ‘We find the consequences to Mr. Taylor little less than horrifying’

You can read Taylor’s odyssey here and make up your own mind http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-18787249

Kirstin Lobato: Is this Another American Miscarriage of Justice?

The law on DNA testing in the US appears to be in a flux. Or at least, there are variants of the law that does not exactly add up, as you move from state to state. The curious question you would want to ask, would be, why should a ‘simple’ request for DNA testing be turned down or even denied? What if that goes to the substratum of the case; one that is capable of tilting the case one way or the other.  If justice is actually the ends of prosecution, why would there be obstacles and booby traps, or any legitimate means of achieving it be prevented, stultified or even stalled, a day longer than necessary.

It’s questions like these that really underscores the need for a broad based advocacy strategy for law reform that cuts across state boundaries, indeed, as an international norm, if the rights to innocence, fair trial provisions and to disclosure of evidence, would make any sense in reality. In a sense, this also interrogates the relevance and the nature of the legal system, around on-going debate as to whether the inquisitorial or adversarial system of justice best serves the interest of accused persons.

The Kirstin Lobato case is another case, in a long time of cases where DNA testing is being challenged by the DA. It will be interesting to see what the outcome would be. Petitions are currently awash on numerous sites urging the DA to do the right thing ‘not to file any opposition to Lobato’s appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, and request that he allows the Innocence Project to conduct DNA testing and re-testing of crime scene evidence’ Read Ground Report of this case here, including efforts to get Lobato exonerated http://www.groundreport.com/US/100-000-Call-For-DA-To-Allow-DNA-Testing-In-Kirsti/2946798