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

Nigeria: Trading Justice for ‘Self Help’

Dispensing ‘jungle justice’ is a sign of the times in Nigeria. Truth be told, the Nigerian justice system is not only broken, it has completely failed, thence, the resort to self help. As BBC Andrew Walker’s report highlights, the activities of vigilante group who have completely taken over neigbouhood policing, is worrisome. It’s evidently the clearest indication yet, that it is everyman for himself and God for us all. The Hobbesian state. How did Nigeria get to this sorry state?

Ordinary people have completely lost faith in the police and the judicial system to help them seek justice. Despite the understandable constraints under which the police work, that is no excuse for bad policing, extortion of money, bribery and corruption, which seems to be the hallmark of how the ordinary Nigerian views the police and the outright failure to carry out their statutory duties. On the other hand, the ineffective judiciary is plagued with its own malaise of court delays, needless and endless adjournments, deliberate obfuscation of the court processes by lawyers who manipulate the rules of court with a view to ‘extorting’ money from clients, just to prolong cases unnecessarily – bad lawyering. And they find willing accomplices ‘sometimes’ from the bench. In the result, Nigerian citizens are left to their own mercies and fate. Do you really blame them when they now resort to jungle justice? Read Andrew Walker’s report here.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8021468.stm

The Nigerian state must find a way to redress this. Most of the institutions connected with the administration of justice should be re-jigged, particularly, the police and judiciary. Leaving this essential reform to international development agencies like DfID, is surely, but a stop gap measure.  They can only compliment the efforts of  government, not as a substitute for government implementing reforms.

‘Self-help’ undermines justice, due process and human rights of victims – however justified the vigilantes are. The likelihood of lumping and lynching an innocent person, by a vigilante ‘mob’, in a situation where there are no defined rules, processes and procedures, is very high. Innocent people have been known to have been killed.

How Nations Handle Extra-Territorial Breaches of their Nationals’ Right to Innocence and Miscarriages of Justice

That the world is shrinking by the day, is much more than a metaphor. It’s a reality. Nationals of nations are scattered all around the globe, seeking different realities, challenges and opportunities. In the process, they are confronted with different norms, cultures and laws which they are compelled to abide by, or face sanctions for breaches of the laws of their host countries. In effect, nationals outside their own territories, must not only comply with the laws of their host countries, but there is a continuing responsibility of their own governments to ensure that they are treated fairly,  justly and in line with internationally acceptable legal standards.

What happens when a government fails to take up that challenge on behalf of their own citizens abroad? It’s sometimes a catch twenty-two situation, given the intersection between politics and law. One thing is certain though, most international Instruments lay down certain minimum standards for the dispensation of justice and, indeed, of the trial process. Recent cases of US and Nigerian citizens with criminal processes/procedures abroad, have demonstrated that, whilst one nation takes seriously it’s continuing international obligations to its nationals; the other have simply shirked her responsibilities to it’s nationals abroad, leaving them at the mercy and vagaries of the ‘laws’ of the host countries, without regard to the fairness, justice or indeed, whether the laws of the host countries guarantees the minimum rights under international law.

With respect to the US, the recent case of Jason Puracal (An American citizen) in Nicaragua was handled ‘fairly’ well, if for nothing, the drawing of the attention of the US Congress (43 House of Representatives members) to his plight, and the calling of the attention of the United Nations, declaring the Nicaraguan judicial system as flawed and a violation of international law. Read archived post on this case here.

That Nigerian nationals face legal hurdles and challenges abroad is well documented. What is not well appreciated is the response of the Nigerian government, and it’s attitude to her nationals undergoing criminal processes abroad. In Indonesia for instance, there are a sizeable number of Nigerians who have alleged that, their right to justice, and sometimes, outright miscarriages of justice have occurred; which has left them wrongfully imprisoned, some on death row, and others, actually have been executed without due process. Read here and here

There is the on-going trial of a Nigerian pastor in Austria – Pastor Joshua Esosa -for ‘drug related offenses’, which he vigorously denies. He was made to undergo criminal processes in Austria which resulted in his ‘conviction and sentence’, whereupon he appealed the decision. An appellate court in Austria, it seems, have ordered the remittal of his case for re-trial de novo. That re-trial commenced, or rather, took place on the 6th of June, 2012. The point here is that, Pastor Joshua Esosa practically shouted himself hoarse, before he was given the right of re-trial, despite the unfairness of the initial trial process; and the Nigerian Embassy appearing to have utterly failed him. Read his story here

In conclusion, the anecdotal facts above, clearly demonstrate that governments owe it’s own nationals obligations to ensure that they are given a fair trial abroad. That obligation is a continuing one. It must be exercised responsibly in line with internationally acceptable legal standards. Where those domestic standards falls short of universally acceptable norms, by virtue of its continuing obligations, it behooves governments to engage on her nationals’ behalf to ensure justice is done. The Nigerian government must now begin to learn to shift grounds, and explore not only legal measures, but political means to protect her nationals abroad.

Problematique:Stand Your Ground Law, What Does it Really Mean?

Stand your ground law and related concepts like, self-defense; the ‘castle doctrine'; and the duty to retreat, have continued to pose significant legal problems in different jurisdictions and States in the US.  Defendants are now more willing to resort to these defenses, when it appears all else have failed. This, in large part is due to the fluidity and overlapping nature of these defenses, and the different legal interpretations given to different sets of facts, even where in some cases, none of these defenses could ever avail the defendant. The Trayvon Martin and Zimmermann case, is just one, in a long line of cases, that have recently come to the attention of the public; highlighting the intricacies and difficulties of applying the stand your ground law.

In the last 2-3months, there have been an avalanche of legal commentaries and commentators taking and defending positions regarding the stand your ground law. None, in my opinion is as pungent and explanatory as that expressed by Prof. Sherry F. Colb in her article entitled: ‘Stand your ground’ laws and competing visions of ‘fight and flight’ in the real world. In the said article, she connects the dots, as well as delineate the fine distinctions between the duty to retreat, the castle doctrine and stand your ground law, providing examples and interesting case studies: connecting one with the other, and explaining lucidly where one defense begins and ends, and where the other defense(s) kicks in.

Her conclusions will no doubt reveal where she stands – particularly on the stand your ground law and the Trayvon Martin case, albeit sub judice – and how she thinks the concepts have been muddled up. Read full article here.

Policing Snitching to Protect Defendant’s Rights

The above is the title of a concisely written article by Emily Smith. It appeared in the American Criminal Law Review, 2011. The article reviews the pros and cons of informant testimony; the idea that snitching evidence is essentially quid pro quo in nature. That, for the most part, they are to be viewed with circumspect, otherwise,  measures are required to be put in place to retain their probative value.

The author provides anecdotal evidence to support the claim that, 49% of those wrongly convicted and sentenced to death, faced this fate because of crooked testimony. The author then followed with a rhetorical question: Is reliance on this essential practice, really necessary to the effective enforcement of the criminal law?

‘No one can deny that the information the informants can provide is relevant to a trial. However, prosecutors are given almost unfettered discretion to offer the informant incentives, with courts rarely questioning the credibility of their witnesses. The problem is that the informant’s greed creates trouble when it is combined with the prosecutor’s leeway and singular focus on conviction’. In light of this ‘tunnel vision’ by prosecutors, the author suggests that, there should be some additional sort of judicial oversight.  She says, there are three ways to conduct such supervision. Read those ways and the entire article.

Wrongful Convictions in Singapore: A General Survey of Risk Factors

The above is the title of an article by Chen Siyuan and Eunice Chen; offering a deeper insight into the peculiar nature of wrongful convictions in Singapore. Given the endemic nature of the wrongful conviction phenomena in the ‘West’, particularly, in the United States, United Kingdom and much of mainland ‘Europe';  the article  cautiously celebrates the Singaporean legal system. The abstract reads:

‘This article seeks to raise awareness about the potentials for wrongful convictions in Singapore by analysing the factors commonly identified as contributing towards wrongful convictions in other jurisdictions, including institutional failures and suspect evidence. It also considers whether the social conditions in Singapore are favourable to discovering and publicising wrongful convictions. The authors come to the conclusion that Singapore does well on a number of fronts and no sweeping reforms are necessary. However, there are areas of risk, viz the excessive focus on crime control rather than due process , which requires some tweaking of the system’.  Read full article.

It is the authors’ contention that Singapore is largely immune from the viral nature of wrongful convictions as we know them in Europe and America. That is thumps up to Singapore’s legal system, however, the caveat they have identified in their study, will require much more than tweaking of the system, but will additionally require robust vigilance. As the dictum goes, external vigilance is the  price of liberty. The article makes sense.

Nigeria, Forensic Science and Human Rights Violations

The science of forensics, is yet to take root in Nigeria; yet crime has not only gone hi-tech, but sophisticated and organised.  If the Nigerian police force is to break grounds and push its boundaries of investigation, it must develop expertise in forensics. There seem to be no concerted effort by government to develop this line of technique in crime investigation, despite the obvious good it will do to accused persons, and those innocently and wrongfully convicted.

Since the 201o visit from the US by police detective Charles Massucci and Anthropology Professor Erin Kimmerle, it is uncertain how far and how seriously the Nigerian authorities have viewed their work to teach forensic science; and make it part of police training and investigation technique. It is suggested here that given the rate of extra-judicial killings and unresolved high profile crimes –  like murder and kidnapping – in Nigeria, it is imperative that, the Nigerian Police College review its curriculum, with a view to making the study of forensic science mandatory for all police officer going through training.

As Prof. Kimmerle observed then (the situation has since deteriorated) ‘In the past two years, there have been more than 1,000 extra-judicial killings of suspects, innocent civilians, multinational oil workers and politicians, by the police, the military forces, vigilante groups and armed militants in various parts of Nigeria.  All of judicial reform is based on forensic sciences. What good is law if you cannot enforce it’ Read report of their 2010 tour of Nigeria here.

Going forward, Nigeria seriously need to reform its police force, the prison system and the judiciary to bring it in line with internationally acceptable standard. The National Human Rights Commission and other oversight agencies of government, must play leading roles in ensuring this comes to fruition.

Compensation is What will Bring to ‘Closure’, the Travails of those Wrongfully Convicted

The subject of compensating wrongfully convicted persons, or persons who have suffered severe miscarriages of justice, will continue to define the work, and indeed, the success of the innocence movement. This is because, once public authorities are made to pay heftily, for their omissions, commissions – and sometimes glaring oversight and negligence – it will leave them in no doubt, that they either have to sit up and do a thorough job, or get slammed with huge monetary compensation for victims.

That is exactly what a Canadian, Romeo Phillion has just done, suing the Ontario government in Canada. After spending 32 odd years behind bars – for a murder he was later acquitted of – Romeo is believed to have served more prison time than any other wrongfully convicted person in Canada. He is suing for $14million. Read report of his odyssey in search of justice and compensation by Globalpost.

The morale here is that, cases such as these, drive home the point that public institutions must be alive to their responsibilities and act judiciously and judicially, in the prosecution of accused persons. Systems, procedures and checks must be in place every step of the way, even after conviction, for public authorities to continue to receive and consider evidence with an open mind; deal with new evidence with all sense of responsibility. The life and liberty of individuals are at stake here. As Romeo himself lamented ‘I did’nt do 32 years for nothing. I lost my freedom. Somebody’s got to pay for that’. Yes indeed,  somebody’s got to pay!

The Intersection Between Innocence, Expert Witness and Religion:The Case of Rev. Gordon MacRae

The role of expert witnesses in criminal prosecution remain pivotal, to the fair dispensation of justice.  The testimony of an expert might actually be the linchpin, in tilting the decision to convict or acquit an accused person. The real question therefore is, when is an expert not an expert?  How much weight, or probative value, should a judge and/or jury place on the expert testimony of an ‘acclaimed expert’?

We may never be able to know the number of cases or accused persons that have been languishing in prison; who’s conviction(s) were solely reliant on expert testimony that were never really challenged.  Instances like these, remain fertile grounds for defense counsel to truly engage in the ‘battle of the experts’. The quality of legal representation,  the high cost of litigation, and of securing the right experts poses challenges for accused persons and counsel. Rev. Gordon MacRae’s conviction, it seems, appears to harbor some of those lingering doubts.  For a full analysis of the peculiar facts of his case, read article entitled: ‘How Psychotherapists helped send an innocent priest to prison’

The case dwells on the professional and care responsibilities of persons placed in a position of trust; how those responsibilities are discharged; the vulnerability of the care-giver and the carer, especially when it bothers on religion and faith. All of these however must be read against the avalanche of cases involving priest and the laity in the catholic church. Still, the issues in the Rev. Gordon MacRae case, are troubling enough to raise legal and procedural concerns. For one, the psychotherapist’s professional conduct and expertise remain open-ended to further probing questions. For a conviction to be safe, ‘we must clear all shred of doubts'; that is why the burden is ‘primarily’ placed on the prosecution, and the standard of proof is set at a very high bar.

Wrongful Conviction Reminiscences of an Australian High Court Judge

I blogged recently about the awesome role Judges play in the dispensation of justice. Retired Australian High Court Judge Michael Kirby has just reiterated and properly contextualised it, with respect to wrongful convictions.  Drawing on his experiences in the bench, particularly with the wrongful conviction of Andrew Mallard. He addressed these issues along with others germane to the fair dispensation of justice. The occasion was about his experiences at the bench between 1996 to 2009 at Melbourne RMIT university. Read 9news reportage of his lecture here

He touched on the quality of legal training; the public perception of the apolitical nature of judges; the divide between conservative and liberal judges. And of course,  hinted of his ‘regrets’ on the Andrew Mallard case. He said ‘Maybe if I’d paid a little more attention, may be if I’d seen some of these arguments (sooner)…. he wouldn’t have had to spend a decade in prison; its something that troubles the mind’.  However hard we deny it, pretend it doesn’t exist or the system can not possibly have leakages, there still remain the real possibility of it happening, no matter the jurisdiction. We must continue to work at it with an open mind. We must come to terms with it. I commend Justice Michael Kirby’s ‘statement of regret’ a fortiori to prosecutors, police officers and lawyers generally.

Nigeria:Blessing Effiong Must Regain her Freedom Now!

Following on the heels of the Patrick Obinna Okoroafor saga in Imo state, a fledgling situation is emerging in Lagos, of the detention of a minor for over 4years in police custody. Miss. Blessing Effiong was 16 when she was taken into police custody following disagreements, arising from the purchase of a mobile phone transaction that had gone awry. She claimed she was 16, but the police would have none of that. Not that they had any proof, or evidence to the contrary. Still, they proceeded to keep her in detention despite entreaties, pleadings and complaints from her guardian. She was never charged to court. She is awaiting trial. Read report here 

This speaks volume about the nature of the workings of the Nigerian police force; but I am more worried about the involvement and the role played by the ministry of justice, and indeed, the Office of the Lagos state Public Defender. The Lagos state Office of the Public Defender is reputed to be doing a good job, supplementing at the state level, the work of the Nigerian legal aid council. For both arms of the justice delivery system to have simultaneously failed Miss. Blessing Effiong leaves no one in doubt about the accuracy and veracity of the numerous independent reports, of the state of decay within the system of administration of justice in Nigeria. In the Patrick Obinna Okoroafor case, it was the concerted efforts of Amnesty International, along with some local NGOs that finally ensured justice was done.

The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice Ade Ipaye is a well respected Lagos lawyer and academician. His office, working in tandem with the Office of the Lagos state Public Defender should do the needful and ensure Miss Blessing Effiong does not remain in detention a day longer than necessary. That, of course, should be followed by an apology and a serious impact assessment of the ministry, and the Office of the Lagos state Public Defender. It is also about time that Lagos state begin to engender and implement legal reforms that will truly deliver justice. I trust the Attorney General will take the lead and prioritise this, within his tenure of office.

Freedom Comes, At the Nick of Time for Patrick Okoroafor

I blogged recently about the plight of Patrick Okoroafor, in detention awaiting the executioner. That was on the 20th of April, 2012. Thanks in large part to the advocacy by Amnesty International, young Patrick Okoroafor has regained his freedom and been spared the hangman’s noose. He has since rejoined his family and remain thankful to the tens of thousands of people who campaigned tirelessly for his release. It is the right thing to do. It is worth reiterating my bewilderment, at the prospect of having a young man’s life snuffed out just like that, given the circumstances leading to his arraignment; his trial as a minor and the subsequent injustice, suffering and humiliation he endured whilst awaiting execution. And now clemency!. Read further here

The legal details surrounding Patrick’s release are still foggy. It would appear that the Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha exercised his prerogative power of mercy, as I canvassed in my earlier blog; as one way of bringing this unfortunate travesty of justice to a close. In a sense therefore, he is truly the hero, given that most Governors would prefer to remain obstinate about exercising such powers. This, of course, is not taking anything away from Amnesty International who internationalised this case. Will it be asking too much, for Patrick and his legal team to be demanding for compensation? That again, is the right thing to do.

After Exoneration: An Investigation of Stigma and the Wrongfully Convicted

The above is the title of the thesis by Oscar R. Molina of University of Florida. The research outcomes challenges a host of our conventional beliefs and misconceptions on how we treat exonerees. Excerpts from the abstract reads thus:

‘Research has demonstrated that stigma may affect the re-entry experiences of individuals who are exonerated of crimes they did not commit. In this study, we examined exoneree stigmatization by examining participants’ perceptions of exonerated individuals compared to parolees and average individuals. In addition, we varied the target’s race to examine if race played a role in stigma levied upon exonerated individuals. Results indicated that people who are exonerated and people who are actually guilty are stigmatized more than those with no criminal history. Race did not affect the level of stigma encountered, but further research is needed prior to concluding that race does not affect stigma for exonerated individuals’

The entire research can be accessed here

Cops Behaving Badly!

Despite death threats, two investigative reporters uncovered the corrupt activities of Whitley County Kentucky sheriff. Sheriff Lawrence Hodge was dirty, but not even the FBI could prove it. Now, thanks to the investigative skills of Adam Sulfridge, he has met his waterloo.  Lawrence Hodge has now been arrested on 21 counts; he was released after posting bail for $150,000 property bond. This arrest and prosecution demonstrates that there are elements within the police force – everywhere in the world- that will do all in their power to trump justice and undermine good policing.

The recondite issues of the innocence and those wrongfully convicted, have their roots, in the main, with policing strategies and techniques, or the lack of it, with corrupt police officers who are motivated by other motives other than seeing justice done. This case proves once again, the proverbial pen being mightier than the sword.Fuller details here,