•Ex-governor disrespected the court
•Says 70% inmates poor, cant afford legal services
The former Chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, has expressed displeasure at the ex-Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, for his attempt to buy his way out of prison through post-conviction bail application.
Consequent upon this, he said he not only mad about the move but expect Nigerians to be angry with him for what he considers an abuse of court process despite being found guilty for stealing billions of naira during his tenure.
Odinkalu who is also a rights activist and legal expert at the Africa Program, Open Society Justice Initiative, Abuja, expressed dissatisfaction over the former governor’s move on Tuesday to seek post conviction bail in a Federal High Court in Lagos.
He regretted that often, the rich who are found guilty gets the best representation in court, while the poor, mostly petty offenders who cannot afford a Lawyer constitutes 70 percent of prison inmates.
The Professor stated this on Tuesday night when he gave a keynote address at the Network of University Legal Aid Institutions (NULAI) Nigeria Pro-bono dinner, while speaking on the topic: ‘Reforming Pre-Trial Detention in Kuje Prison Pro-Bono Dinner’.
Odinkalu stressed that 70 per cent of the people in Nigerian prisons have no money for legal representation while the rich like Orji Kalu who are actually guilty could afford lawyers and Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) even if it means to abuse the court processes.
He said: “Earlier today, Orji Uzor Kalu, former Governor of Abia state was in a Federal High Court in Lagos to seek post-conviction bail having stolen Abia State into the dark. If it does not make you angry as a citizen it makes me mad.
“As a matter of fact, a Nigerian Judge gave him time today, he was led by Lateef Agbehi SAN to argue, and while younger lawyers with better cases sat in court doing nothing and listening to this.”
“Every one of us sited here will know a Nigerian in jail for stealing a tuber of yam or a sex worker caught somewhere trying to get something for the day, caught by the police and raped in the process because of not being able to bail themselves. Many of them will never be able to get bail or collect money for bribe and all of these people are the majority in our prisons, over 70 percent of them.
“We were listening to him, this is a man who has no respect for our court. When he was charged he took the court for granted, he was asked to surrender his passport he refused to do so, he went up to Germany without permission from the court although he was supposed to be under supervision of pre-trial bail. When he came back he will not show up for trial and even when he showed up for trial he made a carnival of it. He will leave trial and go to Daura to hobnob with the President and they will make it look like they were too powerful for our courts”, he added.
To this end, Odinkalu noted that Pro-bono Lawyers have a lot of work to do with regard to the 70 percent prisoners who have no money for legal services. He opined that pro-bono lawyers will bridge the gap between the poor and the rich so they can coexist in one space, by re-ordering the stake of demand and supply for justice.
He noted that the pro-bono vocation has no monetary compensation, but described it as an act of charity in the defence of common humanity and things that matters in Nigeria.
Conceived by its President, Prof. Ernest Ojukwu (SAN), NULAI Nigeria Pro-bono dinner brought together pro-bono lawyers, Law clinics and partners working to improve and institutionalize a cycle of pre-trial detainee registration, representation and processing; with the aim to reduce overcrowding, improve prison conditions, enhance respect for human rights and support the implementation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
The aim was that together the stakeholders will review, reflect and explore how we can continue to transform our criminal justice system, create and sustain a pro-bono culture within the legal profession, and re-imagine law as a tool for collective liberation and social justice.
Earlier, the Project Officer at NULAI, Mr. Kenechukwu Agwu, gave an overview of the Reforming Detention in Kuje Project 2018-2020 which is done with strategic partners including: Nigeria Correctional Service, Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, Rule of Law Advisory Team, Office of the Vice President, Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee (ACJMC), FCT Judiciary, Nigeria Police (FCT Command), and Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
Agwu said the project which is funded by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) US Department of State to support Nigerian Government to achieve significant reduction in the size of pre-trial detention population in Kuje Prison.
He said the project is built on the Remand Indicators Project initiated and implemented by the Rule of Law Advisory Team (RoLAT) Office of the Vice President.
He said in the course of the work they have provided pro-bono legal services to hundreds of suspects including 123 families contacted, 10 people release on bail, 12 cases struck out and three convictions.