Femi Falana (SAN), foremost human rights lawyer in Nigeria, has condemned the Nigerian bar and bench as well as the criminal justice system for working in favour of the rich as against poor Nigerians.
Speaking at the 2019 law week of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Epe branch, Lagos state, Falana stated that the Nigeria judicial system treats the rich with respect, presuming them innocent of all criminal activities until proven guilty.
The veteran lawyer also said that the anti-graft agencies in the country are part of the problem because they are yet to secure the convict many high profile cases.
Falana stated that “By virtue of section 17 (2) (a) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law.
“But in practice, the rich and poor defendants are not treated equally by Nigerian courts. Apart from the fact that rich litigants have the means to hire the services of the best lawyers in any area of the law, the courts are manned by judges who are not neutral in the class struggle being waged daily by the Nigerian people.”
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria noted that apart from two former governors, Messrs Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, other convicted persons are lowly-placed individuals in the society.
“Notwithstanding that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been accused by the bourgeois media of engaging in Gestapo tactics with respect to the treatment of suspects, it cannot be denied that the rights of influential criminal suspects are well respected by the commission,” he said.
Falana also posited that rich defendants have continued to frustrate their prosecution with the connivance of some senior lawyers adding that rich suspects do apply to be kept in EFCC’s cells rather than police and prison cells.
He said: “The big men and women implicated in allegations of serious economic crimes being investigated by the commission usually receive polite letters of invitation, telephone calls or text messages advising them to contact named investigators whose telephone numbers are supplied.
“If and whenever influential criminal suspects report themselves they are treated with the utmost courtesy by the investigators. Since they are presumed innocent until they are proved guilty by the State they are never paraded before the media, regardless of the gravity of the offence committed by them.”
He urged the Nigerian judicial system to follow the pattern obtained in Western countries where the rich and the poor are treated equally before the law.
“Unlike what obtains in western countries it is infra dignitate to subject big men and women to the restraint of handcuff in Nigeria. Hence, hell was let loose when a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party on trial for money laundering was recently handcuffed by the Kuje prison authorities.