Re-Dignifying the Nigerian Legal Profession: An Antidote to Police Brutality Against Lawyers -By Jonathan Taidi
The issue of police misconduct and brutality against lawyers is not new, but it has certainly taken a dramatic turn for the worse. The rate at which lawyers are being harassed, manhandled and brutalized by law enforcement agents, particularly men of the Nigeria Police Force, has escalated to alarming proportions and must bother anyone who cares for due process or the well-being of lawyers and the legal profession.
Given the enviable position of the judiciary as the third arm of government and the cherished domain of members of the legal profession, a lawyer, as a minister in the temple of justice, is indispensable in the enthronement of the rule of law and justice in the Nigerian society and the world at large.
The antagonism which often leads the police to brutalise lawyers in this country often stems from the way and manner men of the Nigeria Police Force carry out their duties as they relate to suspects and the lawyers mandated to defend them. Their modus operandi is not only cruel and illegal, it is often inhuman.
It is a notorious fact, known to all and sundry, that men of the Nigeria Police Force, in flagrant violation of all democratic norms, often times, unleash unnecessary violence and brutality on suspects during arrests and detention. Lawyers naturally frown at this practice when their clients are victims of such cruelty, and they feel duty bound to confront the police over such excessive use of force.
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The police officers in turn misread this as an affront to their person and office and react by harassing the lawyer. Several lawyers, who are oftentimes junior lawyers, have been victims of violence in the hands of policemen and we have seen situations where lawyers were beaten to pulp like common criminals.
There is no doubt that this type of conduct by police officers is unconstitutional, illegal and contrary to their training.
THE WAY FORWARD
The legal profession today stands at a crossroad. There is no gainsaying the fact that police brutality has resulted in loss of public confidence in lawyers. It appears now that professional virtues like dignity and nobility have lost their pride of place in the legal profession in Nigeria.
In essence, police brutality has ensured that these are no longer part of the cherished principles or even achievable goals for many lawyers.
We must therefore strive to re-dignify the legal profession, as a matter of urgency, by adopting the following measures:
1. Recently, a Joint Committee on human rights and the rule of law was set up by the Inspector General of Police and the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association. Undoubtedly, this will go a long way in stimulating that critical interface between law enforcers and officers of the law. However, similar interface is desirable at the state and divisional levels. Indeed, the 125 branches of the Nigerian Bar Association should be required to set up channels for similar interface.
2. Erring officers found culpable in acts of brutality should be investigated and where found wanting meted with appropriate punishments to serve as deterrence to those who harbor similarly brutal tendencies.
3. There is the need to activate a channel through which lawyers suspected of flouting rules or infractions are invited to meet with law enforcement agents instead of the ugly trend where lawyers are being assaulted by the police.
This is the time to restore our dignity and the nobility of a profession that law enforcement agents have trampled underground.
Jonathan Gunu Taidi, Esq.
7th September, 2021