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Dangerous: Prof. Sagay recommends prosecution for lawyers who defend supposed corrupt persons

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Dangerous: Prof. Sagay recommends prosecution for lawyers who defend supposed corrupt persons

Professor Itse Sagay, chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), offered a disturbing suggestion at a lecture in Lagos on Tuesday. “The police and anti-graft agencies should investigate lawyers who receive proceeds of crime as fees,” he said.

That’s a dangerous suggestion! You would think that Sagay, a well regarded professor of law, should know better than that. His recommendation goes against the fundamental tenets of justice and fairness upon which our justice system is based.

Every accused person is innocent until proven guilty and Section 36 of the Nigerian constitution guarantees an accused person the right to a free and fair trial. This constitutional safeguard is crucial to the administration of justice, no matter our personal disgust at the men and women who loot our treasury.

In Sagay’s speech entitled ‘The many afflictions of anti-corruption crusade in Nigeria’, he said “These SANs deserve the harshest punishment of all. Anti-graft agencies and the police must monitor and investigate the activities of lawyers who receive a share of the proceeds of crime as their fees.”

Sagay is wrong. He made a good point in that same speech when he noted that, “The anti-corruption struggle is like a long distance race. It cannot be concluded overnight.” However, his recommendation shows he is looking for a fly-by-night solution, an inept nonsensical one.

To reiterate: All accused persons have the right to an attorney and the assistance of a counsel. This is not only a constitutional point but a point made in several international treaties to which Nigeria is signatory.

In his memoir, ‘Sympathy for the devil’, famed U.S. defense lawyer, John Henry Browne who defended some terrible criminals including the serial killer Ted Bundy, recounts a conversation he had with his father. According to Browne, “My father once said: ‘To keep our society free and democratic, someone has to do your job and do it well.’ Then he paused and said: ‘I’m just really sorry it’s you.”

Sagay should take that as food for thought.

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