REWANE THREE AND OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM
The recent discharge and acquittal of two men who had been on trial for 15 years over the 1995 murder of Pa Alfred Rewane, a chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), has once again highlighted the gross injustice of the nation's tardy judicial administration system.
Justice Olusola Williams of the Lagos High Court found the last two of eight suspects arrested for the crime - Effiong Elemi-Edu and Lucky Igbinovia - not guilty.
She expressed the conviction of the court that the men were just picked up from the vicinity of the crime by the police and charged, when there was no evidence linking them with the crime, except a confessional statement which was incontrovertibly obtained under duress.
Five of the men earlier charged with the crime died in prison, while the eighth - Elvis Irenuma - was released last year, also after acquittal by a court when no case was established against him. The injustice against the eight men arrested for the Rewane murder is galling. Five men lost their lives for no just cause while three were made to lose 15 years of their active lives. This is wickedness for which they should be compensated. Indiscriminate arrest of innocent persons at crime scenes is one of the noxious habits of the Nigerian Police.
The situation is exacerbated by the slow pace of justice administration in the courts, which leads to detention of oftentimes innocent awaiting trial inmates for years on end, thereby congesting the prisons. The anomaly is responsible for the situation in which about 70 percent of the nation's prison inmates have not been convicted of any crime. This is unfair to innocent persons who are arrested without any concrete evidence of wrongdoing.
The police need to be better trained on investigation methods. It is unfair to arrest people indiscriminately at crime scenes, and get them remanded in prison, without any evidence against them. Police prosecutors should be lawyers who have been specially trained for the job. Directors of Public Prosecution (DPP) who give the legal advice to prosecute are often overstretched because of the sheer volume of cases before them. The public officials in charge of prosecution should be beefed up so that they are not overwhelmed by the volume of cases they have to handle.
Our court administration system should be accelerated. The case against the discharged men reportedly suffered 250 adjournments and passed through five judges. Frequent transfers of judges also contribute to the problem as cases are oftentimes re-started afresh whenever a judge is transferred. We advise that the National Assembly should enact a law to stipulate the number of years a person could stand trial for offences without conviction. It is decidedly unfair to imprison anyone for 15 years when he has not been found guilty of any offence.
The judges should be careful to ensure that the giving of remand orders is not abused. Some people detained in prisons have no case files. Some are incarcerated unlawfully, and lumped in the same cells with hardened criminals. This should not be so. We commend the lawyers whose persistence and commitment to the resolution of the case led to the discharge of the three. If they had not remained fastidious in pursuit of justice for them, the three would have died in prison.
Now that they have been released, they deserve to be compensated for the wasted years and lost opportunities. The Federal Government should give them commensurate compensation, otherwise, they should go to court and seek damages for unjust incarceration. Both the three lucky survivors and the families of the five who died should be generously compensated. The released men need every help they can get to find their feet in life.
Now that the last three detainees in the Rewane case have been discharged, the question still remains, who killed Pa Rewane? The murdered elder statesman should not die without the unravelling of those behind his assassination. The late nationalist needs justice. His family deserves justice. For him to die without anyone held responsible or punished for the crime is unacceptable. It is a disgrace to our police and the legal system as a whole. The present situation calls for the re-opening of the investigation into the murder.
The investigation of other unresolved murders too should remain open for as long as they are not resolved. The police should, especially, look at the political dimension of the Rewane murder. Nigeria must do the right thing in the case of the Rewane Three. The government should pay and be seen to have paid so that our criminal justice system can learn something from the incident.
We call for more diligence and commitment to prompt administration of justice by the police, the courts and the prisons. It is not good to have so much injustice in the court of justice, which is what happens when a case lingers for this long before it is resolved.