Posted by News Express | 15 April 2013 | 5,360 times
A Nigerian politician and journalist perceived by the country’s central government as an enemy of President Goodluck Jonathan has been offered free legal services by a prominent Nigerian lawyer based in the United States of America.
Mr. Cyriacus Njoku, a member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was suddenly charged with rape and detained after he proceeded to the Appeal Court in his bid to stop Jonathan from contesting the 2015 presidential ballot. Apart from Mr. Njoku’s ordeal, his lawyer, Mr. Ugochukwu Osuagwu, has successfully sought asylum in Germany based on alleged persecution by the Nigerian authorities in connection with the case.
For Njoku, however, there is fresh hope following the decision of the US-based Emeka Ugwuonye, President/CEO , Eculaw Group, to defend him free of charge.
“I would be planning to travel from Washington to Nigeria to represent Mr. Njoku. Whatever the consequence, I feel an urgent need to stand with this man at this time. There may be consequences for me, especially as the German Government has shown it believed that Nigerian Government persecuted Mr. Njoku’s former lawyer. I realize that the weapon Nigerian officials have used to control the people is the weapon of fear. But I am not afraid. I am eager to meet the Nigerian Government officials in court,” Ugwuonye, a Harvard-trained lawyer who has worked for the World Bank, among other international organisations, announced in a statement.
Below is the text of the statement entitled “Why I Offer to Represent Cyriacus Njoku Free of Charge”:
Mr. Cyriacus Njoku is a Nigerian politician and a journalist by profession. He is a member of the ruling party. He took it upon himself to challenge the eligibility of President Jonathan in the coming presidential election, which is an increasingly contentious political question in Nigeria today. In pursuing the matter in the Nigerian courts, Mr. Njoku hired as his lawyer Mr. Ugochukwu Osuagwu. That case has progressed to the Nigerian Court of Appeal. But then things assumed a bizarre dimension when Mr. Njoku’s lawyer ran into the German Embassy premises in Abuja seeking an asylum from Germany against persecution by Nigerian Government.
Asylum is a thorny issue in the diplomatic community, especially when the asylee seeks protection from a foreign embassy within the country he is fleeing from. Here, Germany, despite a history of congenial relationship with Nigerian Government, agreed that Mr. Osuagwu is a victim of political persecution and duly granted him and his family asylum, enabling them to move to Germany where they are now settling down as refugees. The action of the German Government in granting asylum is the first objective test of the validity of the allegations of persecution. For Germany to grant asylum under the circumstances, it must have been satisfied that there were credible grounds to believe that the Nigerian authorities had targeted the lawyer for representing Mr. Njoku.
Further, it is a legitimate constitutional question whether this President, having twice subscribed to the oath of office as the President of Nigeria, is thereby disqualified from running in the 2015 election, an event that might lead to him taking the oath of office for the third time. Regardless of what anyone may think, that is a weighty issue that ought to be definitively clarified by the highest court in the land. Therefore, Mr. Njoku is rendering an invaluable service to Nigeria by taking it upon himself to table that question before the courts. Rather than be upset with him, President Jonathan should award him a medal of honor for patriotism. But instead of a medal, he ironically gets the metal bars in prison.
On further consideration along the lines of strategic value, the lawsuit by Mr. Njoku on these constitutional controversies is of immense value to the political future of this President. If the President were able to defeat Mr. Njoku in the court of law, that would accord him and his next possible tenure a degree of legitimacy and moral capital that he would need to rule Nigeria beyond 2015. The President and his men ought to encourage Mr. Njoku, rather than hound him from pillar to post for daring to ventilate the issues in a court of law. Also, I must add that in an era when certain people, Boko Haram for example, seeking to challenge the Government have resorted to extra-judicial means, the Government ought to celebrate Mr. Njoku and hold him out as an example to follow on dispute resolution. It is totally unacceptable that he should be in trouble, instead.
I recall that a similar situation arose in 1999, when a group of Nigerian politicians explored the possibility of challenging in court General Olusegun Obasanjo’s candidacy in that year’s election on the ground that Obasanjo was an ex-convict. It is always a good thing when a person takes a controversy to the court for the clarification of the law.
It is from the above premise that one must approach the allegations of rape now being pursued by the Government against Mr. Njoku. This prosecution for rape appears consistent with the claim of persecution. Though the details of the rape charge are not yet fully out, it seems strange that none of this happened until Mr. Njoku became a “threat” to the plan for President Jonathan to run in the next election.
We are familiar with the brutal repression that Nigerian Government is capable of. I empathize with Mr. Njoku and his family for their ordeal. It is particularly disturbing that the Government of Nigerian should target his lawyer for persecution. The message is clearly aimed to intimidate Mr. Njoku and his lawyer and scare any other lawyer that he may hire to represent him. Naturally, most Nigerian lawyers considering representing Mr. Njoku will now fear for their lives, having seen what happened to the first lawyer. For that reason alone, I have no choice but to offer my services to Mr. Njoku. The ramifications of the behavior of the President and his men are profound. They are basically interfering with the people’s access to the courts of the land.
It is in consideration of these issues that I shall volunteer to represent Mr. Njoku as one of his counsel and help him regain his freedom. It may come with a touch of irony that as Mr. Njoku’s former lawyer in Nigeria was escaping from Nigeria to seek political asylum in Germany, I would be planning to travel from Washington to Nigeria to represent Mr. Njoku. Whatever the consequence, I feel an urgent need to stand with this man at this time. There may be consequences for me, especially as the German Government has shown it believed that Nigerian Government persecuted Mr. Njoku’s former lawyer. I realize that the weapon Nigerian officials have used to control the people is the weapon of fear. But I am not afraid. I am eager to meet the Nigerian Government officials in court. Let’s see what they’ve got.
Finally, we must not forget the due process implications of Mr. Njoku’s case. If indeed he has committed the offence of rape, he ought to have been arraigned and granted bail to enable to him prepare for his defence. These are rights that every human being is entitled to under the Constitution of Nigeria. To detain the man, and not arraign him and to deny him full access to his lawyers are egregious violations of important rights. With such a situation, every Nigerian lawyer that is able ought to step out in defence of the rights of the oppressed. I shall just do that.
•Photo: Emeka Ugwuonye will defend Cyriacus Njoku free of charge.
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