My brother, Adeyemi Sulaiman Abioye SuruLere, asked on his Facebook page yesterday why any lawyer would decide to defend Evans, touted as Nigeria’s most successful kidnapper, in court. Some of the comments under the post range from measured intelligent comments to very ridiculous ones. Some people have taken to the skewed logic that if the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, could be acquitted of the CCT charges, Evans should be freed as well. What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.
I won’t bother to go into the Saraki comparison in terms of the gravity of the allegations. Let us consider kidnapping. In Great Britain, it is defined by Lord Brandon in the 1984 case of R v D as “an attack on, and infringement of, the personal liberty of an individual…the offence contains four ingredients as follows: (1) the taking or carrying away of one person by another; (2) by force or fraud; (3) without the consent of the person taken or carried away; and (4) without lawful excuse.
A victim of kidnapping, as you can imagine, goes through unimaginable harrowing experiences. The worst is the uncertainty of if, when and how it is going to end. Recently some students of a school in Lagos were kidnapped. The parents paid some ransom yet the students are yet to be released. Now try and imagine the extreme trepidation of the parents. Those yelling FREE EVANS should imagine not being able to know the location of their children, wives, husbands, parents for a SINGLE NIGHT. The point is that Kidnapping is a heinous crime. It is in fact one of those crimes of concern tagged as crimes against humanity.
Now to the question posed by Prince Sulaiman. Yes, for the right fees or even for no fee at all (a lawyer may decide to go for the fame alone or a lawyer may be appointed from the Legal Aid Service), Evans The Kidnapper will DEFINITELY get lawyers to defend him in court. An explanation that will at least be reasonable to those finding any form of defence for him reprehensible is a rule in legal practice called the CAB RANK RULE. This rule came from the British transport tradition by which a cab driver at the front of the queue of taxicabs must take the passenger requesting a ride. He need not consider the appearance or identity of the passenger as long as he is the next on the queue.
Thus a lawyer is obliged to to accept any work in a field in which he profess himself competent to practice, at a court at which he normally appears, and at the usual fees. Without this kind of rule, and also the sacred presumption of innocence principle of our adversarial system of criminal justice, how will an unpopular person get legal representation in court?
Ok, let’s assume it’s a family member who is accused of serious crimes, won’t we get lawyers to represent his interests in court? Everyone, I repeat, everyone, is a potential criminal. In fact many of us have committed undetected crimes that would have led us to the gallows. Theft, rape, assaults, perjury (swearing affidavits to alter dates of birth) etc.
The way the system works is that the court affords an accused every opportunity to get a lawyer. If it is a crime punishable with death, the court MUST appoint a lawyer for the accused. Keep in mind that getting a lawyer doesn’t automatically translate to acquittal. The law simply demands that the prosecution has the onus to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
And don’t let us forget plea bargaining. What if the State offers Evans a deal? “Tell us the identities, locations and modus operandi of other kidnappers and you’ll get a light sentence”. The end of justice is not always about punishment. It is about stopping other crimes through deterrence, punishment and reformation. Has anyone watched the movie “Catch Me If You Can” featuring Leonardo Di Caprio as Frank Abagnale? The FBI turned a notorious fraudster into an employee helping to catch other fraudsters. And it was a huge success!
In jurisdictions like USA and Britain, police and other law enforcers are very meticulous in all aspects connected with detection, investigation and arrest of a suspect. The intelligence gathering and evidence gathering are always top-notch. The prosecutors too have a well-oiled engine to bring the criminal to book. There is no latitude for showmanship and exuberance that will vitiate the prosecution’s case.
Sadly in Nigeria, this is not the case. Cases are almost always lost at the police level. You know why? Every rule of evidence would have been flouted by the police in the process of arrest and detention. Already I see the Evans case on a “K Leg”. The police have turned his case into a spectacle. I have never seen the FBI turn a criminal to the media to give his confessions. Confessions of a suspect are to be recorded in his extrajudicial statement to the police not before TV cameras! The guns allegedly found in his house have been touched and carried by policemen wearing no gloves. The crime scenes are not cordoned off.
In the present circumstances, given his TV confessions, all his accomplices would have fled. Oga patapata don dey sing like canary. Even his captors have been taking selfies with him. Evans has confessed and is still talking about his operations without his lawyer being present. Lawyers in the house will agree with me that this is a violation of the recently passed ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT.
Our policemen should grow up. They should measure up to standard. They are bungling Evans case already. He can retract or repudiate all those badly extracted confessions. Good lawyers will savour those days in court when they will seek to move the court to declare the “evidence” inadmissible. The judge operates on legislations and precedents. He does not usually have a mind of his own except his power to interpret the laws. No matter how a judge personally feels, he has to err on the side of the law not public opinion.
Whether Evans will be killed or freed is a question of conjecture. Nothing is sure.
Will he get a lawyer? Sure. Kidnapping carries the death penalty. At worst, the court itself will appoint a lawyer for him.