THE PUBLISHER OF EVERGREEN NEWSPAPER AND ONLINE MEDIA, REV. ENGR. EMMANUEL NWAEZE, ACCOMPANIED BY REGIONAL EDITOR DR KELLY IHETU, SECRETARY SUSSAN OGADINMA AND SENIOR REPORTER MBAOMA CHISOM WITH CREW MEMBERS VISITED CHIEF C.O.C AKAOLISA, (ATTORNEY-GENERAL AND COMMISSIONER FOR JUSTICE IMO STATE) AT HIS OFFICE, STATE SECRETARIAT, NEW OWERRI, IMO STATE, NIGERIA AT 3:00 PM GMT +1.
Within the interview, CHIEF C.O.C AKAOLISA bared his thought on bringing social justice and fairness to Ndi Imo
SOCIAL JUSTICE AND FAIRNESS TO NDI IMO
…CHIEF C.O.C AKAOLISA
- CAN WE MEET YOU OFFICIALLY SIR?
Ans: I am Chief C.O.C Akaolisa the Honorable Attorney General and Commissioner for Justices Imo State.
- SIR, WHEN WERE YOU APPOINTED AS THE HONORABLE COMMISSIONER OF THIS ADMINISTRATION?
Ans: precisely after the Supreme Court judgment that ushered in this administration that was on the 14th of January we came back and the governor was immediately sworn in. After the swearing-in of His Excellency, in the same end of January three of us were appointed. The Chief of Staff, The Secretary to The State Government and myself.
- SIR, WE KNOW YOU WERE APPOINTED BY REASON OF YOUR PEDIGREE AS A RENOWNED JURIST, EDUCATIONIST AND YOUR LOYALTY TO THE PARTY CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR CAREER?
Ans: I have been in practice as a lawyer and politician for the past 35 years, I have combined both politics and my practice at the bar, I have never stopped practising except for the time I was in the government of Chief Achike Udenwa which was 1999-2002 and the time I spent as TC Chairman of Orsu Local Government during the period of Ikedi’s administration in 2010-2011. So apart from this times I have always been in my legal practice, but essentially, being in party politics I was the state legal adviser of S.D.P during the transition of Babangida the first transition to civilian rule, later I was also the state legal adviser of P.D.P in Imo state.
- SIR, CAN YOU TELL US THE ACTIVITIES OF YOUR MINISTRY WITH REGARDS TO ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE TO THE CITIZENS OF NDI IMO?
Ans: when we were sworn in, I made it clear that this administration focuses its attention on the liberty of her citizens and that we attach a great premium to the establishment of social justice and fairness. Personally, I have been an advocate of social justice and I am in pain when I see ordinary citizen who is being harassed, intimidated, and incarcerated for offences they did not commit and with my experience and profession as a lawyer at the bar, I observed that most people you see in police custody or awaiting trial in prison, 45% of them are innocent. Our people have formed this bad character or conduct of framing cases against innocent people using the police to rope them into crime, into an accusation of corrupt and criminal activities and dumping them in the cell.
As a lawyer, we are confronted with this situation everyday but because of our justice system where once you hang an accusation of murder, kidnap and robbery on a person the court doesn’t pay attention into finding out the main details of what happened, so once those allegations are brought, the person is charged before the court and the next thing the magistrate will do is to send the person to the A.T.M because she doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear such cases. In most cases, those matters come up where there is a crisis or where people are facing land matters.
Been here as attorney general I think one of the major assignment of an attorney general and chief law officer of a state is to ensure that there is fairness and social justices in the state because, in this ministry, we have a department for social justice and fairness. Their work is to identify cases of this nature were citizens right are been trampled upon, where people are put into detention for long without trial so we receive a petition from such people. From day one I sent a signal out that it will no longer be business as usual and that our priority here is to ensure that there are social justice and fairness to the ordinary Imo citizens.
While I was trying to draw my schedule on how to confront this issue, I learnt that a bill has already been sent out to The House of Assembly, that bill is on the administration of criminal justice law. Which law is a replica of the administration of criminal justice act that has been powered by the National Assembly, the essence of that law is to speed up the process of criminal justice, by removing all the hiccups and obstacle that will impede the due and speedy administration of the justice So Imo State has adopted that law, pass it, and it is now within Imo as one of our laws.
Now as the new attorney general and commissioner for justice, we have received the law, internalizes it and we will make sure that after this coronavirus we will have means to expand it and ensure that every prosecutor, magistrate and judges have it and content of that law is to make administration of justice fast and easy for everybody both the accused and the complainant. This will frustrate the idea of keeping someone in detention without trial, in other not to make unnecessary allegations without facts, so that the judges we have a template upon which to make sure that there is speedy administration of justice.
This is the reason am happy because am coming with this vision to make sure there is fair play in the administration of justice and I have this law which will aid me to do that, so am excited because am now left to supervise and ensure the operators of the law of the justice system in Imo obey the law to ensure speedy trial and dispensation of justice.
We also received signal from the Presidency on the decongestion of the correctional centres, and before I came we did not have a prerogative of mercy committee, amnesty, and state committee on the prerogative of mercy so I speedily proposed to the Governor and he listened to me, we made a proposal and the appointed members of the committee.
The members of the committee received input from the prison warden that they want the governor to release based on the conduct of the inmates who are close to the expiration of their sentences, some offenders who could not pay the relevant fine for their offences, and others whose terms of imprisonment remain just a little for them to go like 6 months or 3 months for them to finish serving their sentence so they recommend that we release them. Then other inmates that are old, sick and those who have spent 75% of their terms of imprisonment. These are convicted inmates not awaiting trials so the Governor prerogative of mercy can only apply to those who have been convicted so that he will grant them pardon. We had nothing to do with the A.T.M (those awaiting trial).
In the Owerri correctional centre, we have over 2600 awaiting trial inmates and we have only 610 convicted inmates so you now see where the problem is. Cases are framed up and people are dumped into the prison because we don’t have the constitutional authority to release those awaiting trial because their case is before the court the judges have the sole right to release them unconditionally, those that have cases to answer but their cases are not going on due to delay or their case file are missing they should be released. The Chief Judge has been on that since Monday and a lot of people have been released and is ongoing and the high court has been assigned to sit and grant bail to those that deserved bail and those that are sick. To that extent I know we are doing well and trying to make sure that a lot of people who are not supposed to be in the correctional centre are not there and we will continue to do that because am convinced that a lot of people among the 2600 number are innocent and should not be there.
- WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES YOU ARE FACING IN YOUR MINISTRY?
Ans: The Ministry of Justice is a very serious ministry, we are confronted with a lot of litigation because of the recklessness of the former administration of Rochas okorocha were peoples properties were taking over without lawful justification, and people’s properties were damaged without compensation. So the first thing I was confronted with as the commissioner was a lot of cases in court against the government, a lot of judgment against the government and these are matters that citizens were filing against the government. What do we do?
Those that have these cases went to court against the government. Were they wrong? Did the past government have the right to do the things they did We are all Imo citizens and we know the last administration was reckless. If you want to acquire someone’s land you must follow due process for acquisition. But most of the cases we have here where case where there was no due process compliance. So we have to talk to the people and adopt dialogue as a means of trying to settle most of these matters so I have set up a committee. An alternative dispute resolution and we have invited all those who have their matter in court. even those who have the judgment to please come we are all Imo Citizen, and our hands are open if you have a case against the government we didn’t cause it, whatever happened in the past we are not responsible for it. So we are asking you all, to come let us sit down and dialogue on the matter. So that’s the biggest challenge we have. But in the aspect of criminal cases in the court, we are also facing it
- IN THIS AREA YOU HAVE MENTIONED OUT VERY IMPORTANT THINGS YOUR ADMINISTRATION WERE ABLE TO DO. CAN YOU CATEGORICALLY TELL THE PEOPLE TODAY YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS SO FAR AS THE COMMISSIONER FOR JUSTICE IN IMO STATE IN THIS 100 DAYS IN OFFICE?
Ans As the attorney general what I will consider my first achievement is that I have been able to look at the structure of the ministry of justice and try to put things in order here, talk to staff, relate with them in a way they will understand me as a lawyer coming to work with them to achieve our purpose of being here and am happy about their response towards me. We have gone to the DPP office at former high court area and I discovered that the place is not conducive for any human being to stay and work. I have applied to the Governor and he has granted permission to move the entire DPP out of the place and bring them to this particular ministry and in a few days time will we pull down that formal DPP section and the governor will start the reconstruction of a new ministry of justice at that site and we are sending the proposals to the appropriate ministry of works for them to start the process since the governor has approved it. Am sure the executive council will approve it too. So in the next couple of months am sure we would have a brand new ministry of justice where lawyers would have a conducive atmosphere to do their work.
When I also came here I was confronted with the backlog, unpaid salaries of judiciary staff, unpaid allowances of retired judges and a lot of their benefits were not paid to them but through collaboration with the acting chief judge, the governor has been able to approve and paid off those retired judges who were owed pension and gratuity. They have all been paid. And last week the governor approves the payment of stamp and seal for all staff of the ministry of justice. So the government has paid for the entire lawyers this year. We look forward to providing a better standard of practice condition for everybody in this ministry of justice so they can be motivated to do their work and we are providing a level of social justice in Imo state through the administration of justice. We also ensure that those who are practising and those who administer the machinery of justice are comfortable to be able to guarantee that social justice and fairness will reign in Imo state.
- WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO NDI IMO WITH REGARDS TO COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The government confronted coronavirus pandemic with all sense of responsibility. It is not easy to claim that what we put in place made it possible for the coronavirus pandemic not to be so much here. We have only two cases in Imo state. We will say when a government is put in place by God; the same God will provide the foundation upon which there will be good governance. But some people are finding it difficult to still understand that this government is put in here by God and that same God is making sure there is no coronavirus in Imo state. Imo people are enjoying the benefit of Gods divine hand in the governance of Imo that is why there is no coronavirus in Imo state and it will continue like that.
So my advice to Ndi Imo is to continue to support and pray for this Administration of Senator Hope Uzodinma because he means well for his people, he has come to serve and doesn’t need to make money from this Administration God has placed in his hand. He is here to serve the people and I know he has a covenant with God to make sure he delivers all his promise to God and that is why I am here with him.