Removal of Justice U. John as Publicity Secretary/Member YLF, NBA Lagos: Clarification
My attention has been drawn to a publication wherein the NBA Lagos Branch Chairman, Mr. Chukwuka Ikwuazom gave reason for my removal as Publicity Secretary/Member of the YLF Lagos, as “insubordination”. I now wish to set the record straight once for all.
At about 9pm on Saturday, 7th July 2018, I received a text message and a whatsapp mail from Mr. Ikwuazom simultaneously, notifying me of my immediate removal as Publicity Secretary of the YLF NBA Lagos Branch. I had decided to keep my cool but for the later publication by Mr. Ikwuazom where he made some allegations against my person and character which I have considered pertinent to clarify, for posterity and reference purpose and this is not an appeal to Mr. Ikwuazom for reinstatement.
Firstly, Mr. Ikwuazom in the said publication stated that he had called a meeting of the YLF Executive Committee over three (3) months past and “that others attended but Justice U. John stayed away from the meeting”. I wish to state unequivocally that the said meeting (which I was unavoidably absent from) had three (3) others absent (without any prior notice, one of whom works in the office of Mr. Ikwuazom). Mr. Ikwuazom obviously missed that part. Mr. Ikwuazom admitted missing several of my calls on the said day. Yet I was singled out three months later.
Secondly, Mr. Ikwuazom in the said publication hinged my removal on my participation in the petition by “Concerned Young Lawyers”, dated 6th July, 2018, to the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State over the recent police brutality against a Young Lawyer/Colleague of the NBA Lagos by men/officers of the Nigerian Police Force attached to Lion Building Police Station, Lagos Island. Mr. Ikwuazom further stated that fourteen (14) Young Lawyers some of which are members of the Exco of the YLF, co-signed the petition. Yet I was singled out.
Thirdly, Mr. Ikwuazom also mentioned that I had insulted a female colleague on the YLF platform. It is important to state that sometime in February, 2018 there was a dispute on the YLF Lagos platform, bothering on how I (as the Administrator) had expressed my displeasure over the comment of a female colleague on the platform. I was reprimanded by members and served a punishment of suspension for three (3) days from the platform. This fact can be verified from any member of the YLF.
Fourthly, the claim by Chukwuka Ikwuazom, Esq. that I got my friends from the YLF to abuse the Executive is an unfounded allegation. I Challenge him to the strictest proof.
It is necessary to observe that the purported release by the Branch Exco of Saturday, 7th July, 2018, condemning the action of the “Concerned Young Lawyers” bravery in speaking up against the dastardly act of two officers of the Nigerian Police Force, (whilst the YLF leadership continued in slumber and remained uncommunicating), was greeted with resentment from members of the YLF. Mr. Ikwuazom silenced the point that only rejoinders flowing from the said Exco release was posted on the NBA Lagos Branch platform for the attention of the branch. This fact is also verifiable.
NOW, THIS IS MY CRIME:
On Tuesday, 3rd July, 2018 while in Ondo State on medical, I saw a video making round on the YLF Lagos WhatsApp platform, showing a certain young man (whom I later got to know to be Mr. Olakunle Karimu and a member of the YLF Lagos) being manhandled and threatened at gun point, in broad day and in the full glare of the public, by men/officers of the Nigerian Police Force attached with Lion Building Police Station, Lagos Island.
I thereafter called the Chairperson of the NBA Lagos YLF, Ms. Derinsola Fagbure, intimated her of this development (which she claimed not to be aware of) and informed her I was out of town on medical. Lackadaisically and unperturbed in her usual manner (a fact ascertainable by majority members of the YLF, Lagos), She immediately excused herself and requested to call be back; I am still waiting for that call.
When it became clear that nothing (as usual) would be done about this situation, not even a statement by the leadership of the Lagos YLF as was done by our sister forum, the YLF, Ikeja Branch, was imminent, a few members volunteered on my request to put heads together and take a step independent of the YLF.
This resolution birthed the now “famous” Petition to the COP, Lagos Command by “Concerned Young Lawyers”.
There is no gainsaying that the spate of police brutality on innocent civilians and more recently, lawyers is alarming and no concerted effort at addressing this or at least escalating other pressing issues of welfare of Young Lawyers to the appropriate quarters by the YLF leadership.
Following therefore, myself and other volunteers drew up a strongly worded petition titled: “Police Brutality, Onslaught And Threat to Life Against Mr. Olakunle Karimu, By Two (2) Officers Attached To The Divisional Police Station, Lion Building, Onikan Lagos”, dated 5th July, 2018 and addressed to the Commissioner of Police wherein the following demands were made, to wit:
1. That the erring Officers be immediately suspended pending further decisive administrative actions.
2. That a press release be made by the State Command Headquarters condemning barbaric act by the officers and an apology be tendered to the Nigerian Bar Association and the victim in particular; the said apology shall also be published in the official twitter handle of the Nigerian Police Force.
3. That a public apology by the affected officers be made and addressed to the victim; same published in at least two (2) national dailies.
Three (3) days ultimatum was given for the all the above demands to be met; failure of which a Fundamental Right Enforcement Procedure will be instituted. The Inspector General of Police and The Chairman Police Service Commission were also in copy.
The petition was signed by twelve (12) available volunteer “Concerned Young Lawyers”, in our individual names and capacities without without acting for or on behalf of the Lagos Branch/YLF Lagos; we merely stated that we are members of the Nigerian Bar Association and residents of Lagos State. We had proposed to deliver the petition on Thursday 5th July but owing to a few logistics set back, the petition was delivered on Friday, 6th July, 2018, at the office of the Lagos State Commissioner of Police. Document is already in the public domain.
On Saturday 7th July, 2018, the Lagos Branch Executive issued a statement lashing out heavily on the “Concerned Young Lawyers” for their bravery against a common and over indulged injustice. Following the said release, which was originally posted on the Branch Platform and subsequently shared on the YLF platform by another colleague, many reactions trailed it and some members of the YLF opted for rejoinders. These rejoinders were shared on the Branch platform for the attention of the Branch Executives against her unpopular decision. The question on my lips is; since when did dissenting, views become treasonable for lawyers? I was subsequently removed from the platform by the Branch Publicity Secretary, at about 8pm and I thereafter, I received a text from Mr. Ikwuazom, notifying me of my immediate removal as Publicity Secretary/Member of the YLF Lagos Branch.
Firstly, Mr. Ikwuazom has attempted albeit without success to argue (in one of his rejoinders) that by virtue of the NBA Uniform Bye Laws, he as the Branch Chairman is the spokesperson on all branch affairs. Quite sadly, the position of the Mr. Ikwuazom cannot rub off the private right (right to freedom expression) by an individual member and more particularly, the victim or his representatives over personal wrongs; Reliance is placed on Sections 39 (1) & 1 (1) (3), Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). The sections are reproduced hereunder:
39(1) “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”
1 (1) “This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria”
(3) “If any law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, the Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void”.
As much as I do not contest Mr. Ikwuazom’s role as a spokesperson, I am submitting that the NBA Uniform Bye Laws do not and cannot empower Mr. Ikwuazom over personal rights, liberties and/or breaches against an individual, simply because such person is a member of the Branch. The Police did not brutalize the “Lagos Branch” but Mr. Olakunle Karimu. The action is personal and the Concerned Young Lawyers acted with the express consent of the victim. This is a verifiable fact.
Furthermore, by our training as lawyers and ministers in the temple of Justice, it behooves on us to hold on to the tenets of justice and not make a mockery of same.
Mr. Ikwuazom in his defense stated that hence I was appointed, he reserved the right to remove me at will. I find this reasoning rather uncourteous for the singular reason that Mr. Ikwuazom had in his publication stated that I was removed for “insubordination” but no opportunity was offered me to at least state my case or even put up my defense (if any). Yet, lawyers will be first to recite the Twin pillars of Justice; “Audi alteram partem” & “Nemo judex in causa sua”
It need be further stressed that I neither got any call, message, mail nor was any query issued to me in for the said “insubordination” prior to receiving the text from Mr. Ikwuazom and up until this moment. One would have expected the courtesy of fair hearing for whatever it was worth. I am submitting that fundamentally, fair hearing within reasonable time before such administrative action was taken would have been a good place. I refer to Section 36 (1) CFRN 1999 (as amended).
It would appear that there was indeed more than meets the eye respecting the action of Mr. Ikwuazom giving that the points he raised were unsustainable.
As I conclude, I wish to state that this is my one for all comment/response on this issue. It became imperative just so my story is no wrongly told.
I have no regret for defending the cause for which I believe even as I wish the NBA Lagos YLF all the best.
Justice Uchechukwu John, Esq.
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