Sunday, November 30, 2014

A practitioner's view from Nigeria

The Guardian (Nigeria) has published this wide-ranging interview with civilian practitioner (and retired military lawyer) Paul Okohue. For example:
[Guardian] There are those who believe that civil courts are not competent to handle military cases. Do you share this standpoint?
[Okohue] Yes, civil courts are not competent jurisdictionally to handle military cases.  This is the reason why the Court Martials are in place to try military offences.  Hon. Justice Adamu Galinje JCA said in R/Adm. Francis Agbiti vs. Nigerian Navy that the Armed Forces Act is a law applicable to the members of the Armed Forces and that the Court (Civil Courts) must be careful in reading into the law and the rules of procedure inherent in the conduct of affairs of the members of Armed Forces to avoid the breed of indiscipline and bring about the destruction of established chain of command.  But what I will suggest is that cases coming on appeal either to the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court from Court Martials should have members of the Armed Forces as Assessors to direct the courts on the laws, rules and traditions as applicable in the Military circles. For instance, the Supreme Court had held that a Judge Advocate in a Court Martial is a prosecutor; the assessors would have been able to direct otherwise, or when the same Supreme Court held in R/Adm. Agbiti [(2011) 4 NWLR (pt. 1236) 175] that a Major General in the Army who attended the same training with R/Adm. Agbiti in the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) who were also running the same seniority was Junior to Admiral Agbiti because the promotion of Adm. Agbiti was published about five days before that of the Major General.  That was the basis of setting the Judgment of the Court of Appeal aside. Clearly in my view, an Assessor in the case would have been able to direct the court appropriately as to the traditions and practices in the Armed Forces as they relate to officers who passed out together from NDA but in different services and what obtains in their promotion prospect especially if none of them looses [sic] seniority.
Later in the interview Mr. Okohue predicts that the young mutineers who are currently under (mandatory) adjudged death sentences will not be executed "for the simple reason that we are in a democracy and the person at the helm of affairs in this country is a listening President with a humane heart." He also recommends that the Nigerian Constitution be amended to make it clear that a court-martial is a court of record.

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