Ondo Lawyers Protest Over Tax Issue For Conditional Approval Of Bail Application
The Nigerian Bar Association, in Akure, the Ondo State Capital, is in a show down with the state government. It is over a circular letter directing that a pre-condition for perfection of all bail application, shall now include the production of evidence of tax payments.
The Chief Registrar of the State High Court issued the letter with the reference Number, CROD/0012/01/61, and addressed to all Magistrates and Registrars of the State High Courts, and Magistrates.
“I have been directed to inform you that henceforth, a pre-condition for approval/perfection of all bail applications shall, among others, include the production of evidence of payment of tax for the current year, or tax clearance by the surety/sureties'.
“Members of the Association at a peaceful protest today, within the premises of the State High Court of Justice, in Akure, gathered to condemn the decision of the government on the circulated letter.
“Armed with placards which reads and contains several inscriptions, and the chanting of solidarity songs, they described the directive as “draconian and unconstitutional,” to any accused person having cases, or standing trials in any Magistrate or High Court of Justice, in the state,” the statement read in part.
The Lawyers were angered with the style of leadership in the state; with a condemnation that the judiciary should not be seen has 'tax collectors'.
They also don't want members of the Bar to be compromised, at the expense of the common man.
The protesting lawyers said the Judiciary should be seen as “the last hope for the common man,” and warned the state government to stop its attempt in compromising members of the Bar.
"The rich can use the situation at hand, to punish the poor, by bringing frivolous charges against an accused person in court.
"The poor man will be in prison custody for years because he will be unable to perfect the imposed conditions of bail," the statement continued.
Lawrence Dare, Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), in the Akure branch, disclosed that members of the Bar are seriously against the circular letter because its not a practiced direction issues signed by the Chief judge of the state.
Mr. Lawrence Dare said that Magistrate Courts are governed by Magistrate Courts Law of Ondo state, and not by a mere circular letter, and added that bail should not be used as ‘a source of revenue’ to the government.
"Bail is a constitutional right. It cannot be used as punishment to an accused person. Attendance of an accused person in court is the essence of bail," Lawrence Dare said.
The NBA chair expressed fear that the state government is harnessing every possible opportunity of issue to tax to every resident in the state.
Rotimi Olorunfemi, the Secretary of the Branch, stated that members of the Association will never succumb to such a directive.
Olorunfemi added that the state government tender to put ‘blind eyes on the congested and over populated situation’ of prisons in the state exacerbates an already complex matter.
"Prisons are now congested in Ondo State. It is the duty of the Chief Judge to decongest prisons, and not to take any step that will lead to otherwise.
"Many accused persons, including elderly ones, will now die in prison custody for the offences that they may not be found guilty, at the end of their trail," Olorunfemi said.
Morakinyo Ogele, a Human Rights Lawyer, berated the circular, with an opinion that it will ‘license Police Officers’ to extort huge amounts of money from suspects in their custody.
"The suspects who know that he may be in prison custody for months, will be forced to pay (a) heavy sum for bail, and a settlement at the police station," Ogele opined.
Charles Titiloye, an Akure based Lawyer and activist, accused the state governor of having plans to turn Ondo State ‘into a police state’ with such directive.
Titiloye said the directive is going to be ‘an avenue for the ruling political party’ to cause their opponents to be arrested, and detained, on frivolous charges mostly during elections.
He said all members of the bar will “not accept the directive,” and described it as “unconstitutional, null and void” for a chief judge to impose such conditions of bail to his learned brother judges.
The lawyers have now vowed to boycott all court proceedings from today, the 11th of June 2014, and issued a three day ultimatum for the Chief Registrar of the court with withdraw the circular letter.
A statement issued by the Association, obtained by SaharaReporters, was also copied to the Governor, and the Attorney General, and the Commissioner for Justice in the state, with a threat to “ground judiciary activities” as the week progresses.