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Williams’ Withdrawal: Implications.

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Not too long ago, the Federal Military Government came up with the Foreign Exchange Anti-Sabotage Decree, which amongst other things, provided for a 5 year jail term for those guilty under the Decree.

The Press then came up with reports of billions of naira being involved in the exchange scandal and the public, speculating all sorts of names.

The Tribune, very wisely asked the Federal Military Government to publish the names of those involved, so that rumor mongers might keep quiet, but the Federal Military Government for its [unknown] reasons has not done so.

Nevertheless the Government’s stand on this latest Nigerian scandal is very commendable, but as Chief Williams said, the Decree is obnoxious and against set notions of justice.

In the first place as far back as 1962, there have been various legislations on Foreign Exchange. Under one of the Laws anybody who offends against it and is not prosecuted within 6 months shall be free.

So also does the Criminal Code cover certain aspects of the Decree which makes it unnecessary to repeat such provisions.

Furthermore, it rather is too wide a Law which may not encourage genuine international business transactions and might possibly catch some travelling honest Nigerians in its web.

The penalty it imposes is rather too stiff and does not allow for trial that may be considered fair.

As a law which has retrospective effect it raises another problem.

Nigeria being a common law country abides by the principle of judicial precedent, therefore when people act, they act according to the Laws which are already laid down and therefore will not anticipate any problem by not going against the law.

The question therefore arises, is it equitable and just to punish a man in 1977, for an act done in 1975 which then was lawful, but now is unlawful?

Will it also be just, for Mr. X, who had collected N10 per acre compensation in 1975, to ask for his balance of N90 in 1977 because a new Law for compensation increases the compensation rate to N100 per acre?

If the answer is negative as the writer thinks it, then the New Exchange Decree would appear to outrage conscience.

Decidedly, (Lakanmi & Anor V. Atton. Gen Western State and Eguarise V.U.A.C) the judiciary frowns at retrospective Laws, especially in Criminal Law cases.

Though, it is the case that Decrees is according to Constitution (Supremacy and Enforcement) Decree No. 28 of 1970 and Constitution (Basic Provisions) Decree No. 32 of 1975, are Supreme and can make and unmake. I am strongly convinced that it will be going beyond our limits, to make Laws which will do away with our Fundamental Human Right as enshrined in our 1963 Republican Constitution without any just cause.

The implication it seems of setting up Tribunals such as the one under consideration in any country means the Government is losing or has no confidence in its Judiciary.

One therefore will agree with Chief Williams’ withdrawal and speech at the Orojo Tribunal on principle and in Law.

But the occasion and timing of Chief Williams is questionable. Questionable because he had gone a long way with defending at the tribunal, the man on any Nigerian street will therefore believe that Chief Williams is trying to rescue his clients by the technicalities of the Law. It might be thought that he was trying to twist the law to suit his purpose that the Law is an Ass and the Lawyers are Liars!

To buttress my point, a one man demonstration asking for the continuation of the Tribunal was staged recently.

Chief Williams also said he has the backing of the Bar. I do not doubt Chief Williams’ integrity and therefore believe him. But such members of the Bar who took the step with him were equally irregular.

It may very well be then it was the members of the Bar that misled him or he misled them. For why has the Bar made him its mouth piece? Why has the Bar not come out with a strongly worded statement disagreeing with Exchange Control Decree ab initio?

If it had issued the statement ab initio then the situation would have been different. The Bar should be ashamed of itself for it may let the public lose confidence in it.

If the Federal Military Government does not bow as Acheampong did, the Lawyers might possibly withdraw from all the Law courts. Consequently, men will be tried without the aid of Legal representatives of their own choice as guaranteed in the 1963 constitution.

The International Commission of Jurist at Hague may then issue a statement condemning the Nigerian government for contravening the International Declaration for Human Rights and Freedom to which she was a signatory.

International pressure may also increase.

Whereas on the other hand, the masses may because of Chief Williams’ timing, support the Federal Military Government as evidenced by the one man demonstration.

And since the purpose of democracy is resting power on the elector’s will, and will therefore assert itself, the Federal Military Government may not bow; while the Lawyers knowing the danger in the Decree may also not retract from their stand. The consequence is that the country may become polarized.

Perhaps, the Federal Military Government, in the interest of justice and not necessarily bowing to the Lawyers’ will, may amend the Decree which is obviously stiff and unduly wide.

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