Friday 15 July 2011

Editorial: Pressing for legal correctness in Nigeria

The Press or the Law?

This calls for a blog because it does beggar belief that matters of serious legal import in Nigeria are probably poorly researched but even more damning is how the press have not bothered to check the detail and correct the information received.

The presidential election results of the April 16th 2011 are being disputed by the opposition party and its principals at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja and I think that is a healthy development because it would either affirm the free, fair and credible elections or highlight the failings that might lead to a rebuke or even nullification of those elections.

The presiding judge has however decided that the ruling party has a case to answer [1] on the charges of election rigging and election irregularities putting aside the technicalities and making way for arguing the substantive case.

Sunday laws of business

One of the technicalities that ruling party attempted to have the case dismissed on was that the opposition party filed their petition on a Sunday which for all intents and purposes is not a working day in Nigeria.

However, the justice averred that the life-span of the tribunal allowed for its registry to conduct business on Sunday in order to expedite the petitioning process.

As with any legal argument, the use of precedent case law or acts of parliament does help buttress an argument put forward by a lawyer and one would hope that whatever is cited is correct so that it can be referenced for the sake of agreement, challenge or dispute, especially when such case law or acts might have been cited again in other proceedings and the judges have help different views of interpretation or the referenced view has been superseded by event, purpose, thinking, case law or legislation.

Wole Olanipekun (SAN) [2] is a senior advocate of Nigeria, the equivalent of which is Queen’s Counsel in the United Kingdom and he is counsel for the ruling party and the act he cited with regards to conducting no business on a Sunday was as reported by at least 6 Nigerian newspapers is the “Sunday of Servant Act of 1677.”

No such Act

That obviously piqued my curiosity, the phrase just looked too legalese to be passed off as real legalese so I conducted a Google Search [3] which left me less informed of what it really referred to and so I felt something was wrong.

There was a possibility that the court reporter heard him wrong, because there is an act that pertains to not doing business on Sundays but it is the Sunday Observance Act of 1677, in fact, there are 10 Sunday Observance Acts [4], the latest being in 1932 and there are other related Acts that amend or modify the Sunday shopping and business laws of which the counsel opportunistically chose one that would send everyone riffling through dusty legal tomes to ascertain the facts.

The earliest excerpt of the Act I can find is the Sunday Observance Act 1780 [5], the online legislative archive of the UK Parliament does reach as far back as 1267 only selected laws are documented until the 17th Century and hence the documented laws of 1677 do not include this Act.

Who was wrong?

The issue here has to be one of many from a legal heavyweight using obscure and rare legislation bamboozle the judicial process is laudable enough because it might suggest his chamber’s library is quite extensive and the chambers are given to research.

It the counsel put forth an incorrectly cited case law or Act, then that would be sacrilegious and it is unfortunate that neither the bench nor the reporters determined the citation was valid and applicable.

I however reserve the greater excoriation for the Nigerian press who on hearing the legal arguments did not bother to check the facts before publication if that was what was said at tribunal or if the court reporter did not seek clarification the newspapers either use one source or they plagiarise each other, none of which augurs well for Nigerian journalism.

Demand for improvement

The standards of journalism are just so appalling from the poor spelling, the lack of proofreading, the incorrect use of clich├ęs and the absence of fact checking.

Nigeria deserves a better standard of press media and journalism for its democracy to thrive but it starts with the fundamentals of good copy that demands good writing, information and hopefully a modicum of education.

In the end, one would hope there is a transcript of the tribunal proceedings to correctly apportion blame.


[1] | Jonathan and PDP must answer allegation of rigging, says Tribunal

[2] The Nation | Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN The dovish courtroom firebrand

[3] Google Search on Sunday of Servant Act of 1677

[4] UK Parliament Laws - Sunday Observance Acts

[5] Sunday Observance Act 1780

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