Imo people were outraged last week when the contents of the new Imo State Administration of Criminal Justice Law Number 2 of 2020 became topical. The ISACJL is the domestication of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 as enacted by the national assembly. The bill for the Imo State Administration of Criminal Justice Law was introduced by Hon. Frank Ugboma, the member representing Oguta State Constituency in 2019, introducing several novelties. The bill was passed into law in March 2020 and was assented to by the Governor subsequently, and among other things seeks to provide quick dispensation of justice and a better administration of justice system in the state. Other innovation in the new law are that a person hitherto described as the accused will now be described as the defendant. It also illegalizes the use of force by the police to extract confessionary statements, protects juvenile offenders and people of unsound mind, etcetera.
As lofty as the innovations in the ISACJL appear, the public was outraged that the law contains seemingly offensive sections, such as the section 38, subsection 484, 485 (1), (2) and (3): “Where any person is ordered to be detained during the Governor’s pleasure he shall notwithstanding anything in this Law or in any other written law contained be liable to be detained in such place and under such conditions as the Governor may direct and whilst so detained shall be deemed to be in legal custody…A person detained during the Governor’s pleasure may at any time be discharged by the Governor on license…A license under subsection (1) of this section may be in such form and may contain such conditions as the Governor may direct…A license under this section may at any time be revoked or varied by the Governor and where license has been revoked or varied the person to whom the license relates shall proceed to such place as the Governor may direct and if he fails to do so, may be arrested without warrant and taken to such place.” We are told that the seemingly offensive sections of the Law, especially section 484, is said to be a reproduction of section 401 of the Criminal Procedure Law of 1960, that gives direction to sections 230, 235,328 and 368 of the Criminal Procedure Act, applying in instances when a person is acquitted on the grounds of being insane (230) or unable to understand the proceedings but not insane (328), or an offender below the age of 17 or 18.
The reaction to these seemingly offensive provisions is that the Governor, a seasoned legislator, should not have signed such a bill, and that he was greedy for power to detain at will. There was also the insinuation that the Governor was knowingly transforming himself into a dictator. Of course, the people would be justified in resisting any attempt by anyone to become a dictator. But we view this matter somewhat differently. In the first place, we believe that Hon. Ugboma, a lawyer of many years standing, was showcasing crass ignorance on the processes that lead to the making of a law. We do not agree with his face-saving accusation that the bill he sponsored before the House was doctored and that the controversial sections were sneaked into the bill. We believe this to be a typical bad workman quarrelling with his tools. A bill does not become law the way it was presented. This is the reason bills are usually debated, put through first and second readings and the committee stage, and eventually public hearings. The essence is that by the time the bill goes through the processes it may have been panel-beated. Sometimes, because of the metamorphosis a bill has gone through, the sponsor may be asked to withdraw his bill, because it is no longer his bill. But in all of this, the sponsor is fully aware and agrees with the process. It would smack of irresponsibility for the Member of the House to make the baseless claims as Hon. Ugboma.
In most states across the country, lawmakers are viewed as appendages of the executive. In fact, they are viewed as glorified appointees of the executive. In this milieu, the Governor does not need to sneak in anything into any bill. And I don’t see a member of the Imo State House of Assembly that would stand up to the Governor. We think that Hon. Ugboma did not do a thorough job. And like most members of the states assembly across the country who do not attend plenary or take anything seriously or have the time to even look at the bills they sponsor, or have the discipline to even engage consultants, Ugboma was clearly playing to the gallery. He has since been making efforts to transform himself as the hero of his opposition political party. In doing so he has brought so much opprobrium to the House. Such act is unhealthy, not only dangerous to the image and integrity of the House but to the entire government of Imo State. To serve as a deterrent, therefore, we strongly recommend that Ugboma be suspended indefinitely by the House. He is not what a lawmaker should be. He is an excuse!
Furthermore, we align ourselves with genuine Imo people who had expressed the fear that the ISACJL is capable of breeding dictatorship. Be believe that a person’s sense of morality decreases as his power increases. This was what John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton (1834-1902), otherwise called Lord Acton, a famous 19th century British politician, novelist, Catholic historian and philosopher, meant when he wrote to Bishop Mandel Creighton in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.” Before Lord Acton wrote to the Bishop, William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham and British Prime Minister from 1766 to 1778, in his speech to the UK House of Lords in 1770 had said that “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it”. Also, a French republican poet and politician, Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine, in his essay: France and England: a Vision of the Future, published in London in 1848, wrote: “It is not only the slave or serf who is ameliorated in becoming free. The master himself did not gain less in every point of view, for absolute power corrupts the best natures.”
We consider that those who drafted the new law, or those who played any role either at the committee stage or public hearing stage made a mistake. The construction that “Where any person is ordered to be detained during the Governor’s pleasure” looks too ambiguous but carries so much weight. It leaves a lot of room for the emergence of dictatorship. Governor Hope Uzodimma, by his exposure and standing as a two term Senator, cannot allow himself to transform to a dictator. But once a law is made, another Governor inherits it. A Governor who is not well mannered and disciplined like him could see the loophole provided in the ISACJL and exploit it. The ISACJL is not about Governor Hope but about any governor. If we are certain that he is not power hungry and would, therefore, not crave the powers of a dictator, what of another Governor?
We further address our mind to the Biblical record in Exodus 1:8: “Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph”. We note that with the controversial provision in the ISACJL, a Governor in Imo who is not like Governor Hope may wreak havoc. Furthermore, Biblical and historical records show that the Israelites lived in the Delta Region of Egypt whereas the kings of the 43rd Dynasty (ca. 1552–1306 B.C.) lived in Upper Egypt and operated out of Memphis or Thebes, abandoning the Delta Region, apparently refusing to develop the area. However, towards the end of the 43rd Dynasty, attitude towards the Delta Region began to change. Ramses II, successor to Sethos I, moved the center of the Egyptian government to the Eastern Delta, founding a new capital city around his father’s palace near Avaris, called Pi(Per)-Ramesse, meaning the “Domain of Ramses”. The project and other public works were massive and required a large supply of labor and he found it in the Israelite population. So he made the Israelites slaves. It should be noted that the enslavement the Israelites suffered was not domestic but state slavery, the organized imposition of forced labor upon every male Israelite for long and indefinite terms under degrading and brutal conditions. This, of course, was not what the Egyptians intended when they received Joseph in their land, but it turned out to become state slavery.
This is why we urge the members of the House to ignore the rantings of lawmakers like Ugboma and do the needful. Looking at the bill again is not a bad idea. We are not advocating the removal of the debtion during the Governor’s pleasure since it serves good purposes. We advocate: (1) That the authority that makes the order for the detention of the affected persons be well described. (2) That the persons to be detained should be well described, and (3) that the conditions under which they may be arrested and detained be well described as well. Outside these, we welcome the law as wonderful contribution to our legal jurisprudence.