Ever since he filed a fundamental rights enforcement action for the release of self-confessed billionaire kidnapper, Chukwudi Onwuamadike (popularly known as Evans), Olukoya Ogungbeje had been a subject of intense criticism from the public and even his colleagues. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the lawyer explains the rationale behind his action, the police’s attitude towards his clients’ family, and their chances in court.
PREMIUM TIMES: You were supposed to hold a press conference to speak about your decision to do this but cancelled it, what happened?
Ogungbeje: Unfortunately, again it has been rescheduled again. We are so sorry for the inconveniences. The essence of the press conference is to dispel the police motivated attacks on us rather than for them to do their investigation.
The police and the section of the media are attacking us for doing our job. Let the media tell the police to go and do their job and carry out proper investigation rather than attacking us.
What we have asked the police to do is a constitutional requirement, that is, anybody who has been arrested should be taken to the court of law and if they don’t have a case against the person, you release the person.
Now they went and staged managed media stations to be interviewing Evans our friend to be making him say that he is not aware of the law suit. How can someone who is in custody be able to pick a lawyer? To you the journalist is that possible? So, the family members briefed us and we are doing our job.
PT: How were you contacted in becoming Evans’ lawyer?
Ogungbeje: Are you in doubt that I am Evans’ lawyer? If anyone is challenging us, let the person come up. Can’t the father, can’t the mother, can’t the wife brief us? See, they have even called us yesterday that we should forge ahead. We have the full backing of the family and I can tell you that authoritatively.
PT: What is the position of the police relating to this matter?
Ogungbeje: You know what, they have told us that they were going to conduct a proper investigation and they have said they are going to arraign him before a court of law. The case we filed will be coming up on the 13th of July (The case was later adjourned due to Mr. Ogungbeje’s absence). You are aware.
PT: What do you think are your chances of winning this case, as reports have it that you haven’t been successful with a lot of your recent cases?
Ogungbeje: All those who are making such unfound and misleading information out to the public that all the cases we have been doing we have not been winning, they are just a pit of lie from the pit of hell.
I can tell you one, the Nyako matter, I won it up to the Supreme Court, go and check your records. The Olanusi matter, the former deputy governor of Ondo State, it’s at the appeal court, we won. The N13 billion Ikoyi suit is it now on appeal. So why do people sponsor the media and start to attack me in person rather than for them to do their job, to do proper investigation?
There are a good number of cases that we have won even to the highest court.
PT: A section of Nigerians are concerned as to why you decided to be a counsel to Evans who confessed to being a notorious kidnapper. What motivated you?
Ogungbeje: The answer to that question you have asked me is very simple and straight forward. I will refer you to decision of Lord Denning. In the case of Worsley and Worsley delivered by Lord Denning the greatest jury ever in England.
You know what he said? He said no matter how unpopular the cause of your client, no matter how giving to complaining the cause of your client, no matter how grave the cause of your client, no matter how contempt, no matter how vilified by the public, no matter how attacked, you have a duty as a legal practitioner to pick up the brief of your client.
That is my answer to your question, and that is my duty and recall he is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law. So, what we are saying is have we asked the police to do what they cannot do, have we asked them to do what the law say they should not do. We have asked them to charge him to court.
Let me even give you an instance, if you have to brief me because the police have vilified you, they have criticized you, they have said negative things about you, is that a ground for me to say I am rejecting your brief. So, what are we saying, where have we gone wrong? We are only doing our job. See let me tell you, I have the responsibility to defend whomever within the confines of the law only.
I am not saying we will represent him at all cost, that we will get him off the hook at all cost, no. We will only represent him within the bounds of the law. So, if the law says that when someone is suspected to have engaged in a crime, the law says that the investigating authority which is the police should either take him to court within 24 or 48 hours which is two days. We are saying charge him to court, let the law take its course.
Do you know the police denied us access to him (Evans) in their custody? Do you know they denied the father and mother access to him? Do you know they denied the wife access to him and even his brother, his name is Chidolue, he was denied access?
PT: Considering the level of offence he admitted to have committed, will you blame the police for this?
Ogungbeje: The law has left no one in doubt concerning this kind of situation. But it is not a ground to deny the family access to him while you continue to allow media practitioners, journalists’ access to him.
What the police should have done in the first instance is they should have told him, see, don’t say anything, because whatever you say will be used against you in the court of law. They refused to tell him all these. When we then went to court, they (the police) brainwashed him, they deceived and forced him to say that he is not aware of any law suit.
Who doesn’t know that it was the police that was speaking? How can somebody who is in the police custody get a lawyer? It is obvious; it was the police that was speaking. This is subjudice, we will get there. But I can assure you, we will continue to discharge our responsibilities as counsel and the law will continue to take its course.
This is the first time a suspected criminal will be telling the police, charge me to court. It has never happened before. And if the police have all the proofs and has concluded their investigating activity; they should charge him to court not in the court of public opinion.
It’s unfortunate that a section of the media is still ignorant of the law. The police are investing their energy in using the media to attack lawyers rather than to concentrate on their mandate to do proper investigation.
Do you know that till date, the police don’t have any witness? Do you know that till date they don’t have any single evidence? Do you know that till date there is no case file on that case? It is the case we filed in court that put them on their toes, they are now running helter-skelter.
For whatever he has said, can’t we get to the court and the court will convict him? Is it not possible? If they have any evidence against him. But the time they should have used in investigation, they were busy grand standing, lying to the public that they have court order. They don’t have any court order. Tell the Police Public Relations Officer to publish the court order that they have. No court has the power to expand the two days period which you can detain a suspect.
For the record, the statement he made is a police-induced statement, it’s a police-forced statement. It was the police that was talking. They brainwashed him and forced him to make such statements. When we get to court, you will see it will fall like a pack of cards.
PT: Are you aware of your client’s whereabouts?
Ogungbeje: The police have said he is in Abuja. They said they took him there for further investigation. They issued a press statement where they denied that he vanished and that he is being held in Abuja. But I believe they will bring him to court on the next day the matter will be coming up. If they fail to do that, we will ensure we take necessary steps to compel them to do that.