‘I studied law to assist the poor’

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Ahmed Adetayo Adetola-Kazeem is the son of Chief Gani Adetola-Kaseem (SAN).  The 2009 Law graduate of the Olabisi Onabanjo University in Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State,was the only Nigerian among 1,000 young Africans selected for the 2017  Mandela Washington  Fellowship Award launched by former US President Barack Obama in 2014. He speaks with ADEBISI ONANUGA on his foray into law, among other issues.

Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem observes political developments. He is fascinated by the calls for restructuring of the country by different nationalities. But he believes that the country’s major problem  is insincerity and deep hatred for one another.

“If all these ills are not addressed, restructuring won’t yield any result even if the country is restructured on family basis,” he said.

According to him, the anti-corruption campaign of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration is yielding some results “but I am of the view that it is selective. If the government is serious about the war, there should be no sacred cows. The federal and state civil service should be cleansed as this is the engine room of corruption. Lastly, with the crops of senators, we can’t win the war against corruption. I suggest the Senate should be scrapped”.

Adetola-Kazeem, director and Founder of the Lagos-based Prisoners Rights Advocacy Initiative (PRAI), developed  interest in the affairs of prison inmates during one of his humanitarian visit to Ijebu Ode Prison as a law student of Olabisi Onabanjo University, (OOU) Ago Iwoye, Ogun State.

“I remember promising some inmates that I will come to their aid when I get called to the bar.  My activities took off  largely because of that promise”, he said.

He said his journey into advocacy has been tough and rewarding. According to him, “delayed justice has been a problem; also assessing funds to execute and expand our services has been a huge challenge. However, my little effort has given me some recognition like the Mandela Washington Fellowship, finalist at the International Bar Association Pro- Bono Awards 2013, Best Youth Corps Member in Abia State, 2010, among others. I was equally selected as one of the 12 finalists out of over 4000 applicants at the British Council Future Leaders Connect programme.  I couldn’t attend the final selection event because I was in the US for the Mandela Washington Fellowship”.

However, much as he laboured to make a success of his pet project, the major challenge remains funding and sustainability because no amount he placed into the activities relating to the project has ever been enough.  He said there is much to be done but that funds have been limited.

On his feelings on th Mandela Washington Fellowship , he said: “The feeling is mixed. I was very elated to have been picked out of 64,000 applicants across Africa and 22,000 Nigerians for the life-changing programme. However, I was not happy that the Federal Government is not doing enough to honour its young heroes. Even when the US government selected us through a very thorough and transparent system, the government did nothing o encourage or honour its own”.

On his thoughts for reforms in the judiciary, he said he would like to see “courts that are fully automated to bring to an end the need for judges to write in long hand. The provisions of the ACJA should be domesticated by all states. Its provisions which requires that criminal cases  should be concluded in 180 days and that application for stay of proceedings will not be entertained will go a long way in ensuring speedy dispensation of justice if fully implemented.

Ahmed is the only one in a family of four that took to  law after their father, Chief Gani Adetota-Kaseem.  “Initially, I chose law because my dad is a lawyer, but when I realised that law can be a veritable tool for social change and a means of giving voice to the voiceless and putting smiles on the faces of those who never thought they could smile, particularly, the indigents, the zeal to becoming a lawyer increased”.

He said he would have studied psychology. “The human mind and behaviour fascinates me. I would have loved to dig deep into how the human mind works,” he said.

Though influenced by his father, the British Council Future Leaders Connect programme finalist said he had no regret being a lawyer. “Though the legal system is frustrating, particularly when you consider delays in trial and other things. I believe there are still a lot of things to cheer about”, he noted.

Adetola-Kazeem is impressed with arbitration as a means of dispute resolution.            On his vision for the future the legal profession, he said, “I hope to see a profession where lawyers will practise with dignity, skills and  diligence and judges will administer justice speedily, efficiently and fairly. I hope to see a legal profession where lawyers are well paid and the dignity of the profession restored.

Unlike some lawyers would want to do, he is not nursing any ambition to cross to the bench.  “I am too restless to be on the bench. I will love to remain at the Bar so that I can continue the very many things I am doing at the moment.

He said he had no problem getting married to a lawyer, if that is what love brings his way. He said he would encourage any of his children who decides to follow his footpath. “I can’t be part of anything I won’t encourage others to be part of. I would encourage one or two of my children to read law to continue the legacy,” he said.

“In the next decade, by Allah’s grace, I hope to be at the top of the profession in learning, character, honour, influence, service, humility, wealth and achievements. I hope to be an inspiration for my generation and coming generations,” he added.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

How to keep underage out of prison, by PRAI Director

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Prisoners Right Advocacy Initiative (PRAI) Executive Director Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem  has said on no account should the courts in Lagos State be allowed to order underaged  to be remaned in prisons.

Adetola-Kazeem, made this suggestion in a petition he sent to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode dated August 18. It was titled: “Recommendation towards curbing the menace of underaged imprisonment in Lagos State”.

He said this was to curb a re-occurence of the ugly incident.

Copies of the petition was sent to SpeakerLagos State House of Assembly,  The Chief Judge of Lagos State, the Attorney-General of the State, the Commissioner for Home Affairs, the Commissioner for Youth and Social Development and the Controller of Prisons of Lagos State.

He advised the  government to give an order that the courts should not subject  any underage to corporal punishment, penalty or a death penalty against him in line with Section 207 of the Child Rights Law of Lagos State 2007 (CRL).

He argued that the Child’s Rights Law discourages the remand of children, saying: “The law provides in Section 204 that “where the Court does not release on a bail a child who admits to committing one or more offences charged against the child, the Court must remand the child to a state accommodation.

‘’Section 235 of the CRL mandates the Commissioner for Home Affairs to establish institutions to cater for child offenders. The law provides that: the Commissioner must establish in any part of the state, or any part of the Local Government Area, the following approved children’s institutions; Children Attendance Centre;  Children Centre;  Children Residential Centre; Children Correctional Centre; Special Children Correctional Centre; and such other institutions as the Commissioner may from time to time establish. He said this is in addition to making  rules for the management, upkeep and inspection of the approved children institutions.

He said Section of the CRL also empowers the the Commissioner for Home Affairs to establish in any part of the state, institutions to be known as approved youth institutions, such as Youth Attendance Centre; Youth Correctional Centre; Special Youth Correctional Centre; and such other youth institutions as the Commissioner shall from time to time establish.

He said Section 237 of CRL defines the functions of the listed centres while Section 261 defines a child as a person under 18.

The PRAI said the issue of underaged prisoners was not new in Lagos.

He recalled: “I raised the issue in a letter, written to the former Attorney-General of Lagos state, and copied to your predecessor on  June 7, 2013. The underaged inmates were released after a joint visit by some senior staff of the Ministry of Justice and my humble self. The then Attorney-General promised to put some measures in place to forestall a reoccurrence.

“However, four years later, in an unprecedented fashion, 142 underaged persons were recently released. I have no doubt that there are still a lot of them languishing in jails across the state.

“The recent news about the release of 142 underaged persons across prisons in Lagos by the Chief Judge is one which comes with a mixed feeling.

“The release of the young inmates is welcomed, but leaves us pondering-what went wrong? How did we get here? What are we doing to stem the tide of underage imprisonment?

“While your efforts at building a beautiful state is commended, there is a growing feeling in the public space that this is being achieved at the expense of the poor and vulnerable.

“Their houses are demolished, the water upon which they fish are sand filled and they are arrested, “robbed” and imprisoned by officers of the state for seeking a means of livelihood, most times through hawking.

“What efforts have been made or are being put in place by the government to ensure that these underaged inmates are rehabilitated and empowered so that they can stop hawking. Are there viable alternatives available to these vulnerable kids to break the cycle of poverty, crime and imprisonment?” he asked.

He said findings at the Badagry prison revealed that about 70 per cent of the inmates in that prison were arrested for hawking or other related “offences” and were sentenced to imprisonment terms ranging from few months to three years adding, “I still find it difficult to be convinced that people who are struggling to make ends meet rather than stealing are languishing in prison when they can be gainfully engaged”.

Adetola-Kazeem urged the governor to ensure that enough correctional centres were provided in the state, “so that we don’t keep putting children with adult offenders who go on to corrupt them into becoming hardened criminals”.

He asked the government to encourage those of them that are  athletic to take up sport.

“Some of the boys who hawk on the street are very fast and strong considering the speed with which they chase vehicles in traffic. I believe if they are nurtured, properly groomed and paid  monthly stipends, they will not only leave the street but will win laurels for the state and country in major competitions.

“I have groomed many underprivileged children into responsible champions through my Q-MADI Taekwondo Club.  My boys, who were hitherto street boys, have in the past four years been representing and winning medals for Lagos  Taekwondo team and have won over 300 medals and over 20 Awards in all competitions.

“Many of them are very smart and business savvy. Instead of arresting and imprisoning them, why not train them and give them capital to finance their business through the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) or through any other body you desire.

“With this in place, hawking will be reduced to the barest minimum, our prisons will be decongested and the economy of the state will thrive,’’ he added.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]