Attah Ochinke: Attorney General Or Hatchet Man? BY AGBA JALINGO

In Columnists, Opinion, Politics

by crossriverwatch admin

Attah Ochinke, Cross River Attorney General
Attah Ochinke, Cross River Attorney General

The incumbent Attorney General of Cross River State, Mr. Attah Ochinke is no doubt an amiable man. Very young and handsome too to say the least and one of your sure choice for a cabinet member any time due also to his intelligence.

I have never met him before but I have interacted with him on the phone a couple of times and apart from the commendable fact that I have noticed he is very intelligent and grounded in the technicalities of his legal profession, he is also an adept in dodging questions and shifting responsibility.

I was told that Mr. Ochinke has been in government since the Donald Duke days. He is said to have cemented himself so well in the State Ministry of Justice that every administration even in the future will always need his input either from within or from without.

I do hope to meet Mr. Attah Ochinke very soon. As Chairman of the committee set up by the state government to review the erection of telecom masts in the state following the unfortunate incident of the mast that collapsed in Odukpani killing four persons, I reached out to the Commissioner with suggestions on how the committee’s work should culminate in the creation of Cross River State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (CRIMRA) akin to LASIMRA, the Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (LASIMRA) which was set up by the Lagos State Law No 13 of July 2004 to regulate and control the erection and installation of Telecom Mast and Towers, the granting of official permit to lay underground facilities and the management & maintenance of these facilities for safety and standards in the interest of public health.

He did send a text to acknowledge that it is a good idea and I have been expecting since then to meet him soon.

But if it is true that Mr. Ochinke will always be needed by future administrations in the state, will he be needed for the greater interest of the generality of the people of Cross River State or for the parochial interest of some powerful persons in the state following his actions in recent times.

First it was his role in the suit filed by the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in Cross River State challenging the disqualification of the party by the State Independent Electoral Commission (CROSIEC) from contesting the September 21, 2013 Local Government election.

The Suit No. HC/302/2013, challenging the disqualification of APC by CROSIEC, was filed by the party’s counsel, Okoi Obono-Obla, at the High Court, Calabar.

The originating summons for the suit listed APC as the Claimant, while CROSIEC, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), National Conscience Party (NCP), Labour Party (LP) and Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA) were listed as respondents and defendants in the case.

In the suit, the APC among other things wanted the court to determine “Whether the first defendant has the power to deny the claimant participation in the Local Government elections scheduled for the 21st September, 2013 on the ground that the Claimant was registered on July 31, and therefore not eligible to participate in the elections?”

Suddenly, someone who is supposed to be the Attorney General of Cross River State became the lead counsel to the respondents in a matter that had nothing to do with the Cross River State Government.

Note that the 1st respondent, CROSIEC, is only an organ of government with its own legal department and their lawyers whose duty is to represent the commission any time they have issues in court.

Same thing with the 2nd, INEC. You don’t sue INEC and the Attorney General of the Federation goes to defend INEC in court? Remember INEC is independent!

The 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th respondents are political parties. At what point does a Chief Law Officer of a state become counsel to political parties and independent government agencies in a court dispute?

But the matter is still in court and the AG is still the lead counsel.

Recently, some traditional rulers in the State, under the umbrella of Efut Combined Assembly,dragged the AG to the National Judicial Commission (NJC) over what they called corrupt use of “Nolle Prosequi” as an instrument for personal and political vendetta by the government.

The petition, which was signed by Secretary General of the Assembly, Ndabu Godwin Bassey, noted that state government had on August 9, 2010, set up an administrative panel of enquiry to look into the tussle for succession to the throne of Muri-Munene of Efut Kingdom and up till now, no white paper has been issued.

“In the heat of the tussle, the Muri-Munene and Paramount Ruler of Efut Kingdom in the state, Efiong Edem Okon Mbukpa, was attacked and assaulted in his palace on April 25, 2012, by some persons whom he described as hoodlums in traditional attires and were arrested and charged to court for attempted murder.

“On the Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP) opinion, the charges were reviewed to felony, assault, stealing and breaking, damaging of palace property and the matter has been proceeding in Calabar Magistrate’s Court 1 since 2012 and the last adjourned date was August 14, 2014.

“But in a surprise move, the state government, through its Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Attah Ochinke, in a letter dated July 1, 2014, wrote to the Chief Magistrate’s Court, seeking to discontinue the criminal proceedings against the said hoodlums that had attempted to kill him (Munene).

Ochinke in the letter said: “In exercise of the powers conferred on me by the virtue of paragraph (c) of sub-section (1) of Section 211 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended and of all other laws enabling me in that behalf, I, Attah Ochinke, Attorney General of Cross River State, hereby discontinue the criminal proceedings against the accused persons in the above-mentioned charge”.

The question again is in whose interest is the AG discontinuing the criminal trial?

The most recent is the alleged frantic attempts by some politicians in the state to cover up the murder five detainees extra judicially by policemen attached to the Special Anti Robbery Squad, SARS in Calabar and how the name of the AG got involved again.

After an investigative panel set up by the AIG Zone 6, Mr. Musa Dauda, finished their work and wrote a report that indicted the murderous cops and recommended their prosecution, the police said the AG requested for the report which was sent to him and since then the matter has been shrouded in ominous secrecy.

According to reports, the police said “We have sent a copy of the report to the Attorney General of the State, Attah Ochinke on demand. We expect him to do the prosecution of the accused policemen. There is so much pressure coming from highly placed politicians in the state on the police to give the accused a soft landing.

“First we were being pressurized to change the content of the investigative report. We refused. The AIG insisted that he was not going to tolerate murderous men in the force in his command and was not going to change it.

“The DPP wrote a letter congratulating the committee for their work and that was were the whole maneuvering began. A copy of the report was requested for by the AG and since then, we have been under pressure to let the killer policemen go free but I can assure you that if anyone will kill this case, it will not be the police.”

The police have prosecutorial powers. Why did they not prosecute after investigation?

Why did the AG ask for the report?

Why did the DPP write the investigative panel?

When a Chief Law Officer that is supposed to defend the interest of the generality of the people becomes the servant of powerful elements who seek to perpetually stand justice on the head, the State is then in dire dilemma and men of goodwill must stand up, speak and be counted.

We must have the courage to ask Mr. Attah Ochinke, the Cross River State Chief Law Officer whether he is indeed an Attorney General of the State or a hatchet man for powerful interests in the state.

We should also collectively remind him that once upon a time. An Attorney General of Nigeria, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa was stripped of his rank as “Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN),” by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) over a petition by the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR) accusing the AG of abuse of office.

A federal court in Calabar also barred him from holding public office based on a lawsuit brought before the court by a petitioner who claimed that Mr. Aondoakaa violated the tenets of democracy by corruptly impeding the judgment of the court in an election case.

Agba Jalingo is a journalist and writes from Lagos. @kickthemout2015 or justicenownownow@yahoo.com

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