Tribute to Augustine Urom By Ogbu, Blessing Ekpere Esq.

I received with shock the untimely and gruesome death of Augustine Urom, a Lawyer and Police officer attached to the Legal Unit of the FCT Police Command. Urom Esq. was killed by unknown gunmen in Abuja on the 24th of August, 2019. Our relationship had a relatively short history, as we became acquainted some time in 2015. In our interactions within that short space of time, however, we traversed a stretch of time spanning eons. From a purely professional interaction touching his cases in my erstwhile court, we found that we both shared the same State and senatorial zone. On another plane, he defended the Police and its officers in a fundamental rights enforcement proceeding in which the Nigerian Police Force and some of its officers were Respondents. The Applicant in the suit was an acquaintance and Urom’s professional approach to the suit was so impressive and exemplary that my acquaintance showered lavish praises on Urom.

In the conduct of his cases, Urom instantiated the rare mixture of professionalism, dedication and selflessness in public service. Facing daunting challenges common to State Counsel, he soldiered on, often appearing in several cases in different superior courts of record within the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja on the same day. On more occasions than one, he endured the ire of judges as they lacerated him for want of diligent prosecution. Never had he blamed those challenges – none of his making – nor had he ever griped to the courts about his crowded diary. He would rather take responsibility and suffer the shame of being disparaged in public than to pass the buck – the standard reaction of public officials to censure. On one occasion I remember, his wife and children were hospitalised for malaria and he came to court from the hospital, having spent the previous night with them.

If he had died from mental exhaustion or a nervous breakdown, his death could have been tolerable: understaffing of the legal units of government agencies and the overworking of the legal officers thereof are notorious facts. Death by murderous agents, however, introduces an unacceptable risk quotient to the already dangerous quotidian assignments of State Counsel, particularly, Police Prosecution Counsel.

Though death remains one of the unalterable and inevitable facts of life, the murder of Urom raises the question of security of certain categories of officers involved in the administration of justice. The first, obviously, is the judges and the magistrates; the second is the Prosecution Counsel. While the judges and magistrates are provided with armed orderlies, the Prosecution Counsel have no form of protection. Yet, it is not in doubt that the job of a Prosecution Counsel is a high risk one: the prosecution of criminals necessarily pits the Counsel in direct confrontation with elements of the underworld and the consequences, as in Urom’s case, can be mortal. Prosecution Counsel should be provided with some basic form of security. The government should work out the modality for this.

The Police, in its statement, said it was investigating the murder of Augustine Urom, a fine officer, learned gentleman and a brother. We hope that the killers are uncovered and punished according to the law and that his family and loved ones find closure. While we await the outcome of this investigation, we pray God to comfort the family and the loved ones he left behind and to grant the soul of the departed repose.

Ogbu, Blessing Ekpere Esq. writes in from Abuja
legalmindogbu@gmail.com

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