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NBA in focus: Strengthening the bar and bench

By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa
19 September 2022   |   2:52 am
We are in very interesting times indeed, within the legal profession and the general body polity. Last week, social media was awash with the brewing controversy on the alleged pact by one of the many interest groups...

[FILES] Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Olumide Akpata PHOTO: Twitter

We are in very interesting times indeed, within the legal profession and the general body polity. Last week, social media was awash with the brewing controversy on the alleged pact by one of the many interest groups within the NBA, Egbe Amofin Oodua, to boycott the Olumide Akpata-led NBA Exco or not.

I do not attend meetings of Egbe Amofin or any other sectional group within the NBA but I am aware that this and other groups exist within the Bar purely for promoting tribal interests during elections into the national Exco of the NBA and nothing more. They are similar to Afenifere, Ohaneze, Arewa Group, PANDEF, and such other ethnic groups claiming to be speaking for the interests of their people. I am not privy to the alleged decision on boycott so to that extent I could not have supported it when I did not even know the rationale behind such drastic decision.

However, when we consider the principle of federal character and the need for inclusion in any organization, it is difficult for me to rationalize how an organization of lawyers could conduct election and marginalize an entire region of the country to the extent that not a single position was held by any lawyer from the South-West in the Akpata-led NBA Exco.

What could be the offence of those who are considered as “owners” of the legal profession, who have contributed in no small measure to the development and progress of the Bar, the Bench and Nigeria at large? May be this could as well be the underlying factor for the passive involvement of the cream of lawyers from the South-West in the activities of the NBA under Akpata and it is gratifying that this has been corrected under the Maikyau regime. We have gotten to the point of unifying the Bar for the progress of our profession and our dear nation. It is a task for us all, whether in the Eastern Bar Forum, Egbe Amofin or Arewa Bar Forum. Let us continue with the agenda for the new Exco.

State of emergency in the judiciary
Except we deceive ourselves, legal practice in Nigeria is facing its biggest trials ever. Even before COVID 19, justice administration was gradually moving towards the grave, perhaps only just remaining to be interred. The NBA should declare a state of emergency in the judicial sector, with the focus on emergency rescue efforts. So far, we have only paid lip service to judicial reforms, addressing just the surface without digging into substance.

The absence of critical infrastructure in this all-important sector is a major drawback to effective justice administration. A system that is so slow and unproductive cannot but birth corruption, given the desperation that lawyers and litigants are confronted with, in order to have their causes heard and determined. In this regard, the uncompleted new Federal High Court complex along Bourdillon Road in Ikoyi, Lagos, is a calamitous eyesore, it is a global embarrassment to all lawyers and judges, an unpardonable disservice to litigants and a monumental disgrace to Nigeria as a nation.

I mean, how can Nigeria as a grown up State find it difficult to complete just one building for one of the most important judicial organs in the land? A proper analysis of section 251 (1) of the 1999 Constitution shows clearly that the Federal High Court is now the bedrock of litigation in Nigeria, given the critical subjects that it has been empowered to deal with.

It is the Court that determines matters relating to the revenue of the federation, petroleum, oil and gas, electricity, admiralty, mines and minerals, immigration, aviation, telecommunications, citizenship, broadcasting, customs and exercise, security, taxation, banking, operation of companies, shipping, copyright and patents, arms, ammunition, diplomatic and consular matters, drugs, bankruptcy and insolvency and indeed anything relating to the federal government and any of its agencies. And that Court is not functioning as it should, as lawyers and litigants stand in the rain and in the sun, to conduct their cases. When recently I got to know that even the Chambers of the Judges have no functional toilets, I was moved to tears.

A Judge sits from 9am till 4pm at times, yet he cannot afford to eat while in the office, since there is no means of taking care of any pressure that may come with such luxury, as it were. The NBA should take this as its priority and work with the relevant government agencies and the head of the Court, to ensure its completion.
It is not just the Federal High Court, but also the Court of Appeal and indeed the High Courts. It is totally unacceptable that lawyers and litigants go to court and cannot find a place to even sit down, to conduct their cases. My suggestion in this regard is that the National Executive Council of the NBA should in its next meeting mandate all NBA branches nationwide to urgently undertake an audit of all courts within their jurisdiction and submit a comprehensive report, as a working document for discussion and action. Armed with these reports, the NBA Exco should on behalf of all lawyers meet with the heads of the various courts, the Attorneys-General of the States concerned or of the Federation as the case may be and the Governors of these States. If we are constantly crying for funding for the judiciary, if litigants and lawyers are paying through their noses to have their cases filed and conducted (both in the Probate Division and the Main Courts), then we must have corresponding improvement in facilities in all the courts. 
To be continued tomorrow
Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).