NBA set for systemic reform of Nigeria’s legal system, others

Dele-and-Femi-CopyThe Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said it would continuously pursue systemic reform of the legal system in Nigeria in order to enhance national development.

The lawyers also said that they will make as a cornerstone of its advocacy, transparency in the appointment of judicial officers as critical to building confidence in the judicial system, a necessary plank in national development. They also promised to play a leading role in the fight against corruption.

Those positions are contained in a communiqué issued and endorsed by the NBA president and secretary, Austine Alegeh SAN and Mazi Afam Osigwe respectively at the end of its week-long general conference and meeting in Abuja on Friday.

The 55th Annual General Conference of the NBA had the theme “Lawyers and National Development”. The Conference is usually a veritable platform for Lawyers, Judges, Academics, and other stakeholders in the legal profession to learn, exchange ideas, retool, reflect upon and proffer solutions to the ceaseless challenges confronting the Legal Profession, Administration of Justice, Rule of Law and Due Process, Constitutionalism and Democracy in Nigeria and beyond.

The conference was declared open by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR on Sunday 22 August 2015.

In attendance were the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, GCON, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed GCON, Supreme Court Justices, Court of Appeal Justices, Honourable Chief Judges and Judges, State Governors, Senators, Federal and State Parliamentarians, Clergy, traditional rulers, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Lawyers and Members of the Public, including the 4th estate of the realm.

The Association assured that the outcome of the conference would be properly documented and duly monitored for implementation.
Concerning the contribution of lawyers in public office to national development, the Association resolved that ‘being legal practitioners affords us the opportunity of offering quality leadership in public service.’

The lawyers charged its members in public service to uphold the Rule of Law, and to observe the ethics of the legal profession in carrying out their public service responsibilities.

“Henceforth, lawyers shall be held accountable in respect of the discharge of their functions whether in the private or public service”, the group said.
On the issue of providing legal support for talent based industry with special focus on movies, music, comedy and sports, NBA said it observed that by undermining the talent-based industry, piracy undermines national development. Consequently, they resolved: “That the NBA shall henceforth partner with the talent-based industry to curb piracy, and in this regard, government is called upon to strengthen institutions set up for the eradication of this malaise.

“The NBA shall take interest in getting lawyers interested in the talent based industry. In line with this, the NBA has set up a committee to immediately engage the industry so a platform can be raised to define the Bar’s meaningful service to that industry. Members of that committee include Prof. Bankole Sodipo as Chairman, Mrs. C. J. Aremu, (SAN) Chair of NBA Iwo Branch as Alternate Chair, Mena Ajakpovi (NBA Lagos), two persons to be nominated by the Young Lawyers Forum and a couple of other persons.”

According to the communique, the NBA believes that proper investigation of cases and transparent management of recovered assets by anti-corruption agencies; and political will to fight corruption including but not limited to funding the anti- corruption agencies must include the willingness to properly fund the anti – corruption agencies.
The agreed to partner with government in the fight against corruption as it is critical to national development and shall work assiduously towards achieving a positive attitude against corruption amongst the Bench and Bar.

The issue of the ill-fated Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) also caught the attention of the lawyers. “Critical to national development is the speedy passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill. However the following amendments are necessary: Not only upstream emphasis for export purposes but downstream emphasis for job creation and diversified developmental purposes; Streamlining of the new agencies created which have overlapping functions; Removal of clauses which disregard the right of citizens to legal redress in the courts; and Reduction in the overriding powers of the Minister for Petroleum.

“Also critical to national development is the removal of fuel subsidy as it is one of the aggravating factors in corruption in that sector apart from the potential for national development thus afforded if funds thus freed up are duly harnessed.

“Oil Companies causing environmental degradation shall in addition to fines imposed by government, pay a fair, full and adequate compensation to any persons aggrieved as determined by a Judge sitting in the jurisdiction of injury whether State or Federal, provided that the sum payable shall be as determined by an advisory ad hoc multi-disciplinary college of referees appointed by the Judge comprising toxicologists, surveyors and valuers whose fees shall be charged to the polluter.”

The NBA urged the federal government to place the management and funding of prisons under the concurrent or residual list so that both Federal and State governments can be responsible for prison services. NBA said such is has become imperative based on the interest of national development and federalism.

“The Prisons being a part of the administration of justice should be placed under the office of the Attorney General.

“Holding charges must be done away with being a strong contributory factor in prison congestion. Alternative means of punishment to be introduced to our jurisprudence rather than incarceration for simple offences.

“The state of a country’s prisons provides assessment of the value a country places on its citizens and on human rights. In this regard, Nigeria needs urgent penal reform”, the lawyers said.

They stated that a stumbling block to penal and prison reform in Nigeria is the fact of the management and funding of prisons being the exclusive preserve of the Federal Government.

The Association also agreed that the automated court processes using court technology, the courts and indeed, the entire justice delivery system is critical to justice-sector reform, and thus, national development.

“The NBA resolves to pursue technological reform in recording of court proceedings in Nigeria. The NBA commends the judiciary on the e-platform for serving hearing notices via e-mail on party’s counsel.

“National development is anchored in part upon reform in the independence of the judiciary and in this regard, elimination of external interference in the funding of the judiciary is imperative”, NBA stated, adding that constitutional amendments to ensure judicial fiscal autonomy should be pursued with vigour in Nigeria’s legislative reform agenda.

Among other resolutions, the NBA said: “The case of Chief Judges going to solicit State Governors to release funds meant for the judiciary must be made a thing of the past.”

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