I Plan To Deliver Innovative Service To The Secretariat – Emuobonuvie Majemite

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Mr Emuobonuvie Majemite is a Partner at PUNUKA Attorneys and Solicitors and head of both the Property Law and the Arbitration and ADR practice groups. In this interview, he speaks on the urgent need to separate the Attorneys-General office from the office of Minister of Justice.

He also speaks on timelines for the management of cases, the acceptability of arbitration in Nigeria, the student loan law, petrol subsidy withdrawal, why he wants to be NBA Lagos Branch Secretary, and sundry national issues.

The election tribunal recently rejected live broadcast of proceedings. Do you think transmitting court proceedings live is inimical to justice administration?

I think that we must separate emotion from the rule of law. Generally, judicial proceedings are not transmitted live, although the public is at liberty to attend them (except in special circumstances, such as when a child is involved). If we accept this and believe that our judiciary will deliver justice within the ambits of the law, we must have faith in the erudite election petition tribunal and not insist on what I may consider a pedestrian issue. That said, I certainly would not say that live broadcast of court proceedings is prejudicial to justice administration.

Politicians have succeeded in getting a 180 timeline within which to conclude election petition matters but allow civil and criminal cases linger for years. Do you think it wills fast track adjudicatory process to also specify time to conclude criminal and civil matters too?

Under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State and most procedural criminal laws, criminal matters are to be concluded within a reasonable time, but this reasonable time is not defined. Courts have generally sought to conclude criminal trials as quickly as possible and appeals on criminal matters tend to take precedence over civil matters. However, certain specie of criminal matters have some priority such as matters instituted by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON). I opine that with proper case management and discipline on the part of both the Bar and the Bench, we do not need specific timelines for any types of matters. The individual cases will determine how quickly they should be decided. For instance, where a plaintiff is challenging the installation of someone as a king in a future, it would render such a suit an academic exercise and cause what we call a fait accompli on the plaintiff, if the suit or at least an application for preservatory relief is heard and determined one way or the other before said installation. So rather than imposing arbitrary timelines on different species of matters, whether criminal or civil in nature, I think proper case management on a case-by-case basis is more prudent and efficacious.

Due to our political experience, there are arguments that the office of the AGF should be separated from that of the minister of justice to have a nonpartisan lawyer take up the role of AGF. Do you agree with the idea. If you disagree, what are your reasons?

I completely agree that the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation should be severed from that of the Minister of Justice. Likewise, at the state level, the office of the Attorney-General of the State should be separate from the office of the Commissioner of Justice. The Attorney-General is the chief law officer of the federation or of the state and should be an impartial person, insulated from polarised politics in the discharge of his or her duties. This is especially in view of the far-reaching constitutional powers vested in the Attorney-General. For instance, the Attorney-General can institute, take over and discontinue any criminal proceeding. This means that since he is currently appointed as a member of the incumbent executive administration, he is answerable to said incumbent executive. The President or the Governor as the case may therefore be able to direct their Attorney-General to pursue or discontinue criminal action against their adversaries or their cronies respectively.

You are running for NBA Lagos Branch Secretary. What are your plans for the branch?

I plan to deliver innovative service to the secretariat. I will streamline and abridge the process and time lag for application and delivery of the NBA stamp, an issue that continues to plague lawyers in private and public practice. I will increase the reportage of Branch activities in terms of sharing action points from general meetings and communiques from branch events. These will be available on the individual members’ portals. I will manage the Branch’s assets and implement a depreciation policy to take care of the disposal and replacement of outdated properties. I will implement technology in the delivery of most functions such as the issuance of letters of good standing, regular revision of branch membership, issuance of NBA ID cards, etc. I firmly believe that many tasks can be automated to make lives easier for members without having to visit the physical office. Much like many banking functions can be done from the comfort of our homes and offices, I will make interaction with the secretariat possible from members’ homes and offices. Finally, I will deliver an accessible secretariat to branch members. I will be dedicated to the secretariat for the duration of my tenure, with the full backing and support of my law firm, PUNUKA Attorneys and Solicitors and that of other organisations that I hold leadership positions in such as the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, UK (Nigeria Branch) and the National Association of Catholic Lawyers, Lagos Archdiocese. In a nutshell, I plan to run a technologically driven and solution-oriented secretariat for my members.

NBA seems to be having a rival in Law Society of Nigeria. Has NBA lived up to the expectation of lawyers, and if so, what’s the need to split the association?

First, I respectfully do not see the Law Society of Nigeria (LSN) as a rival to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). I dare say that by being called to the Nigerian Bar, a lawyer is automatically a member of the NBA, having paid his or her bar practising fees prior to the Call to Bar. Subsequently, to identify with a particular branch, the lawyer is required to pay the stipulated branch dues. To receive any honours or favour from the Nigerian legal profession such as to become a notary public, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria or simply to obtain a letter of good standing, a lawyer must have paid his or her bar practising fees and branch dues for a certain number of years. In all these, it is clear in my mind that the NBA plays a pivotal and indispensable role in the career of a Nigerian lawyer. On the other hand, a lawyer needs to apply for membership of the LSN. I am not aware of any benefits that would accrue to a lawyer from payment of whatever membership dues are stipulated by the LSN. I perceive the LSN as a group of friendly lawyers with a common interest and nothing more. I do not see the Law Society of Nigeria coming to usurp the role of the NBA any time at all. .

How much acceptability has Arbitration gained in Nigeria, and what reforms would you like to see?

Arbitration has been adopted by many Nigerian businesses as the faster and more efficient method to resolve disputes for reasons such as being able to determine the qualifications of their arbiter, shielding their dispute from the public eye and strict timelines for the filing of processes until the publication of the arbitral award. However, some are still hesitant because of issues relating to the perceived cost (when compared to filing fees in litigation) and the enforcement of an award when a dissatisfied award debtor tries to avoid paying the award debt. With the recent passage of the Arbitration and Mediation Act, I strongly opine that these issues will become a thing of the past.

As head of Arbitration Group of your firm, do you think ADR should be made constitutionally mandatory before litigation is considered in all commercial transactions?

I do NOT subscribe to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) being made obligatory. A core principle of ADR mechanisms is party autonomy which means that parties must voluntarily submit to the process. Thus, to make ADR compulsory will be counter productive and make away a fundamental element. Parties should be allowed to negotiate and agree on how they wish to resolve their disputes. I however appreciate the benefit in parties pursuing ADR before court, especially in commercial transactions because it will greatly reduce the courts’ dockets. This objective can still be achieved through consistent propagation of ADR by Nigerian arbitral institutions.

What are your thoughts on the student loan bill just signed into law by the President?

I think the Student Loan Act is a good step in helping indigent students access tertiary education in Nigeria. It has the potential to retain talent within Nigeria as well as the students, upon graduation will likely get jobs in Nigeria to pay off their debt to the Federal Government. I also opine that it may encourage students to be disciplined in their studies because if they take a loan, they understand the need to graduate with good grades to secure well-paying jobs to be able to pay off the debt.

The CBN has directed banks to trade the Naira freely without a cap on the rate. What are your thoughts on the naira on the economy?

I do not claim to be an economist, but I opine that the directive by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) will impact positively on the Nigerian economy. This is because the foreign exchange rates will be entirely determined by demand and supply. When the rate was artificially fixed, it was very difficult to access one’s foreign currency but under the current dispensation, a depositor has unfettered access to funds in their domiciliary account.

Do you agree with the government’s justification for removing the petrol subsidy?

In theory, I understand the government’s rationale for the removal of the petrol subsidy, and I believe it has been a long time coming. I however do not agree with the timing of the removal. Most of the populace are suffering in abject poverty and there could not have been a worse time to compound the plight of the common man. I would have been better some months into the administration when there are deliberate policies to stimulate productivity and generate exports.