WELCOME REMARKS BY OLUMIDE AKPATA, PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION AT THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION SECTION ON PUBLIC INTEREST AND DEVELOPMENT LAW (NBA-SPIDEL) TAKING PLACE AT THE NBA HOUSE, FCT ABUJA
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. It is my pleasure to welcome you to the 2022 Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association – Section on Public Interest and Development Law (“NBA-SPIDEL”) holding here in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Virtually everyone in this room hall today is conversation with the extraordinary circumstances under which this Conference is taking place and the teething challenges that the NBA-SPIDEL in general and the Conference Planning Committee have faced in putting together this Conference. This is a theme I shall return to in the course of my remarks this morning.
2. It is altogether fitting therefore that I must commence these welcome remarks by commending the NBA-SPIDEL led by Dr. Monday Ubani for putting together this Conference. It is a testament to their remarkable resilience that they have proved naysayers wrong. In the same way I am confident that the NBA and the legal profession will continue to surmount all challenges. Let me also thank Dr. Monday Ubani for his very kinds words this morning.
3. Distinguished conferees, Ladies and Gentlemen, in the course of private discussions with the members of my team, I have had cause on various occasions to confess that it took me a while to warm up and appreciate the significance of the NBA-SPIDEL. It is an open secret that prior to my active involvement in the affairs of the NBA, I was and remain a Business Lawyer. When I became active in the NBA affairs, it was a no-brainer that my first allegiance lay with the NBA Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL). In the past few years however, I have come to increasingly appreciate the critical role that the NBA-SPIDEL plays and ought to play, not just in the activities of the NBA but that of the wider Nigerian society.
4. As I said last year during the 2021 NBA-SPIDEL Conference that took place in Ibadan, Oyo State, any keen follower of NBA activities would have realised that right from our inauguration this administration has been greeted with one national crisis or the other which we have done our best to address, from the #EndSARS protests to the industrial action by judicial workers. As we approach the twilight of our administration, I can now modify my statement at the 2021 SPIDEL Conference by saying that throughout the life of our administration, we were faced with one crisis after another.
5. Between the last NBA-SPIDEL Conference and today, I can add to that list the invasion of the home of now retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Honourable Justice Mary Ukaego Peter Odili, the ongoing industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), various instances of harassment and unlawful detention of Nigerians including legal practitioners by the various law enforcement agencies, as is the case with a current case I am dealing with in Abuja; the intimidation of lawyers by judges, as we have seen in the recent case in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, etc.
6. These events, which are by no means exhaustive, together with the recognition of the cardinal position occupied by Public Interest in any progressive society, brought to the fore the critical role of the NBA-SPIDEL.
7. As a former Chairman of the NBA-SBL, I am aware of the critical roles that the various specialist Sections of the NBA play to the overall attainment of the aims and objectives of the NBA as outlined in the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association 2015 (as amended). As one of the three specialist Sections, NBA-SPIDEL was specifically created to advocate issues of public interest and highlight the strong link between law and development based on enthroning strong institutions, regulations and sustainable governance framework that permeates all arms of government and their relevant agencies.
8. While I am precluded from expressing any preferences for any of the Sections of the NBA by virtue of my office, I must nevertheless state that the NBA-SPIDEL has, especially in the past two years, acquitted itself creditably. One pledge that I must make to NBA-SPIDEL leadership is that even as I take a bow from the leadership of our great organisation, my membership of, and involvement in, NBA-SPIDEL is about to be taken to the next level. As you already know, I am one person who does not fail to keep my promises.
9. Distinguished conferees, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an understatement to say that Nigeria is currently facing a myriad of challenges. The NBA has followed with great concern the deteriorating state of internal security and the gradual erosion of monopoly of the Nigerian State over the use of force and arms. All over the country, hapless Nigerians are being killed, abducted, or maimed with reckless abandon. From the East to the West, and from the North to the South, we are faced with the grim picture of a country under siege and tottering at the edge of the precipice. Illustrative examples abound.
10. While you will agree with me that the war against insecurity is the primary responsibility of the executive arm of government, which superintends over Police and the other State actors, the other arms of government equally have a role to play. For the judiciary, the war against terrorism does not end with the arrest of terror suspects but must end with the prosecution and conviction of those found guilty in accordance with the Constitutional and relevant statutory provisions. For the judiciary to perform this role effectively, the peculiar needs of the judiciary must continually be addressed.
11. As the NBA has repeatedly advocated under my administration, the imperatives for an effective judiciary in Nigeria entail the appointment/selection of suitably qualified judges, as well as discipline of the few erring judges; judicial autonomy/independence of the judiciary, which has a direct bearing on the welfare of our judicial officers; and the need to enhance efficiency and efficacy of the justice delivery system, to reduce the chronic delays and congestion of cases in Nigeria. All of these, if addressed, will significantly address the challenges that currently undermine the authority of our judiciary.
12. It is against this backdrop that we have gathered for these few days to examine, analyse, and proffer solutions to the various governance issues plaguing Nigeria especially the issues related to the judiciary. For this year’s Conference, NBA-SPIDEL has chosen the theme “The Undermining of Judicial Authority in Democracy.” I could not think of a more appropriate theme at this time. I therefore urge all participants to meaningfully engage in the Conference sessions and to make the most of this opportunity, even as I wish us all very beneficial deliberations.
13. Before I end these welcome remarks, I must of necessity address the circumstances behind the decision to reschedule the venue of the Conference from Sokoto State to Abuja, FCT. The circumstances are indeed public knowledge and therefore merit no rehashing. To any discerning mind, rescheduling the Conference was simply the only way forward especially in the face of withdrawals by invited guests and speakers and when it became clear from the then prevailing that we could not guarantee the safety of the guests and speakers.
14. As I said in my statement announcing the postponement of the Conference, the NBA acknowledged and was truly appreciative of the efforts put in by the government and good people of Sokoto State towards ensuring the success of the Conference. One recommendation I will make to the incoming NBA administration is to, as soon as possible, schedule another NBA event in Sokoto as a demonstration of our vote of confidence in the government of Sokoto State and to illustrate the fact that we have nothing against the people of the State.
15. Let me end this address in the same way I started, by once again commending the Dr. Monday Ubani led NBA-SPIDEL administration for putting together this Conference.
President, Nigerian Bar Association
4th August 2022