Collaborating for effective dispensation of justice in Nigeria (3)

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This is the concluding part of this discourse. The second part was published yesterday

Femi Falana, SAN, presented the speech at the Gala Night by the British Nigeria Law Forum at Hilton London Docklands, U.K.

WHILE Corruption and rule of law cannot exist together in any society because corruption undermines the rule of law, the independence of the Judiciary and attacks the foundation of democratic institutions, the fight against corruption must be a concerted effort of both the Nigerian Bar Association, the BNLF and other organization of Nigerian lawyers in the Diaspora working together to eradicate the scourge from Nigeria.

As British-Nigeria lawyers, there are areas where you can utilize your privileged positions here to help in fighting corruption in Nigeria.

For example, we all know that Britain is the most preferred destination of choice for our politicians and their loot. While it is difficult for us in Nigeria to trace some of these ill gotten assets due to systemic failures and inadequate paper trail; however, the British legal system is more sophisticated and transparent.

As a group, you can help in fighting corruption in Nigeria by investigating the accounts and property of these public officials in the UK and exposing them to the general public.

You can even petition the EFCC in Nigeria or the British government, request for further investigation and prosecution of such corrupt leaders if elements of crime are found. Some of your colleagues from Francophone countries in Africa residing in western countries have utilized similar methods to expose their corrupt leaders some of which have led to criminal prosecution, conviction and forfeiture of ill-gotten wealth.

Just recently, President Jonathan received the reports of some committees which investigated the unprecedented mismanagement of the oil and gas industry in Nigeria. The Petroleum Task Force headed by Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, a former chair of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has revealed that the nation is being shortchanged by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and a cartel of oil companies to the tune of several billion of dollars.

As the powerful vested interests in the oil industry have held the government hostage the BNLF should collaborate with concerned civil society organizations in Nigeria to press for the full implementation of the recommendations of the Committee. Having failed to use Mr. Steve Oronsanye and Bernard Otti (who were bribed with appointments into the NNPC board during the sitting of the Committee) the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Deizani Allison-Madueke will, in alliance with the multinational oil companies, attempt to influence the Federal Government not to stop the monumental corruption in the oil and gas industry being superintended by her. Since both members of the Committee are guilty of conflict of interest punishable under the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act they are disabled from writing any minority report in the circumstance. Having compromised themselves the Federal Government should not allow them to pollute the credibility of the historic report.

Apart from lending its voice to the demand for the immediate resignation or removal of the Petroleum Minister the BNLF should help Nigeria to recover royalties of billions of dollars illegally withheld by multinational companies at a time when Nigeria is taking loans of hundreds of millions of dollars with dangerous conditionalities to fund the national budget.

Serious economic crimes

The indicted companies should be exposed for committing serious economic crimes against the Nigerian people with a view to having them tried in the West since our legal system is not equipped to bring such powerful economic saboteurs to book. On no condition should the Jonathan Administration be allowed to sweep the profound findings of the Committee under the carpet.

Another sphere where the BNLF can collaborate with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is in the area of the Rule of Law initiative. According to the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative, countries that lack the rule of laws very often fail to meet the most basic needs of their populations. To this effect, the ABA’s Rule of Law Initiative has established its presence in over fifty countries and works with in-country partners to build sustainable institutions and society’s that deliver justice, foster economic opportunity and unsure respect for human rights. In the same fashion, your organization can partner with the Nigerian Bar Association for the attainment of the same objective in Nigeria.

The BNLF can also help with the Continuing Education of our lawyers and judges so as to bring them up to date with the current developments in the law and speedy delivery of justice. The fact that continuing education for both lawyers and judges is crucial for the overall development of a legal system was underscored by the famous Lord Denning, a great scholar and jurist who once stated that: “law does not stand still, it moves continually, once this is recognized, then the task of the judge is put on a higher plain. He must constantly seek to mould the law so as to serve the needs of time. He must not be a mere machine. A mere working mason, laying brick without thought for the overall design.

He must be an architect, thinking of the structure as a whole, building for society as a system of law, which is strong, durable and just. It is on his work that civilized society depends”.

The words of Lord Denning which were written several decades ago are as relevant today as they were then. Lack of continuing education is one of the problems facing the Bar and Bench in Nigeria today coupled with horizontal institutional problems that inhibit the effective administration of justice.

Apart from the fact that most of our laws are very obsolete, I’m sure most people here tonight will be amazed to hear that Nigerian judges still use long hands to record witness statements in a millennium technology, that majority of them are not computer literate, that we don’t have Court reporters to transcribe court proceedings, that we don’t utilize discovery procedure such as interrogatories and request for production of documents in our legal system,  that we are just developing our alternative dispute resolution mechanism and it is non- existent in some states when I know  that in recent times, United States courts have decided that they have the power to compel parties  to engage in amicable resolution of disputes, even when they are unwilling.

Nigerian legal system

I have gone this far to paint the picture of the Nigerian legal system in order  to let you know that   Nigerian judges and lawyers are facing a lot of challenges that require our help if we are to fully realize the effective dispensation of justice, promotion and the enhancement of rule of law in Nigeria. The Judges are fully stretched-mentally and physically and this to a large extent, account for the delay in the dispensation of justice in the country. Stress at work is a barrier to achieving tranquility and efficiency- without composure and placidity, the legal mind cannot function effectively and operate optimally. such circumstances, the system is bound to be fraught with inefficiency and institutional hindrance.  In today’s competitive, worldwide legal market; effective legal support requires a combination of continuing legal education, review of  practice and procedure and improved legal capabilities, which are currently lacking in the Nigerian legal system.

As Nigerian lawyers abroad, the areas of support and cooperation with the Bench and Bar in Nigeria are limitless; but due to the time constraints, I would like to conclude here in the hope that I have only set the ball rolling in our collaborative  efforts to promote judicial efficacy and rule of law in Nigeria.  I thank you for the singular honour you have bestowed on me to be present at this gathering of distinguished legal practitioners and to deliver this dinner speech.

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