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The SAN’s Pulpit: Law reform efforts in Abia State, a review

By Awa Kalu

We must take significant cognizance of the fact that Abia State was born in 1991 having been carved out of Imo State by a Military Decree promulgated in August, that year. In turn, Imo State was created from the defunct East Central State in 1976. History will vindicate the fact that East Central State was created from the then Eastern Region in the wake of the civil war.

The successive State Creation and Transitional Provisions Decrees that gave birth to the East Central State, Imo and Abia States, had one significant landmark , the reliance on the laws which were traceable to Eastern Nigeria.

This scenario is captured in the Foreword published in the Index volume and it will pay great dividends to quote an excerpt which is to the effect that:  “Abia State was created in August 1991 by the instrumentality of the State (Creation and Transitional Provisions) (No. 2) Decree No. 21 of 1991. Section 4 of that enactment required that all existing laws in the old Imo State out of which Abia State was created would continue to have effect in the new state subject to such limits and modifications as may be necessary to bring them into conformity with the Decree. This position was reinforced by the Laws of Imo State (Application) Law No. 1 of 1991 which was promulgated by Abia State”.

It is further acknowledged in the Foreword that:  “The effect of the foregoing is that the new Abia State will apply all the laws contained in the Laws of Eastern Nigeria 1963 Edition and the subsequent legislation made in (a) Eastern Nigeria between 1963 and 1967 (b) East Central State (1967 – 1976); and (c) Imo State (1976 – 1991). To ascertain an applicable Law on any subject, one has to embark on a voyage of search in libraries or ministries and corporations which in most instances do not have Gazette publications of the relevant laws”.

In order to underline the herculean nature of the work which the Commission had to undertake, it will also pay great dividends to quote in extenso from the Preface to the Laws of Abia State authored by the Chairman of the Commission, Sir Chikezie Wachuku, KSC. In his words: “Before the publication of this Edition of the Laws of Abia State (2005), Laws of the State have had to be gleaned from the 1963 Revised Edition of Laws of Eastern Nigeria; the plethora of Laws passed thereafter in Eastern Nigeria; the British Statutes of general application in force on 1st of January, 1900; the Laws of East Central State; the Laws of Imo State (before the creation of Abia State) and Laws promulgated by Abia State Legislature – whether Civilian or Military. This Revised Edition contains the Laws of Abia State in force on 31st December, 2005 and the relevant subsidiary legislation made under them. Such subsidiary legislation are printed immediately after the Law by virtue of which it is made”.

The Imperative of Law Reform

Having made the point that the task before the Commission was arduous and tedious, it is now appropriate to ask ourselves why it is necessary to reform our laws and to revise them from time to time. The Commission made the point in the Preface that it also had the opportunity to deal with the statutes of general application in force in England by 1st January, 1900. It will be recalled that these statutes were part of the laws transplanted to this country by our colonial masters together with the common law. Late Lord Denning’s observation in Nyali v. Attorney-General of Ceylon (1951) 1 All E.R. 646 at 652-3 is very instructive and illuminating.

He said: “…the common law cannot be applied in a foreign land without considerable qualification. You cannot transplant it to the African continent and expect it to retain the tough character which it has in England. It has many principles of manifest justice and good sense which can be applied with advantage to peoples of every race and colour all the world over; but it has also many refinements, subtleties and technicalities which are not suited to other folk. These off_shoots must be cut away. In those far-off lands, the people must have a law which they understand and which they will respect. The common law cannot fulfil this role, except with considerable qualifications…”

The ‘considerable qualifications’ referred to by Lord Denning is relevant to the process of Law reform. Significantly, the relevant statutes setting up Law Reform Commissions across the country accept this reality. For instance, the Nigerian Law Reform Commission Act No.7 of 1979, (s. 5(1) thereof) provides that “…it shall be the duty of the Commission generally to take and keep under review all federal laws with a view to their systematic and progressive development and reform in consonance with the prevailing norms of Nigerian society including, in particular, the certification of the laws, the elimination of anomalies, the reduction in number of separate enactments, the reform of procedural laws in consonance  with changes in the machinery of the administration of justice and generally the simplification and modernization of the law”.

In ‘Social Perspectives of Law Reform in Nigeria’, Law Reform No.4 Dec. 1984, p. 52-3, Dr. Ahmed Bala Yusuf is of the view that “The setting up of a Law Reform Commission…is a very bold step towards systematic law reform in Nigeria…The Commission would increasingly lay great emphasis on the social survey techniques, seminars and especially public hearings as fundamental modes of participatory law reform”.

Just as its federal counterpart, the Abia State Law Reform and Review Commission by section 12(1) of its enabling law is directed on a continuous basis to “take and keep under review all the state laws with a view to their systematic and progressive development in consonance with the prevailing norms of Nigerian society and, in particular, of Abia State and shall recommend to the State House of Assembly, through the Attorney-General, suggestions for the reform of these laws, including:-(a) codification; (b) elimination of anomalies; (c) repeal of obsolete, spent and unnecessary enactments; (d) consolidation in number of separate enactments; (e) reform of procedural laws in consonance with changes in the machinery of justice; and (f) simplification and modernization of the law.

Section 12(2) states that “…the Commission shall, with respect to customary laws in particular, identify the laws, and collate and restate them in the form of a manual”. I have referred to the enabling statute of the Commission in order to emphasize the point that the current publication of the Laws of Abia State is only an infinitesimal part of the functions assigned to the Commission by the combined effect of the provisions of sections 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 of the said enabling Law. Having provided a brief rehash of the necessity for law reform, it is time to pay some attention to my real assignment, which is a review of the Revised Edition of the Laws of Abia State placed before His Excellency, the Governor of Abia State for presentation to the public.

The Review

The publication of the Laws applicable presently in Abia State is aesthetically arranged in alphabetical order and in chapters in 8 delightful volumes. It has to be acknowledged without equivocation that the laws have been published in elegantly printed volumes, thoroughly proof-read to eliminate to the barest minimum, typographical errors and thus, consign the proverbial ‘Printers Devil’ to the bottomless pit -speaking in a Pentecostal manner.

The binding is equally excellent and the colour of the hard back very sober and appealing. The Index volume identifies the pieces of legislation that were considered and dealt with by the Commission. The statutes which have been dropped or omitted from the publication have similarly been identified and listed, and the reasons for the omission are stated.

Accordingly, statutes which are spent or obsolete or which are for one reason or the other no longer applicable have also been identified. However, with the greatest respect to the Commission, it appears that in this country at least, the hard back idea of presenting laws is no longer in vogue. A few examples will suffice. The Laws of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, for instance, are published in five volumes in the loose-leaf format. In addition, the Laws of Lagos State are presented in the same format just as the current Laws of the Federation, 2004.

The advantage of this format is explained by Hon. Justice E.O. Ayoola, former Justice of the Supreme Court and Chairman of the Law Reform Committee responsible for the revision of the aforesaid Laws of the Federation, 2004. In the Preface to the Laws published in volume 1 stated as follows: “A significant innovation is the publication of this Edition in loose-leaf form. This is a marked departure from the format of the previous editions of the Revised Laws. The new format has been adopted for several reasons among which is in response to the current need of the profession and general users who deserve a more user-friendly format. The loose-leaf format has advantages that are too many to enumerate exhaustibly.


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