Law & Human Rights

April 14, 2016

African Bar Leaders: confronting challenges of justice administration

File: Lawyers

THE Nigerian Bar Association ,NBA, has affirmed its commitment to administration of Justice in the African continent as it hosted the first African Bar Leaders Conference in Lagos.

The event which coincided with the 22nd anniversary of Rwanda Massacre, had the theme: “reducing poverty and promoting sustainable economic growth in Africa through reforms in administration of justice.” The four-day event which took place at the Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island attracted eminent legal personalities across African countries.

Among the guests were the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmoud Mohammed who was represented by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Attorney General of the Federation, Malam Abubakar Malami SAN (represented), President Court of Appeal was represented by Justice Sidi Barde, Court of Appeal justices, Lagos state Attorney General, Adebayo Kazeem represented Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, Minister of communication, Mr AdebayoShittu and Justice Candid Johnson represented Lagos state Chief Judge. Others were former NBA president, chief Bayo Ojo SAN, life Bencher, Mrs Hairat Balogun, Chief Wole Awomolo, SAN, Attorney Generals of Kebbi, Ogun, Anambra and Akwa-Ibom.

NBA Pro-bono Declaration

There were also legal representatives from African countries such as Liberia, Niger, Mali, Benin republic, Togo, Sierra-Leon, Tunisia,m Uganda,Côte d’Ivoire and Rwanda Ambassador to Nigeria. NBA executive director, Ifueko Alufohai in her address said access to justice is an important component of our Administration of Justice Reform programme.

He noted, “We recently publicly presented the NBA Pro-bono Declaration for the Legal Profession. The declaration restates the commitment of the NBA to achieving effective legal representation for the poor. We are now working on the modalities for the establishment of a National Pro- Bono Centre that will facilitate collaboration with other legal aid service providers.”

The promotion and protection of the rights of Nigerians is another important component of our administration of justice programme.

Former Ekiti state Attorney General,Wale Fapohunda in his his speech said “our aim is to facilitate a process that leads to a better understanding of challenges facing Africa in the key conference thematic areas- Poverty Reduction, Economic Growth and Justice Sector Reforms.”

NBA president, Augustine Alegeh SAN said in his opening remarks that “said the failure of the legal system contributed to the genocides in Rwanda.”He pointed out that there is no alternative to the rule of law, “the only alternative is anarchy.” He observed that the problems of African countries are similar, poverty, lack of infrastructure, corruption and terrorism. He said that African Bar leaders must come together and find solutions to these problems. According to him, International Bar Association, IBA, conference does not address African problems.

“African bar leaders should take the bull by the horns and find solutions to these problems.”

AGF Malami congratulated NBA for its achievements and the new voting policy of universal suffrage that will enable all lawyers to cast their vote to elect their leaders. He said that the conference theme aligned with the provisions of chapter 2 of the 1999 constitution, adding that there should be time line for the outcome of the conference so that it would not be like other conferences.

The communication minister who is also a lawyer promised to do everything to support the conference and NBA initiatives.

President Pan-African Lawyers Union PALU, Elijah Banda, said the conference theme agrees with the objectives of PALU. He revealed that the union is a creation and brain child of the NBA.

Best practices reforms

On his part, president, African Bar Association, ABA lauded the NBA president for organizing the conference saying that NBA has been able to do what ABA and PALU have not been able to achieve.

Justice Kekere-Ekun said the the theme is not only germane but critical. She said sound administration of justice will promote economic growth in the society. She expressed delight that the conference topics will elaborate on terrorism, human rights and poverty. She said that Nigerian judiciary is embarking on best practices reforms, adding that it is trying to ensure that cases are expeditiously dispensed through e-case management system. She also revealed that Nigerian legal e-mails to ensure that lawyers communicate with the court and their international colleagues. She also pointed out that the Supreme Court will soon commence its own mediation centre.

Representative of the Chief Prosecutor International Criminal Court, Mrs Fatou Bensouda, said that the conference should join her in the fight against impunity. He lamented that when the legal system is attacked, lawyers maintain deafening silence. He said ICC is not an international justice system but it stands against impunity and heinous crimes. He observed that ICC is out to complement national judicial system and that it steps in when the national judicial system fails.

He noted that ICC is not targeting Africans but impunities. He said the body has received reports that both the Nigerian security forces and the insurgents committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Fight against insurgents

He observed that ICC will not interfere in the matter if it has proof that Nigerian government has initiated legal proceedings on the issue. He also stated that ICC has communication on crime against humanity in a fight against insurgents, Biafra agitators, Zaria clash between Shiite and the army and hate campaigns in the build up to the 2015 general elections.

Speaking in one of the sessions, the NBA President, Mr Alegeh called for a streamlining of regulatory Agencies in Nigeria, in a bid to foster economic development.

He maintained that government must ensure that the regulatory agencies in Nigeria are streamlined, in order to avoid a multiplicity of functions.

According to him, too many regulatory agencies in a country, hindered a smooth running of businesses, and acted as a major drawback to economic development and growth.

He called on government to merge such regulatory agencies, so as to enhance business development in a large scale.

He said: “We are faced with a situation of government setting set up several regulatory bodies to regulate the same industries.

At the end of the day, it is either we have over regulation because all the regulatory bodies are working very well, or we have no regulation because there too many regulating bodies and no one is belling the cat.

“I think we should take a look at laws in our respective countries and see how regulation is pushing business away, and see how we can work with our respective home government to streamline regulation of businesses, to ensure that each industry has one sector regulator.

“In Nigeria for example, we have NAFDAC which is the National Agency for Food, Drugs, Administration and Control, and also the SON, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria;

“Many manufacturers, having gone through the NAFDAC registration process and having been certified, are stopped from producing because the SON comes in to check the same standard.

“Now, this is one example of double regulation; If these two agencies were merged into one, or if they have one standard organisation, they will have a seamless, simple working system; This is replicated in most of African countries,”

Policy of globalisation

Alegeh also noted that government seemed to be imbibing the policy of globalisation without taking into consideration the poverty situation in Africa.

He submitted that as African leaders, the Bar must come out with a road map for the government to work with, adding that this should be the general thrust of the African Bar.

In her presentation to the gathering, the President of the Rwanda Bar Association, RBA, Julien Kavaruganda who spoke on the “State of the Justice System in Rwanda, Strength and Weaknesses, Judiciary, Prisons and Police” highlighted the state of the institutions and concluded that they are fairing well.

According to her due to the 1994 genocide, tens of thousands of suspects were apprehended, and by the end of July 1996, 120,000 inmates were being held in a prison system with a capacity of only 18,000 (666,6% of Prison occupancy rate in 1996)