•You fail to speak truth to abusive federal power —Wike
•Take lead in protection of human rights —DSP Omo-Agege
•Poor quality of reviewers, problem with Nigerian constitution —Kukah
By Egufe Yafugborhi
THE 2021 annual conference of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, kicked off, yesterday, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, with the Chief Justice of the Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Mohammed, accusing the lawyers body of aiding litigants’ assault on the judiciary.
This is even as Governor Nyesom Wike berated the body of lawyers for abdicating its societal expectation to stand and speak against perceived Federal Government’s abuses on the rights of the governed.
The CJN, who represented by Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Mary Peter-Odili, said: “As Head of the Judiciary, I have tasked all justices and judges to take up the challenge being pushed at us by the times.
“At various fora, I have encouraged my brother Judges and Justices to see the administration of justice as one of the fundamental solutions to some of the nation’s crisis.
“The peace of the nation rests on the balance of scale of justice, and our Courts must ensure that justice is served at all times irrespective of the pressures from within. This is not to say there are no challenges plaguing the administration of justice in the country.
“All challenges of the Judiciary can be internally addressed. Some demand support of the Bar for actualization. One of them is the poor condition of service for national judicial officers.
”Members of the Bar that serve in various arms of government must see the urgency of leading a crusade to address the issue as a matter.
“Another challenge being faced by the Judiciary is the assault by litigants against the institution of the Judiciary when their cases are not met. Unfortunately, some members of the Bar also join them in ridiculing our Courts in private discussions and on the media.
“The institution of our court is sacred and the respect that people have for it is one that ministers in the temple of justice have made the people realise must be accorded to it.
”When judges who do not have a right of reply are subjected to disparaging and humiliating comments in the media, it silently kills their moral and dedication to the cause of justice. I therefore urge the Bar to rise in defence of the Bench at all times.”
Wike, on his part, said: “As professionals and as a pluralistic assemblage of learned men, the NBA has greater responsibility to promote and protect rights of Nigerians at all times and in all circumstances. The central question is whether the NBA has been living up to its credo and responsibility?
“While I would leave us to be the judge, my own personal conclusion is that, for years now, the NBA has focused less on promoting and fighting for the values of good governance, democracy, judicial independence, human rights and the rule of law.
“These are some of the concerning facts: Never in our political history has Nigeria been so badly governed and denied good governance with the federal government woefully failing in its basic duties to provide for well being and security of its own citizens as we have experienced in the last six years.
“On daily basis, the economic, social and political rights, including rights to personal security, freedom of speech, association, dissent and peaceful protests, as well as the right to personal liberty are being violated with impunity by the present central administration and its security apparatus.
“The invasion on personal liberty has been brazen and indiscriminate, such that even judges of the superior courts, including Supreme Court justices, have in the recent past been victims of midnight assaults on their premises and subjection to unlawful arrests and imprisonments.
“Lately, the new devious trend is to tag security risks to innocent Nigerians and opposition elements and use the Immigration Authority to seize their international passports without a prior court order.”
Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, said: “The NBA should take the lead in promoting and protecting human rights, rule of law and good governance in Nigeria, as well as promoting welfare, security and professional advancement of legal practitioners in Nigeria.
“This is, indeed, the era legal practitioners ought to be at the forefront of development of this nation for the benefit of all. The National Assembly has taken the lead in enacting laws to give legal teeth to some provisions of fundamental objectives and directing principles of state policies.
“In this regard, our attention has been focused on enthronement of free and fair electoral process as precursor for good and accountable governance. The National Assembly is also in the process of concluding work on far-reaching proposals to alter the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 to meet the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians.
“Some of the constitutional proposals include the reforms of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court by reducing the subject matters in respect of which appeal lays before that Court as of right and also to enable at least three justices to form a quorum to dispose interlocutory applications in the chambers among other proposals.
“There is no gainsaying that there cannot be any meaningful development of the laws of this country without active and collaborative collaboration between the Bar and lawmakers.”
In his keynote address, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Most Rev. Mathew Hassan Kukah, blamed the problem with the Nigerian Constitution on those charged with reviewing it overtime.
Kukah said: “I don’t know any other country that had reviewed it’s constitution over and over again like Nigeria, to a point that the exercise itself nearly generates division among Nigerians.
“It seems the persistence of our unresolved problems is directly tied to the quality of our constitution, its ability or inability to inspire confidence, the commitment of the ordinary citizens.
“I have found that in the debate on the Nigerian Constitution, a lot of things continue to occur. I have had the privilege of serving under Justice Niki Tobi, in one of the attempts at reviewing the Constitution.
“What I have found, with no intention to disrespect anybody, is that the problem is with the quality of people that were sent and have been sent overtime to review our Constitution.”