NBA Ikeja Branch Shows the Future Path – Prof Ernest Ojukwu SAN

Prof Ernest Ojukwu SAN

The Tiger Branch as the members of the Nigerian Bar Association Ikeja Branch love to be called are truly tigers. But one can be as brave or as strong, or as energetic, or as powerful as a tiger without contributing any meaningful positive to society. That is why I prefer to call the Tiger Branch purposeful pathfinders, and true bar association.

At a time in our National life, when questions are being asked by lawyers and non-lawyers on what the role of lawyers and the Nigerian Bar Association is, Ikeja Branch of the NBA has shown us the way.

On May 18th 2017, the branch through its Human Rights Committee hosted a seminar on “protecting the rights of the vulnerable citizens in our society- matters arising.” The focus of this conversation was “persons with disabilities”. The Nation has failed or refused to pass a disability law. The Nigerian Bar Association does not even have any policy on the support of her members with disabilities.

On March 27th 2018, the Ikeja Branch of the NBA hosted another seminar on “salvaging Nigeria’s criminal Justice system: the Jury option.” The seminar on the “Jury option” is the first serious conversation on this criminal justice option in Nigeria. The conversation on “Jury option” “seeks to end jungle justice with the jury system, expand the frontiers of civic rights and responsibilities, and promote better Judicial practices by ensuring the active participation of the citizens in the justice delivery process…”

A wave of police harassment, molestation and brutality of lawyers in the line of duty began seriously in 2016. On 30th January 2018 Fatai Abijo, a member of the branch was beaten up and handcuffed by a task force of the State Police Command for the only reason that he remonstrated with the task force to stop an assault on a motorist whose offence were unknown. Two objectives of the NBA declare that the Association shall maintain and defend the integrity and independence of the Bar, and the “promotion and protection of the principles of the rule of law and respect for enforcement of fundamental rights, human rights and people’s rights.”

With a genuine leadership interested in the objectives of the Association and the protection of its members (and the public) from police brutality of citizens, NBA Ikeja Branch decided to carry out a protest march on the streets in February 2018. The State Commissioner of Police negotiated with the Branch for the Bar to shelve the protest march. The result of shelving the march was that the Commissioner of Police with his Area commanders and many senior police officers participated in a joint press conference with NBA Ikeja Branch at the Bar centre of the Branch. The press conference addressed concerns on police brutality and the citizen. In addition, the Commissioner of Police organised a workshop for Lagos State Divisional Police Officers on “Human Rights and Police in a Democracy.”

On March 13th 2018, the NBA Ikeja Branch members undertook a street march to protest over 400% hike in land use charges and other taxes by the Lagos State Government. This protest march was conducted despite the threat of arrests on the Chairman and leadership of the branch. Some civil and human rights groups joined the Nigerian Bar Association Ikeja Branch on this protest. The Branch also submitted a petition to the State Government on this tax protest. It has been reported that the Government is discussing a downward review of the charges.

There are some other Nigerian Bar Association branches and branch leadership that are taking steps to address the objectives and the future of the legal profession. But Ikeja branch is at present our pathfinder. We thank the branch Chairman Adesina Ogunlana, the branch Human Rights Committee and other leaders and members of NBA Ikeja Branch for showing the way. To predict the future we must create it.

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