The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Akpata, in keeping with his promise to regularly engage with lawyers and provide monthly updates on the activities of his administration, has presented his monthly update for the month of.
The update covers issues relating to the involvement of the NBA in the #EndSARS protest, issues surrounding the attack on the judiciary, NBA’s engagement with stakeholders on the vacuum created by the non swearing of a substantive Chief Judge in Cross River State, the abduction and release of a lawyer Ms Ajayi, Police reform and many more.
The report reads in part:
Exactly one month ago I started a series through which I will be providing you with monthly reports on my stewardship. In my first letter to you, I outlined some of the activities that my team and I had embarked upon in our first month in office (September 2020). This is the second letter in that series, and I am pleased to be writing to you again. The month of October 2020 was a particularly difficult one for Nigeria, and by extension the NBA, especially in the wake of the #ENDSARS movement and the flurry of activities that followed it. In October 2020, most of our time at the NBA was spent dealing with public interest matters and State of the Nation issues. A quick highlight of some of our administration’s activities in the month under review is as follows:
- A “Black-letter” Month – The #ENDSARS movement by young Nigerians took an ugly turn when on 20th October 2020 lives were lost at the Lekki Toll Plaza in an attack on the peaceful protesters. Relatedly, several police officers were killed by mobs in different parts of the country after the rather peaceful #ENDSARS protests were hijacked and turned violent. Those were dark chapters in the history of our country. The NBA promptly condemned the ugly developments and called for dynamic leadership by the government to avoid a repeat of such unfortunate incidents. We have been following developments in this respect and our resolve to ensure that those involved in these extra-judicial killings are brought to book, remains unshaken.
- #ENDSARS Movement and Good Governance: I am convinced that the NBA’s critical role in holding government accountable and promoting good governance must be invigorated. To that end, we were actively involved in the recent calls by peacefully protesting Nigerians for good governance and to end police brutality. Among other things, we intervened in the following ways: (a) working through our various branches and in collaboration with the Attorneys-General of various States, we secured the release of numerous #ENDSARS peaceful protesters; (b) made our voice loud and clear via several interviews, press statements and a national press conference in condemnation of police brutality, abuse of office and disregard for the constitutional rights of Nigerians by security agencies; (c) set up a helpdesk and a pro bono scheme to provide general legal support to peaceful protesters across the country; and (d) requested the Chairpersons of some branches of the NBA (as part of our pilot phase) to set up teams to conduct audits of all detention centres of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (“SARS”) within their areas, with a view to securing the release of people who were unlawfully detained, and ensure that others get a fair trial.
- Police Reforms and House of Representatives (HoR): Related to point 2 above, I met with the Speaker of the HoR to explore a possible collaboration towards a holistic reform of the Nigerian Police. As a starting point, the HoR and the NBA agreed on the need for the urgent enactment of a law that will make the Police more responsive and accountable to the citizenry. This resulted in the ongoing amendment of some relevant laws governing the Police. An initial draft of the Bill required for this purpose has been submitted to the Speaker of the HoR by a legislative think-tank with seven representatives from the NBA and we will actively monitor the progress.
- A visit to the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry: On the first two days of its sitting, I visited the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up to investigate the Lekki Toll Plaza shootings and other cases of police brutality. At its maiden sitting, I pledged the NBA’s support to the panel, and to victims who may be unable to afford legal representation. I
admonished the panel to conduct its activities fairly, without fear and favour and to ensure that justice is not only done, but also seen to be done. I also committed that the NBA will have representatives at this and similar panels who will act as amici curiae to provide guidance and support to the panels, when needed.
- Partnership with the National Human Rights Commission (“NHRC”)– On 30th
October 2020, I signed a Memorandum of Partnership with the NHRC through which the NBA will assist victims of human rights violations by the Nigerian Police in preparing and submitting their petitions before the Independent Investigative Panel set up by the Federal Government of Nigeria and before the various Judicial Panels of Inquiry set up by State Governments. The NBA will also provide free legal aid to victims who may require such support. We have started implementing this in some of the States.
- An emergency National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting: Worried by the unpleasant developments in the country during October 2020, I summoned an emergency meeting of the NEC (our highest decision-making body). While I had hoped that the first NEC meeting following my assumption of office would be convened to discuss critical issues affecting us as a profession, we incidentally had to discuss the State of our Nation (which is clearly under threat) and seek approvals and guidance on the way forward for my team and I.
- An Attack on the Judiciary: In October, hoodlums plundered and razed several courts in various parts of the country. The attacks were most unfortunate. I visited some of the affected courts including the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal. During my inspection of the damaged High Court of Lagos, I told the Chief Judge of Lagos State that while we
bemoan the losses occasioned by the attacks, the incident presents us with an ample opportunity to overhaul our document filing and storage processes and fully digitize our courts. I pledged the full commitment of the NBA in working with the Judiciary towards achieving that objective. It is my hope that as we rebuild the courts around the country, the golden opportunity to set our system on the right track will not be lost. The NBA will continue to prod the heads of the Judiciary to reinvent the judicial system in alignment with the fast-changing times driven by technological advancements.
- Update on Cross River State Judiciary: Regarding the vacuum created in the office of the Chief Judge of Cross River State, I met with the Attorney-General of Cross-River State, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Executive Secretary of the National Judicial Council (“NJC”) and the Chairmen of all the NBA branches in Cross River State to discuss the constitutional crisis. I also attended an emergency meeting of the NJC on 14th October 2020 where it was decided that Justice Maurice Odey Eneji who was then acting as Chief Judge could not continue in that capacity. The NJC also resolved that if Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme could not be confirmed as substantive Chief Judge, then the third most senior judge (Justice Effiom Ita) should be sworn in as acting Chief Judge. This was done by the Governor of Cross River State on 19th October 2020.
- Freedom for Ms. Ajayi: One of us, Ms. Paulette Bisola Ajayi was abducted by gunmen on 4th October 2020. As a demonstration of our commitment to members’ welfare, the NBA quickly set up a team led by the 1st Vice-President, the Welfare Secretary and the Chairman of NBA Port-Harcourt Branch to liaise with relevant authorities to secure her
Throughout the period, the NBA received overwhelming support from the
Governor of Rivers State, the Attorney-General of Rivers State and the Rivers State Police Command and were able to secure her release a few days later.
- Discipline at the Bar: During the month, I met with the Chief Prosecutor of the NBA at the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (“LPDC”), Charles Ajuya, SAN and other prosecutors (OEB Effiong, SAN, Elisha Kura, SAN and Oladipo Olasope, SAN) to discuss disciplinary matters at the Bar, the impact of the new LPDC rules on their work, and how the Bar must continue to actively push for erring members to be promptly and appropriately disciplined in order to restore confidence in the system and ensure full compliance with our professional ethics and rules of conduct.
- Miscellany: During the month, (i) I received briefing from members of the NBA Task Force on CAC on their activities and engagements with the CAC. While things may not have moved as swiftly as we would have loved at the CAC, I have their assurances that lasting solutions are being deployed and that the impact of the engagements will become more obvious in a short while; (ii) I set up Caretaker Committees for the Abeokuta and Auchi branches of the NBA to manage the branches following the expiration of the terms of the of the previous committees set up by my predecessor; (iii) a number of lawyers and judicial officers in Nigeria either passed on or were buried. While praying for the repose of their souls, I attended the funeral of Alfred Eghobiamien, SAN to pay my last respects to him on your behalf; and (v) we participated in monitoring the Ondo State Gubernatorial elections and are finalising our detailed report and recommendations to the Independent National Electoral Commission for an improved electoral process.
- A call to serve: The need to maintain our role as advocates/defenders of the masses and watchdog of the society cannot be overemphasized. This, amongst others, prompted the decision of my team to set up a Public Interest Help Desk in the month of October. As part of this, we have been receiving complaints from Nigerians on fundamental rights and crucial public interest matters. We are also institutionalizing an expanded pro bono scheme under which lawyers will provide legal support to deserving members of the public on eligible matters and also intervene on public interest issues. While the NBA National Secretariat will continue to work with the 125 branches for this purpose, our resources will understandably become stretched. We therefore require more volunteers across the country as we build a database of interested lawyers. If you would like to be part of our public interest and pro bono scheme, please send an email with your name, phone number, email address and place of practice to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be pleased to welcome you onboard.
I thank you for your attention. Please be assured that my team and I remain committed to delivering on your mandate to us and bequeathing a Bar that you will be most proud of.