Experts Discuss Justice Reform, Environmentally-Sustainable Devt., Other Topical Issues on Final Day of 2019 Lagos Law Week
The second and final day of the 2019 Law Week of the Nigerian Bar Association’s Lagos branch featured an even livelier line-up of sessions than the previous day. From the opening session to the last, delegates were treated to a sumptuous intellectual feast, and each session elicited a storm of questions and comments.
Friday’s programme opened with an animated dialogue between the bar and the bench on the administration of justice in Nigeria. Chaired by a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, and moderated on his behalf by Fola Arthur-Worrey, a former solicitor-general of Lagos State, the session began with a presentation by the lead speaker, Babatunde Fagbohunlu, SAN, who is a partner and head of litigation, arbitration and ADR practice group at the law firm of Aluko & Oyebode. The main thrust of Fagbohunlu’s presentation was that meaningful justice reform was impossible without a cultural and attitudinal reorientation on the part of Nigerians in general – and stakeholders in the legal space in particular. He specifically called on the panel to interrogate the impact of contradictory court judgments; the institutionalization of minimum standards and best practices in a variety of areas, as well as the vexed issue of financial autonomy for the judiciary.
On hand to explore the range of issues raised by the lead speaker was a distinguished panel comprising of Dr. Wale Babalakin, SAN, senior partner at the law firm of Babalakin & Co.; Hon. Justice H .A. Abiru of the Court of Appeal; and Hon. Justice Azinge of the Delta State High Court (who represented that state’s Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Marshall Umukoro); and a representative of Hon. Justice C .M. A. Olatoregun, the administrative head of the federal high court in Lagos.
In their various responses to the lead speaker’s presentation, all the panelists, without exception, agreed that the glory days of the legal profession – and in particular the judiciary – are long gone, citing poor legal training; lack of consequences for misconduct or mediocre performance; the corrosive legacy of military rule; huge backlog of cases – including, these days, pre-election as well as post-election cases; too many law graduates without a proper grounding in law and the demands of justice; as well as the low cut-off requirement for the granting of the SAN privilege, among others. They called on the handlers of the nation’s jurisprudence to retrace its steps by starting afresh, with quality legal education, and by reordering the court system, among other measures. They called on members of the bench to lose their fear of petitions, even as they charged the Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC) to place the burden of proof on petition-writers, along with the costs thereof.
One issue that drew much comment among the panel was that of financial autonomy for the judiciary, with Fagbohunlu, SAN, wondering whether the judiciary – in its currently state – was ready for such autonomy.
The panel discussion was followed by a Q/A session in which participants expressed their interest or concern on an array of issues such as the feasibility of special courts dedicated solely to the resolution of election disputes – especially the presidential ones – in a manner that does not detract from the regular courts in terms of time spent. (While a few of the panelists were against it, Fagbohunlu in particular was in favour of such a court – albeit on an ad-hoc basis –in view of the positive impact it would have on clearing the backlog of cases before our judges); the role of the bar in protecting the bench from abuse (especially by an executive which, of late, has shown some hostility towards it); the need to limit the process of appeals at the Court of Appeal; the wisdom, or otherwise of removing procedural matters from the constitutional structure, and so forth.
By common consent, it was agreed that if the recommendations made at this session were acted upon, they would have a far-reaching effect on the dispensation of justice – and on national development as a whole.
The second session of the day was devoted to the environment – and its relationship with social and economic development. In a presentation on the topic, ‘Sustainable Development and the Environment,’ a professor of law and vice-chancellor of the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lanre Fagbohun, SAN, challenged lawyers to bring a measure of environmental activism to bear on their advisory services to their clients in respect to the management and implement of big-ticket projects and transactions that may have an impact on the environment. He spoke of levels of accountability arising from the failure to factor environment issues (and their socio-political fallouts such as health concerns, alienation of local communities in the decision-making process, disaffection, ethnic tension, terrorism, pressure on the earth’s diminishing resources, deforestation, chemical waste and diminished biodiversity, etc., as was the case in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region in the recent past). To Prof. Fagbohun, the message lawyers should send to their clients is simple: You can still achieve economic growth without undermining ecological integrity. Investing in environmental protection NOW, saves you enormous future costs in crisis management.
In response to a question from the moderator, Mrs. Olamipo Akinsulire-Jinadu, on impending environmental legislation current being contemplated by Nigeria’s national assembly, the Chair of the Climate Change and Sustainable Development Policy Unit In Ghana’s Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology And Innovation, Peter Dery warned that such legislation must take the real needs of people and the necessity of economic development and growth as seriously as it does the environment. It must, he added, also curb the tendency by foreign conglomerates to ‘push the envelope’ and fall back on traditional business models that are no longer legal or tenable in their home countries. Dery went on to enumerate the measures his country, Ghana, has so far taken to reduce the environmental effects of economic activity in that nation.
Further insights into the need for a critical balance in this regard were also given by Nurudeen Ogbara, the director of the Citizens Assistance Centre, and a member of Nigeria’s Council of Legal Education; and Dr. Jubril Adeojo, a strategic advisor for Africa at the Think Renewables Group, Inc. in Canada.
See photos below:
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