The outgoing President of NBA, Mr. Austin Alegeh, SAN, set the ball rolling in his address at the opening ceremony, in which he charged the Federal Government to fight corruption only within the ambit of the law. Alegeh noted that the NBA would not be party to a scenario in which looted funds recovered from Mr. XY in the anti-graft war would be given to Mr. Z. Stressing that the professional body would support every credible move against corruption in the country within the context of the law, Alegeh however took a swipe at the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for its inability to conclude elections in recent months. He described as embarrassing for the judiciary the rash of conflicting judgments from the Federal High Courts, and urged the National Judicial Council, NJC and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN to save the judiciary from further embarrassment.
Alegeh also lashed out at the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, for seemingly abandoning its role in order to take up the functions of other federal agencies, stressing that the Commission ought to focus on rights issues and leave other tasks to agencies saddled with such responsibilities. To this end, he urged the Attorney General of the Federation to clearly define the functions of federal agencies to guard against one assuming the responsibility of the other.
In his address, the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, a lawyer who also served as the Chair of the Local Organising Committee, LOC of the Conference, spoke extensively on what he perceived to be the creeping abuse of power in the nation’s democracy. Lamenting the occupation of the initial venue of the national convention of his Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) convention venue in Port Harcourt by the Police and the Department of State Services, DSS, the Governor said that the actions of the security agencies were a violation of the tenets of popular democracy. He also decried moves by INEC to declare results for Tai Local Government Area, one of the councils in the state for the last March re-run election, saying it amounted to political robbery as elections did not hold in the area. The Governor recalled that INEC had issued a statement cancelling the election that same day, only for it to announce about five months later that it had results for an exercise that, according to him, did not hold. Gov. Wike therefore pleaded with the NBA to stand firm in defence of the nation’s democracy, and not to remain docile on matters threatening democratic governance in the country.
Undoubtedly, the Conference afforded Nigerian lawyers a rare opportunity to assess one of their own in the person of Barrister Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, CON. They were able to observe that Governor Wike had indeed touched the lives of the Rivers people through projects that have enhanced their economic well being – a sentiment that was expressed by the newly elected President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, who said his colleagues were impressed with the performance of Governor Wike. In particular, he commended the Governor for executing projects that have promoted legal practice, such as the Law Centre of the Law Faculty at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, as well as the Federal High Court, both in Port Harcourt. A visibly elated Mahmoud was particularly impressed with the Law faculty, which, he said, would help in grooming fresh lawyers with modern facilities and enhanced human resources. The NBA helmsman therefore urged Governor Wike to continue driving ongoing projects to completion, to the benefit of the people of the state and to the noble profession in particular. He also advised the students of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology to show appreciation by becoming worthy ambassadors of the institution.
The NBA President’s views were echoed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Jibrin Okutepa, also lauded the governor for living up to the expectations of the people of the state, while the immediate past President of the NBA, Augustine Alegeh, SAN, (who had earlier commissioned the Dr. Peter Odili Road constructed by the Governor Wike administration on Saturday, 21st August, 2016) said the Governor had lived up to the expectations of the people of Rivers State by implementing quality projects. “We are proud that Governor Wike has delivered what he promised his people,” Alegeh said.
In a related development, an award of recognition was presented to Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike at Government House, Port Harcourt by the Nigerian chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA). Presenting the award to the Governor on behalf of FIDA, a former President of FIDA Nigeria and a Judge of the African Court of Human and Peoples Rights, Justice Elsie Nwanwuri Thompson, urged the Governor to sustain his commitment to the welfare of women and children, as well as the overall transformation of the state.
FIDA’s current national President, Mrs. Inime Aguma, in her comments, said Governor Wike’s contributions to the improvement of the living standard of women and children should be encouraged by all stakeholders in the state. Her remarks were echoed by Hajiya Laraba Shuaibu, FIDA’s Regional Vice President for Africa, who lauded Governor Wike for standing up for women and children, saying that he richly deserved the award of recognition. On her part, the representative of the National Association of Women Judges, NAWJ, and wife of the newly elected NBA President, Justice Patricia Mahmoud commended the government and people of Rivers State for their kindness, warmth and friendship all through the NBA Annual General Conference.
The praises that have been showered on Governor Wike stemmed from the verified projects and programmes so far executed by the Governor in the one year and half since his assumption of office. It is no coincidence that everyone that comes to Rivers State recognizes the performance of the governor when set against the background of negative perceptions influenced by the ugly and false propaganda peddled by political backstabbers. On getting to the state, however, visitors are confronted with the reality of development and security – hence the lavish commendations and effusive praises.
Having come from states where Governors routinely offer excuses for non-performance, the visitors to Port Harcourt are happy at the pace of development in Rivers State – which is down to the vision of its dynamic Governor. It is obvious that the 56th NBA Annual General Conference in Port Harcourt will not be the last occasion at which this Governor would be celebrated in this manner.
The emotions exhibited by hundreds of lawyers after accompanying Governor Wike on project inspection tours are indicative of the fact that Rivers State is on the right track. Governor Wike has at different fora declared that his commitment to the development of Rivers State remained unshakeable, as it anchored on his belief in the effective and judicious application of resources for the good of the state.
The security network before, during and after the conference was second to none. Conferees moved round the different conference venues without incident. In addition, the transportation system and logistics were excellent, while the hotels provided quality accommodation.
The Conference helped to further stimulate Rivers State’s already growing economy as thousands of business concerns benefitted directly and indirectly from the presence of the lawyers in the state. One of the most outstanding benefits of the Conference in terms of infrastructure is the remodeled Alfred Diete-Spiff Civic Centre, whose infrastructure was revived by Gov. Wike in order to serve as the main venue of the 56th NBA Annual General Conference. At the end of the conference, the Civic Centre will henceforth be used as an indoor sports facility for various sporting events.
Several other associate conference venues were also upgraded by the Rivers State Government to ensure that the Conference was hosted in a befitting environment. These facilities will continue to serve the people of the state.
The Conference proper featured exciting sessions with interesting topics discussed by knowledgeable and influential speakers and panelists. At a session entitled ‘The Role of the Legislature and the Executive in the Budgeting Process’, Nigeria’s Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, said it was inappropriate for the legislature to raise a budget since it had no powers to collect taxes. He called for collaboration between the executive and the parliament in the budgeting process, adding that each of the parties should stick to its rights and obligations in such collaboration. On the vexed issue of constituency projects, Fashola urged lawmakers to ensure the nomination of projects of interest in their constituencies, noting that this would guarantee continuity of the projects even if they did not return to Parliament. Adding that there were about 200 uncompleted constituency projects in his own ministry, the minister insisted on their completion before new ones are considered.
The Special Adviser to the Nigerian President on Legislative Matters, Sen. Ita Enang called on the legislature to return to the best practice of exhausting all budget processes in the House, adding that leaving the details to committee stages was partly responsible for problems so far witnessed with budgeting processes. In his view, the challenges with the budgeting process in the country since 1999 had been that after the Senate and the House of Representatives had passed the bill, they passed them over to the legal department for what he termed “legal draftsman perfect legislative draft,” an act he said was inconsistent with the provisions of the law because at this stage, some things that were not reflected in the votes and proceedings of the House on the bill would be brought into the bill by the legal department. Sen. Enang maintained that only the Clerk to the National Assembly (or his/her counterpart at State Assembly level) had the power to append his or her signature to documents leaving the confines of the House.
At another session titled, ‘Conversations with the Acting Inspector General of Police’, the police boss, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, who was represented by the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (AIG) in charge of operations, Mr. Hycent Dagala, said that the Police was doing everything possible to wipe out kidnapping, terrorism and other related crimes in the country with scientific intelligence gathering. He also spoke of the restructuring he introduced in the Police to enhance operations.
In their responses, a number of panelists said there was urgent need for the Police Act to be reviewed to conform with modern-day realities in Nigeria. A situation where the Act was still reflecting entities such as the defunct Gongola State, they said, shows the urgent need for review.
Immediately after the NBA Annual General Meeting, Augustine Alegeh, SAN administered the oath of office on his successor, Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN. In his inaugural address, Mahmoud called for the removal of the responsibility of prosecution from the mandate of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. He said it was necessary to narrow and define clearly the mandate of the anti-graft agency, adding that the focus of the EFCC should largely be to investigate allegations of financial crime. He added that an independent prosecution agency should be left to handle prosecution of suspects, calling for an EFCC free from undue political interference. Mahmoud ended with a promise that the NBA under his watch would fight judicial corruption, stressing that his tenure would make the judiciary unattractive for corrupt lawyers.
SPOTTED AT THE ANNUAL GENERAL CONFERENCE IN THE GARDEN CITY