Even at the best of times, the Annual General Conferences of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) have always been an occasion for the ingathering of the most accomplished stakeholders in the Nigerian enterprise, as the cream of Nigerian society strives to put the most topical issues of our time on the front burner of national discourse, and to examine the short and long-term effects of current and emerging trends on the profession and our lives, livelihoods and the ship of state.
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic across the globe caused a momentary halt to this tradition in 2020. But the seeming lull in the initial rage of the pandemic has motivated the leading lights of the legal fraternity to renew that tradition – with a vengeance, as Port Harcourt clearly attests, especially as the situation in the country assumes a new and deadly dimension. Held at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, in the Elekahia district of the Rivers State capital under the theme ‘TAKING THE LEAD,’ the event was graced by a record number of notable Nigerians, namely, Hon. Justice Mary Odili, who represented the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko ; the keynote speaker, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah (the Catholic bishop of Sokoto diocese); Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, CON, and the Rivers State First Lady, Hon. Justice Ebere Suzanne; Sokoto State Governor Tambuwal; Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong; former Rivers Governor Celestine Omehia; former Kwara State Governor and Senate President, Sen. Bukola Saraki; the Rivers State Chief Judge Hon. C. S. Amadi; his Ogun State counterpart, Hon. Justice Mosunmola Dipeolu; Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, the chairman of the Nigerian Council of Legal Education; and Sen. Ita Enang, the special adviser to the Nigerian President on national assembly matters.
In his address of welcome, the Chairman of the Port Harcourt Bar, Onyekwere reiterated the prescient warning by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SAN, on the dangers facing the Nigerian commonwealth, and said that warning, though given as far back as the 1970s, is as relevant today as when it was first sounded, hence the imperative for a gathering like this to dissect direct causes and symptoms, and to prescribe solutions and influence the actualization of positive outcomes. He heaped praises on Rivers State Governor Wike on his contributions towards the realization of yet another Conference in Port Harcourt – so soon after the 59th confab – as well as his efforts to develop Rivers State
His views were echoed by the Chairman of the Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP) for the Port Harcourt gathering, Omubo Victor Frank-Briggs, who welcomed the fact that the 1st in-person confab since the outbreak of Covid 19 took place in Port Harcourt. Not only is it a testament to the high trust the NBA places on the PH branch, but it has also given all of us a deeper appreciation of life.
Also speaking at the occasion, the NBA President, Olumide Akpata praised the work of his predecessors in sustaining the progress the NBA has made over the years, saying he has ‘stood on the shoulders of giants.’ The theme of the NBA confab, he continued, is informed by the sad Nigeria has long been punching way below its weight category. This reality, he said, calls on lawyers to take the lead, not just in advocacy, but in actually running the country. It is high time, he made bold to say, for a lawyer to become the President of Nigeria. To make a difference in this role, the lawyer-politician must not fall into the trap of primordial sentiments in a rapidly changing world.
The NBA helmsman also disclosed plans for a Bench Summit in Abuja.
The Opening Ceremonies also featured goodwill messages from the Rivers State governor; the Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate, the Speaker of the Nigerian federal house of representatives (as delivered by Hon. Onofiok Luke); and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (as delivered by Justice Odili).
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