ADDRESS BY OLUMIDE AKPATA, PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION AT THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION SECTION ON PUBLIC INTEREST AND DEVELOPMENT LAW (NBA-SPIDEL) TAKING PLACE FROM 23-26 MAY 2021 AT JOGOR CENTER, IBADAN OYO STATE

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Protocols

Introduction

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the 2021 Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association – Section on Public Interest and Development Law (“NBA-SPIDEL”) holding in this historic city of Ibadan, Oyo State Nigeria. One on hand, it is a sign of the extraordinary times that we find ourselves in that this Conference is the first in-person conference to be held by the NBA or any of its Sections since the inception of our administration, almost 9 months ago.

On the other hand it is a testament to the indomitable nature of the human spirit and a sign of the gradual recovery from the devastating effect of the Covid-19 Pandemic that we have been able to gather together for this special occasion.

I must of necessity begin this address by expressing, on behalf of the Association, our profound  appreciation to our hosts, the government and the good people of Oyo State ably led by the Governor, H.E. Oluwaseyi Abiodun Makinde, the Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, Rt. Honourable Edward Adebo Ogundoyin and my Lord, the Chief Judge of Oyo State, Honourable Justice Muktar Abimbola.

I am sure there is no one in this hall today that has not already experienced, in one way or the other, the famed Oyo hospitality.

While I am precluded from expressing any preferences for any of the Sections of the NBA by virtue of my office,  I must nevertheless state that it is altogether fitting that the NBA-SPIDEL Conference is the first conference of Nigerian lawyers for the year 2021.

Any keen follower of NBA activities would have realised that right from our inauguration, this administration has been greeted with one national crisis or the other which we have done our best to address, from the #EndSARS protests to the ongoing industrial action by judicial workers.

These events, together with the recognition of the cardinal position occupied by Public Interest in any progressive society, reinforced the need for us to activate the Public Interest Litigation Committee for the NBA for the purpose of instituting public interest actions for the Association, its members and the general public.

Due to its importance, we inaugurated the Public Interest Litigation Committee ahead of schedule and before the establishment of the other Committees and charged them to institute public interest actions to challenge and seek judicial intervention on various issues. I am proud to say that the Committee has not disappointed. I am even prouder to say that I have their assurance that more is yet to come.

Similarly, as a former Chairman of the NBA Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL), I am very much aware of the critical roles that the various specialist Sections of the NBA play to the overall attainment of the aims and objectives of the NBA as outlined in the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association 2015 (as amended).

As one of the three specialist Sections of the NBA, SPIDEL was specifically created to advocate issues of public interest and highlight the strong link between law and development based on enthroning strong institutions, regulations and sustainable governance framework that permeates all arms of government and their relevant agencies.

The great enthusiasm shown by our members and our invited guests from different parts of the country and the general expectations from this Conference amongst lawyers and the Nigerian public all bear eloquent testimony to the fact that the timing of this Conference could have not been better.

Thus, in addition to providing the members with an avenue to fulfil their mandatory continuous professional development; according us all the platform to network, having been starved of such opportunity by the Covid-19 Pandemic, I am convinced that this Conference is poised to offer much more.

The imperative for this Conference and the aptness of the Conference theme, “The Role of Public Interest in Governance in Nigeria” lie in the realisation that only governance principles, driven by altruistic public interest philosophy, as opposed to excessive political interest and self-centred considerations that will enthrone sustainable development and the actualisation of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of State Policy captured under the Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Unfortunately, for far too long, it is the latter that has reigned supreme in the various facets of our national life.

This brings me to the state of our great nation Nigeria. It is an understatement to say that Nigeria is currently facing a myriad of challenges.

The NBA has followed with great concern the deteriorating state of internal security and the gradual erosion of monopoly of the Nigerian State over the use of force and arms.

All over the country, hapless Nigerians are being killed, abducted, or maimed with reckless abandon. From the East to the West, and from the North to the South, we are faced with the grim picture of a country under siege and tottering at the edge of the precipice. Illustrative examples abound.

In the Northern part of the country, especially the North East, while the security agencies continue to analyse the veracity of the widely reported clash between Boko Haram and their ISWAP counterparts, which has led to the reported death of the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau as well as its implications for the security situation in Nigeria, the reality on ground is that the war on terrorism and insurgency continues to rage.

In recent weeks, terrorists have taken their attacks to a new deadly dimension, ransacking villages in the region, and stamping their authority. We read of the disturbing attack a few Sundays ago, on a military base in Mainok, Borno State, leading to the death of 30 soldiers.

A few weeks ago, Boko Haram militants reportedly attacked Geidam, a Local Government Area that is some 200 kilometres from Damaturu, the capital of Yobe State, and took over the community, while reportedly hoisting their flag in the community and imposing taxes.

With these, together with the reported advances of Boko Haram into parts of Niger State, which is contiguous to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, there is now a clear and present threat to the sovereign integrity of Nigeria, in a manner that is unprecedented.

Another deadly dimension to the violence is the clearly concerted attacks on the education system.

As at Monday, 26th April 2021, a total of 5, out of over 25 students of Greenfield University, abducted by armed bandits on 20th April, 2021 had been killed while the rest, remain trapped in the enclave of their abductors, potentially faced with the fate of their deceased colleagues. 

All over the country, it is as though government is no longer able to provide a secure atmosphere for learning and education to take place, with several schools under lock and key on security considerations.

Unfortunately, the war against terror recently suffered a major setback with the death of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Ibrahim Attahiru and 10 other gallant officers of the Nigerian Army and Airforce who died in a plane crash on Friday 21st May 2021. While we pray for their souls to rest in peace, the best way to honour their memories will be to ensure that they did not die in vain and this can only be done by ensuring a total victory over terrorism and insurgency in Nigeria.

In the South East, a region which until recently enjoyed relative peace, as well as some States in the South – South, a peculiar wave of insecurity has emerged, manifesting in brutal attacks on law enforcement formations and law enforcement agencies especially the police by armed gunmen, as well as the destruction of national assets such as offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). There have also been reported cases of attacks on, and extrajudicial killings of, civilians by the law enforcement agencies.

In Anambra State, no fewer than four communities were until recently under State-imposed dusk-to-dawn curfew, arising from the mindboggling killing of about 19 persons at Igbariam, by unknown assailants.  A similar curfew was imposed in parts of Rivers State, following the killing of law enforcement agents at their duty posts by armed assailants. Very recently too, the Federal High Court in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, was attacked, and a section of it torched, by the attackers.  This is not to mention the attacks on some communities by suspected criminal herdsmen in the State leading to loss of lives.

Recently, the United States Embassy issued a Travel Advisory to its citizens cautioning against traveling to different parts of Nigeria, citing security reasons. In a similar token, the United States Consulate in Lagos, in a “Security Notice” dated 27th April 2021 decried the rising spate of crime in Lagos State, and advised its citizens to be more cautious in their movement in and about the State. These are all indicative of a near breakdown of the security architecture of the Nigerian State and call for emergency security measures.

In addition to the worsening insecurity, we also face the problems of constriction of the civic space, and endangered freedom of expression, ostensible failure of institutions at different levels of governance.

We are all witness to incessant civic demonstrations from ENDSARS to ASUP Strike, ASUU strike, including the ongoing JUSUN strike which has hit at the heart of our dear profession and practice.

These are indicators of the state of the precarious state of the Nation. I dare say that this precarious state is indicative of the failure of governance at all levels which had been long in coming but has become exacerbated by the day. While there is a role for the citizens and civil society groups in that process, the bulk of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of government  to tackle the problems head-on.

While efforts have admittedly been made, these have clearly not been satisfactory. Governments at all levels must take charge and deliver on the most important mandate of their offices: the protection of lives and properties.  They must restore the faith of Nigerians

in the social contract that the citizens have with the Government. Indeed, they must govern in the Public Interest .

Nigerians have become beleaguered and are desperately yearning for good governance.

And the good governance we must all seek to enthrone is not the type baked on altar of on political crucibles, ethnicity, religious or other sentiments and overhyped over radio and TV jingles, but a genuine system of sustainable and measurable delivery of economic growth and empowerment of the masses under conditions that the fundamental human rights of individuals and rule of law prevails.

It is good governance considered on the basis of attainment of social and economic objectives, equality, timely and just remediation for people whose rights are infringed. It is against this backdrop that we have gathered for these few days  to examine, analyse and proffer solutions to the various governance issues plaguing Nigeria. This the Conference hopes to achieve across the various sessions that have been lined up for the event.

A sneak preview of the programme lined up and the stellar line of speakers clearly reveal that we are in for a treat. I am particularly looking forward to the session on, “Internal Security: A Prerequisite for National Development” as well as the session on the sub-theme, “Third Party Data Capturing for National Identification Numbers Project: National Security and Privacy Issues”. This latter sub-theme is particularly topical in the light of the recent announcement by the National Communications Commission that the President has approved a policy authorising them to retrieve the phone IMEI of all Nigerians by July 2021.

In concluding, I commend the leadership of the NBA-SPIDEL under the astute Chairmanship of my brother, Elder Prof. Paul Chibuike Ananaba SAN, the Conference Organizing Committee led by the brilliant and indefatigable public interest lawyer and a one-time 1st Vice President of the NBA, Mr. Monday Onyekachi Ubani, the Local organizing Committee led by our past General Secretary Aare Isiaka Olagunju, SAN and of course the Chairman of NBA Ibadan Branch – our Host Branch: Mr Yinka Esan. Together these individuals working with their respective teams have successfully set the stage for this important conference which you all have honoured by being present today. I encourage you to make the most of this opportunity and I wish us all very beneficial deliberations.

OLUMIDE AKPATA

President, Nigerian Bar Association

24th May 2021

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