The Legal System Remains a Key Factor in Our Collective Drive for Socio-Economic Progress

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Tuesday, October 26, 2021 / 2:05 PM / by Governor Nyesom Wike / Header Image Credit:  Punch Newspaper

 

Being Governor Nyesom Wike's Remarks At The 61st Annual General Conference Of The Nigerian Bar Association in Port Harcourt held from Monday 22nd to 29th October 2021

 

Protocols

 

Thank you, the MC, for those kind words and generous introduction.

 

Thank you, Mr. President of the Federation, for making time out of your busy engagements, to be part of this historic occasion.

 

Thank you, our President of the Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA) for the opportunity to make these remarks at this opening ceremony as well as your effort to make a success of this conference.

 

It is indeed a pleasure to be with you and a rare privilege to host the Annual General Conference of the NBA for the second time in the life of our administration.

 

I wish to on behalf of the Government and people of Rivers State join so many of our friends, colleagues and leaders to formally welcome the President of the NBA, the National Executive Committee, leaders and members of the inner and outer Bar, and all conferees to Port Harcourt, Nigeria's only garden city and fastest growing city in West Africa, for this important meeting.

 

Law is not just an instrument for social control; it is as much an instrument for social progress. And as a government, we believe and subject ourselves to the rule of law.

 

We also believe in the legal profession and respect the men and women saddled with judicial powers and authority to dispense justice to everyone who come before them across the country.

 

We have severally identified with and responded positively to the requests of the NBA as much as we can with friendship and respect.

 

In 2017, we sponsored and successfully hosted the 59th Annual General Conference of the NBA here in Port Harcourt. In 2018 and 2021, we supported the conference of the NBA's Section on Legal Practice in Port Harcourt and Uyo respectively. Today, we are again sponsoring and hosting the NBA's 61st Annual General Conference here in Port Harcourt.

 

We contributed the sum of N200,000,000.00 to the completion of the NBA's national secretariat project in Abuja, for which a floor in that complex was promised to be named after Rivers State in appreciation. However, we are yet to be informed about the floor that has been so-named, if at all.

 

Here in Rivers State, we built the secretariat complex for the Port Harcourt branch of NBA and donated 50 million naira support to three other local branches, namely: Okehi, Okrika and Omoku to build their own secretariat buildings.

 

Last week, I have approved the release of the same amount for the remaining local Bar branches, that is, Ahoada, Bori, Degema, and Isiokpo, to also build their own secretariat buildings.

 

We also provided 32-seater coaster buses to each of the local branches of the NBA in Rivers State, including FIDA to ease their transportation movements in and out of the State and their localities.

 

As a key element in the nation's legal system, our support for the NBA in the last six years has been quite substantial and impactful and we are happy to have been privileged to contribute our quota to the advancement of the NBA at both the national and local branches in our State.

 

Apart from the NBA and its role as a linchpin for the rule of law and social justice, we also believe in the indispensability of a strong, independent and effective legal system as a pathway to peace, justice and development.

 

For us therefore, a nation can either aspire to have excellent legal and judicial systems or remain with mediocrity, with either choice having its respective consequences.


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Here in Rivers State, and under our watch, we decided to choose the former; and since our inauguration in 2015 we have worked as hard towards providing adequate support systems for the legal system as well as the judiciary to discharge its functions to the best of expected quality.

 

In the last six years, we have:

  • built, rebuilt, furnished and equipped old and new courthouses for the entire spectrum of the State and Federal judicial system, including the Rivers State High Court, the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court and the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt.
  • provided new high-end Special Utility Vehicles, two times to all judicial officers to ease their movements and enhance their operational effectiveness.
  • provided high-end vehicles for all magistrates in the State's judicial service;
  • implemented a special housing policy entitling judicial officers to life-long residences provided by the State Government from their first day in office, or, in the alternative, to equivalent monetary sums for those who may opt to build or buy their own residences for themselves. I have since signed the Rivers State Hosing Scheme for Judicial Officers law 2021 to give legal backing to this special scheme.

 

It is instructive that we extended our policy on housing and vehicles for judicial officers to judicial officers of Rivers State origin serving in federal courts, where the welfare system is comparatively weak and formally limited.

 

Recently, we launched the multi-door courthouse to ensure greater access to mediated disputes settlements, especially for the business and investment community.

 

We also opted on our volition to contribute towards improving the living conditions of federal judges serving our citizens by providing fully furnished luxurious residences for judges of the Port Harcourt Divisions of the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court and the Court of Appeal.

 

Although we spent several billions of naira on these federal projects, we will not ask for refunds from the Federal Government for the amount spent. But we will appreciate if the Federal Government can ensure the regular maintenance of the beautiful structures and facilities for the continuous comfort of their judicial officers to advance effective justice delivery.

 

As we all know, the quality of a nation's legal system begins with the availability of first-rate legal education and training institutions.

 

While we appreciate the federal government for decentralizing the Nigerian Law School, we felt compelled to also contribute to the advancement of legal education for the benefit of our nation with the following projects, that is, the construction of:

  1. twin 900-bed capacity students' hostels at the Yenagoa Campus of the Nigerian Law School, Bayelsa State; and
  2. 1500 seating-capacity auditorium, also, at the Yenagoa campus of the Nigerian Law School.

 

The State Government is spending 5.6 billion naira on these two projects.

 

We are also building a completely new campus of the Nigerian Law School in Port Harcourt, which we have projected to be the best in the country, and already named after Nigeria's first Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Nabo Graham-Douglas, SAN, at the cost of 16 billion naira, only, which will be ready for the next batch of students in April 2021.

 

In addition to the provision of administration and maintenance overheads of N10,000,000 per month for the next four years, we intend to also support the campus with sustainable investments, which proceeds, we insist, must be applied for the limited benefit of this campus only, and not remitted to Abuja for the general use of the Nigerian Law School.

 

Furthermore, we are building the Rivers State Judicial Institute to complement the services of the National Judicial Institute to provide greater access to periodic training and retraining for judicial officers, magistrates and senior court personnel from Rivers and other States of the federation.

 

The extent and intensity of our investments in the entire value chain of the law and justice subsectors of the State and national economy underscores the importance we attach to the rule of law and effective administration of justice in Rivers State.

 

One thing is clear: the legal system remains a key factor in our collective drive for socio-economic progress and it is only an unserious government that can elect to politicize the judiciary and expect meaningful developments to take place.

 

This is why our commitment as a government has been and will remain wired towards having the best justice delivery system in the country in terms of access and affordability, institutional quality and integrity as well as the efficiency of the court rules, processes and procedures.

 

At this point in our development we may yet be at where we are headed, but God knows we are doing great and profoundly impactful with our achievements in making Rivers State an admirable and preferred judicial hub in the country.

 

Let me also be clear that we are not fools for throwing Rivers money after federal judicial institutions and projects.

 

Our passion to contribute to national development is the sole reason and what we have done for the federal judiciary; we have equally done for several other federal institutions, including the security agencies, WAEC, JAMB, FRSC, Immigration and the international development agencies and partners, including the United Nations, domiciled in Rivers State.


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After all, the residents of the State are the primary and major beneficiaries of the services and projects being provided by federal agencies and institutions in the State.

 

And so, while some other States and the Federal Government may continue to pay lip service to the critical issues facing the judiciary and our legal system; the Rivers State Government, under our watch, will not be part of the sustained pretenses.

 

Let me also add that it is not enough for the Federal Government to issue Executive Order 10 and do nothing more pragmatic about by resourcing the judiciary to the fullest possible extent, including enhanced judicial welfare and conditions of service.

 

At any rate, Executive Order 10 is an oppressive erosion of the powers and autonomy of the sub-national governments to administer their own judicial budgets according to prevailing economic indices, hence; the decision to seek judicial interpretation of the Order's legality or otherwise.

 

It is for similar reasons of strengthening fiscal federalism that we are in court to determine the proper authority, under our Constitution for imposing and collecting the Value Added Tax in oue country.

 

These are very nationally sensitive issues and Nigerians are eagerly waiting for the final outcome of the judicial process.

 

We therefore wonder why the Supreme Court is not giving accelerated hearing to these matters and respectfully request that this should be done in the national interest.

 

For us, we must stop this artificiality and work collectively towards building a strong legal system, well-resourced and independent judiciary and effective administration of justice for our country.

 

What's more, the Federal Government cannot continue to undermine the welfare of the country's judicial officers with poor remunerations and attract the best hands and excellence into our judicial system.

 

The struggle for a better deal for our judicial officers is one the NBA must champion with utmost priority and commitment before it's too late in the day to rescue it from total collapse.

 

This now brings me to the theme of this conference, which simply says: "taking the lead," which I would think is more of an aspiration for the future.

 

A little moment of introspection would reveal that the NBA is not what it used to be before the estimation of Nigerians in terms of the quality and commitments of its disposition to the struggle for the rule of law, social justice and national development.

 

Since the birth of this nation, Nigerians have relied on the law and our legal system to settle disputes, prevent crime, promote democracy, protect human rights and regulate virtually all aspects of both private and public life.

 

From independence to date, our constitutions have managed to guarantee, preserve and protect citizens libertarian rights and freedoms and the 1999 Constitution is no exception as it reflects the essence of democracy, the rule of law and social justice.

 

As we all know, democratic principles are inherent in the right to self-determination, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the right to participate in the governance of the society either directly or through freely elected representatives.


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Similarly, the rule of law and social justice are expressed in the constitutional provisions that guarantee equality of all before the law, the entitlement to equal protection of the law without discrimination, the protection against arbitrary interference with the freedoms of citizens and the accessory rights to substantial justice before the ordinary courts of the land.

 

However, while rights have meaning only when citizens can enjoy them the desire for freedom, democracy and social justice is indeed, the birth right and natural aspiration of every Nigerian citizen.

 

As a profession and as a pluralistic assemblage of learned men, the NBA has greater responsibility to promote and protect the rights of Nigerians at all times and in all circumstances.

 

But the central question is whether the NBA has been living up to its credo and responsibility?

 

While I would leave us to be the judge, my own personal conclusion is that, for years now, the NBA has focused less on promoting and fighting for the values of good governance, democracy, judicial independence, human rights and the rule of law.

 

These are some of the concerning facts:

 

Never in our political history has Nigeria been so badly governed and denied of good governance with the federal government woefully failing in its basic duties to provide for the wellbeing and security of its own citizens as we have experienced in the last six years.

 

On a daily basis the economic, social and political rights, including the rights to personal security, freedom of speech, association, dissent and peaceful protests, as well as the right to personal liberty are being violated with impunity by the present central administration and its security apparatus.

 

The invasion on personal liberty has been brazen and indiscriminate, such that even judges of the superior courts, including Supreme Court justices, have in the recent past been victims of midnight assaults on their premises and subjection to unlawful arrests and imprisonments.

 

Lately, the new devious trend is to tag security risks to innocent Nigerians and opposition elements and use the Immigration Authority to seize their international passports without a prior court order.


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In the face of sustained political intimidation and pressure from the Federal Government, lack of judicial courage is becoming widespread among judges, which is undermining public confidence, discrediting the justice system and causing irreparable damage to the fabric of our constitution and the rule of law.

 

We all agree that justice delayed is justice denied. And in most other countries, criminal matters from the institution of proceedings to final determination are concluded within a time frame of six months.

 

However, whether in civil or criminal trial, the Nigerian legal system is far slower spreading swathes of injustices along its course with unjustifiable delays and burdensome costs on the State, lawyers and litigants.

 

There are many manifestations of social injustices feeding extremists sentiments and resentments across the country, even as many more wrong things are going on within the legal system and the larger society.

 

Indeed, there are plethora of troubling issues with our legal system from the quality of legal education to the quality and personal character of those we appoint to exercise judicial powers; from the quality of justice administration, including the existing court rules, processes and procedures to the assignment of cases and the resort to special or constitution of regular appeal panels; and from the  quality of pretrial investigations to the trial process, and the quality of conduct of trial and defence lawyers to the quality of judgements and justices being dished out from the inferior to the superior courts.

 

Unfortunately, the NBA becomes part of the problem when it remains discomfortingly indifferent and cowardly voiceless to the many issues and challenges affecting good governance, democracy, the legal system and the rule of law in our country.

 

We agree that confronting a blind and brutal government may be tough and often misinterpreted politically, but there can be no room for reticence, retreat or surrender if we must aspire to have excellence in our judicial system and prevent innocent persons from suffering adversity because of the failures of our legal system or judges lack of courage to enforce our laws with equal measure, or worse still, because they have sold out to some form of political intimidation or pressure.

 

Taking the lead therefore is to transform and reform the NBA to an activist association willing and ready to use the law to advance the values and aspirations of our profession and the progress of society as a positive social force for change with courage and determination.

 

Taking the lead is to reclaim and uphold the values of the profession we once held; to have the courage to challenge what is wrong and unjust; to break free from tired traditions and status quo of the system; to question the motives and rightness of unfair and inequitable governmental actions and decisions; as well as to take appropriate and bold steps to eliminate the increasing costs, delays and drudgery of our criminal justice system.

 

Taking the lead is to embrace the truth and having no patience for injustice; no tolerance for bad governance, and having no sympathy for political leaders who fail their citizens or for timid and incompetent judicial officers who betray their judicial oath with wrong and conscienceless judgements.

 

I do hope and pray that from this conference the NBA will reawaken to its responsibility as the trustee of our legal system, resolve to guard against the easy slide into passivity and find the courage and inspiration to fight for good governance, democracy, judicial independence and the rule of law as the identities and traditions of our country through positive activism.

 

This is the mission of our profession and vigilance is the price of liberty.

 

Thank you for your attention and may God bless the NBA and the legal profession. I wish everyone a very successful conference.


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