NBA Now ‘Silent Entity’ On Rights Abuses- Adegboruwa
Posted: 14/Nov/2018

Civil society activist Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa was recently appointed Chairman of the Justice Sector Programme Commission of the African Bar Association AFBA. In this interview, he shares his views on the challenges of the appointment, justice administration in the country, Alternative Disputes Resolution (ADR) mechanisms and sundry issues.

You have just been appointed Chairman, Justice Sector Programme Commission of the African Bar Association (AFBA). How do you feel about this?

I feel good and I feel honoured. The letter of appointment stated clearly that there was a qualification panel that screened potential candidates for the office and I was found worthy. In fact, the letter also stated that I was found eminently fit to hold the highly exalted position. When you recall that I had no hint of the pre-qualification exercise, that I did not apply for this job in any way at all, then you would feel the same way I am feeling about the whole matter. When you are honoured unexpectedly, without as much as lobbying for it, then such honour comes with inner satisfaction indeed.

I also feel proud to be a Nigerian, to be a lawyer and to be an activist. You know that it takes a lot to be an activist, to be able to maintain certain positions on national issues, at the very risk of your life and even your income. Because of the position I hold on national issues, my clientele is limited, there are cases that I cannot handle and I cannot afford to do what some of our colleagues do to survive. So, when you consider the implications of my stand on my finances and my legal practice, then you cannot but thank God with me for such a global recognition as this appointment. But above all, I thank God Almighty, for I know that recognition and promotion generally, all come from God. The appointment is thus a kind of reward for me, when you consider the sacrifices that I have made, in deprivations, in arrests and detentions, in loss of briefs and other perks that my colleagues enjoy. So, I thank God. It shows that I have not laboured in vain.

What do we expect from you and the association in the next few weeks?

I will be guided by the aims and objectives of AFBA in the discharge of my duties as Chairman of the Justice Sector Programme Commission. AFBA hopes to strengthen professional links between members of the legal profession in Africa. This is a mandate for professional interaction, which will be best handled by robust and aggressive networking between the regional entities constituting the Bar Associations of the various countries. For instance, Nigeria is experimenting with a new Administration of Criminal Justice Act. In this regard, it will be necessary to examine extant legislations of other countries in relation to the criminal justice administration, for the purpose of harmonising the processes and procedures for effective justice administration. The judiciary in Lagos State is presently in the process of enacting a new civil procedure rules to guide civil cases. We can take from the experiences of other countries in order to curb the hydra-headed monster of delay in our justice system.

What other emerging trends do you hope to adopt in this exercise?

The emerging trend for justice administration is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms, which takes away from the bureaucracy and bottlenecks of the existing justice administration patterns. We will seek to explore the potential of the ADR platforms for the purpose of unifying them for smooth operations in order to encourage investments and commercial activities to the continent. AFBA also seeks to maintain the honour and integrity of the legal profession through the promotion of the highest standards of professional ethics. Nigeria maintains very solid disciplinary system for legal practitioners through the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. We owe the profession a sacred duty to preserve its nobility, by ensuring that integrity becomes the hallmark of all legal transactions. Part of the reasons we still have many cases in court in spite of bulky agreements is lack of integrity. Because if you have honour and integrity, you do not even need any document before you honour your obligations. But when documents are then prepared and executed and people still live in breach, it shows lack of integrity. If we don’t arrest the drift urgently, our profession will be doomed.

How do you achieve this feat?

AFBA is advocating encouragement and support of strong and vibrant independent Bar Associations and law societies within member states of the Association. As you would well recall, the Nigerian Bar Association used to be the most potent pressure group in Nigeria, followed closely by the Nigerian Labour Congress and the students unions and then the civil society groups. Up till the regimes of Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, (SAN), the NBA used to be the voice of the voiceless. We are all worried now that the association seems to have become a silent entity in the face of the many abuses of the rights of the people, disobedience to court orders and various marks of gross impunity across the land. We must consciously reduce the influence of politicians in the emergence of Bar leaders, which is being driven by the monetisation of the race during elective campaigns. We hear of governors sponsoring candidates for NBA election and of people devoting millions of naira for the exercise. That can only mean one thing, namely that there are now vested interests who seeks    to take over the Bar to use it for their own political adventures. That shouldn’t be at all.

Is that all?

The other aspect is that judicial officers are supposed to be non active members of the Bar and what that simply means is that the Bar stands to protect and speak for them at all times. But you very well remember the invasion of the houses of judicial officers in Nigeria by the DSS, when justices of the Supreme Court were picked up like snails and herded into custody. The Bar in Nigeria could not save that terrible invasion of judicial quarters. So, the focus will be to see if there are situations that could warrant external intervention or pressure from AFBA, in order to help assert the independence of the municipal Bar Associations, all across the continent, not just in Nigeria. AFBA exists to encourage adherence to the Rule of Law and the independence of the judiciary in all member states and the continent at large. This has been a major challenge for the continent, especially with leaders, who want to remain in office for periods longer than approved by the respective laws of their states, for instance, as it recently happened in Cameroon.

What is the role of the judiciary in all these?

As you know, the judiciary is the major stabilising force in any government. With the constant take over of power in Africa by the military, the judiciary has always been at the receiving end of most dictatorial powers. This has been a major setback for various governments in Africa and AFBA through our Commission will seek proactive measures that will strengthen the judiciary and guaranty its independence, through improved welfare packages, security of tenure of office and robust retirement packages. Good enough, Nigeria just signed into law an Act, which now allows the judiciary to control its own funds directly from the Consolidated Revenue of the Federation. Funding has been a major hindrance to asserting judicial independence, as the judiciary has always been going cap in hand to the executive for funds and as you know, he who pays the piper dictates the tune. We hope to use the Nigerian template to encourage lawyers in other countries to lobby the legislatures of member states enact similar law to enable the judiciary control its own funds and be weaned from the dominance and interference of the executive.

Another major objective of AFBA is sensitisation and awareness campaigns on the usefulness of the legal services to the public in member states. As you well know, illiteracy is still a major issue across Africa, and many of our people in the hinterlands are not conversant with the rights and benefits available to them in law. You will be shocked at the way people endure violations of their rights due to sheer ignorance. So, we hope to partner the Bar Associations to educate our people on their rights and the need to embrace legal services as opposed to arbitrary customary arbitrations that do not address the main issues in dispute.

Do you intend to apply any international instruments in achieving this objective?

Just like the Nigerian Bar Association and most Bar Associations in Africa, AFBA will seek the protection of Fundamental Human Rights within the member states. This is critical for us as a continent, all of which are member states of the United Nations. The UN Charter contains robust provisions for the promotion and protection of human rights, and then there is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Commission on Human Rights and such other international agencies involved in human rights campaigns. Of interest to us is that we already have in Africa the African Charter on Human and Poeples’ Rights, which contains very unique provisions sufficient for the advancement of the rights of the people of the continent.

As it is now, many African nations have not endorsed the African Charter as a municipal legislation that can be enforced in municipal courts across the continent. We will institute an aggressive campaign in this regard, as a starting point for establishing a continental mechanism for the promotion and protection of human and peoples rights.

We will also examine the process of resolving electoral disputes arising from very contentious elections. From experience, it is those who are usually aggrieved from electoral losses that go into rebellion, insurgency and terrorism and then form groups to overthrow the winning side. So, if we are able to ensure the integrity of the election tribunals, then we will be able to instill some confidence in the system such that will make parties before such tribunals become satisfied with the outcome of their decisions.

You have been in involved public interest advocacy for a long time, what has been your motivating force?  How do you think this will encourage you or discourage you in this pursuit?

My public interest advocacy is premised upon my pedigree. While in the university, I was privileged to represent my classmates at the Law Students Society, thereafter as Public Relations Officer of the Students’ Union and then ultimately as President of the Obafemi Awolowo University Students’ Union. I was in this regard also a member of the Senate of the National Association of Nigerian Students. So, I didn’t just stumble into activism all of a sudden. After my schooling career, I  joined Chief Gani Fawehinmi, (SAN) and I was a counsel in his Chambers for about five years and you very well know what that means, because Gani’s Chambers served as the headquarters of human rights advocacy in Nigeria then and I was deeply involved in most of the cases. So, it was not difficult for me to continue in that line when I eventually set up my own law firm in year 2000 and I have not looked back since then. The way I get motivated in this regard is to take my legal practice as a form of ministry to help the needy, who seek justice.

I presently don’t have enough resources to set up a foundation to sponsor people to the university, so I look at myself and decided that I can use my talent and knowledge as a lawyer to help people who are in need of justice. Beyond this, I also sit down at times and look at society generally and if I see any area of law where I can intervene to get justice for the people generally, or where I can deploy law to ease their burdens, as with the environmental sanitation case where people were being locked up for three hours every last Saturday of the month compulsorily, I then go ahead and intervene. This is also what motivated me to challenge the toll fee being charged on the Lekki bridge and the expressway. The other motivation is God Himself, as I am presently a minister in The Redeemed Christian Church of God. At times, I just get a lead in my spirit to take up certain matters and once I have peace in my mind about it, I then discuss it with my wife and proceed in the way my mind leads me.

How do you see the AFBA assignment in the light of these?

I see this AFBA assignment as a continuation of my previous engagements and I am encouraged that it was not something that one lobbied for. So, that in itself is a form of motivation to try to excel in it for humanity and my colleagues across the continent, who are all looking up to our Commission for the transformation of our justice sector, progressively. Discouragements abound in every sphere of life, it all depends on your reaction to it. As a child of God, I am trained to believe that life cannot be rosy all the time and so we expect adversities and some lows as part of the downside of life generally. But with determination and God on our side, we will do our best to overcome all forms of discouragements along the line of duty.

Which agencies and collaborations do you think you need to discharge your duties effectively?

Generally, I believe that our Commission would have to work with all municipal Bar Associations across the continent of Africa, as they form the nucleus of AFBA. We need these Bar Associations to be able to gauge the tempo of occurrences in their respective states. You know we have to also maintain some level of non interference in the local and internal affairs of the Bar Associations. So, it is when these Bar Associations have exhausted all available means municipally that AFBA can intervene to give them support. But there are circumstances that may call for direct intervention, in cases of gross abuse of power, violations of peoples’ rights and intolerable injustice or impunity. But by and large, we will partner the Bar Associations.

Globally, we will be working with international agencies of the United Nations, the European and African Unions, we will need the collaboration of donor agencies to assist in the execution of our mandates and the governments of member states and their agencies. Most critical to our assignment is also the support of the International Bar Association and its allied committees, in order to achieve global synergy in the pursuit of our objectives.

What is your advice to AFBA members to enable the association achieve its desired objectives in Justice Sector Programme Commission?

I think up till now, a lot of our colleagues are still in the dark about the activities of AFBA. So, there is the need for public awareness through the municipal Bar Associations, especially when they have major programmes such as the Bar Conferences. The issue of the retrieval of the Secretariat of AFBA from the Nigerian government is very critical to the operations of AFBA. With the Vice President of Nigeria and other eminent lawyers in the present administration in Nigeria, it should not be difficult to achieve this, if we can work harmoniously with the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, (SAN). The other issue is funding. This is needed for effective performance. We can engage the Bar Associations to entrench a system of generating funds for AFBA’s programmes and activities in order to make it more effective and relevant. But going forward, I must commend the Executive Council of AFBA, especially for the success of the Nairobi Conference.

It takes a lot in planning and execution, to be able to put together a Conference with the challenges of funding. I believe that Nigeria should benefit immensely from the presence of AFBA in our country and nothing can be too much in terms of support for AFBA by the Nigerian Bar Association and the government of Nigeria

What is your view on the current state of Nigerian nation and justice administration in the country?

The state of the Nigerian nation presently is very worrisome indeed. As the leading nation in Africa, we should endeavor to set the pace in virtually all areas of human development, but that has not been the case. When you consider the challenges of justice administration in Nigeria, one cannot but come to the unenviable conclusion that we are way back in this area, compared to some other African countries.

What do we do now?

It is something that we need to address urgently, the state of the judiciary in Nigeria, the poor welfare package of judicial officers, the appalling state of legal practice generally and the falling standards of legal education. We need a leader at the helm of affairs, who can appreciate the need to declare a state of emergency in the judicial sector and to tackle the problems headlong, because unless we have a functional judicial system, democracy is in peril and development will keep eluding us, as a nation.

The Source
By TML News