The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has advised the federal government to address a myriad of challenges facing the country, ranging from the ailing economy, corruption, and insecurity, to justice administration.
This is contained in the communique issued by the association, the body of lawyers, after its week-long 63rd annual general conference held from 25 August to 1 September in Abuja. The communique issued Saturday was signed by the NBA President, Yakubu Maikyau, and General-Secretary, Adesina Adegbite.
The working sessions of the conference, which were said to have recorded over 16,000 registered participants, focused on three main themes: economy, administration of justice, and security.
“Many of the problems identified include poor coordination among the different actors in the sector; long delays in hearing cases; a lack of effective legal aid to help the poor to access justice; overcrowded detention facilities; critical allegations of corruption within key institutions and poor conditions of service across the sector,” the communique, shared with PREMIUM TIMES by the association’s national publicity secretary, Akorede Lawal, read in part.
While applauding the enactment of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and other innovative legislations to quicken justice administration, the NBA said there had been several investigative reports “with useful initiatives to improve the justice sector” but they have remained “unimplemented.”
It pointed out that “public confidence in the justice system remains at very low levels,” an issue blamed on the slow pace of adjudication and allegations of corruption.
In confronting the problems, the association recommended a rethinking of strategies in “policing, adjudication, bail, sentencing and imprisonment.”
It also called for “adherence to judicial decisions” and “integration of technological advancements for the judiciary.”
To address the issue of the welfare of judicial officers, the association urged the government to remove judges’ remuneration from the purview of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
“Conference also recommended an independent salary scale for judicial officers. Conference recommends that urgent attention be paid to the plight of magistrates and other lower court judges.”
The clamour for improved remuneration for Nigerian judges has lingered for years leading to an order from the National Industrial Court of Nigeria last year for an upward review of judges’ salaries. The challenges, however, remain.
President Bola Tinubu while declaring the NBA conference open promised justice sector reforms.
Impact of insecurity
Drawing the nexus between security, economic prosperity and justice administration, the NBA observed that “the devastating effects of terrorism, non-participation of communities in security efforts, unemployment’s link to unrest, and the need for regional cooperation and intelligence sharing.”
It said porous borders and globalisation breed crime, while the government’s “indiscriminate release of suspects, government’s inaction against insecurity, and the presence of ungoverned spaces” have exacerbated Nigeria’s security challenges.
It suggested “greater investment in the military including providing support for civil-military coordination framework as well as a comprehensive endowment framework for critical military facilities and equipment.”
The communique further recommended “community involvement in policing, youth engagement through job creation, enhanced regional cooperation, media sensitization, comprehensive police reforms, religious school regulation, strengthening the judiciary, and observance of human rights.”
The association urged Nigerians to support law enforcement agencies in tackling insecurity.
In its assessment of the Nigerian economy, the NBA said “structural issues” bordering on “inadequate infrastructure, tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade” have constrained the sector.”
Nigeria has been grappling with inflationary pressures, compounded by the government’s removal of subsidy on petrol.
The NBA blamed obstacles to investment and uncertainty in government policies.
Challenges like power shortages, oil theft, kidnapping, insecurity, and divisions among citizens have prompted the need for robust, long-term economic decisions to revive the economy, the communique said.
The association expressed disappointment over Nigeria’s inability to maximise its natural resources for industrial development, particularly in the energy sector.
Proffering solutions to the problems, the association said “sustained broad-based economic growth and poverty reduction are critical to Nigeria’s economic growth and stability.”
It called on the federal and state governments “to refocus efforts on infrastructure development, improve power generation, improve agricultural productivity, and expand jobs in rural areas.”
“There should also be greater attention on youth employment through education and entrepreneurship skills training.”
Poor funding of justice sector agencies
At its annual general meeting which is part of the conference, the NBA said it received reports from statutory government institutions in the justice sector.
It said bodies like the National Human Rights Commission, Council of Legal Education, Legal Aid Council, and Law Reform Commission, continue to suffer inadequate funding, thereby crippling their mandates.
“AGM decried the poor funding of statutory bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission, Legal Aid Council and the Council of Legal Education and called for continuous engagements between the NBA and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to facilitate proper funding of statutory bodies for effectiveness and performance.”
It said members at the AGM resolved to suspend the proposed amendment of the NBA constitution.
“By a majority voice vote of members present at the AGM, it was resolved that the proposed amendment of the NBA constitution 2015 (as Amended in 2021) be and is hereby rejected in its totality while the subsisting constitution be retained.”
The 63rd Annual General Conference with the theme, ‘Getting it Right; Charting the Course for Nigeria’s Nation Building’, held at the M.K.O. Abiola Stadium, in Abuja, from 25 August to 1 September.
According to the communique, the conference registered 16,340 participants.
It also said the conference comprised of six plenary sessions, 21 breakout sessions, 26 speakers, 99 panellists and 23 moderators.
The conference which was declared open by President Tinubu, had Tony Elumelu, the Chairperson of the Board of Governing Council, Tony Elumelu Foundation, as the keynote speaker.
NBA president, Mr Maikyau, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), delivered the opening address.
The conference received goodwill messages from the President of the Court of Appeal, Monica Dongban-Mensem; the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, John Tsoho, and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi.
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