Due to rising human rights abuse, disregard for the rule of law, and the level of unconstitutionality in the country, there is a need for an advocacy agent that will attend to these issues. BABATUNDE TITILOLA speaks with the Chairman, Section on Public Interest and Development Law, Monday Ubani, on the advocacy roles of the Section established by the Nigerian Bar Association
SPIDEL is the third Section of the Nigerian Bar Association, what informed its establishment and what are the purposes of the section?
The Section on Public Interest and Development Law was formed during the administration of Olisa Agbakoba while he was the NBA President. Then, we had Section on Business Law and Section on Legal Practice. But the NBA has a responsibility of always speaking out on behalf of the public in matters of public interest but there was no Section carved out for that. Not only talking about Public Interest but also the issue of Development Law. Does the Law conform to existing provisions of the constitution? How do we enact laws that will accelerate the development of the economy? Law must be tailored toward development. So the Section concentrates on these; Public Interest and Development Law. It was created so that the NBA will retain its relevance in the scheme of things. The Section is the spokesperson of the oppressed. It addresses issues of deficiency in governance and leadership.
Would you say the Section performs an advocacy role? And is its service only rendered to the NBA or Nigeria citizens Inclusive?
The Section is domiciled within the NBA as it is created out of the NBA. But it’s not for the members of the NBA only. It is just that the NBA is the operational body that carved out that Section that can speak on behalf of Nigerians. The advocacy is tailored toward Nigerians. The issue of governance concerns both lawyers and non-lawyers. Issues of obedience to the rule of law concern lawyers and non-lawyers. So it is a Section carved out to address issues of public interest and issues of development of law that affect the country in general. It is a public-oriented Section for the interest of the public and the country.
How has the section been able to provide effective remedies for victims of abuse of power and unconstitutionality?
There are so many issues that the NBA has taken to court that are issues of public interest. We have gone to court on several issues that address violation of our laws, non-observance to the rule of law and disobedience to court orders. The advocacy has been for good and impactful governance that will affect the generally of Nigerians. Being the Sectional Chair, I have been to court over the NIN matter when they said there was a timeline for registration. I sued on behalf of the Nigerian people to obtain an extension. We also sued against compulsory vaccination and argued that vaccination should not be compulsory. I also went to court for the humongous salaries and allowances of the National Assembly. I got a judgment for the revenue mobilisation commission to ensure that proper salaries and allowances are fixed for the National Assembly members. So what we do in SPIDEL is to ensure that the government complies with their rules and regulations and observes the rule of law and also respects court judgments, and most importantly, to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people. One of our interventions made the NBA President set up a panel to look into the abuses going on in the legal profession. Lawyers who were indicted and found culpable were referred to the disciplinary committee. We have addressed several issues like ASUU strike, insecurity, among others.

How has the Section been able to protect the Judiciary in the course of its advocacy?


SPIDEL did a conference in Abuja where we discussed the dangers of undermining the judicial powers in democracy. Our judiciary is very important for us as an arm of government. It is that arm of government that interprets the law, checks and balances the other arms, especially regarding the observance of the rule of law. If we don’t strategise how to guarantee independence both administratively and financially, then the country will be thrown into a quagmire because people cannot obtain justice. Justice then becomes available for the highest bidder. That is why we are very concerned about this arm of government. This same issue was part of our discussion during the NBA conference on August 24. SPIDEL wants to ensure that we have independence of the judiciary and ensure we have a judiciary capable of withstanding the pressures of society not to falter in the administration of justice generally. So there is a lot that the Section is doing to keep the country abreast of what is right and what is wrong. We are giving out best to remain relevant in the system.


What are the challenges encountered by the section in the course of working toward its aims and objectives?


The issue is practically that of finance. We have a lot to do. But we need external funding from international donor agencies to cooperate with us. We are working on many areas that concern the public like human rights, respect of rule of law, judicial powers, and good governance. If we don’t have donors to finance these projects to advance the advocacy work, we will have problems. So the major problem we have is finance. We don’t want a situation where the government will finance us because if they do, we cannot criticise that government. We want independent donor agencies that will come and partner with SPIDEL in order for us to succeed.ceed.

What is the rate of interest in Public Interest and Development Law? And why is this so?


Many lawyers want to join but if you ask them to join, you must be able to finance them in terms of transport and logistics for the work you will send them to do. These things are very fundamental, and if you don’t prepare the logistics, it will hinder the level of work to be done. On the issue of Development Law, there’s a need to carry out comprehensive analysis and research on the development of Law. All these need funding.


What are the major issues you can highlight as affecting development of law and improvement of the judicial system in the country?

What is affecting law is multifaceted. Sometimes we can make a good law but the implementation of that law becomes a problem. So one thing is that we have laws but most times we find it difficult to implement them. There are also many other areas where we need to enact laws to address some problems. And the problem we encounter most times is that the institution that enacts law is corrupt. They will not take your piece of legislation and begin to debate and process it unless you “settle” them. There are many private member bills that have not been given attention because they are demanding to be paid before they allow the bills to see the light of the day. When you look at the roles played by the members of the Assembly, the implementation of laws that will benefit the society becomes an issue. Bills are not looked at for the sake of what the bills will achieve. The development of the law is key to the acceleration of the economic development of the country. But the members of the institution that implements the laws must assess those laws based on the expediency and usefulness of the laws and not based on their pocket.


The protection of rights and privileges of lawyers is important in the effective discharge of their duties. What is your take on the detainment and arrest of lawyers by judges and police?


Justices, lawyers, and the police are vital stakeholders in the administration of justice and they are all partners in progress. I am advocating for a very friendly and symbiotic relationship that will aid the administration of justice and not the one that will be hostile to it. They don’t need to be antagonistic to one another. They all have their assigned duties according to the constitution. There should be no reason for any hostility from any of them. There should be mutuality by these institutions. The police should know that an accused is entitled to legal representation so they shouldn’t be hostile when a lawyer comes into their station. But the problem with the police is that sometimes, they accuse a person without evidence. So when a lawyer shows up, they become hostile. The moment you are making an arrest, you do so because you are sure a crime has been committed and you have evidence. But sometimes, the police also feel that the lawyer is coming to destroy the evidence. I feel that the lawyer should not do that. The lawyers and judges should have an understanding on how to adjudicate matters without being hostile.


What would you say about the recent case regarding human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong?


With regards to the Inibehe matter, it became messy in terms of relationship. The matter was not properly handled and before you know it, the Chief Judge took the unexpected measure of convicting him for contempt. The problem with that conviction is that the procedures as prescribed by law were not followed. The NBA has said the woman will be reported to the National Judicial Council in addition to the appeal that has been submitted. The Bar and the Bench should always cement relationships and if there is any area of differences, it should be sorted. This is what I did during my tenure as Ikeja Bar chairman. I am saying when every party understands what their responsibilities are, there will be less acrimony in the discharge of our duties and there will be no issues at all.


What solutions would you proffer to improve the independence of the judiciary and the delivery of justice in Nigeria?


The judiciary needs to be financially and administratively autonomous. This will go a long way. Also, many judges are over-laboured so there should be appointment of more judges. And we should appoint those that know what they are doing.




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