Legal Nigeria

An Open Letter to the Chairman, NBA Uyo Branch by Udems

HALIMA ABIOLA  

Sylvester Udemezue

The Chairman,
Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Uyo Branch,
Akwa Ibom State.

Dear Mr Chairman, sir,

Re: NBA Uyo Branch New EXCO Visits Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State, Pushes for Action on Issues Impacting the Bar, Justice Delivery

Congratulations on your election as the NBA Chairman of your great Branch. I wish you a successful reign.

I read about your 12/08/2021 courtesy visit to the Hon Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State and of your 8-point demand/request.
I love your visit to the Hon Attorney-General (AG) and I love especially the seventh point of your request/demand to the Hon AG which is what attracted my attention and informed this open letter to you: “Recruitment of lawyers into Ministries, Departments, Agencies of Government and into the 31 Local Government Councils in the State to unburden the Ministry of Justice, while ensuring employment, especially for the new wigs”.

This move by you shows that NBA Branches have started heeding the call we have been making. Apart from in several earlier commentaries, we publicly made the call during the NBA-AGC 2019, and subsequently severely in many writings, insisting that NBA should spearhead efforts to have established Legal Departments in (1) all Police Stations across the country; (2) Government Agencies, Ministries and Departments, and (3) all Local Government Councils in Nigeria.

The National Assembly headed our call and introduced section 66(3) of the Nigeria Police Force (Establishment) Act (NPFEA) 2020, a provision we’ve been asking to be fully implemented to achieve its purpose. Progress is being made! NBA National recently paid a courtesy visit to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and a joint Committee set up to smoothen relationship between the two organisations.

We strongly expect that the smoothening of relationship will focus on getting section 66 (3) of the NPFEA 2020 implemented. Implementating section 66(3) is capable of lifting almost 10,000 lawyers out of joblessness and abject lack. But there are no fewer than four immediate benefits accruable from full implementation of section 66(3):

  1. Many unemployed Lawyers would get immediately employed. Nigerian lawyers need the job urgently oooo.
  2. Rule of law would be promoted and enhanced at the police stations, and future ENDSARS protests may thereby be averted.
  3. We would have lawyers on hand to assist or advise in criminal prosecution (by the police) in magistrates’ courts around the various police stations.
  4. Filing of baseless charges by ignorant lay police officers would be drastically reduced leading to decongestion of our courts.

Now, dear Mr. Chairman, how would lawyers get being employed massively into Local Government Councils in Akwa Ibom State? It’s simple. Dear Chairman, please ask, persuade or plead with the Hon. AG to immediately present a Bill to the House of Assembly of Akwa Ibom State, for amendment of the LG Law to insert a clause/section establishing a Legal Department in each of the 31 Local Government Councils in the State.
That’s the starting point. And even if this is the only achievement of your leadership in two years, you’d have achieved much more than any other NBA Branch Chairman in the history of the NBA. It’s an opportunity to write your name in gold. Sir, please don’t miss it. Look around you sir; most members of your branch wallow in joblessness and abject lack, frustrated and disenchanted with only little hope in sight. Apart from lifting more than 1,000 lawyers in Akwa Ibom State out of poverty and starvation, getting established a Legal Department at each of the 31 LGA’s, which is the best way to make lawyers more impactful on the society and at the grassroot, will offer these ten immediate benefits:

  1. Lawyers at the Local Government (LG) Legal Department would supervise and undertake prosecutorial activities in magistrate courts, and represent their respective LG’s in area courts, Magistrates Courts, High Courts, etc.
  2. They’d be on hand to render necessary legal advisory services to their local governments.
  3. They could become in charge of advising their LG Chairmen on legal issues relating to issuance of the Customary Right of Occupancy at the LG level, thereby playing roles similar to those being played by the Ministries of Justice and Lands at the state level in re the Statutory Right of Occupancy. Section 6 of the Land Use Act, 1978 provides: “It shall be lawful for a Local Government in respect of land not in an urban area. (a) to grant customary rights of occupancy to any person or organisation for the use of land in the Local Government areas for agricultural residential and other purposes. (b) to grant customary right of occupancy to any person or organisation for the use of land for grazing purposes and such other purposes ancillary to agricultural purposes as may be customary in the Local Government area concerned.”
  4. They could take steps to set up (citizens) ADR/Mediation Centers at the LG level, as well as render other legal aid/advisory services aimed to help the local community or to make justice more affordable and easily accessible by local inhabitants.
  5. Establishing a Legal Department at the LG Level would tremendously reduce the pressure of having all lawyers striving to settle down only in major cities, such as Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano, Onitsha, Aba, Ibadan, Jos, Abuja, Enugu City, Uyo, Warri, Calabar, Kaduna City, etc; lawyers employed by the various local governments would have to relocate to the local council headquarters where they’d live and operate from, with their families.
  6. It would bring Lawyers and Legal Services closer to the people at the grass-root; residents of local communities would no longer need/have to travel to the major cities in order to get the services of lawyers to draft their various agreements, contracts, or to render other legal advice.
  7. .Lawyers in the LG Legal Departments would, apart from attending to the legal needs of the Local Government Councils,  assist in prosecution of some cases, especially in courts located within the local council areas. This would minimize involvement of law prosecutors in criminal prosecution. Lay police officers and non-lawyers continued involvement in criminal prosecution in Nigeria, is partly responsible for the worsening cases of awaiting trial cases and prison congestion in the country. Because of their professional limitations in this area, so many of the so-called police prosecutors are not able to match or withstand the legal firework of professionally qualified lawyers who act as defence counsel in courts during criminal prosecutions; these lay police officers and non-lawyers hardly understand the intricacies of formal courtroom proceedings and trial procedure, and more often than not, have very little or no preparation prior to their court appearances. It could therefore be seen that the clamour for extrication of lay policemen from criminal prosecution is primarily not targeted at creating more jobs for lawyers, but rather at leaving criminal prosecution in the hands of qualified personnel (lawyers) who alone understand the law and are well able to match the expertise of defence counsel in court, in order to ensure that justice is dispensed in good time and more effectively.
  8. Gradually, from among these lawyers who are LG Legal officers, some Magistrates or even judges are appointed, just as is done at the state level.
  9. It would provide huge job/employment opportunities for lawyers in Nigeria. Imagine, if all the 774 local government areas in Nigeria create and have legal departments, and each local government (depending on capacity) employs an average of 10-20 lawyers in its legal department, we’d have at least 7,740 to 15,480 lawyers or much more immediately gainfully employed at the local government level.
  10. It would redress the existing inequity and unfairness at the Local government level. The following departments already exist in all the LGA’s in Nigeria: Education, Health, Agriculture, Finance, Information, and Works. It’s gross marginalization against the legal profession that there’s not yet a legal department in all LGA’s Nigeria. This obvious anomaly, which has wrought huge havoc, considering the undeniable importance of law and lawyers in society, needs to be be urgently corrected to provide the needed balance that would make lawyers more relevant to society and move society forward.
  11. Consider my suggestions and think about writing your name in gold in the anals of history. May I draw your attention to the fact that legal Departments are already established and fully operational in all Local Government Councils in Delta State. So, it’s doable.

One more thing, sir. Don’t be afraid of failure in this project. In my piece titled “Critical issues NBA should be discussing, but is not…” I wrote, “Katherine Kelly said: “It’s better to have tried and failed than to never have tried”. Alfred Lord Tennyson said: “It’s better to have tried and failed than to live life wondering what would’ve happened if I had tried”. John Wooden said: “Failure isn’t fatal, but the failure to change is”. You don’t try at anything, you can’t fail. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure”.

Dear Mr Chairman, I am available to provide more suggestions, details and insights into how this dream can be made a quicker reality.
Best wishes, Mr. Chairman, sir.

Yours faithfully,
Sylvester Udemezue (udems). 08109024556.
udemsyl@gmail.com.

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