A review of the Paper delivered by Arthur Obi Okafor SAN
The integrity of the Bar and bench as a Necessity for the Nigerian Nation Building is thematic of the Nigerian Bar Association , Orlu Branch law week 2018 which took place from 6-8 June 2018. A broad spectrum of legal minds rose to the podium. What became apparent was the phenomenon of the expansive Horizon- No matter where you stand; you have a point of view.
In attendance were my lords, The Chief Judge of Imo State, His Lordship, Hon Justice Paschal Nnadi, Hon Justice, T E Chukwuemeka- Chikeka, Hon Justice KA Ojiako, Hon Justice, Anonihu, Hon Justice Paul Nnodum, Hon Justice Ononeze-Madu, and Hon Justice L C Azuamah, Jurist at the Bench and the administrative Judge, Orlu Judicial Division.
Also in attendance were , the Hon Attorney General and commissioner for Justice Imo State, Miletus Nlemadum and his predecessors, Hon. Soronnadi Njoku, and Livy Uzoukwu.
Also in attendance was the third Vice president of the NBA, Ben Orji and a very distinguished SAN , Arthur Obi Okafor, who is likely to popularly, emerge as the next National President of the NBA from the Eastern Bar. The importance of such a position to the South east cannot be overemphasized.
The Forum was organized by the NBA Orlu Branch , whose Chairman , Chuzzy Attama, an Indigene of Enugu State has projected the Branch as one of the most proactive and fore Bars in Nigeria, with Vin Onyeka Esq , an ebullient Son of Orlu, as the chairman of the planning committee, the indefatigable and humble , I G Igboanusi, as alternate chairman, with OND Okafor as Secretary.
The Guest Lecturers were Livy Uzokwu, Joyce Oduah, Prof Chidi Odinkalu, and Arthur Obi Okafor SAN . The Panel of discussants were Hon. Soronnadi Njoku,OC Aladum, Prof UU Chukwumaeze, Paschal Nwosu Esq and his worship EN Eke.
I sympathized with his worship, EN Eke who had the luck of tackling Prof Chidi Odinkalu , lecture which sounded more like a treatise on psycho analysis and Freudian literature in his comparative analysis of the Nigerian legal system. If I were the one to discuss the issues raised by his lecture I would have bolted out of the Venue before I would be called to discussion. Somehow he found a way out of it.
Even at that, the lecture of Arthur Obi Okafor presented, little challenges because of his simplicity in content and delivery, but yet, out to say so much in so little time , I was tongue tied and agitated in my delivery.
Now I must write about it.
I had sufficient time to reflect and laugh at myself afterwards, but gained an insight that it is remarkably easier to deliver a lecture than to discuss it with diplomacy. Nothing sounded strange to me in the entire lectures but the cold delivery of facets of knowledge by Professor Odinkalu with his latitudinal flexibility that expanded his term paper to include everything on the sociology of law and rightly so.
Arthur Obi Okafor is a very versatile and proactive member of the Eastern Bar. His achievements speak volumes of his capacity building and inter personal skills.
In his paper as above titled he rightly began by admitting that Nigeria is a country with a ‘myriad of problems’ which has baffled successive administrations.
He opined that the Bar and the Bench though not ordinarily players in the economy, have inestimable roles to play in the economy of the country.
In his definition of integrity, he was of the view, that a lawyer is said to have integrity if he discharges his duties as a lawyer in strict compliance with the ethics of the legal profession. On the other hand a judge is said to possess integrity if he carries out his judicial functions in accordance with the oath of office.
He was of the opinion that fidelity and honesty are the essential TOOLS necessary for the Bar and the Bench to function in synergy to provide the leadership in the drive for the economic development of Nigeria.
The learned SAN enumerated the various legislations that have been put in place such as the Companies and Allied matters law, and section 17 of the National investment promotion commission Act aimed at attracting foreign investors to the clime.
The intervention of the Bench unlike the Bar which is to ensure compliance is reinforced by the Bench which is to adjudicate on issues of disputes. Here it becomes apparent that only a bench with requisite integrity would adjudicate in fairness.
In his conclusion, the learned SAN stated that in a struggling economy like ours, there is the need to attract foreign investors by building a robust legal system which is just and fair in resolving disputes.
Like I said I was tongue tied but managed to put across my points which includes my view that it is untrue that the Bar and bench in Nigeria lacked integrity, but rather there is the necessity to strengthen it ; lawyers being by their selves, vehicles of social engineering should be committed in that regard .
Indeed what I failed to mention (being tongue tied) is the fact that there is need for the integration of the rule of law and due process in governance in other to ensure confidence in the Bar and bench.
The procurement Act 2007 is one of such steps articulated by lawyers which has contributed immensely to the development of our Economy.
In my view, lawyers should not be blamed for the deeds or misdeeds of lawyers who are political Appointees. Power or electricity is very important in driving the economy. That Area is overseen by Fashola who is a lawyer. The Bar should not be blamed for his failures or be seen to lack integrity because of breached promises or the failures of the administration under which he served.
I pointed out what integrity meant to the Icon of the law, Chief Gani fawehinmi:
When the Icon Interviewed me as an Applicant for the position of an Assistant Editor of his Law Publishing Arm, he simply, queried , being assured I was competent: ‘Are you God Fearing?’
Chief Gani fawhinmi has the right formulation for integrity at the Bar and Bench as based on the fear of God.
A lawyer or Judge who has the fear of God is less likely to pervert the cause of justice, or take bribes, and or be biased against a party because of private interests or greed. If lawyers be they ordinary members of the Bar or as Judges are God fearing, the integrity of our legal systems would be beyond query.
Indeed the Muslim Umar, are guided by the Koranic precepts of Al Gada, of the appointment of Judges and the criterion for such appointments amongst the faithful. There is a corollary in the Biblical precepts of Deuteronomy 16-18 on the qualifications of Judges and their role, as Livy Uzoukwu SAN remarked.
Thus the Bible and the Koran appear in agreement on the criterion for appointing Judges. One of such qualification is the fear of God without which there can never be social Justice. In the Koran, Jesus Christ is held as the Judge of light.
In passing let me point out, that Arthur Obi Okafor is one of such Lawyers with robust Integrity who has promoted the well being of lawyers in the country and is in the fore front of moves to eradicate poverty at the bar especially amongst young lawyers, as a means of sustaining integrity.
He is currently standing for election as the next president of the NBA with two or so other candidates from the Eastern bar to which it has been zoned; made up of the south south and the south East.
Obi okafor has a practical understanding of the problems of the judiciary and knows the best ways to resolve them through policy designs and implementations. Like he opined in his conclusion in the paper delivered at the Orlu Bar Week:
“We have also seen that there is a link between integrity of the Bar and Bench and economic development because a Bar and Bench that cannot be trusted by investors and players in the economy will not encourage foreign participation in the economy.”
While I agree that the Pursuit of total integrity of the Bar and the Bench would appear illusory like the quest for the Holy grail, but nonetheless, it is obligatory by our common assent to ensure that such positions of Power and Policy designs like the Office of the NBA president are occupied by God fearing men of requisite integrity, like Arthur Obi Okafor, more so, in the face of belligerent opposition, that has no interest of the South East at Heart.