DOYEN BAR 2022 LAW WEEK OPENING CEREMONY: NELLA ANDEM-EWA RABANA, SAN DELIVERS AN INTELLECTUALLY PACKED OPENING CEREMONY AND LAW WEEK!

The Nigerian Bar Association, Calabar Branch held its 2022 law week from the 4th to the 10th day of April, 2022. Speaking to the Chairperson of the Law Week, she informed our correspondent that the theme of the week was: “We, The People: Agenda for National Consensus”. She explained that the theme was chosen to discuss the structure of the Nigerian Federation, find out if the current contraption is the will of the people and whether it is the best option to serve the aspirations of a diverse polity such as Nigeria.

She stated that one of the greatest challenges Nigeria faces as a country is the constant threat to its national unity, development and corporate existence and so the nation’s founding fathers tried to unite the nation using a 3 tiered system. She pointed out that these founding fathers premised their justification for a 3-tier structure of government on the fact that each tier is coordinate and independent in its delimited sphere of authority and therefore had appropriate taxing powers to exploit its independent sources of revenue.

She added that since independence, the Nigerian federal structure has undergone befuddling reconfiguration – from the initial three regional structure at independence; North, South and West; to a four region structure namely North, South, West and Mid-West by 1964; to 12 states in 1967 and currently 36 states, a Federal Capital Territory, Abuja with a total of 774 local governments. Despite these structural changes, the clamour for restructuring and fiscal federalism is on the increase.

The question now arises: is Nigeria structured to fail? Does our structure; constitutionally, politically, and especially judicially, sync with our democratic and developmental aspirations? Who has the responsibility to fix the broken system; the elites or we, the people?

She went on to explain that a point of easy consensus among Nigerians, and indeed outsiders looking into Nigeria, is that Nigeria’s democracy has not worked for the people. After two decades of democratic governance, the people are growing increasingly despondent. The perennial problems of lack of infrastructure, intermittent power supply, dysfunctional health system(s) etc., are now accentuated by rising unemployment, hyperinflation, and nationwide insecurity. Above all these, we seem to be evolving an electoral system where electoral mandates may not necessarily arise from the freely expressed will of the people. The structure of the federation has evolved into a deformed contraption incapable of serving the aspirations of a diverse polity such as Nigeria.

So far we have blamed our leaders. But she wondered if this is this the only cause? She pointed out that increasingly, the role of the people have come under scrutiny: is the ordinary citizen of Nigeria doing enough to defend the tenets of democratic governance and hold the leadership accountable? Or is it sufficient to just vote every four years, sit back and hope on the benevolence of elected officials for the dividends of democracy?

It is therefore on this note that the Nigerian Bar Association, Calabar Branch, through its Law Week, therefore seized the opportunity to draw from diverse sectors, assemble stakeholders and influencers to discuss, interact, interrogate, proffer solutions and articulate a template that would reflect on the roles of the various stakeholders, especially the people of Nigeria, and distil a national consensus agenda that would guarantee true democratic governance; which would meet the diverse developmental and political aspirations of the various regions within Nigeria.

STRUCTURE OF THE LAW WEEK
The Law week spanned 7 days with the 1st day being a sensitization road walk; Days 2, 3 and 4 were reserved for the Opening Ceremony, Plenary sessions/Bar-Bench Forum; Days 5 and 6 saw the Branch visiting the State Correctional Facility and the Federal Psychiatric Hospital respectively while Day 7 was a day of Thanksgiving at the Outpouring Assembly Church, Calabar.

The opening Ceremony held on Day 2, being the 5th day of April, 2022.. Several dignitaries were in attendance consisting of the political class, members of the legal community and traditional rulers/royal fathers.

A few of the dignitaries in attendance were:

- Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme ( Chief Judge of Cross Rivers State, represented by Hon. Justice Samuel Anjor).

The Executive Governor of CRS, Sen. Ben Ayade and the Deputy-Governor of Cross River State, Prof. Evara Esu represented by Hon. Attorney-General of CRS, Hon. Tanko Ashang

Sen. Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN

Sen. Gershom Bassey

Mrs. Nella Andem-Ewa Rabana, SAN, Chairman, Law Week Planning Committee)
- Mr. Attah Ochinke, Esq (Chairman NBA Calabar Branch)

Mr. Olumide Akpata, SAN, NBA President
- Hon. Justice Samuel Anjor ( President of the Customary Court of Appeal)
- Mr. Peter Bassey (Solicitor General, Cross River State)
- Ntufam Ambassador Nya Asuquo Eyo (Former Nigerian Ambassador to Uganda)
- Ambassador Mrs. Nkoyo Esu Toyo (Former Member House of Representatives and Former Ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti
- Mr. Joe Agi, SAN

  • Mrs. Anne Eta, St. Anne’s Schools and former Deputy Director, Corporate Affairs Commissions

Ms Beatrice Awah, FIDA National Asst Secretary

Ms Ann Awah, Chairman, CRS FIDA

Chief Edem Ekong
-Hon. Effiom Archibong (Commissioner for Commerce and Industry)
- All Senior Counsel Present

- Distinguished guests of honour and members of the Branch.

The opening ceremony commenced at 10:31am with an opening prayer by Mrs. Florence Agbiji Esq., followed by the National Anthem, the CRS Anthem and welcome addresses by guests.

OPENING REMARKS

The Chairman of the NBA Calabar Branch, Mr. Attah Ochinke, welcomed everyone present and thanked them for making out time from their tight schedules to be part of the 2022 Bar Week.
He pointed out that Nigeria is a constituted democracy as expressed in the Constitution; this, he noted, presupposes that the fundamentals of democracy will be ever present in the conduct of government business, and will be reflected in the way we live, work and play. These fundamentals include the rule of law, supremacy of the Constitution, separation of powers, check and balances, independence of the judiciary and respect for human rights, all of which culminates ultimately in the pursuit of the welfare and security of citizens. This however has not been the case.

Mr. Attah Ochinke, Chairman, NBA Calabar Branch

He observed that for 22 years Nigerians have watched the nation’s democracy morph into some contraption that is almost indistinguishable from the military regimes they chased away at high price. The fundamentals of democracy earlier mentioned have been given their respectable place on paper and left there. The welfare and security of citizens, economic and human rights, social justice, and the pursuit of peace and happiness have become wishful thinking.

He noted that it has become common on the streets of Nigeria today to hear expressions like ‘‘the army was better’’ and ‘‘even under military regimes this will not happen.’’ The most hilarious he pointed out was the phrase: ‘‘what a country,’’ expressing the impotent despondency of the people.

He sadly pointed out that even though Nigeria still has elections, the periodic elections do not constitute democracy as the elections are without the other fundamentals of democratic governance and thus merely create tenured dictatorships. He added that even though our Constitution creates the doctrine of separation of powers, checks and balances, in Nigeria’s peculiar experience, once the different organs of government are constituted after election, the operators of these organs go into collusion against the people rather than constitute a check on each other. He noted that even though the politicians call that collaboration to give it a different sound from collusion, but evil, by whatever name called, is evil and ‘We, the people’, are the intended victims of this collusion.
He sadly lamented that upon assumption of office after elections, politicians believe that the role of the people have ended, and the reins of state have been handed over to them to do with as they like; and mostly they do with the office as they like. The people are enstranged from governance and citizens are not only inactive, elected office holders even believe that any citizen questioning government actions is poke nosing or meddling with constituted authority. Citizens that have tried know where it hurts.

Mr. Ochinke pondered on why Nigeria’s democracy has not worked and why the dividends of democracy have remained elusive?  He wondered why the military dictatorships look comparable to democratic regimes and stressed that it was time to set a new agenda for Nigeria. the question was how? Can we, as a country, achieve national consensus on any of the begging issues? What impediments do we need to confront? He pointed out that these questions reflect the existential threat Nigeria faces today and the failure of our democracy to deliver on the expectations has encouraged voices of disintegration. People now, out of frustration, are beginning to think that may be if the nation breaks up, things will be better. He noted that most participants present at the meeting had engaged on either side of that discuss in the last one year.


Mr. Attah Ochinke informed participants that the purpose of the 2022 Bar week was to interrogate these questions: How do we, the people, engage or enforce these fundamentals of democracy and ensure that government remains responsive and responsible to us? He pointed out that the fundamentals of democracy, and the provisions of the Constitution, however well expressed, are not self enforcing, people must stand up to make them count; this is the trend of history the world over and Nigerians cannot hope on the benevolence of elected leaders as this hope has been dashed.
He concluded his address noting that he hoped that the answers to the heavy questions that Nigerians seek, would be found in the constituted assembly and the series of discussions the branch had slated for the week.

MRS. NELLA ANDEM-EWA RABANA, SAN, CHAIRMAN, LAW WEEK PLANNING COMMITTEE

The Chairman of the Law Week Planning Committee, Mrs. Nella Andem-Ewa Rabana, SAN in her opening remarks pondered on whether the Nigerian Constitution was truly a product of a consensus (as at when the nation’s founding fathers came together to wrestle out our sovereignty as a nation), and if not, whether now was the time to seek a national consensus for same?

Mrs. Nella Andem-Ewa Rabana, SAN

GOODWILL MESSAGES

There were several goodwill messages from distinguished guests.

The Chairman of the Opening Ceremony, His Excellency Etubom Hon. Nya Asuquo Eyo, (Former Nigerian Ambassador to Uganda)
was the first to deliver a goodwill message.

He welcomed all the dignitaries and guests present and also expressed his appreciation for the rare privilege given to him to chair the occasion of the 2022 bar week.

He went down memory lane and reminded the house of the glory of Calabar. He stated that during the early years, legal Practitioners choose Calabar as their place of settlement and solicitors work as it was peaceful; foremost lawyers from West African statesNigeria, Sierra Leone and Cameroun settled in Calabar to do their legal practice. He added that it is interesting to know that the early lawyers who settled in Calabar to practice had streets and roads named after them in Calabar. Examples are  Atamunu Streets named after Barrister Atamunu, Barrister Dan Ekanem Esin who attended the Hope Wardell School, had Esin Street named after Him, etc. He noted that the list of early lawyers who practiced in Calabar are endless as it is on record that Nigeria’s finest and most polished lawyers on record were produced from Calabar. He pointed out that the Doyen bar has been a rallying point and source of encouragement for others who have continued to distinguish in Legal Practice.

His Excellency Etubom Hon. Nya Asuquo Eyo

He implored the executives of the Doyen bar to continue to push forward the bar as a firm, disciplined, respectable and vibrant bar and further urged them to execute their responsibility with commitment. He wished the Branch a very successful law week and stated that looked forward to receiving the deliberations and resolutions from the Baw Week.

The Hon. Tanko Ashang, Hon. Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, (Also Representing the Executive Governor and the Deputy Governor of Cross River State)
also presented a goodwill message centred on the use of humour in the profession.

Hon. Ashang apologised for the absence of the Governor, Sen. Prof. Ben Ayade, KSJI and his Deputy, Prof. Evara Isu who were absent due to state engagements. He presented a goodwill message from the Deputy Governor.

Hon. Tanko Ashang, AG Cross River State

GOODWILL MESSAGE FROM THE DEPUTY GOVERNOR OF CROSS RIVER STATE, PROF. EVARA ISU, REPRESENTED BY THE STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL, HON. TANKO ASHANG

The Deputy Governor, Prof. Evara Isu, expressed his gratitude to the Bar for the invitation to the Law Week. He mentioned that the theme is apt as it has come at a very critical time where electioneering activities were revving up and thus commended the Doyen Bar for the confluence of activities put in place to interrogate the issues of the rule of the people. He commended the bar for choosing to talk about the people as the people are the most important component in democracy. He added that government is about the people and whether a government is good or bad, democratic or dictatorial depends completely on how the people feature. He pointed out that as governance is about the people just as the theme suggests, government must be made to understand that they are servants of the people and the people remain the masters. He submitted that it is based on this realization that the administration of the Governor Prof. Ben Ayade hasfocused its policy and programs on the wellbeing of the people.

He assured all that the Sen. (Prof.) Ben. Ayade administration welcomes constructive criticism by the people and will always make sure that they listen to the people and reflect the preponderance of the people’s opinion in the conducts of government business.

He informed the meeting that the Internal Revenue Service and other tax agencies recently engaged lawyers within the Calabar branch for an intensive Tax education. This he stressed, is to ensure that lawyers advice their clients and the people appropriately in respect to that tax obligations. He further added that Tax payment is an essential component in people participation in democratic governance and the right to hold government accountable is an incidence of taxation, for as citizens pay taxes, they can demand account of how the tax payers’ monies are spent and that is democracy.

He encouraged that as we engage in different aspect of the theme, it is imperative that the role of the citizen as tax payers are also emphasized as compliance with tax obligations is a democratic incidence in a participatory democracy.

He urged the branch to make deliberations and come out with resolutions aimed at the wellbeing of the people of Cross River State, which he assured will be implemented within the powers of the state government

He welcomed the invited guests to the State and urged them to take out time from the deliberation to try out the cuisines of Calabar.

MR. OLUMIDE AKPATA, NBA PRESIDENT

The President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Olumide Akpata also delivered a goodwill message to the Branch, virtually.

Mr. Olumide Akpata, NBA President

Mr. Akpata pointed out that the theme for the law week is apt for various reasons; for one, it sets the tone for a dispassionate reflection on the issues in Nigeria development, the most prominent being the sorry comatose state of the country presently as a result if insecurity and banditry in the northwest, Boko Haram insurgency in the north east, ethnic nationality agitation in the south east and south west, unprecedented unemployment rates, rising inflection, foreign exchange crisis, etc

He sadly pointed out that across the nation, a consensus has been made that Nigeria is currently an emergency theatre, and in dire need of surgical attention. The question now is who will bell the cat? He noted that whilst most of the blames have been put on the feet of our leaders, there is a sense where we as a people must quit the blame game, look ourselves in the mirror and accept some responsibility for the current failures. He maintained that while this is not absolving our leaders from culpability in the current circumstances, the truth is that Nigerians must see her leaders as the product of the larger state. He noted that is against this backdrop that the theme of law week resonates. He submitted that perhaps no other association is better positioned to have this noble conversation than the Nigeria Bar Association which is the conscience of the Nigeria State and he stressed that whether the Bar likes it or not, we must know that Nigerians look to us for direction amidst this seeming season of anomie and God forbid that we will be caught missing in action.

In discussing the second reason why the theme of the law week was apt, he noted that the timing of the event could not have been more instructive, coming at the eve of the 2023 general elections which provides us with another opportunity for a national reset. He stated that it is therefore his expectation that the outcome of this bar week will help shape the choices Nigeria will make as we prepare to elect our leaders in the Executive and Legislative arms of government across the national and sub-national regions.

He concluded by stating that he looks forward to the robust conversations and recommendations that will emanate from the Law week. He commended the Chairman of the Branch and Chairman of the Bar Week Planning Committee for the well put together event.

GOODWILL MESSAGE BY THE CHIEF JUDGE OF CROSS RIVER STATE, HON. JUSTICE AKON BASSEY IKPEME

The Chief Judge of the State, Hon. Justice Akon Bassey Ikpeme also delivered a goodwill message. She was represented by Hon. Justice Samuel Anjor, President of the State Customary Court who  on behalf of the Chief Judge apologised for His Lordship’s absence, which he stated was due to conflicting schedules with official assignments. He informed the house that Hon. Justice Ikpeme sends her regards.

He added that the Chief Judge agrees that the theme for the week is very apt, in that elections are approaching and the issues of consensus have been trouble the country; he noted that the theme was therefore pleasing to the judiciary.

The Chief Judge also sent greetings to all members of the Bench present and urged them to remember that before they became judges and magistrates they were lawyers and lawyers are the only group that speak for them during troubled time, when they cannot speak for themselves. He therefore urged cordiality and mutual respect between the Bar and the Bench.

GOODWILL MESSAGE BY JOE AGI, SAN

Mr. Joe Agi, SAN, congratulated the Bar on a well planned law week and for the theme of the week. He however submitted that Nigerians are not ready for good governance as our culture does not permit free and fair elections. He sadly noted that he did not see a way forward for Nigeria, because of the level of dishonesty amongst her people.

Mr. Joe Agi,

MR. PAUL USORO, SAN, PAST PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION

Mr. Usoro, SAN wished the NBA Calabar well and thanked them for the theme of the Law Week. He stated that the biggest infrastructure of corruption [in Nigeria] is the camp called fuel subsidy as it benefits nobody but the very few people.

Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, Past NBA President

He clarified the position of a speaker that was leaving Nigeria and stated that that was nit true as he sits on the Board if the said company and they had no plans to leave the country.

GOODWILL MESSAGE BY MR. JONATHAN TAIDI, PAST GENERAL SECRETARY OF THE NBA

Mr. Jonathan Taidi observed that while the Governor of Cross River State’s speech was being read, he heard lots of murmurs, which to him are interrogatory. He enjoined participants to continue to have these dialogues so that when leaders come out to list what they say they have done, apart from those which are verifiable, the citizens can have a talk back mechanism to agree to the ones that are true and counter the ones that are false.


He maintained that to him, the national anthem today is the only inspirational part of our existence as a people as the increasing insecurity in the country and the fear Nigerians face when they leave their homes to travel across state; the high cost of living in the country which has become unbearable even though Nigeria is endowed with numerous mineral and human resources are all indicators that the future is bleak.

He concluded that it is his utmost expectation that the outcome of the discussion at the Bar Week will help contribute to the existing conversation around a genuine people’s Constitution and how best to solve the lingering agitations and yearnings of the people.

Mr. Jonathan Gunu Taidi, Past General Secretary, NBA

GOODWILL MESSAGE BY AMBASSADOR MRS. NKOYO TOYO (FORMER MEMBER, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES AND FORMER NIGERIAN AMBASSADOR TO ETHIOPIA AND DJIBOUTI)

Amb. Mrs. Nkoyo Toyo in her goodwill message to the Bar,  expressed the view that building a consensus is building a consensus that does not deny our diversity. It must be something that makes the diversity the very strength on which we run our country as we must recognise that there is as many of us in many forms and levels and doing very different things and this is an important part of nation building.

Amb. Nkoyo Toyo, former member HOR/former Ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti

She maintained that there is no perfection Constitution, but there is a possible consensus and the consensus must come from the fact that we agree that there is an irreducible minimum standard in our affairs and work around building that irreducible minimum.

She concluded by stressing that in the quest to find a solution to the nation’s woes, no citizen must be left behind and especially not on account of sex. She maintained that Nigeria must find a way to bring the interest of everybody together in nation building and noted that the place of women in governance and their value cannot be overemphasised

GOODWILL MESSAGE BY MR. DESMOND YAMAH, PAST CHAIRMAN, NBA ABUJA BRANCH

Mr. Desmond Yamah
observed that the theme of the Calabar Law Week: “WE, The People: Agenda For National Consensus”, is a call for “National Renaissance”. He submitted that Nigeria needs an agenda for consensus so that when that expression as it is found in our Constitution: “We, The People of Nigeria” is pronounced, Nigeria would actually have a Constitution that reflects the wishes of the people, and must forge one that will reflect the diversity of her people and which adequately provides for the collective interest of her people. He added that we need true Nigerian citizens in the country.

Mr. Desmond Yamah, past Chairman, NBA Abuja

He concluded that his prayers today is after the deliberation the Branch  will come up with a project that will drag the youth of Nigeria towards genuine nation building.

Mrs. Caroline Ladidi Anze-Bishop, former Vice Chairman and former NEC Rep of the NBA Bukuru branch, Mr. Ogaga Emoghwanre, NBA Benin Branch and Mr. Auta Nyada of the NBA Suleja Branch, also delivered goodwill messages to the branch. They urged the branch to continue to interrogate national issues and in so doing contribute to nation building.

Mrs. Caroline Ladidi Anze-Bishop, NBA Bukuru
Mr. Ogaga Emoghwanre, NBA Benin Branch/Secretary, NBA Welfare Ctte

Mr. Auta Nyada, went on to share with members of the Branch, the need to key into te NBA-NHIS Scheme where members of the Bar can access healthcare free upon registering with the sum of N15,000.

Mr. Auta Nyada, NBA Suleja/Welfare Committee

The opening ceremony came to a close at about 1pm and set the stage for the keynote address delivered by the keynote speaker, Mr. Tein T. S. Jack-Rich and discussions on the Plenary sessions.

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