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NBA 2024 Elections will be Decisive – Dr. Ubani

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has over the years been vociferous, and played the role of the voice of the voiceless and defender of the people’s rights. But, in recent times, the Association is somehow being perceived to be losing that role for which it was held in high esteem. In a chat with Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi last weekend, Dr Monday Onyekachi Ubani, past Chairman of NBA Ikeja Branch, former 2nd Vice President of the NBA, and immediate past Chairman of the NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law, spoke his mind on sundry issues, including the ongoing face-off between the NBA President and the leadership of NBA-SPIDEL. He also  spoke on why he believes the release of the incarcerated IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, will bring the much needed peace and economic progress to South Eastern Nigeria

The Nigerian Bar Association’s Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL), is currently embroiled in an embarrassing battle with the NBA President, who has gone ahead to suspend the leadership of the Section. You were Chairman of SPIDEL and are still a pillar of the Section, what really happened? What are the real issues? What efforts are afoot to resolve the imbroglio?

I have done my little investigation, and I came to an informed conclusion that the present crisis of confidence between the President of NBA, Mr Yakubu Maikyau, SAN and the leadership of NBA-SPIDEL, superintended by John Aikpokpo-Martins, occurred due to a communication gap. The President was of the firm opinion that the leadership of NBA-SPIDEL did not carry him along especially over the public interest cases they were handling, that gave public impression that the entire leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association of which he  is the head, was aware of and possibly gave approval.

On the part of the leadership of  NBA-SPIDEL, they were of the strong opinion that over matters of public interest including litigation and remedy-seeking measures, they are strictly independent and do not need to obtain the approval of the leadership of the NBA before they embark on the pursuit of  administrative or judicial remedies.

As each stuck to their views, clash was inevitable and the consequence is what everyone is now aware of – the deployment of a sledge harmer by the President of the NBA, over the leadership of NBA-SPIDEL.

Is peace elusive? The answer is an emphatic “no”. What many persons do not know is that both the NBA Preseason and the Chairman of NBA-SPIDEL were  classmates in Law School and have remained friends and colleagues thereafter.  Nothing about the present crisis is personal, their official positions brought the present misunderstanding. Both are willing and committed to the amicable resolution of the crisis.

As the immediate predecessor of Mr Aikpokpo-Martins, I owe a godly obligation to the two friends, NBA-SPIDEL and NBA generally, to intervene to resolve the lingering  problem. Luckily for me, both gentlemen are humble, godly and heaven-conscious. I am used to teasing the President, Y.C Maikyau, SAN any time I see him, that he will make heaven.  He  will immediately remind me, that his candidacy of heaven  is not in doubt (laughs). I believe that this matter will be resolved amicably, before the exit of Mr President sometime in August this year. Nothing is impossible with God, In’s ha Allah.

In a few weeks’ time, Nigerian Lawyers will go to polls to elect their national leaders. As a former Vice President of the NBA, what are your expectations from the elections? What kind of national officers would you like in the forthcoming process? 

I regard the forthcoming election in NBA, as decisive. What do I mean by that? If we are sincere, there is apparent division lurking around NBA as one umbrella body of Lawyers in Nigeria.  Part of the reason for the agitation by those who feel that one umbrella body like NBA cannot serve the needs of thousands of Lawyers in Nigeria, stems from previous elections that some aggrieved candidates felt were not free and fair. Whether they are right or wrong is another topic for another day, but suffice it to say that alleged electoral malpractices are part of the reasons some aggrieved members feel that NBA has failed to satisfy their needs and aspirations, hence, their agitation for another body that may address their quest for justice, equity and inclusiveness.

Therefore, everything must be done by the Election Management Team of the upcoming election, to ensure a transparent and fair electoral process that will not give room for those waiting in the wings to jump ship, and bid a final farewell to NBA.

My expectations of the new leadership of the Bar that will eventually emerge is very high, and hopefully, will not be misplaced. We need leadership that will be a strong voice for the Bar over matters of good governance, rule of law and protection of the members of the Bar against poverty in the profession, and against maltreatment by government institutions especially security agencies.

A strong, bold, wise and inclusive-driven leadership, is the desire of every average Lawyer concerning the incoming leadership. I am looking forward  to reading  communiques of NEC, where issues pertaining to the nation and the profession will be  adequately addressed by them.

Thank God that Maikyau’s leadership pursuit for Judges’ welfare, is yielding positive results. Like Oliver Twist, we  need a more aggressive drive for quicker administration of justice in Nigeria that is technology-driven with content of justice, to all parties who come to court seeking for judicial remedies.

A few years ago, some Lawyers. even Seniors,  complained that the NBA was not performing the role of a Bar Association. Would you say the NBA is back on track?

If there is any professional body that Nigerians expect to speak on their behalf all the times, it is the Nigerian Bar Association. The NBA, the civil society groups, including civil and human rights groups and persons, went to sleep after the military was successfully driven back to the Barracks in 1999. Everyone felt complacent, after all, we have taken our common enemy out of the system, we erroneously thought. That sleep mode affected all the aforementioned groups and individuals, including the NBA. That sense of accomplishment may have affected NBA, no doubt.

Therefore, the critics of NBA meant well by saying that to whom much is given, much is expected. It is expected that NBA as a body, should take these criticisms as an elixir that will stir the giant to action. Nigerian Bar Association is the only professional body in Nigeria naturally expected to hold Government accountable and give direction to good governance, obedience to rule of law and protection of fundamental rights of the citizens. ICAN, Chartered Secretaries, Nigerian Medical and Dental Association or Nigerian Society of Engineers etc cannot be expected to play these roles naturally expected of Lawyers in a developing country like  Nigeria.

Therefore, we should rise up from slumber and take up our natural role as the voice of the voiceless in Nigeria.

You are known more as a Human Rights Lawyer. How would you score the human rights record of President Tinubu’s administration so far? There seems to be an emerging developing negative trend, particularly in the Niger Delta these days, about three or four incidents where law enforcement agents – Soldiers and Police have been murdered, and in some cases, their corpses mutilated. What do you think may be responsible for this ugly trend? Obviously, the way these incidents are handled will also be a litmus test for this administration’s respect for the rule of law. How do you think this matter should be  dealt with by the authorities? 

My assessment of the present Government on human rights issues, will be objective and fair. The ability of the present Government to take corrections immediately any infraction is noticed or pointed out, stands out for me.

Two instances will suffice for now. The Government of President Tinubu  removed the Vice Chairman of Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Mr Babatunde Irukera, without complying with the extant  statutory provision that provides for Senate’s approval before removal. Immediately that error was brought to the attention of the Government, there was no grandstanding or name calling.  The error was immediately corrected.

The second instance of respect for rule of law by this   administration,  is the recent  Police arrest of one young man popularly called VeryDarkMan in the social media space. The young man’s account of his arrest and  interrogation revealed  a cordial and civilised encounter, despite the Complainants’ quest for him to be maltreated.. His account is a departure from normal stories of intimidation, torture while in detention of the security agencies in Nigeria. His account was a refreshing breath of fresh air. He was also released timeously when civil society groups, human rights bodies and individuals raised alarm about his arrest and detention.

Arrest of any person alleged to have committed any crime is not an issue to me; what matters to me and for which I will always be compelled to pronounce judgement, is the procedures adopted by the security agencies during arrest,  interrogation and the length of detention after arrest. I abhor detention without trial. Presumption of innocence inures in favour of any accused person in Nigeria, and that presumption should not be destroyed no matter how heinous the crime.

The murdering of those security agents in Delta State is barbaric, crude and unacceptable, just as the alleged retaliatory acts by the security agents against innocent women, men, youths in the area are  condemnable.

The Government owes a responsibility to fish out the culprits using advanced technology, and at the same time, ensure that innocent people of that region are not meant to pay supreme sacrifice for what they know nothing about. Any misplaced destruction of lives and properties in the area where the killing took place, will not portray the security agencies in good light. There is no group or village culpability in law, except where conspiracy is well established.

Blanket judgement, including mob action by the security forces, will not paint the Government in great light. The handling of the killings by the present Government will either raise their positive points on respect for human rights, or make it to nose dive. We counsel that the best approach that accords with best international practice, be employed in the whole matter.

After an epic legal battle with the EFCC over your 20-day detention in 2022, the court eventually declared that your detention to be illegal and a violation of your rights. This is in addition to an order to pay you an amount in compensation. How has this case been settled? Did EFCC comply with the court order?

The amount awarded to me by the court was N12 million,   with a restraining order against future arrest in respect of that same matter. It was an unfortunate incident that my effort to help the agency establish the innocence or guilt of an accused person, was mismanaged by Magu-led EFCC. The God I truly serve, cleared my name, compensated me with the handsome sum of N12 million, and finally disgraced Magu out of service. It was a prayer point for me.

They are yet to pay the said sum, because they went on appeal which I consider as  “a voyage of discovery”. You need to see the grounds of appeal, very laughable; but, as you know, it is their constitutional right they are exercising. No matter how long they want to waste the precious time of the court by delighting on appeal, they will certainly pay that sum at the  appointed time with the attendant interest awarded by the court. It is only a matter of time! But, by and large, the experience was a great learning curve for me. You know that experience is the best teacher. EFCC as a body, especially under the present leadership, remains an ally in fight against corruption at every level.

You recently threatened to sue the Federal Government over the ban of pòmò (cow hide) which has been identified as unhealthy and having no nutritional value. So, what informed your threat to sue?

My threat to sue the Federal Government of President Buhari if they had  banned  pòmò (cow hide) was not a joke, but real. I felt that pòmò is a delightful delicacy, both for the poor and rich in Nigeria. Everyone including my humble self delight in munching it  it. Any stew without pòmò is incomplete, or regarded as “empty”. Whether it has nutritional value or not, is very inconsequential to me and also to millions of Nigerians who consume it. What matters to those that enjoy it is the taste, having something to chew in the absence of meat and fish that are very costly and unaffordable. On a lighter note, a world without pòmò in stew and soup, will be very boring (laughs).

Therefore, the threat was real, and I would have gladly pursued the case up to Supreme Court as one of the ground- breaking public interest matters. The then government of President Buhari got the message, and advised themselves.

I believe that President Tinubu’s Government that is pro-masses, will not nurse such an idea. My belief is that we should rear enough cows that will be  meant for consumption, for the hide and skin industry and other uses. An attempt to dissuade Nigerians from its consumption without making meat and fish cheaper and providing alternatives, will be seen as wicked, unacceptable and shall be resisted by the people.

Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB has continued to be detained, despite his discharge by the Court of Appeal. You recently advised the Government to release him. Does it mean his alleged offences, which include treason and terrorism, don’t warrant his arrest, detention and prosecution? Some believe that, whether Nnamdi Kanu or the Insurgents/Terrorists, they should all be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, particularly as  innocent lives have been lost as a result of their activities 

After the Supreme Court’s verdict on Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, I did modify my advocacy on him. Before the court judgement, I had requested that he should be released since the Court of Appeal exculpated him from every charge on his head. When the Supreme court hinged their position that our jurisprudence does not favour such acquittal based on wrong arrest and that he  should be tried no matter how frivolous the charges are, I did  change my plea and they are two-fold.

One of my strongest advocacies for him, is that Nnamdi  should be granted bail by the court. Remember that the Supreme Court has affirmed the position of some of us, that Mazi Nnamdi Kanu never jumped bail on the first bail he got, but was pursued outside the country by the military while he was still on bail. The Supreme Court echoed that position loud and clear on the judgement of 15th of December, 2023. I was in court for a different matter ,when the judgement on that matter was delivered by Hon Justice Emmanuel Agim of the Supreme Court. Therefore, he deserves to be released on bail on  this new case that is pending before Hon Justice Binta  Nyako, right? That is my position.

My second advocacy is that if I am to advise the Government of President Bola Tinubu, GCFR, I will plead with him to take into consideration the economic condition of the South Eastern Region, which had been imperilled since the prosecution of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu began afresh. Sometimes in the region,  a whole  week can be declared as “sit at home” whenever it fancies the interest of those who are making the declarations. Several instances abound where lives, properties are wasted and insecurity created in the region, as a result of the ongoing criminal trial of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.

The Government can take strategic consideration of these unfortunate happenings, including a compassionate look into the health of Nnamdi Kanu, and advise that a nolle prosequi be entered terminating the ongoing trial of Nnamdi Kanu and hand him over to the leaders of the South East with an advice that he should maintain peace to himself, the region and the country by reciprocating the kind gesture of the Government. This kind of gesture has been extended to some persons in this country whom we know in the past, and the then government was appreciated.

It is a measure that is being suggested which the Government could consider dispassionately, and take a considered position. One thing I know, as a grassroots person and one who is in touch with South Eastern Region that I frequent regularly, is that such gesture will catapult the love of many Igbo Youths including the aged ones for Tinubu’s Government to the high heavens.  I am not speculating, I am only stating the truth and nothing but the truth. Only the truth can set many of us in Nigeria free.

Mazi Nnamdi Kanu enjoys very popular support in the East extending to some South South States, Western States and even in the North.

I say it with utmost responsibility that, if forgiven, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu should reciprocate by calling out himself and his supporters to maintain peace and tranquillity in the region and Nigeria. No matter the perceived injustice and marginalisation in the country, it can be addressed through peaceful measures, advocacy and political and constitutional rearrangements. The present Government is taking measures to  reduce items on the Exclusive Legislative List by transferring some of them to Concurrent Legislative List, and more will hopefully take place under the ongoing constitutional rearrangements. Proper restructuring of Nigeria, will reposition Nigeria and the various regions to rapid growth and progress. Again,  it is a matter of time.

Do you believe in IPOB’s cause for Biafra  or are you for one Nigeria? If you are for one Nigeria, do you think it should be as Nigeria is presently constituted, or should there be restructuring? If you are in favour of restructuring, kindly, share some of your thoughts on how it should be done, and your views on constitutional amendment 

I am a strong advocate for one Nigeria that is properly federalised, with adequate powers given to the federating units (States and Local Governments) for good governance. Nigeria is better by being united, but governed under the principles of equity, justice, equality, integrity, mutual respect, good governance, humane leadership, patriotism and love for the country and to all. Nigeria has enough for all, but greed and corruption have made a few richer at the expense of the majority. However, we can get it right, if humaneness is brought to bear in governance and leadership.

Are you satisfied with the Presidential system of government, or do you think Nigeria should go for the Parliamentary system? What are the reasons for your position? 

There is nothing wrong, with the Presidential system of government we are practising presently. If there is any problem with it, hold the human beings running it responsible. We have forgotten so soon, what made us to change from the Parliamentary system to Presidential system. As long as we run our system differently from those we copied it from, we will keep on experimenting with every system without attaining perfection. If we play by the rules, we will find out that every system is good, but the people that run it are the factors behind the failures we have experienced so far with the two systems.

My final advice is that, if we want the Presidential or Parliamentary systems of government, we must be prepared to run either of them in accordance with the way the Americans or the British where we copied from run theirs. As long as we mix the system with strange indices, we will experience failure and we will end up advocating for a change all the time!

Thank you Dr Ubani.

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