SPEECH DELIVERED BY NBA PRESIDENT A. B. MAHMOUD, SAN ON THE INAUGURATION OF THE NBA NORTH EAST TASK FORCE AND NBA NIGER DELTA TASK FORCE ON MONDAY OCTOBER 31ST, 2016 AT THE YAR’ADUA CENTRE, ABUJA.
National Officers of the NBA, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Chairmen and Members of the Task Forces being inaugurated, Learned Colleagues of our noble profession, Representatives of International Donor Agencies, Invited Guests, Gentlemen of the Press, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen INTRODUCTION.
I am pleased to welcome you all to this event of the inauguration of the Task Forces on the North East and the Niger Delta crises by the Nigerian Bar Association. One of the tripartite roles of a Bar Association, is the fulfilment of its responsibility for the promotion of public interest. In my inaugural speech I identified four key public interest challenges which the NBA will seek to actively engage with:
the fight against corruption,
Reform of the judiciary,
Insurgency and reconstruction of the North East, and resolution of the crisis in the Niger Delta.
In the speech I had stated that as Nigerians and as lawyers we are all directly affected, alongside millions of our compatriots by these major challenges our country is facing.
It is important to note that the twin challenges of insurgency and militancy facing the North East and Niger Delta respectively are a threat to national security. Nigeria has been experiencing a high level of insecurity as a result of the activities of insurgents and militants. Although the 1999 constitution provides that the security, protection of life and property is the primary duty of the government, the Bar and the general public have roles to play in tackling the security problems in Nigeria. Let me also commend the commitment and political will exhibited by the Buhari Administration in the fight against insurgency in the North East. We have in the last year and half seen the liberation of most of the areas previously held by the insurgents and the restoration, to a large extent, of normalcy in the region.
Earlier this month Nigerians were delighted to receive the heart-warming news of the release of 21 out of the 219 Chibok school girls held in captivity for more than two years. At this juncture I wish to also salute our military and security agencies for the success achieved. The NBA remains hopeful that the same zeal will be employed to secure the release of the others.
Indeed the legal profession has a crucial role to play in addressing these security problems in discharge of its public interest responsibility. The preamble to the United Nations Basic Principles on the role of lawyers could not have put it more succinctly when it refers to the important responsibilities that come with the legal profession, that is: to provide “effective access to legal services” to all persons and “cooperating with governmental and other institutions in furthering the ends of justice and public interest . . .”
It is for the foregoing reasons that the NBA under my watch has decided to play a more active role in confronting the extreme troubling security challenges in the North East of Nigeria as a result of the insurgency, and the escalating crisis in the Niger Delta owing to the militancy in that region with its devastating economic consequences to our Nation.
NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION NORTH EAST TASK FORCE.
The NBA has reviewed the state of affairs in the North East region of Nigeria, especially the severe security problems confronting our members in particular and innocent citizens in general. In the last 12 months, I have visited the IDPS in Maiduguri 3 times the last being a campaign tour in my quest to occupy this office. I recall during our last visit, some of my colleagues on the campaign broke down in tears on sighting the hundreds of malnourished children who were orphaned in the camps.
In my inaugural speech in Port Harcourt on the 26th of August, 2016, I stated inter alia;:
“The North East Region of Nigeria has remained a flash point of conflict and theatre of humanitarian crises as the country struggles to contain the insurgency in that region. We have in the course of our campaigns visited the region after my initial visit led by President Alegeh on 30thNovember, 2015. I have been back in the North East at least twice since then. The destruction and human suffering cannot be overstated. Millions of Nigerians have been affected and others displaced. The internally displaced persons in the region are estimated to be 2.3Million which is the third largest in the world after Syria and Columbia”.
It is also worthy of mention that the insurgency in the North East has affected the independence of the legal profession and the welfare of our members. Legal practice in North Eastern Nigeria has been largely disrupted as a result of the insurgency in the region. Our noble colleagues in that part of the country are besieged and endangered.
There are even many of our members from other parts of Nigeria who have lived and practiced in North Eastern Nigeria for years. Some even married and settled there. But as I speak most of our members have not only lost their practice as professionals, but have also lost their livelihoods and physical wellbeing. Even some of our members are regarded as insurgents and threatened with prosecution. Also judicial officers are loathe to adjudicate on certain types of cases in the absence of adequate protection of their lives and families. This is the situation in which our members have found themselves in the North East of Nigeria.
Apart from the issues raised above, the NBA is also concerned that lack of clear legal categorization of the conflict has led to the absence of a legal framework within which the conflict may be defined and regulated, and has made it difficult to determine the appropriate standards of accountability and responsibility by which to assess the conduct of Nigerian security forces in the conflict. Amnesty International published damning reports of abuse of human rights against our security Agencies.
I consider it as part of the hallowed responsibility and remit of the Bar to defend the rule of law and protect the fundamental rights and legal practice of our members and indeed the rights of non-members, as the case may be, anywhere in the world but with the emphasis on what goes on in Nigeria at the moment, especially in the North East.
In view of the above, the NBA under my leadership has constituted an NBA North East Task Force. The names of the members of the Task Force are as follows:
1. Prof. Mohammed M. Tabiu SAN – Chairman.
2. Prof. Ayo Atsenuwa – Alternate Chair
3. Prof. Isa Hayatu Chiroma - Member
4. Rakiya Mukhtar Tofa- Member
5. Altine Ibrahim Esq, Member
6. Hafsatu Mohammed Esq. – Member
7. Hassan Maidoki Esq – Member
8. Lauretta Adaeze Esq – Member
9. Hauwa Shekarau (Ms) – Member
10. Amina Ibrahim (Ms) - Member
11. Ronke Ige (Ms) - Member
12. Alfa Ibrahim Esq – Member
13 Isa Muhammad Nurudeen Esq
14. Kunle Adegoke Esq – Secretary.
The North East Task Force shall have the following terms of reference or mandate:
i. To assist our members affected by the conflict
ii. To invite and receive observations and reports from our members and the NBA branches in the North East of Nigeria with a view to documenting allegations of abuse and determining the extent of human rights violation and abuse of rule of law.
iii. To undertake a high level mission of fact-finding to the affected locations after securing adequate assurances of security and protection for the mission from the security agencies.
iv. To provide pro bono legal services to individuals and communities in the region who are victims of the conflict to aid the process or rehabilitation, resettlement and reconciliation.
v. To provide expert services to Federal Government and Governments of the States in the region and the National Assembly on devising appropriate legal framework and other legal services for the reconstruction of the region.
vi. To advise on broader issues of transitional justice to assist the process of reconciliation and reconstruction.
vii. To monitor the region especially human rights observance and flag issues requiring the attention and engagement of the Nigerian Bar Association.
viii. To establish liaison and effective communication with the Defense headquarters, Office of National Security Adviser, leadership of the Joint Task Force, and security agencies, The Presidential Committee on North East Initiative recently inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) and the Governments of the affected States, with a view to establishing clear procedure and standards for access to legal services and effective representation for persons and families arrested, held or detained by Security Agencies.
ix. Agree and establish in consultation with Office of the National Security Adviser, leadership of JTF, NHRC, mechanisms to monitor compliance with such procedure and standards, including grievances mechanisms for redressing any breaches of the agreed procedures and standards.
x. To show solidarity with our members in the North East.
xi. To address the need for legal redress for infringements on human rights and abuse of rule of law.
xii. To address legal issues thrown up by prevailing security situation in the North East.
xiii. To adopt measures designed to lend appropriate support in defending the independence of the legal profession and protecting the welfare of lawyers in the North East.
xiv. To engage and collaborate with federal governmental agencies, and bodies like the Presidential Committee on North East Initiatives. xv. Enlist the assistance of National and International human rights mechanisms, especially the U. N Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in ensuring effective redress of any violations established.
xvi. To perform any other task that will help to provide solutions to the security problems that we are facing in Nigeria.
NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION NIGER DELTA TASK FORCE.
Closely related to our concerns in the North East are our worries in the Niger Delta. In expressing these worries in my inaugural speech I stated as follows:
“With regards to the situation in the Niger Delta we note the devastating impact of the conflict on the various communities and citizens living in the region. It is clear that the environmental destruction and the human suffering and the general impact on the national economy are huge. The NBA will similarly put at the disposal of all communities and all parties to the conflict in the Niger Delta, its resources, knowledge and skills towards achieving a resolution, reconciliation and rebuilding of the region.”
The above statement succinctly captures what the NBA intends to do in addressing the Niger Delta crisis. We shall also re-activate the partnership between the NBA and the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC on law and development in the Niger Delta Region. The NBA had long before now identified law as a crucial tool to facilitate the Niger Delta development. To this end, the NBA and NDDC formed a partnership on Law and Development in 2007. The partnership is anchored not only on the fact that law plays a key role in economic reform, governance and any development process, but it also gave birth to the law and development project. The goal of the project among others is to mainstream law in the actualization of the Niger Delta Region Development Master Plan.
We believe that there is need to inculcate law into the development plans and objectives for the Niger Delta region. We consider law to be crucial to unlocking the potential key areas in the Niger Delta. Law can be applied to the framework for maritime and coastal security, ocean governance, trade, natural resources development, peace and conflict resolution initiatives.
It is our hope too that we can make our services available to address any possible negotiations between the various communities and actions in the region aimed and at achieving resolution of the conflicts.
It is to begin to address the Niger Delta challenges that this administration decided to set up an NBA Niger Delta Task Force. The members of the Task Force are:
1. Albert Akpomudge, SAN - Chairman
2. Ledum Mitee Esq – Alternate Chairman
3. Mia Essien SAN – Member
4. Mba Ukweni, SAN - Member
5. Q. E. B. Offiong SAN - Member
6. Charles Ajuwa, SAN - Member
7. Sosoprieye Long Williams, Esq – Member
8. Kelvin Ejelonu Esq – Member
9. Muyiwa Olowokure,Esq - Member
10. Sagir Gazawa,Esq - Member
11. Mrs. Lillian Ene Ogar - Member
12. Nkiruka Maduekwe, Esq - Member
13. Alex Mouka Esq. – Secretary.
The Terms of Reference or mandate of the Task Force are as follows:
i. Providing legal assistance and support to our members affected by the conflict;
ii. Providing pro bono legal assistance to individuals and communities within the region affected by the conflict;
iii. Providing pro bono legal assistance to all parties in the conflict working towards negotiated resolution and reconciliation;
iv. To advise on the general challenges in the region with a view to enhancing environmental protection and the quality of life in the region;
v. Monitoring developments in the region especially human rights observance and flagging issues needing immediate attention and engagement by the Nigerian Bar Association.
vi. To monitor, review and evaluate at all levels the degree of implementation of the Niger Delta Regional Development Master plan. vii. To develop a legal framework for public private partnership to be established at Local, State and Federal Government levels. Public Private Partnership should be embraced to foster development in the Niger Delta Region giving consideration to risk elements, stakeholders' consent and viability of the projects.
viii. To consider and determine if the Niger Delta Development Commission Act should be amended to reflect and deal with current constraints in the areas of funding, and to include all companies involved in all aspects of oil & gas enterprise within the funding arrangement with appropriate sanctions for defaulting companies.
ix. To encourage and foster co-operation and collaboration between Federal and State Government, and development agencies to avoid duplication.
x. To advocate for the usage of Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms in resolving conflicts in the Niger Delta.
xi. To partner with the appropriate Federal and State Government Ministries, Department and Agencies like the Federal Government Amnesty Office , NDDC and Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
The NBA will also seek and source for technical support, and mobilize resources and funds from donor agencies and development partners to support the work of the Task Forces. We hope that these initiatives will help in addressing the humanitarian crises in the two regions and lead to lasting solution and reconciliation.
I want to use this opportunity to assure the members of these Task Forces of their safety and security in the process of their work. In the same vein, the NBA branches, National Officers and members of staff of the NBA National Secretariat shall provide necessary support to the work of the Task Forces.
Let me state that we place high importance to the work of these two Task Forces. We see their work is linked to security and welfare not only of our members but our fellow citizens living in those regions and indeed the well-being of the country. Nothing could be a more active pursuit in the public interest than matters of national security. The Bar must not only be seen as a body which can properly regulate its members, but also it should be viewed as a noble association that can work in the interest of the public. The interest of the Bar is inexorably linked to the interest of the Nigerian people.
I thank all members of the two Task Forces for accepting to serve. Your acceptance is an eloquent testimony of your commitment to the service of our great Association. I urge the Chairmen and members of these Task Forces not only to make sacrifices for the work at hand, but also to bring their wealth of skills, expertise, experience and time to bear on their assignments. I look forward to the great mileage and traction that would be acheived by the work of these Task Forces.
Congratulations on your appointment to serve.
Your assignment with the greatest respect begins now.
Thank you for your time and attention and God bless.
Abubarkar Balarabe Mahmoud,OON, SAN
President, Nigerian Bar Association
31st October, 2016