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‘Judiciary needs total autonomy not regulated independence’


Prince Nyekwere is chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Port Harcourt branch. In this interview with Legal Editor JOHN AUSTIN UNACHUKWU, he shares his views on the leadership of the Bar, judicial autonomy and the Executive Order 10 proclaimed by President Buhari among other national issues.

 

 

How challenging has it been managing a metropolitan NBA branch like Port Harcourt?

Lawyers want to feel the NBA especially in terms of welfare, work environment and participation in governance. Given the large size of NBA Port Harcourt Branch, meeting these expectations, as they ought to be met, has yet to be achieved due to lack of adequate funds. However, we are not relenting in seeking means and ways of improving our members’ welfare.

The NBA witnessed some serious internal crises in recent times that threatened its existence as we know it. How can such crises cam be averted in the future?

Most of the crises in the NBA emanated from election contests and leadership struggles. We need to institutionalise a credible mechanism that will ensure transparent, free and credible elections. Furthermore, if we truly believe and understand that leadership in the NBA is all about service, I think most of the crises we have will not be there.

What can be done to strengthen the relationship between the NBA at national level and its branches?

This can be done through consultations with the branch leadership and I think that is being done. I am aware that under the NBA Constitution, the Chairman, Secretaries and National Executive Committee (NEC) representatives of the branches are members of the National Executive Committee (NEC). There is also a forum of NBA President and Branch Chairmen where issues of the Bar are constantly discussed. Furthermore, the three Vice Presidents of the NBA have the mandate to see to the smooth functioning of the branches in their respective regions.

There was a recent face-off between the NBA Port Harcourt branch and the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike. Have you resolved the differences now considering that he is a critical stakeholder in the legal profession as a lawyer and a Life Bencher?

I do not think it is correct to say that there was a face-off between NBA Port Harcourt branch and Governor Nyesom Wike. Perhaps, what you are referring to as a face-off was the governor’s  statement/reaction to the press conference of the eight branches in Rivers State concerning the incessant abduction of lawyers in the state then which was read by the then Port Harcourt  branch Chairman and my predecessor in office, Sylvester Adaka.

So, what really happened?

Honestly, we believe there might have been a misrepresentation of the text of the press conference that warranted his reaction, but that has long been resolved. Our governor does not take any misunderstanding to heart. He is a pillar of support not only to our branch but to the NBA and Judiciary.

Why is he called ‘Mr Projects?’ Can you name some of his signature projects in the state?     

Governor Wike is called ‘Mr Project’ because of his numerous developmental projects in Rivers State that have added value to the people and residents of Rivers State. The intriguing part of his passion for a new Rivers vision is that even in his second tenure he has not relented in his development efforts. Some of his recent signature projects are the urban renewal programme, Mother and Child Hospital, construction of multi-million naira flyovers, building of state of the art judges’ quarters, etc.

What should lawyers expect from your administration in the next two years?

We are enthroning a purposeful leadership in NBA Port Harcourt branch. The welfare of our members and the good of the branch are priorities we cannot compromise on. We are committed to making our branch better than we met it in all ramifications and giving every member a sense of belonging.

What are your expectations of members of your branch?

I expect our members to be responsible and commit to discipline and professionalism at the Bar. As chairman, I do not and cannot know it all. We are open to suggestions and superiority of argument. We expect our members to offer constructive criticisms and hold us accountable for our actions and inactions.

There have been persistent calls for autonomy for state judiciaries. President Muhammadu Buhari even issued an Executive Order 10 for this, to no avail. How can this be achieved in Rivers State?

Judicial autonomy is not only desirable but a necessity. It is a component of the independence of the Judiciary that ensures the administration of justice without fear or favour. Unfortunately, we seem to have limited judicial financial autonomy. The Executive Order 10 issued by President Muhammadu Buhari is mainly concerned with financial autonomy of the Judiciary. Judicial autonomy is much more than financial autonomy, or the Judiciary controlling its budget. It includes appointment of Judges and security of tenure of their office. A Judge ought not to be relieved of his office/appointment except by due process and as provided by law. However, our experience is otherwise under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Executive Order 10, among other things, empowers the Federal Government to directly disburse budget sums appropriated to state judiciaries by their respective houses of assembly from state funds in the consolidated revenue fund. What is your reaction to this?

In practice, Executive Order 10 will be counter-productive unless state governments are in support of it. In any case, I am yet to get the logic to justify the Federal Government disbursing directly to the state judiciaries money appropriated to them by houses of assembly. The Federal Government is not the one that appropriated the money to state judiciaries. Assuming a house of assembly refuses to appropriate funds to that state’s Judiciary, what funds will the Federal Government disburse to it? Rivers State is a part of the federating units of Nigeria; it cannot operate in isolation. What we need is a holistic and committed approach to ensuring that all the indices that guarantee judicial autonomy are provided and respected and not a half-hearted Executive Order 10.



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