Alleged Failure in Protecting Judiciary: NBA Replies Wike, Says Remark Inconsiderate, Uncharitable

Alex Enumah

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) yesterday berated Rivers State Governor, Nyesome Wike for accusing it of not protecting the judiciary as it should, describing the governor’s statement as inconsiderate and uncharitable.
The NBA in a statement signed by its National President, Mr. Olumide Akpata, expressed disappointment that such allegations was coming from a person of Wike’s status who is a senior lawyer in the country.
The governor had at a book launch in honour of the recently retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Mary Peter-Odili, described the NBA as a, “paper tiger” which has failed in its responsibility to protect the Judiciary in Nigeria and rescue it from political intimidation.
Akpata, said he could not allow the Wike, “make such baseless allegations against the NBA particularly as he is a senior member of the legal profession who will be presumed by many to be speaking from a position of knowledge.”
Akpata, further noted that it was quite ironic that the governor made the allegations at an event held in honour of Justice Peter-Odili in support of whom, the NBA, “stood firm in the face of that brazen attack on her home in Abuja by some persons who are now standing trial in our law courts.”
He added that for Wike to have, “chosen so quickly, to either forget or ignore this and other actions of the NBA in support of the Judiciary is suggestive of a dissonance that is most disconcerting and should give one serious cause for concern.”
The NBA President said, “It is very convenient for Governor Wike to ask Nigerian lawyers (as he did at the Book Launch) to emulate their apparently more courageous Pakistani colleagues when the issues at stake do not concern him directly, but when in 2019 the very same Nigerian lawyers had the “temerity” to question his handling of the security situation in Rivers State and threatened to boycott the Courts if there was no abatement of  the rising insecurity in the State, he was only too quick to lambast the lawyers and to withdraw his “support” for the NBA in the State.
“While we understand that Governor Wike is currently on the political soapbox and, like a man with the proverbial new hammer, to whom any and everything is a nail, he will latch unto any chance to sell his candidacy, he cannot and should not be allowed to use the NBA as fodder of any sort for his vaulting ambition.”
According to the NBA, the politico-legal history of Nigeria was replete with the commendable role that it had played, and continues to play, as a primary defender of the rule of law and protector of the Judiciary in Nigeria.
While stating that the body’s commitment to defend the Judiciary and its integrity has remained unshaken, Akpata reminded Wike of some of the achievement of the NBA under his watch.
“Illustrative examples abound to drive home this point, and three well-known examples remain fresh in the consciousness of Nigerians and constitute recent history that cannot be rewritten even by a personality of Governor Wike’s calibre.  
“Firstly, there was the crisis that rocked the Cross River State Judiciary when, against established legal tradition, the Governor of the State refused to appoint the most senior Judge in the State – Justice Akon Ikpeme – as the substantive Chief Judge on the ground that she was not an indigene of Cross River State.
“That was an attempt by the executive arm of government to extend its political turf to the Judiciary, and the active role that the NBA played – both publicly and privately in defending the Judiciary and resolving that ugly debacle in that State (and a few other States where similar scenarios played out afterwards) is well-documented.”
He listed its role in ensuring that those who invaded Peter-Odili’s house are currently undergoing trial as the second and the third as the NBA’s defence of Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court who was wrongly excoriated by Dave Umahi, Governor of Ebonyi State after an unfavourable judgment was entered against the Governor.
“The NBA’s defence of the Judiciary in that case would later result in an almost immediate apology by the Governor.  
“More generally, the NBA has at different times in the last twenty months, filed public interest lawsuits to challenge the excesses of the government and its agencies; issued strongly worded statements and reprimands in which it named and shamed political leaders with despotic and undemocratic tendencies; initiated a process to enthrone the appointment of only the best from amongst us as Judges; and even joined in a ten-week long strike action (with significant economic loss to our members and other debilitating effects) in a bid to contribute towards our quest for a more independent and efficient Judiciary in Nigeria.  
“Short of taking the law into our hands and carrying ammunition without licence to defend the Judiciary, the NBA insists that it is doing its best in the circumstance, and in an atmosphere that is widely acknowledged to be characterised by recklessness and little regard for the rule of law by governments at all levels. It is in this respect that the NBA views Governor Wike’s invectives as inconsiderate and uncharitable,” the statement added.  

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