Leading lights of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) took to the podium yesterday at the NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL) Annual Conference holding at Addrex Hotel & Suites, Aba, Abia State to dissect issues impeding human rights in Nigeria and proffer solutions.

Among those who made interventions at yesterday’s technical sessions were firebrand human rights advocate and former NBA Second Vice President, Mr. Monday Ubani; former NBA General Secretary, Mr. Olumuyiwa Akinboro SAN; immediate past Chairman of the NBA Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL), Mr. Olumide Akpata, and controversial former NBA Ikeja Branch Chairman, Mr. Adesina Ogunlana.

The day kicked off with the session on “Business and human rights: global principles and best practices.” CITY LAWYER reports that the lead speaker was Mr. Babatunde Ajala, a Political & Economic Affairs Officer with the Switzerland Embassy while Akinboro was chairman.

The session dwelt on business practices that impede human rights, with speakers noting that such a business model is not sustainable especially in an era where the emphasis is currently shifting towards “corporate accountability” as against corporate social responsibility.

Akinboro stated that government efforts are key to industrialization and attracting foreign direct investment. Warning that foreign investors “are not coming because they like Nigeria” but to boost their revenues, Akinboro urged government to establish appropriate policies to ensure favourable investment climate, adding that Kenya has made giant strides in this area.

This was followed by the session on “Managing security challenges and public interest issues.” Lawyer and former Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mr. Marvel Akpoyibo gave the keynote speech while Dr. Uju Agomoh of Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), Messrs Joel Bisina and Franklyn Oseya as well as Dr. Vladimir Kreck, Head of Nigerian Office, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) were panelists.

Akpoyibo noted especially that the police is one entity that has “suffered several amputations but survived all.” He was referring to the excision of several agencies such as EFCC, ICPC among others from the purview of the Nigeria Police.

While Agomoh decried “overlapping mandates” of law enforcement agencies and warned that this engenders confusion and rivalry due to failure to streamline the powers of each agency, Kreck gave a panoramic view of the work of KAS, adding that it has been collaborating with several entities and conducting researches on human rights issues in Nigeria.

“Alternative dispute resolution: utilizing institutional and Legal strategies for managing and resolving companies-host-communitities (C-H-C) conflicts” was the next topic to be dissected by a panel chaired by leading arbitrator, Mrs. Caroline Etuk. Akpata was the lead speaker.

In his 5-page paper made available to CITY LAWYER, Akpata stated that “Despite the gains being made by crafting ADR strategies for managing C-H-C conflicts on a contractual rather than an institutional level, the best strategies, to my mind, must entail a concerted, co-ordinated approach among the key players of Government, relevant companies and the host communities.”

He further stated that “In the final analysis, there is no hard or fast rule about resolving C-H-C conflicts, given that there is no statutory or institutionalized framework for managing these disputes. As such, regardless of the alternative dispute resolution process that one fancies, the fundamental strategy in our experience is to ensure that the host communities buy-in into that process was secured at the earliest stages of the companies’ operations and is sustained for as long as the companies operate in their hosts’ territory.”

The session paved the way for a heated discussion on “The judiciary, human rights and public interest litigations,” with Ubani as the lead speaker. Among the panelists were newly appointed judge and immediate past Chief Registrar of the High Court of Abia State, Mr. Benson Anya; former Rivers State Attorney-General & Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Wogu Boms; Dr. Nkiruka Maduekwe of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS); Mrs. Chioma Okoro, chief magistrate in Abia State Judiciary; Mr. Omoniyi Omodara, Director of Legal Services, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and Ogunlana.

Ubani commended Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN for using litigation to deepen the public interest, adding that the courts have increasingly thrown away the restrictive approach towards public interest litigation including the controversial issue of locus standi.

He further noted that the Supreme Court last April widened the scope for public interest litigants through another major decision, saying: “Let me read some of the cases that were decided on constitutional issues that really shows that Nigerian courts have been making progress until April this year where we have the most important decision ever reached. You and I should be saying ‘God bless Supreme Court Justices.’

“The matter came from Abia (State). In fact, we are in Abia. Mr. Chairman (of SPIDEL), God will bless you for bringing this event to Abia State because Abia State opened the floodgate. You and I as public interest lawyers now have a right to go to court. You don’t need to show that you have suffered injury. It is enough if you can show that a law has not been properly followed or enacted.

“According to the Supreme Court in the case of Centre for Oil Pollution Watch v. NNPC, the criteria for public interest litigants to insist that law must be obeyed and rights of citizens not taken for granted even if the petitioner cannot establish any sufficient or direct interest on the violation of the law.”

The session that brought the curtains down on the day’s event was titled “Promoting the rule of law: roles and perspectives of attorneys-general as state actors.” The session was chaired by the Abia State Attorney-General & Commissioner or Justice, Mr. Uche Ihediwa while leading jurist and former Abia State Attorney-General & Commissioner or Justice, Mr. Awa Kalu SAN was the lead speaker.

The well attended conference ends today with several sessions including the highly anticipated session on “Public protest and the law” with fiery human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana SAN who CITY LAWYER gathered will hit town for the event. Several cocktail events are planned to ensure proper work-life balance for conferees.

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