Chief Paul Harris Ogbole (SAN) is a former board member of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and a current member of the Council for Legal Education (Nigeria Law School). He is the chairman of the Conference Planning Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Legal Practice (NBA-SLP). In this interview with AMEH OCHOJILA, he shares his views on the challenges of administration of justice and the preparedness of NBA-SLP to have its yearly conference next month.

What do you think is responsible for the slow pace of the justice system in Nigeria?
In the first instance, I think that a Nigerian judge is overworked, and the judiciary is over-tasked. There is more work and less pay for the judges. So, with the volume of work that the Judges have, their dockets are filled. The number of cases that the judges have in their dockets daily ranges from 20, 30, 40 and sometimes 60.

The question you ask yourself is: how much time will be deployed to research? How well can a judge properly evaluate evidence? That’s one aspect of it. The second aspect is, we have said repeatedly that the facilities available to Nigerian judges are the least in contemporary judicial practice. Our respective Houses of Assembly have automated recording devices, but most of the courts have manual recording, which is a long-hand proceeding.

It is tedious, back-breaking, slow and archaic. That is the problem confronting our judges today. A judge in Nigeria among the three arms of government is least enumerated, and if you make the job unattractive in terms of remuneration, how do you in the first place get the best attracted to the bench? So, the remuneration of judges is nothing to write home about.

The facilities available to them from the court environment are eyesore. It is sad that a temple of justice is allowed to look like a shack. The furniture, equipment, staffing and training all speak about the quality of service you get from the courts.

Judges’ welfare is not attended to, yet the volume of work to be done is huge. So, all of those contribute to slow down the pace of work. Sometimes, lawyers contribute to the cause of delay by filing frivolous applications. And in some cases, as lawyers, we owe it a duty to advise our clients properly as to the likelihood of the general position of the law.

What’s the significance of the NBA section on legal practice as a body under the Bar?
The section on legal practice is primarily to improve legal practice and to meet the need of the 21st-century practice demands, and also to reposition members to embrace the change occasioned by globalisation, information technology, and economic development. The section is to assist members to develop and improve legal services to the public.

You intend to hold a conference this month, what is its theme?
The world is a global village. We need to expand the frontiers of the areas of practice available to our lawyers. As we continue to increase in numbers as lawyers in this country, we must find a place of relevance for ourselves here and across the globe. So, with the advent of the Internet, modernity, and artificial intelligence, we see the need for Nigerians to tap into all of those technologies so that we can take advantage of the world being a global village.

Having said that, the question to ask is, how prepared are we as lawyers to tap into these advantages? So, the theme of this year’s conference is: ‘Legal Practice Without Borders’ which is to examine the practice and transformation of law in Nigeria and the international environment. It is to critically examine what role our lawyers can play and how relevant they can be in the world space. The question is, how prepared are we? How can we take advantage of the goings on around the world? What areas of training do we further need? How can we position ourselves so that we can be relevant in the scheme of things? How can Nigerian lawyers practice well in Nigeria and outside the country? We are happy to know that our lawyers are doing well in Canada, and elsewhere in Europe. Luckily, our lawyers are currently judges somewhere in Canada and Britain.

They received their training in the country. The training we receive is such that makes you are a global citizen. At the conference, we will showcase Nigeria lawyers as global citizens. Besides, how well are we positioned to take advantage of all of the emerging Information and Communication Technology (ICT)? If we don’t do these, we will find out that we will lose relevance, and lawyers from other parts of the world would gain relevance over and above us.

Before you know it, they would begin to take our jobs. We need to position ourselves in such a way and manner that we can relate globally and positively affect the justice system in Nigeria and the globe. We will be happy to hear that more Nigerian lawyers are doing well globally.

The essence of the conference is to showcase the status of the Nigerian lawyer, the advantages it can bring to bear, and positioning himself to be a practitioner across the globe.

What calibres of resource persons are expected at the event?
We are expecting high-class, world-class, highly reputable judges, lawyers and academics. The conference will attract distinguished jurists, academia, high-level government functionaries and corporate executives.

You propose to organise a debate for young lawyers at the event, what’s the essence?
We believe we are catching them young. The experience you gather as a young lawyer would go a long way in making you a better lawyer. Young lawyers are indeed the future of our profession. So we decided this year to say let us have a debate for young lawyers, and the essence is to get them to improve themselves and to expose themselves to the nuances of practice. This time around, it is a non-courtroom environment. And we believe that the argument that would emanate from this debate would be a far-reaching argument that would also help to contribute in no small way to expanding the experiences of our practice.

Giving young lawyers the opportunity to embark on a debate like this before very seasoned lawyers and judges would provide an opportunity for confidence building, for exposure and showcasing themselves and being role models to so many other young lawyers.

Sitting among their peers and seeing how well they are doing, I think it would stimulate other lawyers to also work harder regarding their advocacy. We have prices. The winner would be given N750, 000, second runners up would get N500, 000, while the third runners up would be awarded N350, 000.

A number of our lawyers and SANs have indicated interest in giving so much more support to the programme, and to the winners as a source of encouragement. So, we look forward to a very robust debate among our young lawyers. Even the older lawyers will learn a lot from these young lawyers.

They will share knowledge on the use of technology, which they acquired in more recent cases they encountered or worked on. The strength of any practice hinges on the quality and calibre of research embarked on. Most of us commit heavily on the abilities of the young lawyers, their industry and use of technology. They do quite well in those. I must compliment and commend the effort of our young lawyers for their contribution to legal practice. Oftentimes, they are unsung but I think they are true heroes in our profession. They need to be celebrated and encouraged at every opportunity.

There is an extension for early bird registration. Why is it so?
Yes, after the closure, we decided to extend it by two weeks period for the early birds. The reasons are: first of all, we are in a season of joy. The Sallah season is a time of celebration. The news is coming at a time when we are all celebrating and you know for a few days this week, we have two days of public holiday and much of the week there would be less of official activities and so we believe that extending the time would give so many people more opportunity to cover up.

Again there is a lot of pressure from our members. People wanting to register and for one reason or the other are unable to increased the demand for an extension. Those are the reason we decided to give an additional two weeks window.

Is there any special provision for gentlemen in skirts and the physically challenged?
For physically challenged lawyers, we have in place structures that would support them. For instance, we have made arrangement for interpreters for people who have hearing challenges. We have in place officers and men who would assist people who have some other physical challenges in terms of movement in and out.

We also have a discount for people with physical challenges, a discount in the aid of registration and there are quite a number of incentives to encourage participation of lawyers with physical challenges. For female lawyers, we have systems to encourage them to attend. As I speak to you, specifically, 20 female lawyers would be registered free. That’s the window available only to female lawyers and it’s a way to encourage our female lawyers. And there is also a special discount again for females to register, and then there is a discount also for our gentlemen in skirts.

  • Credit: THE GUARDIAN

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