Issues affecting the attainment of peace, security, Ogoni clean up and sustainable development across the Niger Delta took centre stage on Wednesday 8 August, 2018 as the Nigerian Bar Association held its first Town Hall Meeting with stakeholders in the Niger Delta with the theme: Improving on Peace, Security and Sustainable Development in the Niger Delta Region: the Imperatives.
The town hall meeting was held at the NBA Port Hartcourt Branch Secretariat Auditorium. The President of the Nigerian Bar Association A. B. Mahmoud OON, SAN disclosed that the environmental and security challenges that have pervaded the region over the decades have had a great impact not only on the peace, progress and development of the region, but the entire country. He stated that the region, has been a hotbed of conflict for decades, arising from demands for environmental and social justice.
He noted that, whilst the struggles had peaceful origins, they had over the decades become more militant and often spiraled out of control leading to violent armed conflicts and often criminality. He said; “All these have impacted a great deal on the livelihood of the various communities living in the region and indeed on the rest of the country. This has been of great concern to the Nigerian Bar Association”.
It was in response to these challenges and in an effort to assist in resolving the lingering crises across the Niger-Delta region of South-South Nigeria, that the current leadership of the NBA constituted and inaugurated a Task Force on the Niger Delta on 31 October 2016, as an 11-member committee chaired by Chief Albert Akpomudje SAN, comprising of notable Senior Advocates of Nigeria and NBA members.
He described the Town Hall meeting as part of the wider efforts of the NBA to continue to contribute to the search for peace and sustainable development in the region.
He stated further that the Town Hall meeting will be followed by a training program in Abuja from Monday 13th August, 2018 for 100 lawyers drawn from branches in the Niger Delta region.
The training which is being organized by the NBA and Bar Human Rights Committee of the UK Bar Council with support from the UK Aid and Rule of Law Expertise (ROLE) UK (both agencies of the United Kingdom Government) has as its objective the development of the capacity and expertise of Nigerian Lawyers in the area of environmental rights protection utilizing various mechanisms including Alternative Dispute Resolution and international legal instruments for environmental protection. The program will equip the participants with knowledge and resources to provide pro-bono legal services in the areas of access to justice and effective legal representation for vulnerable indigenes and inhabitants of the Niger-Delta region.
In his welcome address, the Chairman of NBA Niger Delta Task Force; Chief Albert Akpomudje, SAN stated that prior to the coming in of the present executives of the NBA, there has not been any attempt to resolve the issues ongoing in the Niger Delta; however it was the present NBA administration that inaugurated the Niger Delta Task Force on the 31st day of October, 2016.
He reeled out the steps taken by the Task Force, which included reaching out to the stakeholders. He also mentioned that the Task Force has identified 15 comprehensive reports which recommendations were hardly implemented.
In his goodwill message, His Excellency, Henry Seriake Dickson Executive Governor of Bayelsa State who was represented by the Hon. Attorney General of Bayelsa State, Mr Kemeasuode Wodu said that the issues of the Niger Delta is squarely situated around the issue of restructuring. “There is need to practice true federalism whereby the people can control their resources. Bayelsa State does not have the resources to develop the state because the state does not have control over the resources of the Niger Delta.”
Mr. Rufus Godwins who represented the Governor of Rivers State spoke about the different commissions that have been set up starting from the Willinks
Commission down to the Niger Basin Development Authority (NBDA) and the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) which have not adequately addressed the issues in the region. He drew attention to the Ogoni Cleanup which he said is a deception as nothing is being done and also advocated for true federalism.
Prof. Oghenemaro Festus Emiri, Professor of Jurisprudence, Edwin Clark University, Delta State in his keynote address opined that development is measured in Human development index and not by GDP. He begged to differ that legal approach is the only way of solving issues but rather believes that Institutional economics is a better way of solving the crisis in the Niger Delta region. “Institutional economics will help in the development of not only the Niger Delta region but the nation at large”
The second session tagged “Making Government Institutions and Initiatives Beneficial to the People of the Niger Delta was Chaired by Mr. O. C. J Okocha,
SAN, Past President of the NBA and Mr. Offiong B. Offiong, SAN as the lead speaker.
The session discussed the interventions of Governmental and Non-Governmental organisations within the Niger-Delta and suggest effective strategies that can be utilized by these institutions to implement their mandate.
The third session, The Role of Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms in Managing Conflicts in the Niger-Delta” was chaired by Mrs Florence Fibresima Solicitor-General, Ministry of Justice, Rivers State with Dr. Theo Chike Osanakpo, SAN, FCIArb as lead speaker.
The session discussed extensively the challenges arising from the use of local and international courts as the primary mode of dispute resolution by indigenes and host communities across the Niger-Delta.