The Chairman of Public Interest and Development Law Section of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA-SPIDEL) John Aikpokpo-Martins Esq., has accused the NBA President, Yakubu Maikyau SAN, of repeatedly hindering the section’s public interest programs and activities through lack of response and approval.
In a strongly-worded letter, Aikpokpo-Martins outlined several initiatives on religious tolerance dialogue, proof of ownership litigation, election monitoring and investigating a lawyer’s death that were planned by SPIDEL but purportedly obstructed due to the President’s inaction and refusal to grant permission to proceed.
The SPIDEL Chairman also cited the lockout from a reserved NBA House venue in August 2023 that caused grave inconvenience and additional costs in having to arrange another venue for a SPIDEL leaders dinner at short notice.
Aikpokpo-Martins lamented that SPIDEL would have been rendered inoperative if it depended solely on the President’s greenlight for all its activities. Questions are now being asked about why the NBA leadership appears intent on hindering a section pursuing public interest issues rather than enabling it.
The response, dated 9th February 2024, outlined instances where SPIDEL sought collaboration with the NBA leadership, only to be met with indifference or obstruction. Notable among these instances were:
Scuttled Conference on Religious Tolerance.
You will recall that sometime after the killing of Usman Buda in Sokoto in June 2023 for alleged blasphemy, I informed you vide a telephone call on 1st July 2023 of SPIDEL’s plan to organize a conference on religious tolerance. I noted that I had made contact with the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria (MULAN) through its President, among others. It was to be the first major program following my election as SPIDEL Chairman. You said you would prefer the Association to take up the initiative. I deferred to you. I thereafter called you to follow up on the planned dialogue. To date, nothing has been done about the program.
Yearly Renewal of Proof of Ownership.
You may recall that on 24th July 2023, I was in your office at the National Secretariat to brief you on our meeting with SYC Technologies Limited on the yearly renewal of Proof of Ownership certificates at a mandatory fee of N1,000. We intended to sue the company, the Federal Government, and the Lagos State Government, given the additional hardship the scheme will wreak on citizens. You requested that I arrange another meeting with the company. The meeting was eventually fixed for 2nd August 2023 in your office. While we all assembled in your office on the said date, you never turned up for the meeting. I called you to follow up, but you neither answered nor returned my calls.
Again, on 9th September 2023, I sent you a WhatsApp text message that I wanted to discuss some urgent SPIDEL matters, but you did not respond.
On 11th September 2023, at exactly 5 pm, I forwarded the draft processes of the proof of ownership case we intended to file for your information. I also sought your approval to sue in the name of the Association. You never responded. Having not received your permission, SPIDEL opted to file the lawsuit (Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1285/2023) in the name of its chairman, secretary, and another member, and for and on behalf of SPIDEL members.
Re: Case of Chief Judge of Federal Capital Territory
You may also recall that around 1 pm on 2nd August 2023, you telephoned me and directed that SPIDEL cease all actions on its letter dated 24th August 2023 titled “A HUMBLE REQUEST FOR CLARIFICATION ON THE ALLEGED RELEASE OF MR. CHUMA NZERIBE FROM THE KUJE CORRECTIONAL CENTER ABUJA.” As you are aware, we had written to the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory to clarify the allegation that the Honourable Chief Judge – under the guise of a prison visit on 24th May 2023 -unlawfully released from the Kuje Correctional Centre, Hon. Chuma Nzeribe, a convict who was on 24th May 2022, sentenced to a 7 (seven) year jail term by Hon. Justice Yusuf Halilu of FCT High Court 14 sitting in Wuse. You had assured us that you would revert to us on the issue. To date, SPIDEL has yet to hear from you on this serious matter, which has grave implications for Nigeria’s criminal justice administration. It is noteworthy that this matter was discussed at the SPIDEL General Meeting held on 31st August 2023 on the sidelines of the 2023 Annual General Conference. The minutes of the meeting will bear this out. The issue was also highlighted in the SPIDEL Report to the Pre-Conference NEC Meeting in August 2023, particularly on page 221 of the NEC bundle.
On 24th August 2023, I sought your approval vide a WhatsApp message sent at 9:18 am. for SPIDEL to observe the Edo State Local Government Election to be held on 2nd September 2023. Mr. President did not respond to the request.
On the same day, 24th August 2023 at exactly 5:21 pm, I forwarded to you a news report by CITY LAWYER news blog titled “FAMILY BLAMES LASUTH, EVERCARE HOSPITAL OVER DEATH OF LAGOS LAWYER” (available at https://citylawyermag.com/family-blames-lasuth-evercare-hospital-over-death-of-lagos-lawyer/). I accompanied the same with the following note: “NBA-SPIDEL is interested in taking up this matter with the view of bringing the medical institutions involved to book. I thought it fit to inform you, seeing that the victim is a lawyer.” You have not responded to date.
We invited Mr. President to our SPIDEL Leaders’ Reunion Dinner initially scheduled to be held on the 1st floor of NBA House on 28th August 2023 on the sidelines of the Annual General Conference. Not only did you fail to dignify us with a response; you went a step further to lock us out and bar us from use of the NBA hall on the day of the scheduled dinner. Needless to say, this action occasioned grave inconvenience to SPIDEL and our invited Bar Leaders, more as the venue had long been advertised. We scrambled to deploy another venue at very short notice and at great cost to the Section.
The response, issued by SPIDEL’s Chairman, Mr. John Aikpokpo-Martins, concluded with a rejection of the NBA President’s directives suspending SPIDEL’s activities, asserting that such directives were null and void. SPIDEL reiterated its commitment to promoting the rule of law and protecting the public interest, vowing to continue its advocacy efforts despite opposition.
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