By John Austin Unachukwu
THE umbrella society of Igbo lawyers, Otu Oka-Iwu, has honoured Supreme Court Justice Chima Centus Nweze; the President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide, Chief John Nwodo and others for the contribution to the development of the judicial system.
It gave them the honour at its 2019 Dinner and Awards Night held at the MUSON Centre, Lagos.
Otu Oka-Iwu called for a reform of Nigeria’s legal and constitutional system in order to stem “the slide into anarchy and economic downturn.”
It warned that unless urgent steps are taken to restore the rule of law and respect for human rights, the country’s development may continue to plummet.
Aside from Justice Nweze and Nwodo, the event also featured presentation of awards to other leading Igbo members of the legal profession, including Appeal Court Judge, Justice Ugochukwu Ogakwu; Justice Nelson Ogbuanya of the National Industrial Court, as well as Justices Sunday Bassey Onu and Justice Obiora Egwuatu both of the Federal High Court.
Others were a former Chairman of The Body of Benchers of Nigeria, Owelle George Uwechue (SAN); Chairman of the Council of Legal Education (CLE), Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN); former Otu Oka Iwu presidents, Chief Guy Ikokwu and Mr. Zik C. Obi II; former Lead Prosecution Counsel at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Mrs. Ifeoma Ojemeni-Okali and immediate past Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (Lagos Branch), Mr. Chukwuka Ikwuazom.
Addressing the gathering, Nwodo traced the decline in the fortunes of fossil oil, Nigeria’s major revenue earner, adding that aside from the emergence of shale oil, new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous/electric cars point to a bleak future for the fossil oil market.
Noting that new technologies are also threatening lawyers’ employment, Nwodo urged lawyers to take the lead in canvassing constitutional reform.
His said: “Oka Iwu Ndigbo must take a front position in championing our resolve to bring about constitutional reform in our country. It must address the issue of effective political representation.
“It is qualified to catalyse growth in digital education and agriculture. Mere rhetoric will get us nowhere. The time for action is now.”
Speaking earlier, Uwechue condemned the “blatant disregard for human rights and the rule of law by the Federal Government.”
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TheHouse of Representatives Speaker also stated that “the manner in which the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen was suspended pursuant to an ex parte order was clearly outrageous and undermined the principle of separation of powers in a truly democratic governance.”
Uwechue, who chaired the occasion, urged citizens to follow due process in stating their grievances, noting that “we have the duty, as lawyers, to advise our people that we must follow due legal process of going through our elected representatives – Ohaneze Ndigbo, the state governors, federal and state legislators and even local government area chairmen and councilors.”
Otu Oka Iwu President Chief Chuks Ikokwu said while the association would not join in the “public bashing” and humiliation of judges, it “will continue to participate actively in the national debate and discussion for enthronement of the rule of law, respect for the individual and collective human rights of various ethnic nationalities of the Nigerian Federation and for equity and justice.”
He added: “We support strongly the quest by the various nationalities for a restructured true federating units to propel this country into the present age. Those who oppose this quest do so in denial and live in the past.”
Speaking on behalf of the honourees, Justice Ogbuanya said he was “personally elated” with the honour, adding that the association “has once again distinguished itself as a pan-regional union” that propagates national unity.
He noted that the award was “especially unique” given that it is a “recognition of excellence bestowed only on jurists who have distinguished themselves in their chosen fields.”
Otu Oka Iwu is incorporated as an association of Igbo lawyers set up immediately after the Nigeria-Biafra War to cater especially for the interest and welfare of Igbo lawyers.