In this interview with COLLINS OSUJI, Deputy Editor/Political Reporter of Nigerian Horn and other seasoned journalists, the maverick legal practitioner bares his mind on certain issues that concerns NBA in the state and on the expectation of every lawyer in the state.
Who is Barr. Lawsrence Nwakaeti?
Mr Lawrence Nwakaeki is an Imo State based legal practitioner and currently the chairman NBA Owerri branch, the mother branch of Imo state NBA chapter.
Ok sir NBA Imo state chapter has been a strong voice against some state government actions, but recently on the news the government donated a new bus to your association which some Imolites viewed as a Greek gift.
What is your reaction on this?
First of all I want to correct that impression. NBA Owerri branch is the mother branch in Imo state. We have precedents and that is why we lead in anything. We issue comments, issue statements; we state the position of the bar for and on behalf of lawyers in Imo state. The reason is simple. The NBA Owerri branch was the first in time. Other branches came out from NBA Owerri and they were made for purposes of convenience. Again NBA Owerri branch consists of over 90 percents of lawyers in Imo State. Mark my word over 90% of lawyers in Imo State. So there is no lawyer from any part of Imo State that is not a member of NBA Owerri branch. So when you talk of Owerri NBA branch, like churches it is like a diocese. So the impression that the Imo bar was given buses by the governor is a wrong impression. What the governor wants to do which he is known for is to instigate our other branches to dance to the tune of the government but it has failed. First of all he didn’t know he was dealing with lawyers.
Lets get this point the money he is using to buy those buses belong to the people of Imo State. It is not Okorocha’s personal money to dash. So those branches are entitled to buses. We started this agitation for buses to go round the branch when I was the NBA Secretary, that was sometime 2013 2014. And what did he do, he refused to release those buses only for him to do that now for political purposes and for propaganda. Those branches which we have been carrying because most of them, we’ve been carrying them, we’ve been assisting them to ensure that they attend some of the conferences, to make sure they attend some of the meetings holding outside this area because most of them don’t have buses and it is the duty of the government to look in their direction, not as a form of propaganda but as duty. For instance, in rivers state, the governor rivers state donated buses to all the branches, talk of Bori branch, you talk of Isiokpo branch, you talk of Obigbo branch, you talk of Port-Harcourt branch, brand new Costar buses. You see when you look at the so called buses that were given to our colleagues from these branches, its nothing to write home about. These are rebranded buses of very low quality unlike what Chief Achike Udenwa donated to the NBA Owerri branch in the year 2003; Toyota hummer bus that has continued to be on the road even till now. This one you said he donated cannot last two years.
You see Rochas cannot give you a gift that can be useful to you, that is what we have understood. We understood that he cannot give you a gift that will be useful to you. Some of these buses will pack up in a matter of months. It is not every journey they can undertake. He gave the same type of buses to the Judiciary, when we wanted to attend the conference in Lagos this year, after servicing the buses, two of them, the mechanic told us that these buses cannot go to Lagos. That is the kind of buses Rochas will give to lawyers and he will go on air and use it to do propaganda. The truth of the matter is no self respecting lawyer can support what Okorocha led government is doing. No self respecting lawyer can do that. No self respecting lawyer can support the government to treat court judgments and rulings with levity. No self respecting lawyer can support government to breach the constitution. Any lawyer that does it will face disciplinary measures in the NBA. The NBA is a very conservative profession and any lawyer that believes that he can support the desecration of our courts, our judicial system will have no business being a member of the legal profession. That I can assure you.
Sir, few weeks ago, some civil society groups, Human Right Activists and even NBA held a conference wherein they disclosed their intention to petition the state government over the demolition of some structures in the state, Ekeukwu market inclusive.
Can you tell Imolites what the situation is like on that issue now?
The truth remains that before now the NBA a vocal voice against acts of impunity, lawlessness, executive recklessness and unconstitutional acts of the government. If you read our address during our assizes, we xrayed all these things. Like people may construe from some quarters that we are fighting government. We don’t fight government. We criticize government. We should in a very sane society be seen as partners with the government. So because of our very vibrant criticism of some of these illegal moves by government, illegal actions of government, you can’t count them. He started with the demolition of properties along Amakohia/ Akwakuma axis without due process, no notice, no compensation and the NBA cried blue murder. And I recalled the Chief Press Secretary, the spoke person of the governor said that due process was a waste of time. Such a person, does he have business to earn salary gotten from tax payers; for being so incompetent.
Ordinarily, he should be shown the way out. But it is only here that people like him still stay and they are paid salary. After that this same government extended the demolition all over Owerri and you see most of the jobs have been abandoned. Most of the roads are impassable. Look at MCC road. Where do we start? He has caused erosion in several parts of the state. Owerri has a master plan. If you look at the master plan, you see where pipes are laid down to convey water through the entire city and if you want to build, the first thing you do is to get the master plan, it will tell you pipe passes through your compound, you connect to your house. But all these structures that have been laid down over 30 years have been destroyed by the government. Most of the culverts which have been there, have been destroyed. Most of the internal sewage system, pathways through which water flow and helping to keep Owerri dry after heavy downpour, have been destroyed. Owerri is now a city that is known for flooding. That has never been before. This government has consistently prided itself as a government that develops ‘in quote’ but when you look at it, its acts to under-develop Owerri. And NBA has a duty to say no, you don’t do this. You talk of the dissolution of JSC, you talk of the issue of the pensioners, most of the issues that we have targeting are issues that touch the life of average Imolite and issues that positively project government. And I think the government should see the NBA as a partner in the business of governance rather than an enemy.
Sir, I want to know the recent development on that issue about petitioning the government.
I was coming to that. The Human Rights Bodies across the country mainly those of them that are from Imo State reached out to the NBA, ‘we know that you foremost Human Rights Body, foremost rule of law advocate, please we want to partner with you, we want to have our summit in Owerri, we have been reading so much on the papers, let us see these things for ourselves. We have invited the traders of the Ekeukwu Owerri market, the victims, even the relations of the boy that was gruesomely murdered, Somtochukwu. Even the pensioners, we heard you people did their case, even the indigenes of Owerri, who are the owners of the market, we have invited them.’ All these things were done by these groups. we now said okay, we are going to give you the platform, we are going to offer you our bar centre so that you can come there. The NBA will like to be part of this. Now who are these people? Amnesty International was there, National Human Rights group was there, Civil Liberty organization was there and so many prominent sons and daughters of the state. Name them, Chidi Odimkalu was there, Wisdom Durueke was there, Nwanguma was there. So there were so many of them. Now these people, they believe that their state is under siege and they came.
The NBA being a foremost Human Rights and rule of law defender had to offer them the bar centre. And one of the persons that came because he is a bonifide son of Imo State is Charles Oputa, Charlyboy. He was there. But we understand government is using that as a propaganda tool. You what happened? The government sent in a spy to monitor what we are doing who came in with a video recorder. He was recording everything we are saying, we didn’t know and we now found out, we asked him who sent him and he said Government House. We asked him how can you?
We did not invite you. We quickly handed him over to the police to tackle. Now this same government that was pleading for us to release the man they sent, that they were sorry for violating our privacy turned around to use it as a propaganda tool, saying that Charlyboy came and presided over our meeting. Charlyboy cannot preside over a meeting of eminent personalities as I have pointed out. He came in there as an observer like every other person that came and from there he left. So for me, this government thrives on propaganda, lies and deceit and it is unfortunate. And it is unfortunate that some of our colleagues were hoodwinked. They were misled but I think by now they are getting the true position. Because as a lawyer, one thing you should know as we were taught at the law school is to be very very objective. When you hear, objective means you investigate before drawing a conclusion.
Let me take you away from the issue of the state. Soon you will be vacating this position as the chairman of NBA Imo State or rather Owerri branch, would you possibly beat your chest and say that under your administration that NBA lived up to expectation?
We have done our best even though we came into office at a very difficult time. And I can say that this administration has done so much within the short period of time I have been in office that every right thinking person will say ‘yes we came, we saw and we conquered’.
Sir, you are one of the people who believed strongly in Okorocha and also contributed to his emergence as the governor of the state even though you are not an indigene of the state. Today some of you have expressed regret and some have also expressed delight. What position are you on this.
I think I express regret for whatever I must have done to assist him. You see at the time I came in was when, naturally I don’t like somebody abusing power. Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, being the sitting governor then was hounding him, using police to harass him and because I abhor such behavior, my office came out, went to the Federal High Court, secured an order that enabled Rochas to campaign freely. Even though I did it believing I was doing the right thing to checkmate abuse of executive powers but the same way since he assumed office, he is now using state power to abuse the people. So I have a duty to challenge that.
Finally, do you have any message or advice to your members across the state?
The NBA, our rule and mantra is upholding the rule of law. It is the NBA duty and the duty of every lawyer to make sure that the rule of law is safeguarded or protected from all forms of encroachment. The Judiciary must be protected from undue interference from the executive arm. That is the duty of a lawyer. Every lawyer, if you find yourself in a position of leadership of any organization that has to do with legal profession, you owe this duty to the profession and if you don’t discharge this duty, you are not fit to call yourself a leader. In fact the best place for you is out of the profession.