The National Association of Catholic Lawyers (NACL), Lagos Archdiocese recently celebrated its fourth edition of Catholic Lawyers’ Day with the Archbishop of Lagos. The occasion presented yet another opportunity to look into the goals, operations and activities of the legal body as well as the legal practice in the country. The Editor, NETA NWOSU had an exclusive interview with Philips Njeteneh, Esq., President, NACL, Lagos Archdiocese on matters relating to the association as well as issues pertaining to insecurity, standard of professional ethics and ethos in the legal profession, state of rule of law and governance in Nigeria.
What informed the formation of the National Association of Catholic Lawyers (NACL)? Please tell us about its activities in the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos.
National Association of Catholic Lawyers, Lagos (NACL Lagos) is the umbrella body for all Catholic Lawyers within the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos. NACL Lagos is one of several branches of NACL scattered across Nigeria in more than 19 Archdioceses and Dioceses in Nigeria. NACL started in the 1980s as Catholic Lawyers’ Association in Lagos and the then Pro-term Chairman was Sam Ade Oshisanya while the Pro-term secretary was Anaelokwu Etuka. The Association witnessed a lull for a long period until a rebirth which saw it transform to National Association of Catholic Lawyers and equally having the blessings of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria which eventually made NACL an Apostolate. It is the position of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria that Catholic Lawyers with their professional skills can utilize their professional skills for the benefit of the Church and the society as a body thereby leading to making NACL an Apostolate.
What specific contributions have NACL, Lagos Archdiocese made to the growth of the Lagos Archdiocese?
NACL Lagos as a body render professional services to Parishioners, the Church and the society at large through our public interest advocacy, professional development seminars, symposia and training for members and non-members lawyers, probono services to indigent inmates of the five correctional centres in Lagos, among others. As a body NACL Lagos has over the years rendered legal services through cases either harvested by its members or cases referred to it by the JDPC. NACL Lagos equally renders legal services to parishioners and parishes with our members taking cases whenever there is in the various parishes. NACL Lagos as a body equally acts as legal advisers to the Archbishop of Lagos while NACL Lagos nominated our members of the boards of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos.
Do you think that the goals of NACL have so far been realised in Nigeria and its respective Arch/Dioceses?
Goals of NACL being realized in the Archdiocese and Nigeria in general is a work in progress. Suffice to say that just as our slogan says ‘Justice through Christ’ we propagate the principle of equality and justice to all Nigerians irrespective of your religion or tribe. We have always taken a position on topical issues affecting every Nigerian and speaking truth to our leaders all in a bid to have a better Nigeria. For example, whenever there is any national issue at the national level NACL has always been called upon by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) to either give a legal position on the matter or NACL given the directive by the CBCN to take up the matter, a good example is the issue of unilateral changes and directives given by the Ministry of Interior on marriages and Church renewing license without taking into consideration that the Catholic Church is one, asking parishes and Parish Priests to come and be renewing licenses every year as being a deliberate attempt to stifle the Church. This NACL took up leading to a decision by the Church. Also, at the Archdiocese level NACL Lagos has been called upon at several occasions by the Archbishop to either take up matters on behalf of the Archdiocese or take up a case on behalf of a member of the Church among others. These are part of our goals, to use our professional skills for the benefit of the parishioners, the Church and the society at large.
Please evaluate your tenure so far as President, NACL, Lagos Archdiocese compared to the state of the body prior to when you assumed office?
Comparing my tenure with the state of NACL Lagos before I became the President, I’ll say, so far so good we have kept with the tradition of NACL Lagos, which is leaving the association bigger, better and stronger than we met it. We now have larger turn out at our new Legal year Mass than before, even COVID-19 could not derail that or that of our activities; it was during this tenure that we got the Archbishop to approve Catholic Lawyers’ Day with the Archbishop which has showcased enriching programmes year in year out. Under this tenure too, we have re-equipped our secretariat and made it more welcoming to all Catholic Lawyers with new office equipment expected to be in a modern office and a paid administrative officer.
You just held the 2022 edition of Catholic Lawyers’ Day with the Archbishop. Briefly tell us about this annual event and successes realised?
event and successes realised? The idea of Catholic Lawyers’ Day with the Archbishop cropped up as a result of a long tradition of outgoing President taking newly elected officers to be introduced to the Archbishop at the Chancery. In 2018 after our election in August we were to be introduced to the Archbishop at the Chancery but we opted to invite all Catholic Lawyers from all over the Archdiocese to a meeting with the Archbishop at the Cathedral Church Hall where the newly elected Executives of NACL Lagos were introduced to the Archbishop after interactions between the Archbishop and Catholic Lawyers drawn from almost all Parishes in the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos. As a result of that outing we then applied to the Archbishop for a day to be set aside every year for Catholic Lawyers to interact with the Archbishop.
His Grace, Most Rev. (Dr.) Alfred Adewale Martins, the Archbishop of Lagos graciously approved and the first Catholic Lawyers’ Day with the Archbishop of Lagos was held in June 2019 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, Victoria Island, Lagos. In 2020 the COVID-19 lockdown almost prevented us from having the 2020 edition but we instead moved with the trend and had a virtual Catholic Lawyers’ Day with the Archbishop where Catholic Lawyers from their homes, offices and even outside Nigeria participated actively in the event with the Archbishop in the Chancery.
That event was a first on many fronts as we celebrated the Archbishop’s birthday with a live band that played for his Grace from their studio to the enjoyment of everyone and the Archbishop. The 2021 edition equally had COVID-19 challenge too but not lockdown hence we had a hybrid edition with a few members of NACL Lagos joining his Grace in the Chancery conference room and others joining from all over the country and outside Nigeria to participate in the event. During the day with the Archbishop we have had various distinguished panelists among which were Prof. Fabian Ajogwu SAN, the Corporate Affairs Corporation Registrar-General; Prof Pat Utomi, Iyinoluwa Abodeji the Co-Founder of Flutterwave; Chief Anthony Idigbe SAN; Dr. Babajide Ajibade SAN among others.
The Catholic Lawyers’ Day with the Archbishop has been an event where we X-ray topical issues affecting the Church, Catholic Lawyers and the society at large. During our 2022 Catholic Lawyers’ Day with the Archbishop, NACL Lagos donated five sets of Olympic standard outdoor table tennis board for each of the five Custodian Services (formerly Nigerian Prisons) for the use of the inmates of the five custodian Centres in Lagos, namely Kirikiri maximum custodian Centre; Kirikiri Medium Custodian centre; Kirikiri Female Custodian Centre; Badagry custodian Centre and Ikoyi Custodian Centre. The idea of this project was muted during the annual Archbishop’s Christmas party for the inmates of the five Custodian Centres in Lagos in 2019 when NACL Lagos decided that instead of accompanying his Grace with toiletries, foodstuff, minerals, we will leave that to other Church Societies and provide sporting facilities that will put the inmates in more productive frame of mind during their incarceration than the hitherto punitive environment. We felt that apart from the free legal services we offer indigent inmates, we want to create an atmosphere of self-redevelopment.
COVID-19 affected our plans in 2020 hence it was put on hold and this year we just bought the five sets instead of the phased donation and invited the Lagos State Correctional Service Comptroller to our 2022 Catholic Lawyers’ Day with the Archbishop to Commission and handover as His Grace would have handed them over at the Christmas party with the inmates. At the handing over the Archbishop commissioned the five sets of outdoor table tennis sets and before handing over the boards, his Grace took on Mr. Rotimi the Representative of the Lagos Command Correctional Services in a demonstration match.
At the Church Thanksgiving Mass by NACL that took place last year in Lagos, Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins tasked Catholic Lawyers to address the frequent adjournment of court cases. Has NACL looked into issue?
On the issue of frequent adjournment of cases in court raised by the Archbishop at our 2021 New Legal Year Mass, NACL Lagos has been collaborating with the various NBA Branches and the Lagos State judiciary with a view to improving the situation. It must be noted however that a good number of these adjournments are caused by lawyers who most of the time are ill prepared and therefore adopt all manners of excuses to see the matter does not go on.
What are the key challenges facing NACL, Lagos Archdiocese?
The key challenges facing NACL today is Catholic Lawyers not doing enough to ensure that NACL is established in their Parishes to give Parishioners and the Church the benefit of their expertise and skills. You find most Catholic Lawyers just interested in attending Mass and no more. You see the difference in Parishes with NACL, the impact they effect on the Parish, Parishioners and the society at large.
What do you think accounts for the declining standard of professional ethics and ethos in the legal profession? What do you suggest should be done to remedy the situation?
On the declining standard of professional ethics and ethos in the legal profession, what you are having is a true reflection of the society we live in. You can see that students of higher institutions are home in the better part of every year hence the few occasions the schools open they are rushed out of the university into Law School or labour market. Also, you will see universities springing up everywhere and quality assurance has reduced to the lowest and when they get out of school they don’t want to learn, they want to make it immediately without learning the ropes. I am of the candid opinion that for every government, be it State or Federal that owns Universities to ensure that the institutions are given autonomy backed by government grants so they cannot only be competitive in the academia but also to be able to fulfil their research potential and contribute to the growth of the society. The idea of putting up classrooms and calling it university must stop.
Nigeria is bedeviled by serious insecurity. Does this mean that there are no solutions to the security crisis in the country?
I do not believe that there are no solutions; rather, our leaders are just paying lip service to the issue of insecurity in Nigeria. The news came of three soldiers collapsing in parade ground, what does that tell you of the army that is supposed to tackle insecurity? Corruption will not allow a truly concerted effort towards taming the monster. Billions of dollars are budgeted to Defense and fighting insecurity, how much of these billions actually go into this armament and how much find its way into the pockets of the heads of these agencies. Every now and then you hear of one Service Chief or the other, one Auditor-General or the other, one Secretary to the Government or the order being caught with stupendous billions of our commonwealth and you don’t ever get to hear of sanctions that will deter others. Rather such news dies down as fast as it started and life continues. For me, a solution to insecurity is first, properly monitor our borders to check influx of Nigeriens and others from the North Africa, among others. Put the right peg in the right hole among the service chiefs, let appointment be by merit and not by patronage. Let there be consequences for bad behaviour. Government should make concerted effort to tackle the insecurity issue and make example of these bandits and insurgents. When one or two are caught and given accelerated hearing and full weight of the law applied like hanging for anyone convicted of killing another, that in itself is a message that it will not be business as usual.
What is your view on the state of rule of law and good governance in Nigeria?
The state of rule of law and good governance is in its lowest ebb in Nigeria, rather it has given way to the rule of mediocrity, the rule of placing my tribesman above others, the rule of patronage to the detriment of merit and professionalism. Unless we allow the rule of law to be the bedrock of our strange bed fellow relationship we will continue to lag behind in the comity of nations in all human progress and development. Take for example, the situation of the Ukraine and Russia war, other oil producing nations are cashing out due to the rise in oil price while Nigeria is being bled to near death by government officials who no matter their incompetence and negligence in office are always given a pat on the back.
As NACL, Lagos Archdiocese President, what is your advice to Nigerian Lawyers, especially young lawyers and law students?
My advice to Nigerian students is that they should continue to put pressure on the government and ASUU to ensure that schools are not shut, the idea of waiting to be sent home and recalled when it pleases the government and ASUU should no longer be condone, a little taste of students disrupting the business as usual of our public officials will send the right message to Government and ASUU. Students too can positively engage themselves in things that can earn them little income or training while ASUU and Government are at it. For my young learned colleagues, it’s observed that our young colleagues are too much in a hurry to make it hence the important aspect of tutelage is jettisoned thereby contributing to this same lowered standard of practice and ethics of the profession. My young colleagues should take advantage of the various professional development programmes to develop themselves for the challenge ahead rather than rushing into self-employment before learning the rudiments of the profession.