Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has announced the establishment of a national Network of Lawyers to provide pro bono legal services to citizens around the country who are wrongfully denied access to information.
MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, announced the establishment of the Network at a Freedom of Information Implementers Strategy Meeting held in Abuja last month.
Mr. Ojo said MRA had used the opportunity presented by the meeting to bring together members of the Network to “enable them to discuss and formulate a strategy for implementing what has become a critically important area of work, if we are to secure the effectiveness of the FOI Act.”
He also announced that a former First National Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Ikeazor Akaraiwe, had been designated to serve as the pioneer chair of the Network.
According to Mr. Ojo, “In asking Mr. Akaraiwe to Chair the Network, we were motivated by his antecedents.”
Called to the Nigerian Bar in 1985, Mr. Akaraiwe served as First National Vice-President of the NBA between 2008 and 2010, during which period he also headed the NBA’s Freedom of Information Committee which was established to boost advocacy efforts for the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill at that time.
During the same period, he chaired the NBA’s Human Rights Institute (NBA-HRI) and later served as the Alternate Chair of the NBA’s Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL) from 2010 to 2012.
Mr. Akaraiwe has served as a Board Member of the Federal Government’s National Orientation Agency (NOA) from 2009 to 2011; as Chairman of the NBA’s Mediation Committee into Judiciary Staff Union Strike between 2009 and 2010; and as Chairman of the Enugu Branch of the NBA between 2006 and 2008.
He has been a member of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association since 2010; a member of the International Bar Association (IBA) since 2007; a member of the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators (ICMC) since 2004 and a member of the Section on International Law of the American Bar Association (ABA) since 2009; among other positions he has held within and outside the legal profession.
Mr. Ojo noted that with Mr. Akaraiwe’s credentials, he was obviously eminently qualified to lead such an initiative.
Other members of the Network include Mr. Ayo Olanrewaju, Head of Chambers in the law firm of Ayo Olarenwaju & Co. Mr. Olanrewaju has been Editor-in-Chief of the Nigerian Weekly Law Reports (NWLR) for over a decade and was formerly Deputy Head of Chambers at Gani Fawehinmi Chambers. Also on the Network is Mr. Alimi Adamu, who was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1984 and is currently Principal Partner in the law firm of Alimi Adamu & Co. in Los Angeles, California in the United States as well as Managing Partner in the law firm of Momoh, Momoh, Adamu & Co., based in Lagos. In addition to practicing in Nigeria and the United States, Mr. Adamu has previously served as Assistant Attorney-General in the Republic of the Marshall Islands and as a Legal Officer in the Attorney-General’s Office in the Fiji Islands.
Another member of the Network are Mr. Festus Okoye, Executive Director of Human Rights Monitor in Kaduna who has also previously served as Chairman of the Kaduna branch of the Nigeria Bar Association and was a member of the Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee.
Other members of the Network include Mr. Ogbolu Andy Isioma, Managing Partner at the law firm of Andy Isioma Ogbolu & Co with offices in Lagos and Warri; Mr. Ayodeji Acquah, Principal Partner in the law firm of Ayodeji Acquah & Co based in Lagos and former Counsel in Gani Fawehinmi Chambers; Mr. Godwin Chigbu of A&E Law Partnership based in Abuja; and Ms Omolola Adeoya, a Legal Officer with Media Rights Agenda who will, among other things, provide research, litigation and coordination support to the Network.
Mr. Ojo noted that the Network also include many other eminent lawyers located in different parts of Nigeria whose bio-data would in due course be complied and shared “as part of an online resource for building linkages, sharing and exchanging skills and expertise to advance FOI implementation in Nigeria.”
He thanked the members of the Network for lending their time, expertise and even resources to such a noble endeavour.
Responding, Mr. Akaraiwe described FOI Act as a tool which can be used to remedy the growing culture of impunity in Nigeria, which he said should be replaced with a culture of accountability and transparency.
He expressed his belief that involvement of legal practitioners within the framework of the Network of Lawyers in the implementation process could go a long way in ensuring the effective implementation of the law.
But he warned that a lot of training and public enlightenment was required both for lawyers and judges, citing recent decisions by the courts which he said revealed a worrying level of ignorance of the law by members of the Bench.
Mr. Akaraiwe pledged that members of the Network would put in their best and endeavour to make a difference.