Address by the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe to the Nigerian Bar Association on the Occasion of its National Executive Committee Meeting at Onitsha on 4 an 5 May 2002.
I welcome you all to Onitsha and to this palace. It was very kind of you to include this courtesy call on your rather busy programme. I trust that you have had very useful deliberations and that you have found Onitsha reasonably hospitable. We accept that there is much room for improvement on the human side of such event as this in our city and we are committed to doing better in the future.
Your visit is auspicious, coming so early following my coronation and enthronement as the 21st Obi of Onitsha in the footsteps of my forefathers. Indeed, it is apt that this great and ancient city has been recognised in this manner since we hold a distinct position in the history and development of Nigeria.
For instance, Onitsha was the base for both the Church Missionary Society (Anglican Communion) and the Roman Catholic Mission from where they spread the Holy Gospel to the south-eastern parts of the country two centuries ago.
Though famous today for its market, which is said to be the largest in West Africa, Onitsha had become a major trading post from the days of the Royal Niger Company, prior to what we now know as Nigeria. People of my generation, and even younger, knew the city as a major seaport since ocean-going vessels called here to discharge foreign made goods and load primary products destined for Europe through such merchant houses as theUnited Africa Company (UAC), John Holt Limited and G.B.Olivant Limited.
Again, Onitsha was a pioneering centre for private educational development starting from the 1940s. Though Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS), Christ the King College (CKC) and Queen of the Rosary College (QRC) were famous missionary secondary schools, they were geared to producing elites for the professions and the public service. But it took the visionary founding fathers of such famous schools as Metropolitan College, Etukokwu Memorial Grammar School, Washington Memorial Grammar School, New Bethel College, Modebe Memorial College and Africa College to bring secondary school education to the masses. These schools, which still exist, have contributed immensely to manpower development in Nigeria.
Onitsha has similarly made its mark in the development of law in the country. We have produced eminent jurists and lawyers, too numerous to mention. The list is endless but suffice it to mention just a few such as late Sir Louis Mbanefo, late Justice Dan Ibekwe, Hon. Chuba Ikpeazu (now in his 90s), and Hon. Chike Ofodile. Indeed, Onitsha may boast of more lawyers than any other indigenous town in the country. Now, what does that tell you about my people?
Law is a most fundamental foundation of any society. Indeed, all progressive societies are deeply rooted in the rule law. It is a truism that our collective national experience over several decades of military regimes constituted an assault on the rule of law and democracy. Even the Nigerian Bar Association was not spared that assault by the military regime. But your members fought shoulder to shoulder with human rights activists and the media for the return of democracy and rule of law in the country.
Whilst I congratulate you, I must remind you that the battle to entrench the rule of law and democracy had only just begun. It was Chief Obafemi Awolowo who said that the prize of freedom was eternal vigilance.
Our nascent democracy will soon undergo a major test with the forthcoming elections. You lawyers have a solemn duty to constantly draw the attention of our leaders and the society in general to the supremacy of the constitution and the laws of the land as the best guarantee for a free and fair society.
We should ever bear in mind that the law is the final resort for the ordinary citizen. It follows therefore that the law must therefore be reasonably accessible to the ordinary and all citizens at all times. In this regard, I would like to draw your attention to what would appear to be a cumbersome system of administration of justice in the country. Can the ordinary citizen afford a reasonable access to justice and fair play through our legal system? Does he or she feel adequately protected by the law?
I am sure that these questions have been raised before in various forums. I consider them fundamental questions that should ever remain at the front of our minds. In your deliberations at future meetings and conferences, I trust that you will ponder further on these and other issues with a view to finding lasting solutions.
I share with many Nigerians a great confidence in the Nigerian Bar Association. I trust you will continue to live up to the high esteem and expectation of your diverse stakeholders.
Once more, I welcome you, I congratulate you and I wish you well and a safe return to your various destinations.