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'How Justice System Affects Foreign Investment'Nigeria's Queen's Counsel Professor Fidelis Oditah


This Day (Lagos)

ANALYSIS
May 7, 2004
Chika Amanze-Nwachuku
Lagos

The extent to which Nigeria can attract business and foreign direct investment depends upon investor perception of the quality of our civil and criminal justice system.

So says Professor Fidelis Oditah, a visiting Professor of Corporate Finance and Corporate Insolvency Law, University of Oxford, England, while delivering a lecture, "Legal Education and The Challenge of National Development in 21st Century Nigeria," to mark the 40th anniversary of the Nigerian Law School yesterday.

He said if Nigeria's system or civil and criminal justice is perceived to be inefficient and ineffective, it would surely lose out to more efficient and effective systems.

According to him, if foreign and domestic investors lose faith in the ability of our law and the judicial system to protect their investments and property rights or to adjudicate disputes in a timely and fair manner without undue or improper influences, they will be reluctant to invest.

Oditah, who also is a Queen's Counsel (QC) in England, stated that Nigeria, like many other developing countries, needs a strong, independent and effective legal profession and judiciary to trade itself out of poverty and into prosperity. He noted that a steady neglect or decline in the rule of law in many developing countries has been a major reason for the decline in the development prospects of such countries.

"If foreign and domestic investors lose faith in the ability of our law and the judicial system to protect their investments and property rights or to adjudicate disputes in a timely and fair manner without undue or improper influences, they will be reluctant to invest.

"The result would be a flight of capital out of our country to other countries where these values are given greater primacy. In this way, lawyers -- the practising profession and the judiciary - have a substantial, albeit indirect role in our national economic development," he added.

Pointing out that as economies are underpinned by trade, and trade underpinned by the fabric of law and the civil justice system, he said the law itself provides the basic structure within which commerce and industry operate, as it safeguards the rights of individuals, and regulates their dealings with others.

Oditah noted that apart from economic role, the judiciary has a political and social role to play in the development of a nation. He said in a democracy, there must be an effective and fair means of achieving practical justice through law between individuals and the state.

"A strong, impartial and independent judiciary is indispensable to the functioning of every democracy. Lawyers can define and enforce democratic principles and standards. They must ensure that everyone plays according to the rules of democracy, that the genuine expressed will of the majority prevails and that elected officials -- executive and legislature - exercise powers for the purposes for which the powers were given and in accordance with the rule of law.

"Lawyers must play an active role in ensuring that those who claim to represent us or to rule us do in fact have our mandate to do so. In short, our lawyers must be sensitive to and uphold the integrity of the electoral process. They must not become instruments for the subversion of the will of the people for example by using the legal process abusively to challenge free and fair electoral results as happened in 1993 nor assist despots to claim or retain power," he counselled.

He said if lawyers allow themselves to be used to thwart the will of the people and our democracy fails, they would have done themselves and society the greatest disservice. He urged lawyers to ensure that those who claim to exercise power in our name -- the executive and the legislature - act in accordance with the law.

While noting that judicial review of administrative actions is the ground on which the contours of modern democracy are shaped, Oditah declared that modern administrative law, founded upon the power of the courts to review executive actions on grounds of illegality, irrationality, procedural unfairness and lack of proportionality is entirely judge-made. He said the courts, with the assistance of the legal profession, have imposed and enforced judicially created standards of public behaviour.

Dignitaries at the lecture include Cross Rivers State Governor, Mr Donald Duke and his wife, Onari, Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Mr Femi Pedro who represented the state governor, the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, the Attorney-General of Lagos State Professor Yemi Osinbajo and his Abia counterpart, Mr Awa Kanu, Oba David Folagbade, Olowu of Owu and erstwhile Ambassador Hassan Adamu.

 

 

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