Chief Umeh Kalu
Chief Umeh Kalu, SAN

AN ADDRESS BY CHIEF UMEH KALU, SAN, LIFE BENCHER, AT THE FORMAL PRESENTATION/HANDOVER CEREMONY OF THE NEW OHAFIA HIGH COURT COMPLEX THIS 6TH DAY OF NOVEMBER, 2020

PROTOCOLS

Today’s event is simply in submission and obedience to the Order of my lord, the Chief Judge of Abia State, made suo motu, to the effect that a formal and public handover of the newly built Ohafia High Court Complex be made.

It will be irrational for me to contest a harmless Order made by a judicial officer, more so, one made by the Honourable, the Chief Judge of our dear State. It is in total compliance to my lord, the CJ’s Order, that we are all gathered here today.

Today’s event is as solemn as it is remarkable. It is solemn when one in retrospect recalls the event that led to the loss of our historical Ohafia High Court premises and the need to build a new one.

For those who may be unaware and/or may have forgotten, the life of a young Ohafia man – Friday Arua Arunsi – was cut short by the bullet of a police officer attached to the Ohafia Division of the Nigeria Police Force on April 17, 2020. This unfortunate incident led to some restiveness amongst youths in Ohafia, culminating to the torching of our old High Court building amongst other government buildings within this vicinity.

May I with the kind permission of my lord, the Chief Judge, and, other judges here present seek leave that we all keep standing and observe a minute silence in honour and remembrance of the young Ohafia lad who lost his life in that unfortunate incidence.

Today’s event is remarkable in the sense that it has once more brought to the fore the patriotism and community spirit of the Ibo man and indeed the Ohafia man, as we believe strongly in partnering with government towards the development of our homestead.

The leave to commence construction of this new High Court Complex was granted by the Honourable Chief Judge to me in a directive under his seal dated the 14th day of May 2020. I made an undertaking in my written application to him, to deliver the project timeously and indeed to ensure that the premises will be ready for use at the commencement of the 2020/21 new legal year. I am delighted and thankful to God that I have been able to keep to that promise through His grace.

The Ohafia Judicial Division is one of the oldest Judicial Divisions in Abia State, having been in existence from the old East Central State, to the old Imo State and then Abia State. It is on record that most of our eminent jurists, both dead and alive, including our revered late Justice F.I Ogbuagu, Justice of the Supreme Court and Abia’s first Life Bencher, spent years in the Ohafia Judicial Division. It would have been a calamity and deprivation of great proportion to see a relocation of the Court’s sitting from Ebem – Ohafia under our watch and in such circumstances.

The above in a nutshell explains my innate desire and haste towards ensuring the construction of a new Court building, in the place of the burnt old Ohafia High Court Complex.
The complex which we are formally handing over today, may not meet world acclaimed standards, but it is indeed an improvement to the old structure, as each time the king’s palace is destroyed, it affords an opportunity for the erection of a more befitting palace for the king. Our judicial officers I must say deserve the best that we can afford in terms of work environment. The service they render to the public is of utmost importance and arduous.

For litigants and legal practitioners residing and practicing within Ohafia L.G.A, I am sure you will heave a sigh of relief from the strains and cost of commuting between Ohafia and Umuahia to attend to your Court matters.

I must commend our Chief Judge, Hon. Justice O.A Ogwe, for his approvals, encouragement and commitment to the timely completion of this project. My lord insisted on seeing the architectural drawings before commencement, visited the site during the construction and made suggestions where necessary to the architects and builders.

It is no doubt whatsoever that I provided the funds for the construction of this High Court Complex, but mere release of the funds alone would not have made today’s event possible without good managers. The architect, Ochea Ikpa, who collected peanuts as professional fees must be commended for rendering his services almost on gratis. My personal assistants – Mr. Osu Olugu Kalu and Hon. Uduma Okoro contributed immensely to the management of resources, materials and men in the course of construction. My Lord, Hon. Justice A.U Kalu and Anaga Kalu, Esq. also made immeasurable contributions towards the realization of this project.

My beloved and accomplished sister, Mmiannaya Essien, SAN, who remains our State’s first and only female Senior Advocate of Nigeria, made a handsome contribution of the sum of Five Hundred Thousand Naira towards the furnishing of the High Court Complex. Mrs. Essien is the daughter of Late Chief N.N Nwandu, a native of Okagwe Ohafia. May her source never go dry.

I will not end this short address without mentioning the recent happening in our environment and indeed our country, where our youths now target Court premises and other government property for destruction in the wake of protests or civil unrests. Protest all over the world is an acceptable means of communication between governments and the governed. Citizens have their rights to freedom of speech and association, which rights are inculcated in peaceful protests. However, the new penchant for the destruction of public buildings and looting of private property is worrisome and unacceptable in a civilized environment like ours.

It is quite intriguing and a twist of fate that I find a lot of corollary between the events that led to the burning of the old Ohafia High Court building and the fallouts of the recent “endsars” protest. Both events were activated by presumed police brutality and equally resulted in the burning and destruction of police stations and Court halls. Maybe the Ohafia incident was a forerunner or dress rehearsal to the recent occurrences all through the country.

The Nigeria Police Force lost about 205 police stations while several Court halls were razed in Lagos State, Delta State, Anambra State, Abia State and some other States in the country. Not even the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, which originally housed our country’s apex Court (the Supreme Court) was spared in the spate of destruction of Court halls.

The destruction of several Courts around the country while condemnable, should give the bar and bench some serious concerns. One cannot run away from the fact that our society and the citizens consider members of the bar and the bench part of the country’s problem, just like the politicians who have been identified as being responsible for the misgovernance that is prevalent in our country.

May I use this opportunity to call on members of our noble profession constituting the bar and the bench, to do a self-examination and strive in our little ways to rebuild or rekindle citizens’ confidence in our justice delivery system. Our Courts must ensure that justice is not only done in all cases that come before them for adjudication but must be seen to have been done.

It is my wish and prayer that government will implement the white paper that will evolve out of the recommendations that would be made by the various judicial panels of enquiry presently being set up to investigate fallouts of the recent “endsars” protests across the country.

Today’s ceremony is an addition to the rebuilt Ohafia police station beside us, which equally takes us closer to the full restoration of all that was destroyed as a result of the unfortunate incidents that happened in Ohafia as earlier mentioned in my address.

I am however not losing sight of the yet to be rebuilt Ohafia Magistrates Court, for which I have commenced discussions with well – meaning Ohafia personalities towards its reconstruction.

It is however saddening to know that the young man who was killed by the policeman, which act resulted to the wanton destruction of allied public properties is yet to be buried. Those of us living and especially the government of the day owe the late Friday Arua Arunsi a responsibility to send him to his final place of rest. His family equally needs to be approached, appeased and compensated for the loss of this young man.

I place the responsibility of initiating and ensuring justice for the Late Friday Arua Arunsi and his family on the doors of the Ohafia Local Government Council and other relevant government agencies, like the Human Rights Commission. The Ohafia Bar Association and other lawyers of Ohafia extraction can offer pro bono service to facilitate justice for the late young man and his family.

I thank you all for your patience in listening to me.

May God continue to bless the Ohafia L.G.A and its citizens. May God bless the Abia State Judiciary, and, equally bless our dear State, Abia.