Ndoma-Egba’s Return To Legal Practice
Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN, OFR is the immediate past Leader of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He represented Cross River Central Senatorial District for a period spanning through 12 years between 2003 and 2015.
Held in high esteem by most Nigerians for his rich contributions on the floor of the Senate, Ndoma-Egba carved a niche for himself and became a brand and force to reckon as far as legislative matters are concerned.
Seen by many as a portrait of legislative excellence, the ex-lawmaker has returned to his profession, the legal practice as the Senior Partner of Ndoma-Egba Ebris &co. law firm, after twelve years of eventful and fruitful sojourn in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly. He assumed duty at the law firm almost immediately the seventh session of NASS came to an end.
Known to be a very hardworking legislator with the unprecedented record of having about 40 bills in his name, he stands tall as a quintessential leader and politician of great honour, who made significant impact in the lives of his people through the numerous valuable projects he facilitated to his constituency.
In an interview at the new office of his law firm in Abuja recently, the erstwhile Senate Leader said: “The Ndoma-Egba Ebri &co was established in May 1987. So, it is 28 years old as a law firm, as an established law firm. It had his office originally in Calabar. It operated out of Calabar. We were known across the country. We had briefs that took us round the country and beyond the country. So, it is an old law firm that has produced Senior Advocates. It has produced high court judges both at the state and federal level. It has produced a number of Attorneys-General and people who have served in different public offices. So, it is an old law firm”.
Asked whether the firm suffered any serious setback due to his absence for 12 years, he said: “In fact, they even built a bigger office in Calabar during my absence. They survived the harsh economic conditions. Fortunately, they retain the confidence of our clients. Our clientele did not change. They were retained and a few more were added. The firm survived. It may have done better, because when it comes to the legal profession people are looking for certain individuals. It may have done better if a few of us were still around. But like I said we lost some. We lost the Managing Partner to death. That is one. And then we lost one or two to the judiciary. But they still manage to survive. When I came back I was mandated to establish the firm in Abuja. So, we are still establishing as you can see.
We don’t even have the complete complement of furniture yet. Things are still coming in. The books are still coming in. A few staff have been posted from the Calabar office down to this place. Essentially we are starting new in Abuja. But that is not to say that we didn’t have any presence in Abuja before now. Of course, we are always in the Supreme Court. We did work in Abuja. We were using other people’s offices. So, now we are establishing our own.”
Comparing the workings of the legislature and the judiciary, the legal pundit explained: “They are two different areas. The legislature makes the law. The lawyers apply the laws. So, legal practice is more of the forensic application of the laws made by parliament. And the atmosphere of course is totally different. The courtroom is a bit more regulated in the sense that you have the rules of court and then you also have the rules of the legal profession. In parliament, you have the rules of parliament. But beyond that apart from the general code of conduct nothing regulates behaviours other than political consideration and individual comportment. So, they are essentially two different environments.
I am 37 years in the profession. And out of the 37, I spent 12 in lawmaking. I spent 3 as a Commissioner at the state level. The balance of it has been in the courtroom. Yes, usually, when there is a break, especially for that kind of long break, there is a period of reintegration. And that is what I am just about doing now. So, I will have more time for my profession now.”
In his assessment of the independence of the judiciary in Nigeria, Ndoma-Egba, who won several awards of distinction as a result of his superlative performance in the Senate, remarked: “I think the judiciary is independent. Of course, you don’t hear of undue interference from outside. And I also think that the budgetary process has also freed them from that dependence on the executive for their routine needs. The capital aspect of their needs is still in the hands of the executive whether at the federal or at the state. But I think that in terms of funding they are largely independent. That is not to say that the judiciary is insulated from the human community. They are part of the human communities. And occasionally you will find one or two bad eggs. But fortunately they have a self-cleansing mechanism that takes care of situations of corruption and non-judicial conduct.”
Speaking on why the process of dispensation of justice appears to be slow in the country, the ex-lawmaker expounded: “Let me say this, at the federal level the situation is manageable because in terms of technology they are fairly up to date. But if you go to many state courts, they are technologically three generations behind. We have many state courts for instance where you will still find manual typewriters. You know we had moved from the manual typewriters to the electric typewriters to electronic typewriter and then to the computer. So, technologically they are three or four generations behind. Then, records are still taken manually. You are testifying in court the judge is writing. They have no research assistant. So, for every case they have to do their research by themselves and all of that. So, technology is a culprit.
The rules of court are also a culprit, and of course, the attitude of the practitioners and the judges. I remember many years ago as a young lawyer, somebody, a senior lawyer said to me, ‘why are you hurrying to finish this matter. How will you eat?’ And I said ‘I am hurrying to finish it so that I can have time for another case.’ So, there are people with this kind of mentality. But I think that there will be need for very urgent judicial reforms. And for me, the coming in of the present Vice President (Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, SAN) is very, very reassuring because his whole professional life has been on judicial reforms. So, it is reassuring. At least, somebody who has the reforms of the judiciary as a passion now has an opportunity to implement his ideas.”
Michael Jegede, a media professional writes from Abuja