What Significance To Maritime Law? (2)
On whether the seminar has met the expectations of its founders, Justice Auta was in the affirmative. He said that “to all intents and purposes, in fact without any fear of equivocation I can say categorically that the seminar has met the objectives and vision of the founders and maritime practitioners in Nigeria having provided the platform for continuing education of Judges in the field of maritime law.”
The chairman further disclosed that the seminar has equally “attracted international recognition and a forum where contentious admiralty issues are debated upon.” The views expressed during the seminar by participants, he said, “often times serve as a guide to the Federal Government of Nigeria in certain policies in the maritime sub sector of the National’s economy.”
What Bello said on planning as being critical to the success of the seminar over the years. However, he went further to add that he “would like to see changes in the planning and organization of this seminar. I will like to see other stakeholders in the maritime industry such as other sister agencies in the Ministry of Transport coming to partner with the Shippers’ Council hosting this seminar, thus expanding the areas of discussion to embrace or capture their objectives and motives as well as their own peculiar problems rather than duplicating same for better result to be achieved.
Justice Auta was not unmindful to the dynamism of the environment hence he looks forward “to seeing young people being co-opted into the organizing committee most especially from the Nigerian Maritime Law Association in order to ensure continuity and preserve the wisdom and vision of the founders of the seminar. In other words, I think it is time we begin to mentor a new generation of young minds who we expect to carry on this beautiful project even after we may have served our tenure,” he said.
Expressing his expectations from the seminar, Auta disclosed that his “expectations are no less than greater participation of Judges from all strata of courts in Nigeria. We expect very strong participation by Judges from the State High Courts across the country as most of these Judges are promoted straight fro State High Court to Appeal and most of these maritime cases go on appeal. The Federal High Court as the Court of first instance in admiralty matters would definitely avail itself of this great opportunity so would the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.” In addition, he continued, “we expect the National Assembly to participate actively in the seminar and being law makers, they should be abreast with developments in this area of the law and international maritime conventions which Nigeria would have to ratified as a maritime nations,” Auta concluded.
Giving insight into the background of the seminar, Dr. Kingsley Usoh, who was the Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Shippers’ Council when the seminar started in 1995 said that “the seminar was conceived as a result of a suggestion from Louis Mbanefo (SAN) who as an admiralty lawyer and who, out of experience from appearance in courts found out that most of the Judges do not have much understanding of the maritime or admiralty laws. And because of this indentified shortcomings which was as a result of the absence of maritime law in the country’s university curriculum, he talked to the Council on the need for training aimed at bridging the gap and for expeditious dispensation of admiralty related cases.”
The Council, according to Usoh, took up challenge in this regard and contacted the National Judicial Commission for a collaborative arrangement. And that was how we came about the seminar in 1995.
On what he considers the benefits of the seminar, Usoh said, “ I think this question would be better answered by those who go to Courts as they will be able to say how far the Judges have fared and in the understanding of legal matters ranging from cases of Bill of ladings, Contract of affreightments. These are people who will be in a better position to answer the question. But by and large, I can score the seminar 51%. We are not there yet as there are a lot things to be done.
On ways of improving on the seminar, Usoh said that “one of this is in the area of training of Judges while they are on sabbatical. Our plan then was to give them the opportunity of going for training in World Maritime University, Malmo, Sweden.” He said that the Council had approached the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in this regard for an assistance which we believe would be of immense benefit to the economy.
Dr Usoh’s projection at the time was for the Council for sponsor three to four Judges for a two to four weeks training in a year especially while they are on their annual vacation. The arrangement he said, would enable them to interact with other commonwealth Judges. An arrangement he believes would give the Judiciary in five years time about 45 exposed Judges in the field. This number he said could impact positively even if 20 of them retire, leaving behind 25 in the system, Dr. Usoh explained.
A dream not actualized before Usoh left the services of the Council but which he hopes the present Chief Executive could revisit.
Other areas of improvement as suggested by Dr. Usoh were for the planning committee to engage an economist as a consultant who would be able to determine the economic consequences of not getting the right judgment. In this regard,” “we would not be talking about law only but how it can be translated into Naira, Dollars or Pounds. It is only with this that you will be able to quantify the economic significance of the seminar to the national economy.”
Expressing his views on the seminar, Louis Mbanefo (SAN), the man who sold the idea, said that the Maritime Seminar for Judges arose from a discussion he held in the late 1980s with Justice Adenekan Ademola who was then the Director of Studies of the National Judicial Institute.
He explained that he sought his opinion on the desirability of having seminars to sensitise Judges on maritime law. Mbanefo said that both of them agreed but were confronted with the issue of funding. The Nigerian Shippers’ Council under Dr. Kingsley Usoh, was receptive to the idea and agreed to provide the necessary funding. Thereafter, the seminar became a reality.
Mbanefo added that “at the time, the subject was to create an awareness of and familiarity with the essential principles of maritime law so that Judges would not be intimidated by its technicalities. It was not intended to provide a training course on the subject or to delve into technicalities.” He gave areas that can be improved upon. “Most of the papers presented over the year have been too long, too academic or too technical and at the end of the seminar, the papers are put away and are of little enduring benefit,” he stressed.
For the man who saw the vision, there are other areas of concern. And according to him, “the trend of inviting Judges who never studied or practiced maritime law to deliver papers at the seminar is unproductive since they do not have the requisite knowledge. I think that the papers should be presented by visiting academics and Nigerian practitioners and should concerntrate on essentials, without undue technicalities. It wold then be useful for Judges to chair the sessions or to act as discussants of the papers presented,” he maintained.
He concluded by saying “that it would also be beneficial for Judges to listen to papers presented by ship owners and other industry practitioners so that they can appreciate the consequences of their decisions on the industry. The constant reminder to Judges that maritime cases should be accorded the utmost priority has borne little fruit and it is business as usual,” Mbanefo stated.
For Mr. Mike Igbokwe (SAN), Maritime Seminar for Judges has been very useful to our nation, courts, lawyers, students and academics in very many ways. Through incisive papers and comment on different areas of maritime law and the maritime industry that had been delivered by erudite Judges and maritime experts from home and abroad, the Seminar has led to continuous maritime legal education, the growth and awareness of maritime legal knowledge and understanding and of maritime litigation and just judgments.
Igbokwe said that “in no small measure it has led to improvement in the appreciation of maritime issues, laws litigation and judgments especially amongst Lawyers and Judges thereby leading to improvement in the dispensation of justice in maritime suits and appeals,” he stressed.
Igbokwe went further to comment on the improvement over the years and the interaction that was fostered between the Bar and the Bench and other participants.