The Nigeria Maritime Law Association (NMLA) has promised to push for reforms that will curb delays in administering judgement in claims involving arrests of vessels and other cases concerning maritime and shipping development in Nigeria.
Newly elected president of NMLA, Mrs. Funke Agbor gave the assurance in Lagos on Thursday during the inauguration ceremony of the new executives of the association organised by Foundation Chambers.
The occasion also marked the induction of a new partner to Foundation Chambers, Ms. Kashimana Tsumba, who heads the Shipping, Multi-Modalism and Corporate arm of the firm.
Agbor who expressed concern over justice delay in maritime cases in Nigeria attributed the challenge to few numbers of judges with knowledge in admiralty law.
The reforms, which she said has already been submitted to the Federal High Court and would soon be forwarded to the National Assembly, according to her will aid the work of both the judiciary and practitioners in the shipping sector including freight forwarders and ship-owners.
She said, “Our main concern at the moment is admiralty court, which is the federal high court. They have a very big jurisdiction in terms of the subject matter they deal with and admiralty is just one of them. They are very overburdened with the work and admiralty matters are very capital expensive intensive in the sense that the vessels that plies the waters in respect of which the court has jurisdiction are very expensive. The jurisdiction of the court where they are arresting vessels all over the world is done speedily but in Nigeria we find that it takes too long and it is because the courts are over burden and there are not enough judges with the knowledge.
“So we also want to assist the court by suggesting some reforms to the legislature so that it will make it easier for them to do their work. We want to propose certain reforms that we think will aid their work both the judiciary and the practitioners and the general people who use the bigger services in the admiralty sector including freight forwarders, ship-owners and people who deal with the seafarers among others.”
Agbor also stated the need to have legislation that will aid the court and practitioners who are prosecuting pirates to ensure that they are prosecuting the right people and their judgement based on verifiable evidence.
“Shipping is international so our decisions are read all over the world. It is critical that our judgement have integrity and verifiable and fundamentally based on law. These are the things we are hoping to ensure that we are able to do,” she said.
Immediate past President of NMLA and Senior Partner at Foundation Chambers, Chidi Ilogu, while expressing appreciation to the association and members of his executives for their support during his tenure urged them to extend the same support and cooperation to the new executives.
Noting that one of the problems in the industry is lack of good understanding of admiralty practice by lawyers, Ilogu urged the new executives to focus and improve more in the area of training of young practitioners.
“We try to do more in continuing education with the younger ones to help them understand fundamental principles of admiralty practice. One of the problems we have in the industry is that a good number of times, lawyers do not quite have a good understanding of what is involve in admiralty practice and so they make mistakes and so not protect the interest of the clients as effectively as it should, so we these seminars we organise to help improve the knowledge of our colleagues,” he said.
On the induction of a new partner to Foundation Chamber, Ilogu expressed confidence that the new partner, Ms Tsumba, will lead and help build a more sustainable team in the Chamber.
“Some of us are not getting any younger. I am over 70 and I do not intend to continue the practice indefinitely. I want to believe that by God. s favour, we should be able to build and allow the newer ones to gradually take over with a view to helping build a more sustainable team in which I don’t necessarily have to be in the forefront.
In her remarks, Ms Tsumba, thanked the Chamber for the opportunity given to serve, promising to push for development of more talents in maritime law through public speaking.
“Maritime is a very narrow area of practice compared to other areas of law. There are not a lot of practitioners in maritime and we want to see talents develop in that area because 90 percent of the goods that are brought into Nigeria come by sea , so if we don’t have lawyers that specialise in this area, Nigeria as a nation will be losing out,” she said.