By Vincent Kalu
There was celebration and jubilation at the premises of Ohafia High Court, Ebem Ohafia, Abia State, recently, when stakeholders gathered to commission an high court complex rebuilt by former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Umeh Kalu (SAN).
It was among the buildings allegedly razed by angry youth protesting the alleged killing of one of them, Ifeanyi Arunsi, on Friday, April 17, 2020, by a police constable. They also destroyed the Divisional Police and the Area Command buildings.
For over six months, matters that were supposed to have been handled at the court were referred to Umuahia, a distance of about 60 kilometres. State Chief Judge, Justice A. O. Ogwe, praised Kalu for the feat and his love for his community. He expressed sympathy on the death of the young man, while admonishing the youths not to take laws into their hands.
Chairman, Ohafia Local Government Area, Chief Fred Idika, extolled Kalu’s virtues and thanked him for rising to the challenge, while empathizing with the family of Arunsi. He told the gathering that the council rebuilt the burnt Ohafia Divisional Police building.
Kalu told the gathering: “Today’s event is remarkable in the sense that it has once more brought to the fore the patriotism and community spirit of the Igbo man and indeed the Ohafia man, as we believe strongly in partnering with government towards the development of our homestead.
“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 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. 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 LG, 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.”
He was full of worries where the institutions of justice are now targets for destruction during riots or crisis: “I will not end this short address without mentioning the recent happening in our environment and indeed our country, where our youth now target court premises and other government property for destruction in the wake of protests or civil unrests.
According to him, 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 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.
“I call on members of the Bar and the Bench, to do self-examination and strive 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.”
He prayed that government would implement the white paper to evolve out of the recommendations that would be made by the various judicial panels of enquiry presently investigating fallouts of the #EndSARS protests: