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Leesi Ebenezer Mitee: The Problems of Law Research in Rivers State, Nigeria

The Problems of Law Research in Rivers State, Nigeria

A Paper presented by Leesi Ebenezer Mitee at the First In-house Seminar of the Rivers State Ministry of Justice, Held at the Chamber of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Rivers State Secretariat Complex, Port Harcourt on 3 October 1994.

1. Introduction

Law in a Dynamic Society

When Heraclitus[1] advocated that “the people should fight for the law as for their city wall,” he was extolling the momentous importance of law as an instrument of social engineering,[2] the custodian of solidarity, peace and order, health, convenience and beauty, comfort, and progress in the human society. Thus, law offers to society such protection, security, defence, and assurance which ancient city walls offered to their inhabitants. And that lends credence to the Jewish folk saying that “without law, civilisation dies.” [3]

Therefore, one does not need the rare wisdom of the sages in order to appreciate the importance of any quest for understanding the development of law in relation to a society which is dynamic and in a state of violent flux. This is because law must adequately address and reflect the social, political, cultural, religious, and economic development of society. It was this characteristic dynamism of law that informed the proverb that “the law is not the same at morning and at night.” [4] However, the instinct of caution instructs that even though law cannot stand still, it must be stable.[5]

The State of the Laws of Rivers State

Having taken a cursory glance at the nature and importance of law in a dynamic society (or what some may refer to as a modern or contemporary society), it may be rewarding for us to comment on the state of the Laws of Rivers State. Rivers State was created on 27 May 1967 out of the former Eastern Nigeria by the State (Creation and Transitional provisions) Decree No. 14 of 1967. Section 1(5) of the said Decree made the Laws of the former Eastern Nigeria applicable to Rivers State, subject, of course, to relevant and necessary modifications to reflect the peculiar circumstances of the emergent State. Consequently, Rivers State inherited about 212 main legislation and a host of subsidiary legislation from the former Eastern Nigeria, made up of 134 main Laws contained in the Revised Edition of the Laws of Eastern Nigeria 1963 and 78 main Laws enacted and published between 1963 and 1967.

Most unfortunately, the said Laws of Eastern Nigeria 1963 is yet to be revised since It was published three decades ago! The result Is that all the Laws contained therein have undergone such consequential disruption either by positive legislative changes or changes caused by mere effluxion of time which render then obsolete, inadequate or irrelevant. This pathetic state of affairs has been worsened by the fact that no annual volume of the Laws enacted by the Rivers State Government since the creation of the State in 1967 has been published. As a result, all the Laws enacted between 1967 (i.e. after 27 May 1967) and the present day (1994), numbering more than 250, are hidden among some 800 Gazettes[6] published by the Rivers State Government Printer. That means, one has to examine about 800 Gazettes in order to locate those Laws! And that was exactly what I did in the humble research that birthed my book, Laws of Rivers State: A Comprehensive Guide, which was published in February of this year. It was such a harrowing experience, especially because all the Gazettes could not be found in any one location, so one had to consult several libraries including private libraries.

No doubt, such a chaotic state of the Laws of Rivers State creates untold hardship in knowing the Laws already enacted, as well as their development over the years and their currency at present. This is because most of them have become spent, obsolete, invalid, variously amended, repealed or superseded by other statutes including Federal statutes, or affected by the Exclusive and Concurrent Legislative Lists in the Second Schedule to the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. For instance, Sections 3 – 29 of the Births, Deaths and Burials Law 1918 [7] have been repealed by the Births, Deaths, etc. (Compulsory Registration) Decree No, 69 of 1992 which is a Federal legislation. Also, the Piers Law 1917 [8] has been affected by item 35 in the said Exclusive Legislative List, and consequently repealed by the Piers Act 1917 [9] which is a Federal legislation. Examples abound.

Scope and Nature of Paper

This Paper, therefore, sets out to discuss the topic, “The Problems of Law Research in Rivers State” in the context of the theme of this Seminar – “Law Review and the Development of the Laws of Rivers State.” And having established the relationship that ought to exist between the law and a dynamic society, with a comment on the state of the Laws of Rivers State, I intend herein to highlight the concept of law research, examine the major problems that hamstring law research in the State, and thereafter advance proposals towards solving the problems identified.

I have adopted pragmatic approach to this discussion because the topic is a practical one and therefore requires practical, not merely academic, solution. The aim of this Seminar will only be realised if it produces solutions to the reproach that has lived with Rivers State as the only State in Nigeria with a peculiarly high magnitude of confusion in her Laws.

2. The Concept of Law Research

The Nature of Law Research

Law research refers to a serious, detailed and organised study of or investigation into a particular legal subject for the principal purpose of understanding the true nature of that subject, learning new facts about it or testing the validity or otherwise of existing ideas in it in order to achieve a definite goal. There are several aspects of law research, which include the following:

(a)   Research into the development of enacted laws. Here, research is conducted with the following aims:

(i)     to know all the laws duly enacted;

(ii)    to review the existing enacted laws so as to effect possible reforms thereto;

(iii)to ascertain the limitations of the existing laws in order to identify lacunae in legislation and remedy same.

(b)  Research into customary law. This is very important because of the dire need to identify the various customs of the people which should be allowed to exist in a civilised society and those that should be abolished by positive legislation. The time has come when the question of validity of a custom should not be totally reserved for the whims and caprices of the law court, but should also be the object of legislation. This is a ready instance when law ought to be used as an instrument of social engineering.

(c)  Research for reporting decided cases. This is research due to the increasing importance of the common law doctrine of stare decisis as the basis of judicial decisions, which introduces some degree of certainty and predictability into the law.

(d)  Research for academic or jurisprudential purposes. Here, research tries to exercise man’s intellectual faculties by engaging in jurisprudential disputations which may inquire into such provinces as the concept of justice, the nature of legal education, the concept of legal system, and the performance of its institutions and structures (like the system of courts, the concept of trial and punishment, law-making procedures,) etc. Such research may lead to reform of the law, and thereby acquire practical utility.

Trends in Law Research

We are all eyewitnesses of breath-taking advancements in science and technology whereby the hitherto scientific mysteries of the ages disappear with each passing moment, (Galileo was a prominent victim of his scientific discovery on astronomy in his days.) But the maniacal enthusiasm in research is not restricted to scientific investigations into natural phenomena and the world of matter. No, ours is the age of unrestrained probe into all the various regimes of human knowledge, including law. Indeed, law research has continued to attract compelling attention consequent upon its unfathomable importance to society. And law research has since assumed a scientific dimension as it employs sophisticated scientific techniques in research. For example, the application of the computer and other scientific tools in law research led to the evolution of jurimetrics[10]by certain prominent exponents of the realist school of jurisprudence.

Perhaps, the global trends in law research can be appreciated through the volume of law literature in existence, which dwarfs most other disciplines. It is difficult to find consistent professional weekly publications outside law. Also, law is one of the oldest established professions in human history, and definitely it is the one profession that attracts its members with the most varied backgrounds which cut across all fields of learning and specialty, like medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, engineering, sociology, psychology, philosophy, education, history, religion, etc. All these professionals have brought into the legal profession different ideas and concepts relating to research.

There are uncountable established law research Institutions and Foundations all over the world. In Nigeria, out of the 36 Universities in the country,[11] 25 of them have Faculties of Law that offer undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Law. There are also some higher institutions in the country that offer diploma courses in law – the Rivers State College of Arts & Science, Port Harcourt, is one of them. We also have the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies which is the premier law research Institute in Nigeria. It was officially opened on 17 March 1979, and administered as part of the University of Lagos. In 1984, the Institute was made an autonomous legal entity, but under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Justice. The Institute, with Prof. M. Ayo Ajomo as its Director-General, now conducts extensive researches into various aspects of Nigerian law, and publishes such research in its Research Series. The first publication in the Series was “Human Right and the Administration of Criminal Justice in Nigeria,” published in October 1991.

Law research in Nigeria for reporting decided cases is now dominated by private law publishing companies, chief among which is the Nigerian Laws Publications Ltd, Lagos, with Chief Gani Fawehinmi as its Chairman and Editor-in- Chief. We have law textbooks, journals, reports, newspapers, magazine, statute books, etc. in Nigeria which are all evidence and sources of law research in the country. However, law research in Nigeria falls woefully short of contemporary expectations.

3. Problems of Law Research in Rivers State

The problems that beset law research in Rivers State are many and varied. I intend here to highlight some of the major ones.

Inadequacy of Library Facilities

Obviously, adequate library facilities constitute an indispensable requirement for effective law research. This is because law research materials are most expensive to acquire, and yet law publications are about the most abundant, most dynamic even in Nigeria. For instance, every week, every month, every year tons of law Reports, journals, magazines, books etc. are published and circulated all over the country on such a stupendous scale that surpasses what obtains in every other profession.

Despite the foregoing scenario, law research materials are abysmally inadequate in Rivers State. The specialised law libraries in the State include those of the Ministry of Justice (State Secretariat Complex, Port Harcourt); Judiciary (High Court Complex, Port Harcourt); Federal High Court (Station Road, Port Harcourt); Court of Appeal (Moscow Road, Port Harcourt); and Faculty of Law (Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt). None of the above-mentioned libraries can withstand the modern demands of law research.

Limited law publications may also be found at some of the non-specialised law libraries. Rivers State College of Arts and Science, Rumuola, Port Harcourt (which offers a two-year Law Diploma); Rivers State Polytechnic, Bori; University of Port Harcourt; and Rivers State Central Library, Bernard Carr Street, Port Harcourt. Federal Gazettes which contain Federal legislation may found at the Federal Ministry of Information (Federal Secretariat, near Hotel Presidential, Port Harcourt); National Archives, and Public Complaints Commission (near Isaac Boro Park, Port Harcourt. Rivers State Official Gazettes in which Rivers State Laws are published may be found in some of the afore-mentioned specialised libraries, and also at the Government Printer’s Archives, Rail Crescent, off Harbour Road, Port Harcourt. Other public libraries in Rivers State include those of the Rivers State College of Education and the Federal Government College of Education (Technical) Omoku. We may reiterate here that none of the above-mentioned libraries has adequate law research materials. For instance, I discovered during my research that neither the Ministry of Justice nor the Government Printer has all the copies of the Gazettes which contain Rivers State Laws!

Lack of Research Foundations and Grants

We have already seen that law research is an expensive undertaking. And given the bestial levels of poverty in the country it is only obvious that prospective law researchers may be constrained by lack of funds to abandon worthwhile projects. Research grants and the assistance of Research Foundations are indispensable to the conduct of relevant law researches in Rivers State, yet these are virtually non-existent in Nigeria as a whole. It was financial assistance by the Ford Foundation that enabled the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Lagos, to undertake recent empirical Jaw researches which they now publish.

Absence of Appropriate Public Fora

It is rather surprising to note that this is the first in-house Seminar organised by the Rivers State Ministry of Justice. There have not been any public fora (like seminars, workshop, symposia etc.) which can encourage Saw research in the State. It is impossible to record any real progress in law research in the present climate.

Ignorance of the Importance of Law Research

There is evident culpable ignorance of the importance of law research in Rivers State. This manifests through lack of patronage of law research literature, non­existence of research Foundations and Grants, inadequate law library facilities, etc.

Absence of Law Research Data Bank

The concept of data bank for research purposes has come to stay, A data bank refers to the collection of data, especially for use by a computer. Such a facility enables researchers to have ready and easy access to relevant information with “turn-key” dispatch. There is no such facility in Rivers State, and that constitutes a grave constraint on law research in the State.

Insignificant Volume of Law Publications

Law research publications include law textbooks, law reports, statute books, law journals, magazines, and newspapers Only a grossly insignificant volume of such law publications are published in Rivers State. Consequently, research efforts on vital subjects are stifled. It is particularly unfortunate that Rivers State Law Reports are no longer in existence to report cases decided by our High Court, Magistrates’ Courts and Rent Tribunals. As a result, it is difficult, really difficult, to find reported cases that reflect the peculiar circumstances of Rivers State – customs, statutory provisions, etc. This is best appreciated when one realises that only a fraction of the cases get to the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt or the Supreme Court.

4. Proposals for Enhancing Law Research in Rivers State

Despite the frightening enormity of the problems of law research in Rivers State as revealed above, there are viable practical proposals which can enhance its prospects. We shall merely highlight them.

Establishment of Law Research Centres

It is hereby proposed that three specialised law libraries in the State (i.e. Ministry of Justice; Judiciary; and Faculty of Law of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology) be transformed in to enviable law research centres with adequate stock of relevant law research documents, materials and facilities. This will require the participation of individuals, private organisations, social clubs, and the Government.

Provision of Law Research Grants

Law research grants can be provided by the Government, private organisations, and individuals to finance law research projects which are considered relevant and worthwhile. Happily, this present administrations has initiated such a most laudable project by commissioning me to research into, compile, and publish the Laws of Rivers State in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice. The sum of M2 Million has already been approved for the project, and work will commence on it as soon as funds are released for the purpose.

Organisation of Appropriate Public Fora

Appropriate public fora (like seminars, symposia, workshops) should be sponsored by Government, private organisations, and individuals to examine relevant legal issues which will contribute to the availability of research materials and information thereon in the State. We pray this Seminar will usher in an era of sustained public participation in the development of our laws. This will create public awareness regarding the importance of law research.

BOOSTING OF LAW PUBLICATIONS

It is hereby proposed as follows:

(a)          The Ministry of Justice should commence the publication of Rivers State Law Reports and Law Research Series on vital subjects. Government stands to reap substantial profits from such ventures.

(b)   Government should encourage proven law authors in the State through financial assistance.

(c)          The Nigerian Bar Association should undertake the publishing of Rivers Bar Journal and other worthwhile legal publications to boost law research in the State,

(d)   Government should assist the Faculty of Law of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology to publish a reputable Law Journal.

Commencement of Postgraduate Law Programmes

Government should assist in the setting up of Postgraduate Law Programmes in the Faculty of Law of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. This will, surely, boost law research in the State.

Establishment of Law Research Databanks

Government, with the assistance of private organisations and individuals, should establish law research databanks at the Ministry of Justice and the Faculty of Law of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. Such data banks will use computer facilities to store data that will assist law researchers, such as judicial precedents; catalogue of titles of all law publications in the country and their authors and publishers; abstracts of law research projects; and texts of other important Saw research materials.

5. Conclusion

Surely, the foregoing background has made it possible for us to better appreciate the unspeakable relevance of this epoch-making Seminar. In every respect, it is epoch-making because it represents a pioneering attempt by the Ministry of Justice in the history of Rivers State to search diligently for ways and means of sanitising our Saws. We must commend the thoughtfulness and ingenuity of the Honourable Attorney- General & Commissioner of Justice, Adokiye Amiesimaka, Esq., MON, in packaging this memorable Seminar as yet another expression of his dogged commitment to reviewing, reforming, and publishing the Laws of Rivers State.

May we also appreciate the wisdom and devotion of Mrs M. U. Wakama (Director, Department of Law Review, Research, Planning and Statistics in the Rivers State Ministry of Justice) and the entire staff of the Ministry of Justice towards the successful organisation of this Seminar.

Above all, we must remain most grateful to His Excellency, the Military Administrator of Rivers State, Lt. Col. Dauda Musa Komo who, in a brief period of governance, has already marbled his name in the legal history of this State through his firm resolve towards publishing the Laws of Rivers State for the very first time since the creation of the State in 1967. He has, accordingly, graciously approved funds for that noble purpose. This is indeed a rare monumental achievement which is unprecedented in the legal history of Rivers State.


 

 


[1] Ancient Greek philosopher (6th – 5th Century BC).

[2] Pound, Roscoe. Introduction to the Philosophy of Law. Yale University Press, 1922.

[3]Rosten, Leo. Leo Rosten’s Treasury of Jewish Quotations. McGraw-Hill, 1972.

[4] Ferquson, Rosalind. The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983.

[5] Pound, Roscoe. Introduction to the Philosophy of Law. Yale University Press, 1922.

[6]Mitee, Leesi Ebenezer. Laws of Rivers State: A Comprehensive Guide. Ebenezer Law Research Company: Port Harcourt, 1994, pp. 86 – 87. Since the publication, more legislation and Gazettes have been published.

[7] Chapter 14 of the Laws of Eastern Nigeria 1963.

[8]Chapter 96 of the Laws of Eastern Nigeria 1963.

[9]Chapter 358 of the Laws of Federation of Nigeria 1990.

[10]A term Jurisprudence introduced into legal vocabulary in 1949 by Lee Loevinger. See Lord Lloyd of Hampstead and Freeman, M. D. A. Lloyd’s Introduction to (5th edition). Stevens & Sons Ltd: London, 1985, p. 701.

[11]According to the current Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) Brochure for the 1994/95 academic year.

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