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My vision for Bayelsa State by Ikoli SAN

Chief Anthony George-Ikoli SAN

Chief Anthony George-Ikoli (SAN) has an unusually peculiar gene flowing in his veins. His uncanny concern for the plight of the masses coupled with his explorative ways of ameliorating those suffering clearly stands him out from the crowd.

Anthony George- Ikoli, born on December 18,1956  into a fairly affluent family of Mr and Mrs George Ikoli of Brass Town in Brass LGA of Bayelsa state, the man had his early education in Brass.

He later attended  Federal Goverment College, Port Harcourt, River state where he completed his secondary education in flying colours.

He was later admitted to the prestigious/ famous University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University. After graduation, he attended the Nigeria law school where he graduated in flying colours.

He undoubtedly inherited this special attribute from his forebears who were renowned for being at the vanguard of anything that is novel and geared towards the common good. George- Ikoli is the grandson of the doyen of journalism, the late Chief Ernest Ikoli, the first editor of Daily Times Newspaper.

As a veteran journalist, the late Ikoli was one of the very few Nigerians who alongside eminent nationalists and pre-independence heroes, like the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo,late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, and late Sir Herbert Macaulay who employed  non-violent agitation against colonial rule and fought for the independence of Nigeria.

Although they hailed from Brass, announced Ijaw enclave in the Niger Delta, the Ikolis have lived in Lagos for a century.

Ernest Seisei Ikoli was in the pioneer class of the prestigious Kings College, Lagos in 1909.

George- Ikoli is thus a fourth generation Lagosian, having lived all his life, from formative, adulthood, and even professional life in Lagos. Due to this fact, and having regard to the role his family has played in the development of the country; he is well grounded in the progressive politics, and he is equally in first name basis with most important families in South West Nigeria.

The younger Ikoli therefore, had a lot to tap from even as he left no one in doubt the moment he was able-to distinguish his left from his right that he was set to raise the bar by way of agitating for the rights of the people.

His determination to right the wrong in the society informed his decision to apply to study law at the prestigious University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife).

President Goodluck Jonathan and George-Ikoli presenting Ikoli’s vision for Bayelsa State

Mr. George-Ikoli on completion of his law programme was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1981. At the completion of his studies, George- Ikoli joined the law firm of Bentley; Edu and Co, perhaps the only law firm that-was still managed by British expatriates. Within seven years of working in the firm, he rose to the position of a partner.

He was one of the partners that in 1988 acquired Irving and Bonnar & Co the first law firm to be established, in Nigeria. Irving and Bonnar was established in 1907 and is still regarded as a blue ribbon law firm.

  George- Ikoli however left the firm after his successful stay to-found another partnership law firm known as George- Ikoli and Okagbue and co. The law firm has grown to become a very successful commercial law firm to the extent that it has taken over Bentley, Irving and Bonnard & Co, thereby creating what is arguably Nigeria’s Largest Distinguished Law Firm.

George-Ikoli however made history in 2006 when his name was announced as one of the lawyers that has attended the prestigious club of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. With this feat, he became the first SAN for Balyesa State.  The whole of the Ijaw region in Nigeria’s Niger Delta rose up to celebrate one of their own.

President Goodluck Jonathan then the governor of Balyesa State hosted Ikoli to a lavish party at the state capital, Yenagoa.  From this moment on, it became obvious that it is just a matter of time before he would be call upon to contribute his own quota to the development of his state.

Chief George-Ikoli presenting his manifesto to the Organizing Secretary, PDP, Col Akubundu in Abuja

 

Yet when the clarion call came to be Governor Timpre Silva’s Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, George-Ikoli hesitated.

The call came at a time when the whole of Niger Delta his literarily  on fire.  There were agitation all over the place especially Balyesa state, agitations that threatened oil installations which is the economic survival of Nigeria as a nation.  Thus, he knew that taking up an appointment at such a time and in such environment is not going to be a tea party.  This is coupled with the fact that, he would have to leave a very lucrative and highly successful practice in Lagos.

However, with these challenges came an opportunity to score another, first if he takes the appointment, he will be the first SAN to become the Attorney General of the State!  Weighing the two, George-Ikoli decided to take the appointment hoping that he will bring his wealth of  experience in the cooperate world to bear in helping the governor to run the state.

No sooner after he was sworn-in as the Attorney General of Justice, he realized that  the justice ministry in the real sense is not in place.  What served as the ministry offices were only portakabins and containers that were converted to offices.

He immediately contacted the governor and told him that it is unacceptable for government lawyers to operate in such ramshackle offices, thus, Chief Timipre Sylva graciously approved the entire first floor of the New Secretariat Complex as the New Ministry of Justice.

Today, and for the first time in the history of the state, lawyers in the ministry can boast of having offices that are second to none in the whole of the country.

The complex contain a conference hall capable of sitting more than a hundred lawyers with every facilities you can boast of. There is also a moot Court where lawyers are expected to practice and prepare for their cases before going to court. There is a very descent cafeteria for the lawyers and staff of the ministry, which was lavishly furnished to world class standard.

President Jonathan reading through Ikoli’s manifest

Hear him, ” I did all these to enable lawyers in the ministry of Justice positively develop/build their confidence. It is important that no lawyer in Balyesa state will feel inferior to any of his contemporary in any part of Nigeria.  If they are confident, we can stand up in court and fight to win our cases”.

Has this translated into reality?

Lawyers in the ministry are now going on conferences as they meet with their professional colleagues all over Nigeria and gradually gaining confidence.

The situation where the people will file cases against the state and gain judgement without government knowing has become a thing of the past.

Many times, people file frivolous cases before a court in any part of the country, the cases will not be defended by any government lawyer, or the defense might feel too intimidated.  In the end, the judge will have no choice than to deliver judgment against the state.  In most cases, huge sum of money are involved.

In most cases also, government will not know until the judgement is executed,thus making government to pay hundreds of millions in judgement debt.

  However, George-Ikoli stopped all these practices, but not without a fight. When he assumed office, most staffers expected that he will be just another commissioner who will come to the office once or twice in a week as the case previously.

They were, however, surprised that the Attorney General, not only comes to work everyday, he arrives before 8.00am in the morning and he’s usually the last to leave office, a system many people were not comfortable with because it deprived them of the time they have to themselves in the pursuit of other things.

The case became worse when the State Chief Judge,and other judges were mandated to report any suit involving the government as the government lawyer were not in court.

However, all the grumblings soon stop when the lawyers started benefiting from  the commissioner’s disciplinary actions as they began to win their
cases and the satisfaction of hard work started to yield fruit.

Moreover, George-Ikoli strengthened the people’s mediation centre, and the office of the public defender in such a manner that government lawyers began to sue the government on behalf of the people.

The lawyers involved began to feel a sense of worth as they began to defend the hitherto defenseless in the Bayelsan society.

By the time the amnesty programme of the Federal Government took place, the institution of law and other was already in place to compliment the Federal Government’s effort.

The government encouraged the oil companies operating in the state to employ indigenes and no one can be fired unjustly without a fight from the OPD.

And to demonstrate the peculiarity, he said this in a recent interview, “The joke I use to have with colleagues is that the ministry of justice in Balyesa state has the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) that prosecutes, it also has the people’s right that defends.

So while there is statutory discharge our responsibility of enforcing the law, we also try to mitigate it as it concerns the poor.

“The department also attends to those who have causes to question the practice of the oil companies.  They come here and we provide them with legal representation, ejection of tenant without due process.

Shortly after coming into office in 2007, the council of legal education proposed to establish a south-south campus of the Nigerian Law School to take care of the students from the area.

George – Ikoli quickly contacted governor Sylva on the need to have the campus sited in Bayelsa state. The governor agreed and the state signified its intention to host the campus ,that was how the Yenagoa campus of the Nigerian Law School was born.

George – Ikoli called his contributions modest and said that the credit really should go to Chief Timipre Sylva who believed in him and also has the vision to move the state forward.

He said, when we were sworn- in and the government was giving its charge, I was specifically charged with the fart of re-engineering and refocusing the ministry of justice in the state.

 I wouldn’t say we had no Ministry of Justice when we came in, I would say we didn’t have one that was properly focused and motivated to lead the charge of ensuring that justice is had by all. Thank God for the vision and support of Chief Timipre Sylva.

“The achievements you see, including the relocation, the refurbishment, library upgrade, employment of new counsel, scholarship for our students, the new Ministry of Justice building, the law Journal, the law school (south-south campus), the output stations for the Ministry of Justice in the eight local government areas, the translation of the human rights chapters in the constitution into local languages etc.

These were all my dreams for the administration of justice in the state. The then governor also deserves praise because if he didn’t support it, we couldn’t have deliver it”.

Anthony George Ikoli is fluent/versatile in Ijaw,English,Yoruba, Igbo and French languages.

He specializes in corporate and commercial laws, Oil,Gas and environmental laws, aviation laws, intellectual and industrial property laws, Banking, Finance, Insurance and Security laws, General litigation, contracts,procurement,governmental liaison and legal consultancy.

He was admitted to the Nigeria Bar Association in 1981, and his a member of reputable national and international organizations such as the Nigeria Bar Association, International Lawyers Network, International Bar Association and a host of others.

He became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria(SAN) in 2006 and appointed Attorney General of Bayelsa state in July 2907.

“What is going on in Bayelsa State is public service with a private sector driven service delivery initiative. We deliver private sector services at public sector expense, which means that government do not charge the people for these services. It is government’s business to make justice readily available.

“Bayelsa State has only one industry for now. That industry is the oil and gas. To change the state to haven of commerce and industry; we’ve got to ensure that the oil companies no longer just fly over the state to Port Harcourt and Lagos.

The companies fly from Lagos now to where they locate their personnel, over-flv us to the off-shore rigs and they ensure that the oil companies no longer just fly over the state to Harcourt and Lagos. To make them become habitants of Bayelsa, we have to ensure that there is law and order.

“Bayelsa can be peaceful, lawful and orderly haven through the instrumentality of law and the support of the state’s Ministry of justice.

” The people have developed confidence in the system. They would rather submit their cases/disputes to the law courts than resort to self help. We have in the country at the moment one of the best court/ legal systems which is supported by a far reaching reforms in the system with the assistance of the government.

 George-Ikoli said judges in the state are well taken care of and they have reciprocated this by working diligently and meticulously thereby engendering confidence in the system to enable the oil companies relocate gradually to state.

 All these cannot be made possible if the government has not taken time to invest in the law and order, infrastructure as sign-posted by the reforms in the ministry of justice.

“What I want to say is that Bayelsa is the Nigeria of the future and the first leg of it is the law and order as articulated by the ministry of justice”.

When asking the efforts he is making to ensure that his state produces more senior advocates, he responded thus: “My own giving back to the state includes challenging my brothers  that being a senior advocate of Nigeria is attainable.

Now I am working with some very senior lawyers here, guiding them in complying with the requirements of becoming a SAN and the results have been very remarkable.

It is my hope that I add my quota by guiding those interested  in complying with the requirements of becoming a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in achieving their dreams.

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