The Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal
Studies on April 21, 2010, inducted Honourable Justice P.N.
Bhagwati, into the Institute's Hall of Fame, in a moving
ceremony at Transcorp Hotel in Abuja. He expounded his
"Public Interest Litigation" theory and practice in India.
This has occupied his judicial work in the last four
His opening statement captured the main issue in his
jurisprudential endeavours in the defence of "men and women,
who are being subjected to exploitation, injustice and even
violence. In this climate of exploitation, conflct and
violence Judges have to play a positive role.They cannot
shut themselves in their ivory towers by invoking the
doctrine of judicial restraint nor shut their eyes to the
misery and suffering of the people to whom they have sworn
to ensure basic human rights guaranteed by the
Indian judges have moved away from "the worn- out values of
Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence," to forge a potent judicial power
to further the cause of social justice. The Nigerian
judiciary, is yet to undertake far-reaching procedural and
jurisprudential innovations that would protect the under-priviledged
and abused citizens. This is because our colonial legal
heritage and adherence to British-style legal practice have
not "liberated us from the shackles of British through-ways"
both economically and jurisprudentially.
There is need to forge new legal strategies that would
empower judges to take bold steps that would help them
evolve innovative judicial processes in defence of th under-priviledged
All of us cannot be ministers, senators or well-connected
heirs and assigns, who get re-cycled every time there is a
change of administrations.
The wealth of the nation has been legally lodged in their
busting arsenals through re-appointments.
As a result, social and economic rights are unavailable to
deprived and maginalised minorities and the poor of the
Justice Bhagwati passionately called on Indian and Nigerian
judges and lawyers to recognise that " The most important
and paramount among human rights are freedom from indigency,
ignorance and discrimination,as well as financial, corporate
oppression, the right to a healthy environment, to social
security and to protection from massive financial,
commercial expliotation by vested interests and governmental
repression and lawlessness."
Social justice is firmly anchored in society, where the
judges form a judicial vanguard around these rights.
Under the able direction of Justice Bhagwati, the Supreme
Court of India evolve d specific legal stratagems that have
served to protect the poor in India.
His pet project,:" Public Interest Litigation" has formed
the cornerstone of the emerging Indian jurisprudence.The
British tradition is gradually receding gracefully in India.
.In Nigeria, it has died-hard, with little hope of fading
away.. In my question to Justice Bhagwati about the
transfomation from British-India to Indian legal system, I
was eager to learn more how far India has jetiison the
British colonial heritage.
A meddlesome interloper, gave an unsolicited opinion, which
did not address my question. Bhagwati responded but
Professor Ignatius Ayua, elucidated the issues about the
emerging Indian jurisprudence to my satisfaction.
The Supreme Court of India has held that"it was necessary to
depart from the traditional rule of "locus standi" and
broaden access to justice by providing that a legal wrong or
a legal injury caused to a person or a clas of persons by
the violation of their constitutional or legal rights and
such person or persons are by reason of poverty, disability,
socially or economically disadvantaged position, unable to
approach the Court for relief,any member of the society or
such social action group can intervene on behalf of the
In the ideologically coated days of socialist hysteria in
Nigerian legal academy, Bhagwati would have been branded a
Out of the five legal systems of the world, societies which
, still using the "out-worn Anglo-Saxon"legal order, are
conservative, unmindful of social justice and social change.
These societies often suffer from instability, social
dislocation, social contraditions, political antagonism and
The paucity of legal literature which should go beyong
commercial or promotional ambitions, seems to hinder the
emergence of a body of the legal thought that lead to the
growth of law in a particular geographical region.
America , Germany, France and Russia lead in the production
of legal literature. In Nigeria, the culture of reading has
been eclipsed by the pursuit of mammonic concerns. One does
not have to be well-educated to hold high office or to be
rich. So, the urge to read and improve oneself remains
Even amongst some judges and lawyers, social consciousness
remains at a low rating.This is why Justice P.N Bhagwati 's
social consciousness is worthy of emulation.The late Chief
Gani Fawehinmi belonged to this class of social humans.
Conservative lawyers are those, who are afraid to learn new
theories and practices that tend to challenge what they
labiously imbibed years ago at the law school.
I have observed that in Nigeria, there are three types of
lawyers. There are lawyers, who are in business to make
money. They defend any case and any cause that yields money.
In an unorganised society, where the economy is prostrate,
legal practice suffers .
The second group practice law with a social conscience,
while the third use law as an instrument of social change.
It would appear that it has become a prevalent view that if
Nigeria conducts free and fair elections, all will be well.
In my humble opinion, this is far from the truth.
The most important political emergency now is for us to hold
a National Conference of our Federated states, in order to
arrive at a consensus as to what type of socio-economic
system we aspire to entrench and what type of society we
want to build.
Then, a durable Constitution that represents the will our of
federated states would be written.
Since 1960, we have not officially defined our goal.
Change has always been brought about by chance happenings.
We have always hurriedly put the cart before the horse.
Professor Emmanuel Omoh Esiemokhai is the President of the
proposed AFEMAI UNIVERSITY, FUGAR, EDO STATE, NIGERIA.