TUNDE OYESINA writes on the glamour and attraction which enveloped the 58th annual conference of the Nigeria Bar Association which ended in grand style at the weekend
It was all style and glamour as over 50, 000 lawyers gathered at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, for the 58th annual conference of their umbrella association, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
It was a weeklong activity which brought lawyers, judges and other major stakeholders in justice administration together where issues of law, politics and economy were brainstormed.
Also, it is an annual event where biannual elected officers of the Bar take over leadership of the Bar from outgoing officers after election being held to choose new leaders every year.
This was the case at the weekend when a new elected officers being led by Mr. Paul Usoro, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, took over from Mr. Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
It was all glitz when Usoro and other members of the newly elected members of the NBA were inaugurated by Mahmoud. Usoro became the 29th President of the Bar following his election on 19th August, 2018.
However, the conference got its low moment when President Muhammadu Buhari told the august gathering while flagging off the 2018 Annual General Conference, that the rule of law must be subjected to the supremacy of national security and interest, quoting a judgment of the Supreme Court.
He said: “Rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest.
“Our apex court has had cause to adopt a position on this issue in this regard and it is now a matter of judicial recognition that; where national security and public interest are threatened or there is a likelihood of being threatened, the individual rights of those allegedly responsible must take second place in favour of the greater good of the society.”
But the President came under fire when the lawyers rose from a meeting and condemned Buhari’s elevation of national interest above the rule of law.
The lawyers noted that the rule of law was central to democracy and any national security concern by the government must be managed within the perimeters and parameters of the rule of law.
In course of the conference which ran for a week, different speakers, ranging from President Nana Akufo Ado of Ghana, former military Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) and former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega.
In his own speech, President Ado called for a synergy of law governing international relations and effective implementation of such law.
According to him, such will encourage and strengthen economy of members’ states.
In his own lecture, Professor Osinbajo observed that there was a great deal of institutional and moral decay in the country and that there was no question about that at all.
Citing a number of corruption cases, the vice president regretted that the cankerworm is systemic and had eaten so deep into the society’s fabric.
Osinbajo, however called on the NBA to ensure the effective administration of justice for building a society with strong moral values.
According to him, beyond government actions, every Nigerian had a responsibility to ensure that there is consequence for wrongdoing.
Former military Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, recalled how former President Goodluck Jonathan was persuaded to accept the result of the 2015 general election.
He explained this to draw his point on how African leaders have embraced a sit tight syndrome, submitting that for democracy to thrive, the syndrome should be discouraged.
The high point of the conference was the swearing-in of Paul Usoro as the 29th President of the Bar.
Earlier before the event, the conference through the immediate past President, A.B.Mahmoud (SAN) had read its communique.
In its communique, the Bar frowned at the present growing trend whereby government decides on which court orders to obey.
“The court has exclusive duty under a democratic dispensation to interpret the Constitution and other laws, and government and the citizenry must comply with court orders at all times until set aside”, the communique stated.
The Bar also objected to “the issuance of Executive Orders in respect of matters already in court and observed that any such order was a breach of the principle of separation of powers; and counsels that Executive Orders be issued for good governance and to manage operations of government, and not to encroach or usurp the constitutional powers of other arms of government, otherwise Executive Orders would become attempts at decree-making”
On the independence of the judiciary, the conference resolved that the nation’s democracy can be better strengthened by an independent judiciary and consequently calls for a budgetary arrangement that allows for funds to be directly allocated to the judiciary at Federal and State levels.
“On the part of the Judiciary, conference welcomed the ongoing reforms in the Justice Sector especially as it pertains to technological innovations that will improve access to justice by the citizenry.”
In addition, the NBA urged government and civil society to invest in the rebirth, through ethical, moral and value reorientation, of a new type of citizen.
“Conference calls for the institutionalization of higher standards for transformational leadership and in this regard, calls for new laws to set higher standards of academic qualifications for political office holders in Nigeria.
“Conference advocates for structures that can aid good governance and, in this regard, calls on NBA members to use the already existing skills of advocacy and persuasion to encourage citizens to vote for competent leaders. Candidates must accept election outcomes rather than encourage violent protests”.
Similarly, the NBA called upon the Executive and Legislative arms to learn to practice mutual respect for their respective functions as a tool for building institutions and achieving sustainable development.
“In this regard, public interest must be enthroned as a central pivot of governance, and the current bickering must be reduced to the barest minimum”.
Also, the NBA acknowledged the robust efforts by the Presidential Ease of Doing Business Committee and the consequent positive impact and improvement on Nigeria’s position on the Ease of Doing Business Index.
Conference also recommends that the following should be prioritized in transforming the economy;
“Poverty alleviation should be approached through wealth creation, industrialization, provision of finance to small and medium enterprises and social welfare schemes.
“The Nigerian budget should be investment-driven with more reliance placed on local production and entrepreneurship while states should commit to supporting credit facilities to improve the provision of funds at the state level. of monetary policies that will support businesses. Aggressive investment in industrial development as well as the implementation of business-friendly regulatory policies.
“Widen the job market to accommodate more people by promoting the Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSME’s) in targeted sectors as Trade, Manufacturing, and Agriculture to expand the employment and tax base.
“Make access to credit facilities a cornerstone for building businesses, develop human capacity to drive capital accumulation and investment; and effectuate institutions other than banks as providers of capital for starting business as obtainable in other climes”.
In his valedictory speech, Mahmoud noted that “the NBA election had come with all its challenges especially at the early stages of voter verification, necessitating shifting the election date a couple of times until finally on 18th August, 2018 when our members were able to go to the polls.
“Some of our colleagues have vilified and accused us of all manners of misconducts and even criminality. Many of these colleagues have not bothered to investigate or establish the facts before going to the instant pages of social media to run us down. Their conduct is to say the least unfortunate. Some are hiding under the guise of pretentious self-serving human rights crusades to castigate us.
“I want to say here that these campaigns are opportunistic and mostly in bad faith. When we set out to organize these elections, we identified some of the best and shining examples that our profession has to offer to superintend over the process. The committee comprising Professor Auwalu Hamisu Yadudu, Mr. Tunde Busari (SAN) and Professor Augustine Agom, as leaders are persons of unimpeachable integrity who have held positions of immense responsibility. We gave them complete free hand to conduct the elections.
“The idea that they collude with me or someone else to commit fraud or somehow manipulate the process to a pre-determined outcome is simply appalling and shows the extent to which some of our colleagues have become so deluded in their cynicism and possibly malice towards their fellow countrymen. There is absolutely no way I could in my wildest imaginations think of Prof. Yadudu or Prof. Agom or Mr. Busari, in anyway capable of what they are being accused of. I have known these gentlemen for over 40 years. Their integrity is beyond reproach.
“Now, has anybody been able to beat the system we put in place? I don’t know. But we have in conjunction with the ECNBA put in place a system with all the possible safeguards that were feasible in the circumstance. We opened the entire process to participation and scrutiny of candidates and their technical advisers including the administrative of the voting system. Nothing was hidden from anyone.
“Every decision taken was participatory. All candidates were present at all stages until the very last minute. There was nothing that could humanly be done within our resources that we did not do to secure the process. I was never perturbed for one minute because I have complete clear conscience on this.
“As I said yesterday at our AGM, we will still go ahead to carry-out a post-audit exercise and for this purpose I have instructed the Execute Director to engage the Services of the KPMG Professional Services and to report the outcome to the Chairman NBA Board of Trustees Directly”, he stated
In his acceptance speech, Usoro noted that the elections had their fair share of hitches and glitches, but no one can fault the good intentions and character of the ECNBA members.
“In truth, the elections met the standard of substantial compliance and I must particularly commend the ECNBA for being constantly available at all times to aid and support all the candidates and to address our respective concerns and issues.
“I must not fail to pay special tribute to my co-contestants for the office of the NBA President, Prof Ernest Ojukwu (SAN) and Chief Arthur Obi Okafor (SAN). The participation of the three of us in the race greatly enriched the contest and brought out the best in us. This was a very keenly contested race and any one of us could have ended up, fittingly, as the President of the NBA.
“In truth and as I mentioned in my e-mail to Prof. Ojukwu and Chief Okafor, all three of us won in this election and there was no loser. All three of us are eminent sons of the NBA Eastern Zone and should work together to showcase the unparalleled capabilities and strength of the NBA Eastern Zone. I have already reached out to both of them with an invitation for them to join hands with me in working for the elevation and growth of the NBA. I shall persist and be undeterred in this endeavour until success, by God’s Grace, is achieved.
“On the task ahead NBA, I come into office as the 29th President of the NBA at a time the Association is driven with and by acrimonious divisions of all sorts not to mention serious skepticism and distrust of the NBA leadership by our members. Those divisions and rifts did not start with the last elections; they were simply exacerbated and made worse by these elections. It is critical and urgent that we bind, heal wounds and restore unity in our house of lawyers. We are strong only when united and together. Divided, we’re vulnerable and subject to external and devastating attacks and these are the dangers we face daily.
“My immediate task would therefore be to heal these wounds, seal the cracks and unite our family of lawyers. I have already started the process of such integration and healing by extending my hands of fellowship and brotherhood to my co-contestants, Prof. Ernest Ojukwu (SAN) and Chief Arthur Obi Okafor (SAN). But I will go beyond them in the days ahead. I’ll seek to heal the wounds of the 2016 NBA elections by reaching out to my very good friend and brother, Chief J. K. Gadzama (SAN) and bring him back into the NBA family. I know that he has plenty to offer to our association.
“There are also several of our Bar elders who have stayed outside the NBA fold for several years now for one reason or the other, mostly out of disenchantment; we’ll actively work to bring them back into the fold and in the process harvest from their rich repertoire of intellectual resources, experiences and wisdom.
“These healing processes and integration efforts would extend to the NBA branches where we’ve had drawn-out strives and contentions, incidents that tend to give the lie to and inhibit and erode the brotherhood and friendship in our common salutation as “Learned Friends.”
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