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A Brave New Bar Emerges as Mahmoud Takes Over as NBA President: Law : Nigerialog.com - Nigeria's Premier Online Forum
Nigerialog.com - Nigeria's Premier Online Forum
A Brave New Bar Emerges as Mahmoud Takes Over as NBA President
A Brave New Bar Emerges as Mahmoud Takes Over as NBA President
August 30, 2016, 07:31:49 AM
August 30, 2016
NBA President A.B. Mahmoud SAN taking hos Oath of Office adminsitered by the outgoing President, Augustine Alegeh SAN
The two-year tenure of the Mr. Augustine Alegeh SAN led administration of the Nigerian Bar Association came to a successful end last Friday in Port Harcourt at the Association’s Annual General Conference. Jude Igbanoi was there to report on the proceedings.
With the theme ‘Democracy and Economic Development’, this year’s conference, the 56th in the Association’s history commenced on Friday August 19th 2016 amidst apprehension that the court might stop the focal event on the conference agenda which was the swearing-in of Mr. A.B. Mahmoud SAN as the new NBA President. In spite of this and in the face of other challenges, Nigerian lawyers had a relatively good conference and most importantly, there was a smooth handover of leadership for 160,000-strong member Association.
The conference commenced in earnest with a Thanksgiving Church Service at Christ Church Port Harcourt with the outgoing president Augustine Alegeh SAN and other lawyers in attendance. Thereafter the pre-conference National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting held at the Chief Judges Chambers in the Rivers State High Court Complex. Alegeh gave an account of his two-year stewardship of the association to NEC and the commendations that followed thereafter were quite overwhelming for the out-going president whose tenure has been described as outstanding. Senior lawyers took turns to shower the outgoing president with encomiums and well wishes.
The welcome cocktail party hosted by the Rivers State Chief Judge, the Hon. Justice Adama Iye Iyayi-Lamikanra set the tone for the conference as delegates were thoroughly entertained before proceeding to the Port Harcourt Civic Centre for the Opening ceremony.
In attendance were the host governor, Nyesome Wike and his Sokoto State counterpart, Aminu Tambuwal. President Muhammadu Buhari was represented by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami SAN. Tambuwal in his opening remarks recounted the humble strides his administration has made so far, including massive investment in education, paying civil servants and pensioners promptly, free Medicare for children and pregnant women in Sokoto State and getting beggars off the streets (his pet project).
Wike’s Charge to Lawyers
Governor Wike who headed the conference planning committee gave a thought provoking address to the gathering of lawyers.
Wike’s stated that ‘‘First, it is a rare privilege and honour to chair the Local Organising Committee of this all important general conference and to address such a critical segment of the Nigerian society, lawyers, magistrates, judges, academicians, business moguls and administrators all converged as distinguished members of the legal profession.
Second, as your learned colleague, I most sincerely admire and respect each and every one of you for the things that you do to earn your living and the values that we all signify as members of the noble profession.
This year’s theme: “Democracy and Economic Development” is thought provoking. Although I am not one of the keynote speakers, my interest in the topic impels me to share some of my thoughts on the subject matter with you even as I wait to drink from the knowledge fountain of the conference speakers and discussants.
There is a consensus that liberal democracy fares better at fostering political freedoms and economic prosperity. Although countries have different political trajectories, ours is a constitutional democracy, which not only guarantees basic democratic rights but also constrains the actions of political authorities.
Also, Nigeria, like several other countries, has accepted the ideal of democracy just as the founders of our Constitution believed in the positive correlation between democratically inclusive political systems and successful economic development. Perhaps, that was why they inserted the nation’s economic objectives under chapter two of the Constitution. Furthermore, as an incurable optimist, I think that everyone of us also believes that it is still possible to achieve economic prosperity under our democracy.
Arguably, the phenomenal economic progress and prosperity enjoyed by citizens in liberal western democracies lends credence to the hope we easily invest in the connection between democracy and economic development, notwithstanding the fact that non-democratic systems in places like China have also proven to be beneficial to economic development.
However, after 17 years of experimentation, can we truly say that Nigeria’s economy has prospered under our constitutional democracy? My answer, which I believe, is shared by most of you, is a straight no. Most of us hold the view that Nigeria is not fulfilling its potential in economic development despite the huge human and material resources at its disposal.
As I had earlier mentioned, our Constitution provides and guarantees fundamental democratic platitudes. However, constitutional guarantees, no matter how progressive, are barely a collection of words. It is the government; nay, a responsible government and the people that will make them effective to affect positive economic, social and political outcomes.
So, the mere fact that we are now a democracy would not translate to economic prosperity without more. This must be coupled with a practicable vision driven by viable policies, targeted investments, and trade, which in turn must be supported by appropriate economic incentives such as legal protection of business and property rights, adequate public infrastructure, and security of lives and capital investments.
Thus, while the correlation between democracy and economic development is strong, the missing link, in relation to Nigeria, lies more in our inability to leverage on the democratic system and its values to drive economic development through a synergetic partnership and shared responsibilities between governments at all levels and the private sector.
Clearly, we make mistakes whenever we fail to recognise that democracy is never a mechanical condition. Besides distributing political voices more broadly with the common good as the measure, democracy also entails a host of complex demands, including responsible governance, respect for the rule of law, respect for human rights, including socio-economic rights, and an independent judiciary.
Democracy also allows for the proper exercise of democratic rights, including voting and having the votes count, peaceful protests and criticism from opposition parties and other elements as a necessary stimulus for effective service delivery and accountability.
Therefore, our inability as a nation to entrench and practice the bedrock values and demands of democracy is largely responsible for most of the development challenges confronting us as a nation.
In law, we say the fact speaks for itself. And so, how democratic is Nigeria when governments at all levels do not have any sense of responsibility; when the law and the justice system is easily compromised and incapable of protecting the weak from the powerful; when the electoral process is fraught with impunity; when security agencies become overly partisan; when viable opposition parties and voices are frequently emasculated; when those who defy the law easily escape accountability; when our courts readily become the centre rings of a circus for either the State or the powerful to abuse the judicial process.
The point must not be lost that as Nigerians, we all want to live in a country that is safe, secure and prosperous, a country where all are equal before the law, where we all enjoy our God-given freedoms of thought, religion and action, where no one or region is deliberately left behind and the benefits of economic growth are justly distributed, and where we exercise our democratic rights to freely and fairly hire and fire our leaders.
But 56 years after independence our country is still largely enmeshed in the throes of economic, social, and political conflicts and violence just as some of our political leaders freely personalise power, literarily expropriate public resources, and operate either above or outside the law to deny us our democratic rights, including development to the people. There are too many examples to recall on this, but let me mention a few.
River State is the only State of the country not represented in the Senate due to recurrent failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct peaceful, free and fair elections in the State since 2015. Yet, the National Assembly and the rest of the country are unperturbed by this development, maybe because, as Rivers people and a minority, we do not deserve to have our voices raised and heard in the National Assembly in the first place.
I wish to emphasise that part of our individual and corporate roles, as members of the NBA, is to protect our democracy from being destroyed by leaders who hold the system in contempt, using our voices, the law and the justice system as our basic tools.
Indeed, we elevate society and our profession when we fight to uphold democracy; when we fight at all times for the independence and integrity of our justice system, when we fight to protect universal access to our courts; when we fight for free and fair elections; and when we defend the constitutional rights of all Nigerians to peacefully congregate for lawful purposes.
At the same time, we stand condemned when we take our democracy for granted and do nothing when undemocratic forces subvert the rule of law, assault our democratic freedoms, hold everyone of us down as captives; and when we keep mute in the face of continuing injustice and repression.
There was a time when the NBA not only acted as the conscience of the nation, never afraid to take principled positions on critical national issues, and was never tired of fighting to entrench the rule of law, judicial independence, electoral reforms and public accountability.
Therefore, at a time when trust in our democratic institutions, including the National Assembly, the Justice system and even the legal profession has been shaken, I wish to remind you that your roles as members of the NBA, as officers of the Court, and as the stewards of the law and justice is more important now than before.’
Outgoing NBA President Alegeh Speaks
In his own opening speech outgoing NBA President Alegeh SAN berated the judiciary for giving a lot of conflicting judgments in the past few weeks and called on the Attorney General of the Federation and the National Judicial Council to call such judges to order.
Alegeh stated that ‘The NBA AGC affords us with the opportunity of discussing a myriad of topics which are critical to national discourse and which form the basis of several governmental policies on various sectors of the economy. Deliberations at the NBA AGCs have been instrumental to the promulgation of laws and policies that have promoted and helped shape the economy of our country at various stages of its nascent democracy.
As members of the NBA, the foremost professional body in Nigeria and the leading proponent of the Rule of Law, we have an obligation to properly advise the Government of the day on the way forward on issues that border on Human Rights Observance, Rule of Law, Administration of Justice and others.
Every major developmental plan or project undertaken by any nation in any sector of its economy requires a great deal of legal planning and framework. Consequently, lawyers are an indispensable factor in the economic prism of any country.
The NBA restates its zero tolerance for Corruption as well as its commitment to work with the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and all willing FGN Agencies to contribute its quota in the battle to kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria.
We must also stress that the war against corruption must be fought within the ambit of the law and rule of law must at all times be given primacy. The war against corruption can only be won within the ambit of the law. There is no need to resort to any other means other than legal means to win the war against corruption.
Lawyers have a huge role to play in the anti-corruption war of the Federal Government. The NBA has played and will continue to play an active role in the fight against corruption at every level of government. We have collaborated with various agencies of government in this regard. Our Anti-Corruption Commission headed by two distinguished Senior Advocates of Nigeria have organised several programmes and seminars to draw attention to the menace called corruption and the various measures which Government can pursue to effectively curb it.
State of the Economy
Our Economy is in dire need of an intervention. Our major source of revenue, crude oil has dropped to an all-time low, the lowest in the past decade. The value of our Naira against the dollar has fallen astronomically thereby leading to the implementation of various stringent policies and regulations by the Central Bank of Nigeria to save the day. However, these measures although designed for our common good has caused severe hardships in several quarters.
Of increasing concern is the worrisome trend of backlogs of unpaid salaries and pensions by several States of the Federation. The financial situation of most States is pitiable and their economies can best be described as hanging by a thin thread. We are hopeful that the Federal Government will take urgent steps to salvage the situation by taking drastic steps to diversify the economy and reduce our dependence on Oil as the sole source of sustenance.
We have been inundated recently with a barrage of conflicting judgments of our superior courts of record. This is a worrisome trend that the NBA has continued to push to the front burner and to agitate that steps are taken by our Courts to ensure uniformity in its decisions.
We are aware that most instances of conflicting judgments are principally as a result of forum shopping by litigants and lawyers which is totally unwarranted and avoidable. Oftentimes, the Courts are coerced into giving these conflicting judgments by a few lawyers who refuse and neglect to disclose the pendency of actions in the same court or the existence of a contrary judgment to the Judicial Officer in contravention of our Rules of Professional Conduct.
To resolve this issue, the NBA had proposed for our courts to have an effective and efficient means of case reporting and centralisation of judgments to make them readily available and accessible to other divisions of the Court. This, in our view, will cure the defect in the system and reduce considerably instances of conflicting judgments in our courts. Additionally, Lawyers found culpable in this act have been made to face disciplinary proceedings before the LPDC.
Usurpation of Powers
We are aware of the recent indictment of several persons by the National Human Rights Commission on alleged commission of electoral offences and the threat by the NHRC to prosecute these persons before the law courts.
Whilst we commend the NHRC for the good work they have done and will continue to do in the area of human rights abuse in the country, we wish to emphatically state that the encroachment by the NHRC into the powers of INEC in areas of investigation and prosecution of electoral offences is unwarranted and unconstitutional. NHRC should focus primarily on its mandate and not abandon same to perform the task of another agency. INEC is the only body clothed with the constitutional powers of investigation and prosecution of electoral offences.
We have over 4,000 cases of persons awaiting trial in our prisons. This should be the primary focus of the NHRC.
Boko Haram Insurgency
The efforts of the FGN and the Nigerian Security forces are beginning to yield positive results. The Boko Haram Insurgency is fast waning but the battle is not yet over. We commend the efforts of the FGN so far and urge Government not to relent. We know that the case of insurgency in the North East will soon be a thing of the past.
Militancy in the Niger Delta
We note with dismay the resuscitated agitations by some Militants in the Niger Delta going by the name of the Niger Delta Avengers. We are aware that the demands and views of this group does not reflect the general perception and thinking of the Niger Delta region. We urge the Military and the Joint Task Force to ensure that this mindless group of disgruntled elements are subdued and that every form of insurrection in that region is quelled.
We commend the prompt intervention of the Chief of Army Staff and hope that this issue will soon be a thing of the past as this group has caused severe economic losses to the entire nation via their incessant bombing and vandalisation of pipelines.
Appointment of New Justices to the Supreme Court
The NBA is in receipt of a letter from the Chief Justice of Nigeria for recommendation of persons for appointment into the Supreme Court. We commend the CJN for consulting with the Bar on major appointments into the Judiciary and wish to assure him that the NBA is a willing ally and will continue to collaborate with the Judiciary on its initiatives and policies.
State of the Bar
NBA House Project
Our new Secretariat has been completed and is presently being painted. We are proud to announce that we have been able to fulfill our solemn promise to this august gathering and indeed all our members that the sprawling edifice would be completed by this administration.
We will soon announce the date for the grand opening and commissioning of the Building. We urge you to take time out of your busy schedules to visit the site and observe the progress of the project prior to the commissioning. We have also sent out letters to eminent Bar Leaders, Senior Advocates and select lawyers for the inclusion of their names in the ‘Honour Roll’ of the project. Many people have either paid or signified interest to pay the NEC approved sum of N10,000,000.00 (Ten Million Naira). We urge those who are yet to pay to take steps to make their payments before the commissioning of the Building.
The NBA National Secretariat Building Committee would present a Report to this NEC meeting. We are indeed grateful to them for their dedication and commend them for their industry.
Effects of the NBA Constitution
We wish to state that the provisions of the NBA Constitution and Uniform Byelaws for Branches are sacrosanct.
We are aware that the provisions relating to dates for elections, qualification for elections and tenure limitation have generated a lot of controversy especially within the branches. It was on the strength of the perceived fallout and expected disagreements on this issue that necessitated NEC’s approval to inaugurate the NBA Branch Election Monitoring Committee. Part of the Committee’s mandate was to supervise the modalities for the conduct of elections into offices at the branch level and to formulate guidelines for the conduct of such elections.
We will therefore not recognise persons elected into office in contravention of the NBA Constitution unless and until such branches comply with constitutional provisions.
Discipline at the Bar
The NBA restates its resolve to deal with all cases of professional infractions and misconduct with dispatch and without favour.
Lawyers are hereby warned to desist from making disparaging comments against the Court simply because the Judgments were not in their favour or because they do not like the Judge.
Lawyers must imbibe the practice of decorum and civility while commenting on a judicial pronouncement. It is quite disheartening to see very senior and respected lawyers who ordinarily should set examples for their juniors to be the ones who engage in this unprofessional conduct. We must look inwards and tackle issues of professional misconduct before we can make meaningful progress in tackling societal issues.
Conferment of New Senior Advocates of Nigeria
We are in receipt of the list from the LPPC of applicants for the conferment of the rank of SAN. We have forwarded the list to our General Practice Committee chaired by JB Daudu SAN and we are aware that the Committee has written to the Branches for their comments on the respective applicants.
As always, we will conduct a transparent process before making our recommendations to the LPPC. We wish the applicants the best and pray that they scale through the exercise.
2016 General Elections
We introduced electronic voting to the NBA elections. I commend the Electoral Committee for their hard work as I am aware that the eyes of every lawyer and indeed all Nigerians were on them to observe how they will deliver on electronic voting.
Demise of Members
The NBA has, within the past few months, recorded huge losses occasioned by the unfortunate demise of some of its resourceful members. These include James Enojo Ocholi SAN, Former Minister of State for Labour & Employment; Bon Nwakamma SAN, Former Attorney General of Imo State; Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, late Human Rights Activist and Politician. We pray for the repose of their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed. A minute silence was observed.
Distinguished NEC Members and Learned colleagues, we thank you once more for your immense support throughout the lifespan of this administration.
We assure you that we shall remain focused in our bid to protect and safeguard the provisions of the Constitution of our noble association by taking proactive steps to improve the welfare of lawyers and raise the standard of legal practice in Nigeria. We urge you not to relent but to further support and assist us at all times to enable us achieve our solemn mandate to reposition the Bar.’
This year’s Keynote Speaker was the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Republic of Rwanda, Mr. Busingye Johnston. He shared experiences from his home country, which after years of genocide and a bitter civil war rose from the ashes and built a strong democracy and judicial institutions.
LAWYERS EXPRESS THEIR THOUGHTS
Dr. Akpor Mudiaga-Odje
The elections held by the Nigerian Bar Association on the 30th and 31st July, 2016 albeit conclusive, has generated some issues and agitation regarding the transparency of the process adopted for voting i.e. Electronic Voting!
Without prejudice to the present action instituted by J. K Gadzama SAN, challenging the validity of elections and results announced therein, one can still commend both contestants or combatants as it were, for availing themselves of the channel of due process in challenging the validity of the elections.
This is a better option than the electoral tragedy that plunged the NBA into an unpleasant interregnum during the Gen Abacha era regarding the Kuye and Dalhaltu, NBA presidency elections in the same Port Harcourt.
For the above reason of the Suit now pending, it is legally wise to refrain from discussing in detail the validity or otherwise of the elections.
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