THE NBA CONFERENCE IN LAGOS (1)

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Besides discussing issues of law, the conference should also harp on the prevailing insecurity in the country, writes Sonnie Ekwowusi

The 2019 Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is scheduled to hold in Lagos from August 23-29, 2019. The theme of the 2019 Conference is “Facing the Future”. So far not less 10,000 legal practitioners are expected to participate in this year’s conference. NBA President Paul Usoro SAN maintains that the key conference sub-themes are: Leveraging technology in justice administration, modern trends in evidence, social media-culture, liability and professional ethics, code of conduct: clash of judicial and executive powers. Lofty sub-themes no doubt, but the NBA should not fail to spare some thoughts about the safety of conference attendees who would be travelling by road to attend the conference.

Before now we were thinking that kidnappings were fairy tales concocted only in Zamfara State or other parts of North East or North Central. But now that our friends, relatives and acquaintances had been waylaid and kidnapped in the full glare of the public along the expressways, it has dawned on us that none of us is safe from the iron grips of the kidnappers lurking around the different corners across the country. You see, we are told to face the future but we don’t even have the present.

Obviously a precarious present begets a precarious future. If you are killed by a kidnapper today certainly you will not be alive tomorrow to start speculating about the future. The other day I was narrating how an innocent village boy from a far flung village of Aguobi Iwollo, Ezeagu Local Council, Enugu State was murdered by some Fulani herdsmen. This boy went to a nearby forest to check whether his trap had caught any animal. But unknown to him, his trap had caught the leg of one of the roaming Fulani herdsmen cattle. On sighting the boy the murderous herders lurking in the forest came out and not only killed the boy but purposely proceeded to dissected his body to send a message to other villagers. A few days ago I read on one of the WhatsApp platforms that a DPO of police station who was kidnapped by some kidnappers paid a N3 million ransom to his captors in order to regain his freedom.

Now, if the safety of a DPO of a police station is not even guaranteed it means that the safety of the ordinary citizen on the street is not guaranteed at all. The law is said to be an instrument of social engineering. And by virtue of their vocation and training lawyers are not only officers in the temple of justice but are collaborators in finding solution to the problems of society otherwise their vocation will be a fraud, a betrayal of God and man. All persons who are acquainted with history will attest to the power of human blood. To assert that human blood is thicker than water is really an understatement.

No society which draws blood ever makes progress. That is why the reckless spilling of the blood of our fellow human beings in Nigeria ought to stir up in us some revulsion about our own existence. Three weeks ago the Catholic priests in Abuja, Lagos and cities spontaneously embarked on peaceful protests over the unceasing murder of Catholic priests in Nigeria in the last four years. Rather than issuing statements from the comfort of their respective parishes in condemnation of the murder the Catholic priests came out and plucked up palm branches (I guess signifying a peaceful overture) and took to the streets in peaceful protest over the incessant killing of Catholic priests.

It is in this context that I feel that the 2019 NBA Conference should serve as a veritable platform for lawyers to weather the storm in really and truly tasking the Buhari government to live up to its foremost responsibility in protecting lives and property in Nigeria. This does not translate to meddling in divisive partisan politics or politicization of the NBA; rather it is a gallant effort in awakening in the government a sense of urgency and compulsion in protecting the lives and property of the citizenry. After all the raison d’être of the NBA is the promotion and protection of human rights, the rule of law, and good governance in Nigeria. If Nigerian lawyers who ought to be the conscience of the nation and the voice of the voiceless decide to keep mute in the face of numerous crises plaguing Nigeria who then can rescue Nigeria on the road to Somalia?

The bar conference is holding at a trying time in the history of our country. It is holding at a time we are experiencing the deepest crisis in the rule of law. One would have thought that the theme of the 2019 Bar Conference should have been: The Crisis in the Rule of Law in Nigeria. This is because democracy sans the rule of law cannot yield democratic dividends. In his paper with the alluring title: The Crisis in the Rule of Law, which he presented at the 1989 NBA Conference in Lagos, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa (of blessed memory) stated viva voce that “if we are ruled by law we are to be ruled by men and man is an extremely unpredictable animal”.

The causes, my friends which produce our unpredictable miseries and wretchedness are so numerous and aggravating that I believe my pen cannot possibly enumerate all of them here today. What tyranny have they not unleashed on us? What order of court have they not disobeyed? What human rights have they not violated? Can our condition be any worse? Can it be more mean and abject? I will not speak here of the destructions which the scuttling of the rule of law has done in the Nigerian business climate.

I have just finished reading Pat Utomi’s new book with the title, “Why Not.” The book is basically on State capture, the reign of new dictatorship, “criminal hijack of politics in Nigeria” and the undermining of the rule of law in Nigeria. With the following rhetorical questions the author makes a fascinating pertinent remark about Nigerian lawyers and abandonment of the rule of law. “Why is there such a disregard today for the rule of law?” Why are even lawyers, as a body of civil society, not protesting this with the vehemence of knowing where such a mood propels society towards? Somalia is a clear example of where a country that abandons the rule of law ends up.

It is instructive also that the example I often use to challenge lawyers to take up a stand on issues of the rule of law as a duty from their privilege of learning is Pakistan, where lawyers marched on the streets in protest when the Chief Justice of the country was summarily removed by the executive branch”. Certainly this remark rings a bell in the ear of Nigerian lawyers especially with regard to the forgery of an ex-parte order by an inferior court just to make sure that former Chief Justice Walter Ononghen was summarily fired.