Lawyers at the CCT on Monday

The NBA cannot afford to gloss over pertinent issues of the moment, writes Martin Okpaleke

The Annual General Conference of Nigerian lawyers under the aegis of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) which took place in Lagos has just ended. Theme of this year’s conference was “Facing the Future” of law and legal practice. Some of the sub-themes include “Advocacy Practice and the Future”, “Diversity and Inclusion for Better Future”, “Embracing Emerging Technologies”, “Emerging Practice Areas, Practice and Procedure”.

The foregoing, without doubt, are very important themes and subthemes worthy of concern and consideration by any serious association of professional lawyers interested in proactively placing and preparing its members to embrace emerging and future developments as these affect the legal profession. The National Executive Committee of NBA and the Technical Committee on Conference Planning that planned and packaged the conference thus rightly deserve commendation for developing these themes and subthemes for the conference.

However, it would seem that while preoccupied with facing the future the conference may have neglected or failed to address the present that ordinarily ought to lay proper foundation for the future and elicit lessons for navigating to and through the future and flourishing in the future. This is because the NBA failed at address at the conference burning national issues affecting Nigeria such as pervasive nationwide insecurity of lives and property, explosion of the strange phenomenon of internally displaced persons (IDPs), the issues of terrorism, insurgency and escalation of farmers/herdsmen clashes nationwide cum the challenge of bringing livestock production into the 21st Century, inclusive of good governance and purposeful national leadership.

The seeming failure of the AGC 2019 to adequately address the challenges of the present or at all while appearing to be focused solely and exclusively for the future paints a picture of a newly insular NBA that has detached or seeks to detach itself from the burning realities of today’s Nigeria and possibly enter into a state of denial concerning the dangerous state of today’s Nigeria all in the name or even pretext of facing and preparing for the future. The NBA cannot afford to insulate, isolate and alienate itself from the challenges of the moment in Nigeria. Lawyers dare not abdicate or surrender their unique roles in society, particularly in a developing society such as Nigeria at this present moment of crises that threaten the continuing unity and existence of Nigeria as one nation with one destiny.

In fairness to the NBA, the issues relating to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary were addressed at the conference, but these are not enough. The unpardonable silence of the NBA in highlighting through its theme and subthemes issues relating to insecurity in Nigeria at the moment and disobedience to court orders by the Buhari government and general executive lawlessness in Nigeria is mindboggling. Why the silence?

This grievous error may have wittingly or unwittingly served to encourage the triumphalism and chest-beating of the Attorney General of the Federation who declared the conference open on behalf of President Mohammadu Buhari and more or less admitted in his speech that the executive invaded the internal disciplinary and self-cleansing domain of the Nigerian judiciary in pursuit of alleged sacred cows while still managing to maintain a straight face in proclaiming in his speech that the judiciary is independent.

To further show the virtual complete removal of the NBA from the realities of the total insecurity in the land at the moment, the NBA failed to invite to the conference the leading security and law enforcement officials of the country to address Nigerian lawyers and the nation on insecurity issues and the total breakdown of law and order in Nigeria, particularly considering evidence from recent fatal clash between the police and soldiers. The NBA is not just any association in Nigeria. It is a very important association. The NBA must make itself very relevant to the people of Nigeria and to Nigeria as a developing nation. Lawyers are officers in the temple of justice. But they perceive their role in Nigeria beyond the law courts and the legal profession. The NBA is a vital stakeholder in the socio-economic and political development of Nigeria. Considering the abuses of the judiciary by the government, the confidence of the public in the judiciary has been eroded. Therefore the Nigerian lawyers either through individually or through the NBA have a sacred role to play in restoring the confidence of the people in the judiciary. The NBA should reactivate the potency and efficacy of the law and the rule of law in addressing and overcoming the burning security and other challenges of the present. This will curtail the spiral decent to lawlessness, resort to self-help, impunity and siege mentality in Nigeria at the moment.

Therefore now that the NBA Conference is over lawyers should tackle the crucial challenges of the present especially the insecurity of lives and property and executive lawlessness imperiling Nigeria at the moment. A nation bereft of the rule of law is heading for anarchy. The lawyers must act now to save the future for Nigeria.

Okpaleke is a Lagos-based Legal Practitioner