My agenda for the Nigerian bar—Mahmoud (SAN)
President-elect of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud (SAN) is angry with the state of the nation, particularly as it affects justice sector in Nigeria.
Mahmoud who listed certain key areas that needed emergency attention has said that he was waiting to be sworn in before swinging into action.
In his inaugural meeting with newsmen after his electoral victory, he presented what appears the unveiling of his real agenda for the Nigerian bar.
The speech therefore affords one a peep into what is expected in the bar in the next two years under Mahmoud presidency. Sit back to enjoy his blueprint.
The full text:
The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), other national officers here present, gentlemen and ladies of the media, ladies and gentlemen. I welcome you to this media conference. As you are aware, the NBA has just had its 2016 elections, following which I emerged as the President-Elect of the NBA. I will remain ever grateful to the Bar for the repose of confidence in me at such a time as this, and I shall never betray this confidence. The purpose of this media event is to mark my formal presentation to the world and also to address certain topical national issues, which require the input or position of the NBA. As a strategic professional body, part of our responsibility is to speak and act in the public interest. This statement is divided into two parts. Part A covers some perspectives on the state of the Bar, while part B deals with the state of the nation.
- THE STATE OF THE BAR:
- NBA President as the Principal Spokesperson of the Bar
The NBA Constitution provides that the President of the NBA is the principal spokesperson of the Bar. This means that in addition to leading the Bar, the NBA President speaks on behalf of the Bar whenever the need arises. And there is only one NBA President at a time. Although the NBA has just conducted its elections, the President-elect does not speak for the Bar nor assume presidential responsibility until he is sworn in at the last day of the NBA Annual General Conference in August. For now I remain a President-Elect. To this end, Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN remains the Principal spokesperson of the NBA, and all questions relating to the Bar should be directed to him.
2016 NBA Election
I must congratulate the NBA President, Augustine Alegeh, SAN for the innovative reforms he introduced into the NBA electoral process, especially in respect of the universal suffrage and e-voting. When the idea of e-voting was first mooted, it seemed unachievable. But as the saying goes, “it always seems impossible until it is done”. I commend the Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA) for organising free, fair and credible elections. I want to use this medium to appeal to our members who participated actively in the elections but who lost to avoid any form of bitterness and divisive rhetoric. We are all winners. Let us work together to build #ABraveNewBar.
The New NBA House in Abuja
The NBA is the largest professional body not only in Nigeria but also in Africa and south of the Sahara with a database of over 90, 000 lawyers, 114 branches spread across the 36 states and the FCT, Abuja. It also has Practice Sections and Institutes. The NBA deserves a magnificent office structure in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). I commend Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN for keeping faith with the philosophy of this gigantic edifice. This he achieved even in the face of daunting challenges. This has demonstrated continuity of policies in governance and leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association. My debt of gratitude goes to those who have played various roles in ensuring a speedy completion of this project and ensuring that commissioning is imminent. It is my fervent hope and prayer that we would all witness the commissioning of the NBA House soonest on the 12th of August, 2016 as scheduled by the outgoing administration.
My Agenda For the Bar
I began my campaign by presenting to you, an agenda, which encapsulates my vision and mission statements, with a view to enlisting your support to create one of the best Bar Associations in the world. While my vision is that of #ABraveNewBar, driven by the knowledge and skills of its members, as a veritable agent for national transformation, my mission statement speaks to the issues relating to regulation, representation, re-engineering and public interest (3Rs-P). To deliver on the transformation agenda, I need not only an effective and efficient structure, but also the support and cooperation of all our members, including those who, for some good reasons did not support my candidature. I will publish my implementation roadmap upon inauguration.
STATE OF THE NATION:
The Legislative and Justice Sector Reform
Our campaign organisation, notes with grave concern that the justice sector in Nigeria has been neglected for so long. This neglect, no doubt, stems from lack of appreciation of the very important role the justice sector plays in the society. We are worried that so much effort has been put into the reform of the justice sector but we are yet to see the concrete impact of such initiatives. There have been so many talk shops, a plethora of recommendations and promises but the state of the sector is on the decline. The present state of affairs, in which other sectors are given more attention than the justice sector ought to be reversed. We must begin to give the sector the attention it deserves. The slow pace in legislative activities is also a clog in the wheel of progress in the justice sector. By its lawmaking powers, the National Assembly has the potential to turn the lives of the people around. We enumerate below some Justice Sector Bills that have remained unattended to for some years, and which stand the risk of starting a new legislative round because of the inability of the Legislature to pass them. Some of the Bills threatened with abandonment include, but are not limited to the following:
Administration of Justice Commission Bill; to ensure effective supervision and coordination of the administration of justice by all the relevant organs.
Bill to Amend the Legal Practitioners Act; to improve the standard of legal practice by, among other things, introducing continuing legal education requirements for practitioners and strong regulation.
Prison Act (Amendment) Bill; to provide a more appropriate legal framework for prisons administration and the treatment of offenders, consistent with constitutional and international standards, as well as to make the prisons more corrective institutions.
Police (Amendment) Bill; to introduce fundamental changes in the mission and operations of the police and improve its effectiveness in providing security services to communities.
Legal Education Act Amendment Bill; to provide a legal frame work to ensure that legal education regime responds to current needs of the law students, the legal profession and the wider society.
We call on the leadership and relevant committees of the National Assembly to expedite legislative action with a view to passing the above mentioned justice sector bills into law.
Corruption is a cankerworm that impedes economic development, cripples the ability of developing countries like Nigeria to attract foreign investment, and hinders the growth of institutions that consolidate democracy. Development can only thrive in an environment where the incidence of corruption is very minimal. While the NBA commends the current efforts to fight corruption, we note that the present legal and institutional framework which is in place for anti-corruption crusade is defective in structure and substance. The current anti-corruption crusade seems to be much more focused on fighting corruption after it has occurred, but not much attention is paid to preventive measures with a view to minimizing the incidence of corruption.
To successfully and substantially reduce or eradicate corruption, the legal framework, systems and initiatives for investigation and prosecution, education against corruption and above all prevention must equally be robust and effective. The current system is not sufficiently robust to prevent corruption within the public service system. To combat corruption, a combination of strong laws and the presence of effective and efficient anti-corruption agencies is required, but this isn’t all that is required, particularly when corruption has become endemic as is our situation. It is a fact that most, if not all acts of corruption involve ethical breaches. If this is so, then a strong and effective ethical framework is important for success.
We call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to initiate measures that seek to prevent corruption from occurring, in addition to the fight after corruption has occurred. The NBA under my watch will set up an Anti-Corruption Commission charged with the responsibility to:
- i) identify all those involved in the unwholesome and indeed criminal practice of judicial corruption,
- ii) investigate same and refer the outcome to the relevant anti-corruption law enforcement agencies for prosecution,
iii) and any other action they may deem fit to take in conjunction with the CJN.
Security of lives and property has become a permanent topic on the front burner of our national discourse. Security of life and government is constitutionally the fundamental objective of governance. The new faces of crime like kidnapping, terrorism, insurgency, cybercrime and incessant clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers, etc in recent times have led to monumental loss of lives and properties of Nigerians. The need to manage conflict including its preventions shall draw the attention of this administration.
While we commend the efforts of the Federal Government in tackling the security challenges which we are facing us Nigeria, we urge the government to spare no efforts at ensuring peace, security, law and order in Nigeria.
We must again reiterate that the NBA will continue to support security measures taken by the Federal Government subject however, to the security agencies abiding by their rules of engagement, which will ensure respect for the fundamental rights of the citizens concerned and compliance with the rule of law.
Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria
The Business environment in Nigeria and many African countries is characterized by informality, predatory behavior and stifling, obsolete or completely-absent business regulations, which discourage investors. According to the “Doing Business Report”, the most common areas that require attention are as follows:
– Starting a business
– Securing credit
– Securing construction permits
– Property registration
– Paying tax
– Enforcing Contracts
– Resolving insolvency.
We strongly recommend the following measures in order to encourage the inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI):
– Enactment of investment friendly legislations
– Putting in place good tax policies
– Promoting transparency, accountability and probity in governance
– Ensuring that citizens account for their actions and inactions
– Diversifying from a mono-economy into a broad economy
– Investing in education to raise literacy level.
– Research, publication and implementation of a legislative agenda on Ease of Doing Business.
Independence of The Judiciary and the Challenge of Funding
The Judiciary is one of the three arms of government in a democratic society like Nigeria. There is therefore, the need to observe the principles of separation of powers. Accordingly, the independence of the Judiciary must be guaranteed and secured. To secure the independence of the Judiciary, it must enjoy true financial autonomy, and a full self-accounting status. The funds of the Judiciary should be released to it as soon as same is approved in the budgets of the Federal and State governments. The personal emoluments of judicial officers, together with their other conditions of service, should be enhanced. An independent Judiciary is important for preserving the rule of law, another principle of good governance. An independent and self-accounting Judiciary is inevitable in ensuring good governance, rule of law, and economic development.
As things stand at the moment, the Judiciary is starved of funding and is not self-funding. According to a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Honourable Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, “over the years, funding of the courts has remained a challenge as evidenced in the condition of many courts in Nigeria today. Statistics has shown that funding from the Federal Government has witnessed a steady decline since 2010 ….”
One of the immediate tasks that our administration will be embarking upon is to inaugurate a committee that will take stock of the finances of the courts both states and federal.
It is gratifying to note, that sometime in the not too distant past, the Federal High Court sitting in both Lagos and Abuja, in two different suits upheld the financial independence of the Judiciary in a case brought against the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the National Judicial Council and the National Assembly. We hereby call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to obey the order of the Court in both cases.
The NBA reiterates that Government must recognize that it is only the existence of a virile, fearless and a well-funded independent Judiciary that can guarantee an enduring democratic government, and the maintenance of law and order. It must be recognized that a good Legal regime in Nigeria will provide the enabling environment for foreign investments, economic growth and social development.
We call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to review upwards, the funds allocated to the Judiciary and to restore the fiscal autonomy of the Judiciary, which the court and the Constitution have conferred on the Judiciary. We believe that adequate funding for the judiciary will entrench a functional Judiciary.
Rule of Law and the Challenge of Impunity
We are worried, not only about the increasing failure of some Nigerians to abide by the requirements of rule of law in their actions, but also we are concerned with the high level of impunity among a reasonable number of Nigerians.
The Rule of Law is the only mechanism so far devised to provide impartial control of the use of power by the State. This single sentence is sufficient to explain why the Rule of Law is pre-eminently the best available system for organizing civil society. An independent, impartial Judiciary, presumption of innocence; the right to a fair and public trial, without undue delay; a rational, proportionate and appropriate punishment, a strong and independent legal profession; equality of all before the law; these are all fundamental principles of the Rule of Law.
The NBA shall put mechanisms in place with a view to monitoring and flagging acts of impunity that fly in the face of the rule of law. We shall demand that government should address cases of infractions and also hold those responsible for such violations accountable irrespective of their status in the society.
The Judiciary and Various Reform Efforts.
We are worried about the delay or snail`s pace at which the Federal government is approaching the issue of judicial reforms. Despite the diverse investment of time, financial and human resources in judicial reforms, result-oriented steps have not been taken to pass the recommendations into law. The latest effort relates to the report of the Stakeholders’ Committee, which was a committee set up by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Dahiru Musdapher, GCON. His Lordship had on the 4th of October, 2011, set up a 28-person Committee on legal and judicial reforms.
It is important to note that the report of the said Stakeholders’ Committee on Judicial Reform gave rise to the drafting of the “Fifth Alteration Bill, 2012” as it relates to the Judicature. The Fifth Alteration Bill, which has been presented to the National Assembly, seeks further amendment to some sections of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) on Judicial Reforms. It is envisaged that when the Fifth Alteration Bill is passed into law, it will strengthen the Judiciary and address most of the fundamental challenges being faced at present. The Bar believes that the passage of the Fifth Alteration Bill and the implementation of past recommendations mentioned above will go a long way in strengthening the Judiciary and enhancing its role as the last hope of the common man and driver of the tenets of democracy, rule of law, and economic development.
We therefore call on the National Assembly to take speedy legislative steps as a matter of urgency to pass the said Fifth Alteration Bill into law.
I wish to reiterate, that we shall run our administration on the core values of integrity and ethical Lawyering. Every Lawyer in Nigeria shall be subjected to ethical scrutiny and all those who have integrity deficit shall be exposed and brought to justice. We shall not condone a situation where the unprofessional attitudes of some of our members will contaminate our noble profession. Nigerian Lawyers have voted for #ABraveNewBar and it shall no longer be business as usual but it will now be business unusual. Thank you Gentlemen of the press in this new journey for a Brave new Bar.
Thank you and God bless.
Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, OON, SAN, FCIarb (UK)
President–elect, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)