Like the proverbial sleeping giant, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) may have suddenly woken up from its slumber and returned to its noble role of giving the fledgling country the needed drive and keeping its leadership under necessary watch. KEHINDE OSASONA writes.
Is national dialogue a panacea?
Considering the roles that the bar and the bench had played in enthroning and shaping Nigeria’s nascent democracy in years past, not many were taken aback when last week at a National Dialogue on the State of the Nation organized by the body, its President, Mr Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau publicly apologized to Nigerians on behalf of the body over what he termed “Abdication of responsibility on the part of the legal profession.”
The NBA president said: “Like most professions in the country, the NBA is expected to be a union that holds leaders accountable and offers necessary leadership advice to those at the helm of affairs.
Maikyau, while decrying the challenges confronting the country, added that the legal professionals were supposed to be instrumental to leadership development.
He said: “I dare say, with the utmost respect, that to a large extent, our experience today as a country is a direct result of the legal profession’s abdication of the duty to provide direction and leadership to the people.
“I must, therefore, as one who is privileged to lead the Bar at this time, apologize to Nigerians for the abdication of our role.
“Today, as members of the Bar, we are reputed more for how much fees we charge our clients as opposed to the discharge of our primary call to offer guidance and/or offer ourselves for the advancement of the cause of our country.
“This apology is necessary because no other group of professionals is called to this privileged position as the lawyers, which also comes with a corresponding responsibility to provide leadership.”
Going forward, the body has berthed a national dialogue as a prologue to a renewed fight to save the country once again as was the case during the inglorious military era, with a promise never to look back in its quest to heal a nation in distress.
Present at the declaration were political parties and their presidential flag bearer; Mr Hamza Al-Mustapha (Action Alliance), Omoyele Sowore (African Action Congress (AAC), Professor Peter Umeadi (All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Prince Malik Ado Ibrahim (Young Progressives Party (YPP) and Mr Dan Nwanyanwu of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) among others.
The pronouncement which was laced with so many assurances enveloped the classy hall which was populated by dignitaries in both the political, media and legal parlance.
No doubt, it took many by surprise as admitting such guilt and then apologizing publicly was seen as something very unusual in this clime whether it was coming from an individual or institutions.
Interestingly too, having observed the not too impressive intervention from the legal firmament, some analysts who spoke with Blueprint commended the body for swallowing its pride and owned up that it has indeed failed the nation for not playing its role well.
Opeagbe Onifade, a Lagos-based public analyst, hinged his views on the assertion that the bench and the bar ought to stand firm and defend a nation, especially when it is drifting and on the brink of collapse.
Similarly, Lawson Ogubie once noted that one of the issues that occupy the front burner of Nigerian polity is good governance, noting that bad governance has been unanimously identified as the bane of the country’s epileptic economy. He has therefore advocated the need for a holistic nation building.
Significantly, the stance by the NBA leadership on the issue equally tallied with the late Dr. Tai Solarin’s view who once said: “Democracy cannot survive, let alone thrive, in any country without lawyers,”. It also stressed the need for the body to within the ambit of the law support the government to stem corruption and other criminal activities by the implementation of the policy.”
Fast forward to 2023, Maikyau at the occasion reaffirmed that the body has turned a new leaf, saying the country is blessed with arrays of brilliant, highly intellectual, resourceful, sagacious, industrious, well behaved and highly professional lawyers both on the Bench and the Bar.
Burden of leadership
Dwelling more on its admissibility and burden of leaderships as exemplified by the helmsman, Maikyau said: “It is my firm persuasion that if we had acted under the influence of the spirit behind the profound statements by Sir Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams (The first Nigerian called to the English bar on 17 November 1879), our experience as a nation would have been different; we would certainly not have been faced with the current socio-economic and political challenges.”
In the now celebrated historical statement, Williams was quoted to have said: “The legal practitioner lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country.”
He also quoted the late Sir Adetokunbo Ademola as saying: “The respect in which the Bar in any country is held is the best indicator of the freedom in that country.”
The NBA leader also argued that the body’s direct involvement in the activities of government, without losing sight of the ultimate objective of serving the people , cannot be over-emphasized, adding that it may yield more and better results.
He stated further that the legal profession to a great extent has not held the government accountable on behalf of the people.
“Appreciating this responsibility on our shoulders begins with the acknowledgement that as members of the legal profession, we have failed in several respects, and this is not because Nigerians lawyers lack the intellectual wherewithal to provide the desired leadership.
“Nigerian lawyers are some of the best in the world. Nigeria enjoys an array of brilliant, highly intellectual, resourceful, sagacious, industrious, well behaved and highly professional lawyers both on the bench and the bar.
“The glory the legal profession brought to this nation when the likes of Sir Udo Udoma, established the judiciary and pioneered the legal profession in Uganda, our deployment of legal knowledge and services to the Gambia and Prince Bola Ajibola held sway at the ICJ in Hague; the days when the Esos, Oputas, Idigbes, Nnamanis, Karibi-Whytes, Mohammed Bellos, Kalgos, Onyeamas, Nnaemeka Agus etc manned the judiocial psts in the nation; or when the FRA Williams, the GOK Ajayis, Abdulrasaks, Anyamenes, Abdulahi Ibrahim etc criss-crossed the length and breadth of this nation , we enjoy the compliments of some of the best legal minds the country ever produced; well cultured with excellent character.
“The challenges we faced as a body of legal professionals where a few amongst us have by their misconduct, brought disdain and disrespect to the bench and the bar remain of grave concern,” Maikyau said.
While refuting alleged professional misconduct by members, the NBA president argued further that such misconduct are neither its banner nor signposts, saying it cannot be a basis for the characterization of the legal profession in Nigeria.
“I urge Nigerians to repose confidence in the legal profession, hold us to account, report cases of misconduct and we are committed that the bad eggs amongst us are singled out, brought to book and dealt with decisively.
“The ultimate outcome of the 2023 elections will largely depend on the interface between the bench, the bar and the political gladiators. As members of the legal profession, serving either on the bench or at the bar, we owe Nigerians, sincere and honest participation in the process.
“We must do all that is legitimately within our abilities, motivated by the desire to serve the course of justice, to ensure that the relevant laws and rules, properly interpreted and applied, remain the guiding principles for our involvement in the process.
“While we shall stand with the courts and do everything legal to protect the integrity of the bench against any form of intimidation by the political class, any person or group of persons, we will not hesitate to call out and pursue disciplinary actions against erring judicial officials.
“Similarly, members of the bar who misconduct themselves while participating in the resolution of electoral disputes will face disciplinary action at the Legal Practitioners ‘Privilege Committee (LPPC), where Senior Advocates are involved,” Maikyau further explained.
With the new pledge therefore, it would not be out of place to assume that Maikyau might be leading a rebranded NBA on a mission to rescue a nation on the brink.