Examining arguments at the just-concluded 59th NBA Conference

It was the NBA’s 59th conference and the biggest gathering of lawyers and other stakeholders in the legal firmament in Africa. In this piece, KEHINDE OSASONA provided an insight into some of the issues raised.

The much-publicised 59th NBA conference with the theme: ‘Facing the future’ has come and gone but while it lasted, it provided for robust interface on how to address many obvious lacunas scuttling the wheel of effective dispensation of justice and challenges plaguing the country’s legal profession.

The 4-day gathering equally gave room for lawyers, stakeholders’ and participants in the legal firmament to discuss other relevant and complex matters which has long constituted a clog.

Tackling issues around Judiciary independence

Is the Nigeria judiciary actually independent in the real contextual usage of ‘independence’? Or better still, is the constitutional guarantee of judicial independence is just nothing but mere sloganeering? These and other burning issues came to the fore at the NBA conference in Lagos and were discussed extensively.

Adducing to this fact, stakeholders have described the reaction of the chief justice of Nigeria at the just- concluded NBA conference as a pointer to the fact that indeed, the judiciary is still subject to interference.

Firing a salvo on the lack of autonomy for judicial officers at the gathering, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Muhammad Tanko, started with a Caveat, “I have lost my independence’

The CJN was quoted as saying that the judiciary deserves full financial autonomy to be effective, arguing that if truly independent with full financial autonomy, the judges in the law temple would not but uphold justice without interference.

He however reiterated that the arm of goverment which he heads won’t lose its firm grip on the mantle of honesty, transparency and integrity because of that.

 said, “By the grace of Almighty God, I will tenaciously hold on to that even until that very moment of my last breath on earth.

“Let me assure this assembly that we don’t look at anybody’s face or feelings before making our decisions.

“If there is any deity to be feared, that deity is the Almighty God. We will never be subservient to anybody, no matter how highly placed.”

Also warning that the Supreme Court would not hold back punishments from those he called blatant abusers of the court processes, Muhammad pleaded with those preventing judicial independence to desist.

“Please, all that are concerned, let us enjoy our independence. If you say that I am independent, but in a way whether I like it or not, I have to go and bend down asking for funds, I have lost my independence,” Muhammad said.

Restating commitment to rule of law

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari at the occassion reiterated his commitment to the country’s rule of law.

Represented by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), President Buhari at the occasion reiterated his administration’s commitment to the ‘rule of law and justice’, saying that  the theme of the conference is a reflection of the NBA as a critical stakeholder in the affairs of the nation.

While noting that the conference represents the largest gathering of lawyers, he expressed the desire that it would assist in nation building.

Shortly before declaring the conference opened, the president nevertheless urged delegates to take advantage of the conference to harness legal practice.

NBA and national agenda

As earlier remarked by the NBA helmsman, Paul Usoro, while it lasted, the quality of arguments and issues pertaining to the judiciary arm raised at the conference made the platform suitable for an agenda setting medium.

Contemporary issues of national interest according to Usoro, was part of the purpose of the gathering.

NBA Chief was quoted as saying, “Participants should note that part of the purpose of the annual conferences is to afford lawyers the opportunity to discuss comprehensively some of those germane issues.

Speaking further, he said that the legal practitioners would also have an opportunity to review the framework within which they operate.

Apart from renewing friendships during such annual conferences, Usoro noted that it would also enable lawyers to properly disposed in ensuring a protection, promotion, and preservation of the rule of law.

“The essence of being lawyers is to ensure that the rule of law is preserved as lawyers represent the voice of the oppressed,” he said.

On the sanctity of the rule of law in the society, Usoro explained further that the rule of law ensures access to justice, protection of the weak and strong, and independence of the judiciary, adding that it has no preference for tribe or political groups.

Law and technology

The place of technology in modern justice dispensation cannot be over-emphasised. Issues equally cropped up on the importance of technology in quickening dispensation of justice in the country.

Doing justice to the topic while delivering his keynote address at the conference, president of the International Bar Association (IBA), Mr Horatio Neto, emphasised on the need for legal practice to embrace technology, adding that modern law practice must be Information Communication Technology (ICT) compliant.

Explaining further, Neto noted that as part of efforts in realising the theme for the 2019 conference, the Bar must now look forward to adapting itself to the reality of new technology.

He said, “There is the need for technology to infiltrate every aspect of legal practice including filing of processes as well as assignment of these processes.”

 Lawyers, according to the IBA President  are more eager to work in a technology environment, saying that he is optimistic that the legal profession will attain the technological height of creating robots to execute legal works.

Going forward

It is hoped that apart from the much-craved independence of the arm, all categories of judges must have an independent and uncontrolled mind to reach decisions and dispense justice fairly to all manner of men without fear or favor.

 NBA as the apex body in the opinion of stakeholders in the legal parlance should also be ready to implement all the issues raised at the conference and strive to work with the Judges in the course of dispensing their duties, not only for the betterment of the country’s hard-earned democracy but also its citizens.

Also, as noted by some stakeholders, the state of affairs in the judiciary in the country today totally undermines the independence of the judiciary and it can only be corrected if judges are seen to be operating in an atmosphere bereft of fear and insecurity.

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