The Nigerian Bar Association adopted the Address of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association at the National Executive Committee meeting of the NBA held on 20th June, 2019 as the position of the Nigerian Bar Association on the state of the nation.
In his address, the President of the NBA, Paul Usoro, SAN, raised two critical issues of urgency that personally affected all lawyers and Nigerians, no matter our regions of origin, religion, stations in life or professions. According to the President, the first is the issue relates to the security of lives and property or more correctly, the pervasive insecurity of lives and property in our land. To shed light on the statement he related the tragic events of three colleagues, Honourable Kennedy Ofuezuem Amin Nwashindi of Asaba Branch; Frank Promise Igwe of Port Harcourt Branch and Lowuruga Obadiah Yabura of Wukari Branch, who had been kidnapped and killed by their abductors or in the case of Frank Igwe who was assassinated in broad daylight.
The second issue is on what the NBA President termed as the twin “independence pillars” of the rule of law – i.e. independence of the judiciary and independence of the legal profession. Mr Usoro also mentioned the penchant of government authorities to disobey court orders and the various bottlenecks that encumber and inhibit access to justice by the citizens. With a focus particularly on the independence of the judiciary which means not only the independence of tenure and control of funds but also the latitude to have an independent and uncontrolled mind to reach decisions and dispense justice fairly to all manner of men without fear or favour.
There has been a continuous outcry for the enforcement of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution that provide for the autonomy of the Judiciary but State Executives continue to prefer controlling the purse of the Executive and using that as a form of control over the arm of government. According to Mr. Usoro, SAN, Judges are threatened, intimidated and blackmailed mostly by the executive arms of government and their agencies both at the Federal and State levels.
According to the NBA President, “the robustness of the judiciary lies, not only in the soundness of its judgments but in the inherent right of judges to dissent even amongst themselves and to make independent judgments. If Judges can dissent amongst themselves, then it should be expected and it is a right that inheres in the office for Their Lordships to dissent from the opinions, wishes and thinking of State officials, whether at the Federal or State Governments.”
The President also charged members of the Bar and fellow citizens when he said “the government must guarantee and we – the Bar and the Bench – must rise up to protect the independence of the judiciary and the right of our judicial officers to have independent minds in the discharge of their onerous responsibilities. We would, by so doing, be promoting and protecting the Rule of Law in our land.”
The 2nd part of the 2ndsecond issue addressed by the NBA President is also the independence of the Bar. According to him, lawyers have also begun to feel intimidated and are unable to truly practice their profession without fear of being labelled “Anti – Government”.
The two issues raised have profound impact and effect on how society operates. Without the rule of law and security of lives and property, society gradually descends into a state of anarchy and democracy becomes a mere pretension. Democracy itself cannot survive without the rule of law.
It is important that that the government and the people pay attention to the issues raised in the NBA President’s address as they speak to our collective freedoms and security as a people.