Your Excellency, the Executive Governor of Kogi State, Alh. Yahaya Bello, the Hon. Chief Judge of Kogi State, Hon. Justice Nasir .A. Ajana ,CON, Judges of the Kogi State High Court and Judges of the Customary Court of Appeal, the Honourable Attorney General of Kogi State and Commissioner for Justice, members of the Kogi State Executive Council, National Officers of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), Honourable Benchers, Eminent Bar Leaders, Distinguished members of NBA-National Executive Committee (NEC), Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is my pleasure to welcome you to this quarterly regular meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of Nigerian Bar Association. I salute our distinguished members of NEC who have continued to travel across the country at great personal risk and expense to attend these meetings. Our regular NEC meetings have become an essential means by which the NBA connects to ordinary Nigerians as we seek to continue to exert our influence in promoting the rule of law, good governance and accountability in our country. These meetings also reinforce our bonds of unity and promote understanding and comraderie amongst our members across the country.
Your Excellency it is a pleasure to be back here again to the historic town of Lokoja. Many of us may not be aware that Lokoja was the first colonial capital of Northern Nigeria. Sir Frederick Lugard was also refuted to have ruled or administered Nigeria after the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914 from Lokoja, thereby making it the first official capital of Nigeria. Indeed some historians believe that the name Nigeria was coined here in Lokoja by a lady British journalist Flora Shaw who later became Lord Lugard’s wife.
Your Excellency, you may probably know that Kogi State occupies a distinct place of honour in the Nigerian Legal profession. Aside from the many eminent and distinguished lawyers and jurists the State has produced, it has also produced two past Presidents of the Nigerian Bar Association. I am the only non-Kogi person from Northern Nigeria to have the honour of leading the association as President. You can see why we are excited and honoured to be back in Lokoja for one of our meetings. Since we arrived yesterday, we have been warmly received by our colleagues. We were hosted to sumptuous dinner and also a night of cultural show by the Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Nasir A. Ajana CON. We are grateful to His Excellency the Deputy Governor as well as the Right Honourable Speaker and other dignitaries for gracing the occasion.
Your Excellency, meetings of the National Executive Committee of the NBA hold every quarter. This is the third since I assumed leadership of the Association back in August 2016. The NEC is the highest decision making body of the NBA aside from the Annual General Meeting. We use the occasion of the NEC to review our affairs and brief our members on various activities in the preceding quarter. We also review the State of the Nation and issue public statements on current burning issues affecting the country. This meeting in Lokoja will not be different. Permit me therefore to commence commenting on some key issues on the State of the Nation.
3. STATE OF THE NATION
The May 29, 2017 celebration marks 18 years since the return to civil rule and of continued uninterrupted democratic governance in our Country. This is a great achievement in a continent previously, and indeed still in many parts, marked by strife and instability. The journey to democracy is often long and tedious. We nonetheless expect and hope that our country will continue to make steady progress in consolidating its democracy, strengthening its institutions, improving in the quality of governance and delivering on improved public services to its citizens. Our country needs to assume its proper leadership in Africa and indeed amongst the comity of nations globally.
Three days ago on the occasion of our national Democracy day, on behalf of our members, I congratulated the government and people of Nigeria for our, by and large, successful journey in democracy. I urged however that we do not become complacent. We must continue to be vigilant in the defence of our democracy and democratic institutions. I emphasized the need for continued engagement by all of us, either as citizens or on other platforms such us this, to always remind our leaders of their responsibility to the nation and its citizens for good and responsible governance. Although our country continues to face challenges, yet these challenges diminish to insignificance when compared with the enormous potentials of our country.
Here in Kogi State, we have noticed significant successes by your administration. I will on behalf of the Nigerian Bar Association therefore like to commend you on these achievements. We urge you to consolidate on the modest successes and achievements attained so far in various areas, including infrastructural development, education and health as well as restoring peace and reducing criminality in the State. Like the rest of Nigeria, the potentials of Kogi State are truly phenomenal.
Let me now move to broader national issues:
(a) National Safety and Security
i. Safeguarding the Country’s Democracy
In recent days there have been suggestions in the media of possible instigation from segment of the political class for military intervention in the governance of the country. This followed statements credited to the Chief of Army Staff Lt General Tukur Buratai of unorthodox approaches by politicians to the Nigerian Military. The NBA wishes to express its concern and condemn in very strong terms any such moves from whatever quarters. Nigeria’s democracy and democratic institutions must not be imperilled by any undemocratic change of government.
We commend the Nigerian Military for its role in restoring security in the country especially in the North East Region and indeed many other areas of conflict. We urge the military to remain focused on its constitutional duties of protecting the sovereignty of the country and its territorial integrity. The military must resist and expose any attempt from any quarters to lure it into any unconstitutional role.
ii. Agitations for Secession
The Nigerian Bar Association wishes to reaffirm its commitment to the national unity and integrity of the Nigerian State. I believe, as many of us here do, that we are better together than in our smaller enclaves. We recognise however, that the task of building a strong, viable and effective federal system, which is the most suitable arrangement given our size and diversity, is a continuous process and involves continuing negotiations and adjustments. We accordingly urge all groups dissatisfied with the present system or federal structure to continue to advocate or agitate for reforms or improvements in a peaceful and non-violent manner. The NBA commits itself to facilitating and supporting any genuine peaceful initiative for constitutional reforms in governance or in our federal structure.
iii. Public Safety and Security
The NBA notes and commends the Federal Government on the great improvement in public safety and security. The administration inherited a country with a raging insurgency in the North East very disruptive militant activities in the Niger Delta region communal strife in Southern Kaduna and indeed sectarian violence and criminality in many States and communities across the country. These have led to unprecedented loss of lives and property of Nigerians. These challenges have to a large extent been overcome in many parts of the country. The insurgency is now ebbing.
While we commend the efforts of the government and the Nigerian Military on the success so far achieved, there is clearly a lot more that needs to be done. In the North East, the humanitarian crisis is still acute. We urge the Federal Government also to double efforts in bringing relief to the victims. There must be greater efforts in coordinating the activities of various agencies of government and other humanitarian organisations to alleviate the suffering of the people and especially to get the farming population back to the farmlands before the rains fully set in.
The conflict between herdsmen and farmers in many States across the country as well as the communal and sectarian conflicts in Southern Kaduna are far from over. We urge both Federal and state governments to act in a concerted and responsible manner to address these conflicts.
I informed NEC at Aba 0n the 2nd of March,2017 that the NBA undertook a mission to Southern Kaduna to meet with communities and their leaders in efforts to douse the tension and seek solution to the strife and violence in that region. It was clear to us that much of the conflict is fuelled by politicians as they jostle for various advantages. In general the ordinary people are happy to live peacefully with their neighbours. We call on all leaders to work assiduously to restore peace in our various communities. Recently the NBA was back in that region to dessiminate its report and findings and to continue to partner with community leaders in our search for peace and reconciliation.
The NBA is currently working with other civil society groups to develop a transitional justice policy framework that will be proposed to the Federal Government of Nigeria for adoption. The objective is to assist the process of reconciliation and the rebuilding of justice sector institutions in conflict ridden areas with a view to restoring lasting peace in those areas within the context of the rule of law.
The NBA calls upon the Federal Government of Nigeria to strengthen the capacity of security and law enforcement Agencies, especially the Nigerian Police Force, so that these agencies will be able to perform their roles optimally.
(b) State of the Economy
The Nigerian economy has been in recession since 2015. This has been triggered by fall in oil prices in the international market and compounded by our failure to plan during the period of high oil prices. There are indications that the economy is now beginning to pick up and we are gradually easing out of recession. We commend the Federal Government on the various initiatives to revamp the economy. The recent improvements however have by no means translated into improved quality of life for most ordinary Nigerians. The figures coming out of the National Bureau of Statistics on unemployment and poverty continue to be dismal. More worrisome is the regional disparities in the poverty and human development indices. The Business community continues to express concerns and scepticism as to the adequacy of government’s plans and strategy.
To tackle the current economic recession and address the Nigerian economy, the government recently launched the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) a four year medium term strategy aimed at restoring growth and macroeconomic stability and diversification in the economy. The Plan is expected to lead to the growth of the nation's economy by at least 7% percent between 2017 to 2020. We commend the federal government for this initiative.
The NBA urges the government to aggressively pursue the implementation of the various programs and initiatives under the ERGP. We recommend strongly that implementation focus must be on creating more jobs and quality employment for Nigerian youths. Thousands of graduates many of them trained in sciences and engineering are roaming the streets without any gainful employment. This is unacceptable in a country with huge deficits in infrastructure: roads, energy, housing, schools etc. We must rethink government programs and policies and come up with new and innovative ideas of job and wealth creation. New ways of engaging our youth and encouraging entrepreneurship must be devised. In our democracy day press conference, I urged the Federal Government to completely overhaul of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) Scheme. I wish to reiterate that call. The NYSC scheme has been very effective in the past in promoting national unity and integration. It is now generally perceived as a sham. We strongly recommend that in the face of current challenges we need to rethink the entire scheme to give it new energy and make it more relevant to today’s realities.
I also wish to reiterate my call on the present administration to revamp many of the legislations and the agencies that play key roles in the management of nation’s economy. These include the Public Procurement Act, the Privatisation Act, the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Act etc.
There is now a perception that these legislations and agencies established under them are no longer effective and have become a shadow of their past. We urge the government to take a hard look at these laws and agencies that have a direct bearing on economic management and enhancing transparency. We need to see new vigour in the economic management generally and in enhancing the effectiveness of these institutions. Many Nigerians were surprised for instance at the decision of the government to build new refineries without open competitive bidding given the size and magnitude of the project which would appear to be contrary to the Public Procurement Act. These kinds of decisions send a wrong signal to businesses and indeed investors. They create doubt on the commitment of government to transparency. We therefore wish to commend the Senate for passing a resolution stopping this project without complying with the due process of public procurement.
We commend the Senate for passing the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill which is one of the five bills proposed by the National Assembly dealing with the petroleum sector. We hope that this new bill if signed into law will greatly enhance the governance of the petroleum sector and achieve the much needed transparency. We urge that the remaining bills dealing with fiscal aspect, the revenue management framework, the downstream administration and the host community issues will be speedily dealt with. This will finally lay to rest the nearly two decades of our efforts to reform the legal framework for the management of our petroleum sector.
Your Excellency, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, still on the economy, I wish to commend the Acting President Prof. Yemi Osibanjo for the three Executive Orders recently signed. These were aimed at the removing of obstacles to private business, government budgeting, and movement of people and goods between Nigeria and other Countries. The Orders aim to promote transparency and efficiency in Nigeria's business environment, support local contents in public procurement by the federal government as well as ensure timely submission of annual budgetary estimates by Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal government.
The NBA calls upon the federal government of Nigeria to ensure diligent and effective implementation of the policies and measures in the Executive Orders, especially with regard to timely submission of annual budgetary estimates by the federal government.
The NBA wishes also to commend the government on its efforts and diversification of the economy, investing in agriculture, and promoting made in Nigeria goods. Our country is blessed with large and youthful population, therefore a large domestic market. Our recovery strategy should focus on promoting growth through domestic consumption of locally produced goods, addressing the energy problem and improving local infrastructure. We must invest in innovation and youth empowerment.
(c) Anti-Corruption Crusade.
Your Excellency, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the problem of corruption especially in the public sphere has remain defining character of the Nigerian State. While the current efforts by Anti-Corruption Agencies are commendable, we continue to urge for greater reforms of the various agencies with a view to enhancing their effectiveness. We are aware that a new anti-corruption policy and strategy has been developed and was validated at a stakeholder engagement at the Federal Ministry of Justice a few weeks ago. We are committed to assisting the government in achieving the objectives of this strategic plan.
The NBA still believes that a lot needs to be done in improving the general institutional framework for the fight against corruption. Though some successes have been scored especially following the whistle blowing policy of the government, yet it must be remembered that reliance on this whistle blowing itself is a signal to the overall weakness of policing and anti-crime agencies. We therefore call for more investment in the development of the capacity of anti-corruption agencies.
The NBA also calls for greater demonstration of commitment and synergy between the various branches of government. As it is, there is clear dissonance between the executive and legislative branches. A situation where the branches of government are unable to agree on the leadership of a key agency of government such as the EFCC is not only unfortunate but highly regrettable. This exposes our country to ridicule and questions the commitment of our leaders to the fight against corruption. We call on both the legislature and executive branches to as matter of urgency address the lingering issue of the leadership of the EFCC.
The NBA also calls on all agencies of government involved in the criminal justice sector to demonstrate a greater level of cooperation and synergy. The fight against corruption in our view is so central to the attainment of our national development objectives that we cannot afford to miss the current opportunity and momentum.
The NBA reiterates its commitment to enhancing the administration of criminal justice and to the fight against corruption in all our facets of national life.
(d) Judicial Reforms and Independence Of The Judiciary
The NBA wishes to once again pledge its support to the Chief Justice of Nigeria Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen in his current effort at improving the workings of the judiciary and rebuilding in the justice sector institutions. The NBA is committed to playing its role in support all initiatives aimed and enhancing the quality and effectiveness of our judiciary. The NBA and Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) are currently in the process of harmonising their recommendations of key areas of improvement in the workings of the judiciary and we will be forwarding same to the Hon. Chief Justice.
We commend the government for the modest enhancement of the Budget of the judiciary and we hope this will facilitate improvements in judicial infrastructure.
The NBA through its representatives on the National Judicial Council is working to design an implementation framework for the anti-corruption policy as approved in the National Judicial Policy. I sit on the sub-committee under the leadership of Hon. Justice Emmanuel Ayoola currently working to come-up with detailed recommendations on addressing corruption in all facets of the judiciary.
(e) Respect for Court Orders and Due Process
I have in my recent public statements continued to express our concern on the failure of the Federal Government to respect court orders especially in a number of high profile cases. The strength of a government is not demonstrated by its refusal or inability to respect its own institutional processes, rather by its ability to conduct the affairs of the state in strict conformity with the requirement of the law and the dictates of due process and the rule of law. The Nigerian Bar Association therefore wishes to use this opportunity to again call on the Federal Government adhere to the tenets of constitutional democracy. I call on the Federal authorities to wihout further delay respect of court rulings granting bail to accused persons standing trial on various charges in different court.
I have also recently expressed our concern over the fate Judges and Justices being investigated on charges or allegations of corruption. In the wake of the arrest and detention of certain judicial officers by the DSS, the NBA had taken the view that the judges affected should recuse themselves from judicial functions until the investigations and outcome of those investigations were determined. It is now more than 8 months after those investigations were launched. However, some of the affected Judges have neither been charged to court nor informed of their fate or outcome of the investigations. This situation is completely unsatisfactory and unacceptable.
The NBA calls on the Government to terminate those investigations to enable them resume their work as judicial officers.
4. STATE OF THE BAR
Your Excellency, My Lords, distinguished NEC members, let me now turn to the affairs of the bar. I want to report that we have continued to make progress in the our activities and in our efforts to achieve our defined objectives since I assumed the leadership of our association back in August last year.
As many of you know, we have after a detailed and painstaking process, developed a strategic plan for the next 3 years. This was approved at our last NEC meeting at Aba. Copies have been printed and widely circulate. Earlier this month on 17th May, I convened a donor conference at our National Secretariat in Abuja. This meeting was attended by many donors and development partners. We formally presented our strategic plan to them and sought collaboration and partnerships. I am happy to report that the enthusiasm has been great and hopefully, in the coming weeks we shall be signing off a number of partnerships.
(a) NBA Legal Profession Regulation Review Committee
As detailed in the NBA Strategic Plan, one of the key programme areas of this administration is a detailed review and reform of the objectives and framework for the regulation of the legal profession in Nigeria. We see this key and central to our efforts and modernising the legal profession and equipping to meet current challenges of modern state and demands of a competitive economy. I am happy to report that his committee has now completed its work and its final report is now ready and will be presented at this meeting. This involves key policy recommendations alongside a complete new draft bill that will replace the legal practitioner’s Act. The committee as you know was headed by Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN.
(b) NBA Public Interest Engagements
In the area of public interest engagements, I will like to report that the NBA has very active. We have voiced our views and opinions of burning national issues. Our North East and Niger Delta Task Forces have continued to work hard. We have continued our stakeholder engagements always seeking to across our recommendations aimed at promoting good governance and upholding the rule of law. I have reported on the mission to Southern Kaduna and the follow-up visit to disseminate our reports and recommendations. We in the last few weeks visited the Chief of Army Staff, the Minister of State for Petroleum and other continued to engage other stakeholders.
(c) The NBA Constitution and Discpline in the Bar
Let me now turn to some disturbing events in the affairs of our association. Recently there has been concerted efforts by some of our colleagues to orchestrate a seeming crisis in the Association. As we are aware in March 2017 at the instance of a member of our Association, the Federal High Court made certain pronouncements on the Constitution of the NBA. That decision declared our constitutions since 2001 as invalid. In other words the last valid Constitution of the NBA was that of 2001 which was registered in 2004. The court also made certain declarations affecting the validity of actions taken by the Association under those invalidated constitutions. It is being suggested that all our actions as an association in the last 15 or so years have by this decision been invalidated. Now the suggestion that all that has been done since 2004 by the NBA has been legally wiped off is of course something that has far reaching implication for the legal profession and it is capable of throwing the profession into complete disarray. After due consultation and consideration of the effect of this judgment, we appealed this decision.
The grouse of our members appears to be that the constitutions or amendments ought to have been registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Since these were not registered or approved, they are accordingly void.
We have carefully reviewed the situation and we took the view I should point out that the process of registration of the 2015 Constitution was initiated by the past administration of Mr. Alegeh. It was delayed but not abandoned. The Companies and Allied Matters Act does not stipulate a time frame for this. The Courts have not said that the Constitution cannot be registered. So we view this as an irregularity, which can be cured.
I am happy to inform this august body that the NBA 2015 constitution has been approved and registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission. We hope this will put an end to all the controversies and litigation on the NBA Constitution. Regardless of that however, we have also been consulting with the trustees and other stakeholders including some of our colleagues with grievances to put our heads together as colleagues to resolve all these matters in the interest of the profession and in the interest of the country.
My attention has been drawn to the development in the Lagos Branch which has decided to take a position contrary to the position of the national body. The branch was said to have voted to revert to previous branch bye laws contrary to the 2015 NBA Constitution. This position was taken despite the ongoing efforts of the national leadership of the association to find a resolution of the problem. This is unacceptable. Any election or activities conducted not in conformity with the 2015 NBA Constitution shall not be recognized by the NBA. I therefore caution against any belligerence that will undermine the unity of the bar. The country needs a strong legal profession with a strong voice and this is not the time for us to consume the association with our internal bickering. I urge all of us to tread cautiously. No one is greater than the NBA and every branch must cooperate with the National body and indeed other branches to work around problems and agree collective solutions.
Your Excellency, My Lords, Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, much is expected of the legal profession in this country. As we strive to fulfil this role, I will like to assure you that we will continue to be guided by the best interest of our Association and above all the national interest. We have no other interests or objectives besides these. I therefore urge all our members here in this hall and indeed in all our branches across the country to rally behind us as we strive to implement our programmes.
Our programmes are a shift from the norm, and the key thrust is the building of #ABraveNewBar that is recognised only by the discipline, skill and professionalism of its members. This will require a lot of bravery, boldness, and push; and the challenges will be tough. But we will stand strong and together we will succeed. Recall in my inaugural speech, I stated that LL OF US ARE WINNERS, indeed the NBA will be the ultimate beneficiary at the end of it all.
We will be receiving detailed briefings in the course of the day I urge us all to contribute meaningfully to the deliberations. I wish you all fruitful deliberations and NEC meeting.
Finally, may I again, use this opportunity to thank most sincerely, the Governor of Kogi State and through him the government and good people of Kogi State and all the NBA branches in the state particularly the Lokoja Branch for accepting to host this momentous meeting of our great Association.
Thank you very much for your attention and God bless.
God Bless the Nigerian Bar Association!
God Bless Kogi State!!
God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!!!
Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, OON, SAN, FCIArb (UK), SFNLI
President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)
June 1, 2017.