National Officers of the Nigerian Bar Association, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Eminent Bar Leaders, Distinguished members of NBA-National Executive Committee, ladies and gentlemen of the Media.
I welcome you all to this NBA Press conference to mark the 2017 Democracy Day in Nigeria. Today marks 18 years since the return to democratic governance and of continued uninterrupted civil rule in our Country. This is by no means a great achievement in continent previously, and indeed still in many parts, marked by strife and instability. The journey to democracy is often long and tedious. Our expectation is that our country will continue to make steady even if incremental progress in consolidating its democracy, strengthening its institutions and improving in the quality of governance and delivering on improved quality public services to the people.
Today also marks two years since the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in Nigeria. I therefore wish to on this occasion congratulate the Ag President Prof. Yemi Osibanjo as we pray for the speedy recovery and return of President Muhammadu Buhari.
On a day such this, it is pertinent for our Association to make public statements on national issues especially on major areas of concern. It is in keeping with this tradition that this Press Conference was called. I begin with a review of the State of the Nation.
1. STATE OF THE NATION.
The Nigerian Bar Association congratulates all Nigerians as we celebrate this year’s Democracy Day. We urge fellow citizens to rededicate themselves to the enormous task of building a strong, united and prosperous country. We must remind ourselves continually that the task of building the country and its institutions, of safe guarding our democracy, must not be taken for granted. This calls for vigilance at all times and of constructive engagement on the part of all citizens, civil society groups, workers unions, professional bodies and associations. Although our country continues to face challenges, yet these challenges diminish to insignificance when compared with the enormous potentials of our country.
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 political class for military intervention in the governance of the country. This followed statements credited to the Chief of Army Staff 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 imperiled 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 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 Succession
The Nigerian Bar Association wishes to reaffirm its commitment to national unity and integrity of the Nigerian State. We recognize however, that the task of build 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 structure to continue to advocate or agitate for reforms and improvements in peaceful and non-violent manner. The NBA commits itself to facilitating and supporting any genuine peaceful initiative of constitutional reforms in governance or in our federal structure.
iii. Public Safety and Security
The NBA notes and commends the Government on great improvement in the area of security. We note that the government inherited a country with a high level of insecurity, a raging insurgency in the North East. These have led to unprecedented loss of lives and property of Nigerians. The hapless people of Nigeria have been visited by various types of crimes and carnage caused by insurgency, kidnapping, militancy, Southern Kaduna crisis, conflicts between herdsmen and farmers, and other forms of communal and sectarian clashes. The NBA strongly condemns these happenings in the strongest terms.
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. We congratulate the administration on securing the recent release of the 82 Chibok girls. We urge more efforts to secure the release of the remaining girls still in captivity. We remind the government too, that many children and women and young people still remain in captivity. A lot more therefore still remains to be done in restoring peace and security in the region. We urge the government also to double efforts in dealing with other aspects of the humanitarian crises in the region. There must be greater efforts in coordinating the activities of various agencies of government and other humanitarian organizations to alleviate the suffering of the people and especially get the farming population back to the farmlands before the rains fully set in.
The NBA notes that it is not only the North East Region that is suffering from conflict and communal strife. Many other areas notably, Southern Kaduna, parts of Zamfara, Benue and other states are also bedeviled by conflict especially between herders and farmers. We urge both Federal and state governments to act in a concerted and responsible manner to address these conflicts.
The NBA undertook a mission recently 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 fueled by politicians as they jostle for various advantages. In general the ordinary people are happy to live peacefully with their neighbors. We call all leaders to work assiduously to restore peace in our various communities.
The NBA is currently working with other civil society groups to develop a transitional justice policy framework that will be proposed to the government for adoption. The objective is to assist the process of reconciliation and the rebuilding of justice sector institutions in conflict areas with a view to restoring last 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
Nigeria has been in recession since 2015. There are indications that the economy is now beginning to pick up and we are gradually easing out of recession. We commend the government on this. The recent improvement has by no means translated into improved quality of life for most ordinary Nigerians. The Business community continues express concerns and skepticism as to the adequacy of government’s plans and strategy. The figures coming out the National Bureau of Statistics on unemployment, on poverty continue to be dismal. More worrisome is the regional disparities in the poverty and human development indices.
To tackle the current economic recession and address the Nigerian economy, President Muhammadu Buhari recently launched a four-year Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), declaring that his administration would henceforth drive aggressive economic growth with great zeal. The Plan is expected to lead to the growth of the nation's economic growth by seven percent between 2017 to 2020. We commend the federal government for drawing up the ERGP.
NBA urges more aggressive implementation of the various programs and initiatives under the ERGP. We recommend strong that implementation focus must be on creating more jobs and quality employment for Nigerian youths. Thousands of graduates many of them trained in sciences, 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, encouraging entrepreneurship must be devised. In this regards, we strong recommend the complete overall of the National Youth Service Corp Scheme. This scheme has been very effective in the past in promoting national unity and national integration. The time has now come that we need to take a hard look at the scheme and see how best to reform it to address current challenges.
The present administration has inherited a number of initiatives including major legislations that have or are design to impact significantly in the management of the economy and public finances. 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 showdown of their past. We urge the government to take a hard look at these laws and agencies that have 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 refinery without open competitive bidding given the size and magnitude of the project which would appear to be contrary to the Public Procurement Act. These kind of decisions send a wrong signal to businesses and indeed investors. They create doubt in the commitment of government to transparency.
We commend the Presidency for the three Executive Orders recently signed by the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN. The Acting President announced the three Executive Orders with specific instructions targeting the removal 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, and 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.
We are worried that we are about to end the second quarter of 2017, yet the 2017 appropriation bill is yet to be passed into law.
The NBA uses this medium to call upon the National Assembly and the Presidency to expedite action in respect of the 2017 appropriation bill with a view to passing the 2017 Appropriation Bill into law.
The NBA commends the government on its efforts and diversification of the economy, investing in agriculture, and promoting made in Nigeria goods. We are fortunate to have a large 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.
It is no longer news that there is endemic corruption in Nigeria. The issue is how we are fighting it. While the current efforts by Anti-Corruption Agencies are commendable, it is important to note that the present framework, which is in place for anti-corruption crusade, is defective in structure and does not make for effectiveness of these agencies. We are aware that a new anti-corruption policy and strategy has been developed and has just been validated at a stakeholder engagement. We are committed to assisting the government in achieving 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 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 ant crime agencies. The NBA therefore calls 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 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 also wishes to caution our investigative agencies to be more careful and professional in the criminal investigations. The current trend of excessive use of media and in particular social media is in our view inimical to criminal justice administration. Suspects should not be investigated and sentenced on social media screens/pages.
The NBA reiterates its commitment to enhancing the administration of criminal justice, 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 congratulate the recently appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen who is coming to the helm of the judicial branch at very trying times. We are confident the new Chief Justice has the requisite experience, commitment and vision to lead the nation’s judiciary at this difficult time. 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 are currently in the process of harmonizing their recommendations of key areas of improvement in the workings of the judiciary and we well 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 is also privy to decisions by the NJC to implement the anti-corruption policy as approved in the National Judicial Policy. We are aware a Committee working under the leadership of Hon. Justice Emmanuel Ayoola is currently working to come with detailed recommendations on addressing corruption in all facets of the judiciary. We commend this initiative and pledge our support.
E. Electoral Reform and the Review of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
The Nigerian Bar Association supports the current electoral reforms and review of the Constitution by the National Assembly. It is the position of the Bar that more than anything else, Nigeria needs amendment of some important aspects of the Constitution and the Electoral Act in the interest of consolidating our nation’s democracy.
However, we call on both the Executive and Legislative arms of government to adopt an open, transparent, and inclusive approach in the amendment process.
The NBA commends the Senate for proposing e-voting in the bill it presented for the further amendment of the Electoral Act of 2010.
We believe that deployment of technology in our elections will strengthen the faith of Nigerians in the electoral process thereby reducing if not eradicating the incidence of electoral fraud and violence
However, one area of serious concern to the NBA is the reluctance of the Executive and National Assembly to take very seriously the issue of electoral offences. Electoral violence remains a major concern for our country. This is the time to do something and not wait until we get into eve of the electoral circle. Whilst we appreciate the reluctance to establish the Electoral Offences Commission, which would have focused attention on crimes committed in the electoral process as recommended by the Justice Uwais’ Committee on Electoral reforms, the NBA calls on the executive and the legislature to commence the process of establishing a clear framework for the prosecution of electoral offences that is devoid of political interference.
Respect for Court Orders and Due Process
The NBA wishes to use this opportunity to call on the Federal Government to continually demonstrate religious adherence to the tenets of constitutional democracy. In this regard the NBA is appalled at the continued detention of certain individuals in blatant disobedience to court orders. Amongst these individuals are Sheik Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky and his wife and also Colonel Sambo Dasuki the former national security adviser. Whilst we recognize the serious the charges on which these individuals are held, we nevertheless view their continued detention as unjustified and contrary to the express court orders. We call on the government to without further delay respect these orders.
In the same vein, 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, we note that nearly 8 months after those investigations were lunched, the are some of the Judges who have not been prosecuted or charged before any court of law. This situation is completely unsatisfactory and unacceptable. The NBA calls on the Government to terminate the investigations against those judges to enable them resume their work as judicial officers.
2. STATE OF THE BAR.
I assumed office as NBA President with a promise to deliver a four
(4)-point agenda. Because this four point agenda will require bravery to be implemented, we developed a mantra of a #Brave New Bar. The mantra of a Brave New Bar is one, which this administration intends to demonstrate not only in words but also in action. Our four-point agenda of regulation, representation, re-engineering, and public interest can only be implemented with bravery. It is that same bravery that we have exhibited so far in leading the NBA. The highlights of the state of the Bar under this administration are as follows:
1. Preparation and Adoption of an NBA Strategic Plan
Upon our assumption of office in the last week of August 2016, this administration took necessary steps and followed certain processes that led to the adoption of the NBA Strategic Plan. It was prepared after extensive consultations with experts and our members, and a comprehensive literature review of strategic documents of past administrations.
I am happy to state that the Plan was approved in February 2017 by the last NBA NEC meeting in Aba. The Strategic plan provides clear pathways for our activities and programmes. It also forms the basis of partnership with our development partners. Two weeks ago, we had a donor conference at which we formally presented the Strategic plan. It was received with great interest. We hope that in the coming weeks a lot of collaborations will be announced.
2. NBA Legal Profession Regulation Review Committee
Like I stated before, one of the programme areas of this administration is regulation of the legal profession. I have set up the NBA Legal Profession Regulation Review Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr. Anthony Idigbe, SAN. The Committee has been working very hard to meet the timelines given to it. The Committee has already held town hall meetings in Lagos, Kaduna, and Calabar with a view to presenting the regulation programme and receiving the suggestions and inputs of our members nationwide. Their report will lead to a Bill that will be presented to the National Assembly.
3. NBA Public Interest Programmes
We have developed the following programme thematic areas: Administration of Justice, Rule of Law and Access to Justice, Conflict Resolution, Anti-Corruption, Justice Sector Reform, and Human Rights. They are all encapsulated in the NBA Strategic Plan. With regard to our Conflict Resolution programme, we have taken the following steps:
a. Constituted the NBA Task Force on the North East of Nigeria.
b. Set up a Task Force on the Niger Delta region
c. NBA Intervention and Fact Finding mission to Kaduna State in respect of the Southern Kaduna Crisis.
On NBA Intervention and Fact Finding Mission to Kaduna State in respect of the Southern Kaduna Crisis, the NBA organized an intervention initiative and a Fact Finding Mission to Kaduna State as part of NBA contribution to finding lasting peace in the State. This took place on the 16th and 17th of January, 2017 when I led an NBA delegation which included the 1st Vice President and General Secretary of the NBA. The purpose of the Mission and visit was to express NBA solidarity with the people of Kaduna State who have suffered high level of violence and engage with Kaduna leaders, and communities in Kaduna State, with a view to understanding what had happened, and exploring avenues for ending the violence and bringing peace back to Kaduna State.
The final comprehensive report of the NBA Intervention Initiatives and Fact Finding Mission to Kaduna State in respect of the Southern Kaduna Crisis was presented to the Governor of the State in April and copies were sent to relevant stakeholders including the Presidency and security agencies, foreign embassies and mission and civil society organisations. The report has NBA recommendations.
The NBA shall continue to hold the government accountable not only with regard to ensuring, peace, law and order in Southern Kaduna, but also to fulfill the primary responsibility of government, which is the protection of lives and property of citizens.
The NBA shall no longer focus only on private practitioners. Our members who are occupying pubic offices shall henceforth be subjected to the NBA disciplinary process.
5. NBA Constitution
Recently in March 2017 at the instance of a member of our association, the Federal High Court made certain pronouncement on the Constitution of the NBA. Our understanding of the Federal High Court decision is that the last valid NBA Constitution was that of 2001 which was registered in 2004. From that time on, there had two or so major amendments under which we have had at least three or four past Presidents. 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. It is for this reason we decided to appeal the decision.
Now the complaint of the litigants as we understand it, is not that any of the NBA Constitution was not validly passed or amended by its members and at properly convened general meetings. The complaint is that the constitutions ought to have been registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission. 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 say last I have just been informed by the General Secretary that the NBA 2015 constitution has been approved and registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission. We hope this will put an end to all 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. The country needs a strong legal profession with a strong voice this is not the time for us to consume the association in our internal bickering.
Thank you for your attention and haply Democracy Day to all Nigerians.
Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, OON, SAN, FCIArb, (UK).
President, Nigerian Bar Association
May 29th, 2017.