Are Lawyers Aware Of Their Responsibilities To The Nation?
I can argue confidently that many of contemporary lawyers are not aware of the real responsibilities of lawyers whether as an individual or as whole (NBA) to the nation. Immediately after some prominent political parties concluded their presidential primaries and came up with their respective flag bearers, and considering the outrageous fees charged for the nomination forms, I lamented that what would be the fate of brilliant and visionary Nigerians who have the desire to join politics with a view to selflessly serve the nation because according to Plato “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferior.” There is no doubt that money is needed to take part in politics but what happens when the fees of the nomination fees is outrageous or beyond the reach of patriotic politicians that meant well for the country? Have you ever read the stories of some politicians that sold everything they had to take part in politics? There are politicians that obtain loan facilities from financial institutions to take part in politics. If those politicians eventually get elected, will the national treasury not be in problem?
Recently I watched a very short video clip of Mr. Babatunde Ogala, SAN accusing the banks as institution engaging in business of perpetrating corruption. He revealed how after he won an election as a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly and that even before he was sworn-in four different banks had offered him unsolicited loans of One Hundred Million Naira each, apart from the fact that even one of the banks had already printed a cheque book for him without requesting for it. Honestly every Nigerian with good conscience needs to be very worried about the way politics is being played in this country. If the truth must be told , the Nigerian people need the quick intervention of lawyers that are courageous , fearless, and who have the ability to speak out by educating the leaders and the led on the necessity of good governance. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) as a body can as well play the supervisory role for the advancement of the country. The NBA must lead the rescue mission of this country from the present mess she has found herself now. If the lawyers were in the fore front in the struggle for the achievement of this uninterrupted constitutional democracy by chasing away the military junta, why must lawyers this time round fold their arms looking at the unpatriotic politicians messing up the system? I have expressed this view on a particular Lawyers’ whatsapp group as follows :
“I am of the view that what should be the concern of lawyers particularly the NBA should be the clamour (even if including instituting court actions) against exorbitant fees being charged by the political parties for aspirants to obtain nomination forms to contest elections. Where will incorruptible, brilliant and patriotic politicians that meant well for this country get such millions to obtain the forms?I have said it somewhere else that if brainless and incompetent politicians are capable of getting such money and the brilliant ones can’t get that ,it means our country will continue to be governed by the incompetent politicians. This is my wake up call to all lawyers that meant well for this country.”
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My contention above was not without contrary views from some of our colleagues and one of them was as follows:
“Really and truly sir, this is not the business of the NBA .The NBA is a registered entity with its own Constitution. The aims and objectives in that constitution are very clear. We cannot, on basis of a lawyer living for the direction of the his people, turn the Association into Don Quixote, and begin to involve ourselves in matters that do not concern us .The NBA’s duty is to its members vis a vis the promotion of the rule of law, and not to be guiding society on every issue .That is simply not our writ, remit or our business. At other fora, I had raised concerns about the ‘State of the Nation’ convocation scheduled for yesterday .The NBA had not business getting that much involved in the electoral process by inviting candidates less than a month to the election. The same candidates had already been invited to the Annual General Conference, and I don’t think that was the best idea. Less than 6 months later, we picked ourselves to invite them again? Why? Little wonder they ignored the invitation .We are lawyers .That is all .Our profession is a sober and conservative one. Ordinarily, we do not act if there is no instruction to act, so on what basis is our professional association getting involved in the issues outside its own constitution? This is contrary to the tradition of the profession .If we invite ourselves to issues to do with law, that is okay .If it is not central upon the law , we have no business being there. If we do not recognise our place in society, and act like it ; if we continue to involve ourselves in things that have no nexus with our aims and objectives, society will ignore us and put us in our place. Yesterday is a classic example.”
Some may wonder why this long quotation and reference? I did this to be able to fully and vehemently express my disagreement with this position of our colleague on the other side of the divides. If “ the NBA’s duty is to its member vis-vis the promotion of the rule of law , and not to be guiding society on every issue…” , is it being suggested that NBA is a selfish association that should not be concerned about the society its finds itself ? I beg to disagree with this position. As far as I am concerned the Nigerian people must be the business of the NBA whether individually or as a whole. I make bold to say that dictatorship fails to succeed in this country ,unlike in some other African countries because many Nigerian lawyers stand their ground against any form of dictatorship whether under the military regime or civilian regime. For instance in country like in Cameroon, a man has ruled that country for over forty (40) years and still in power, are there no courageous or fearless lawyers in that country to call for truly constitutional democracy. Since the philosophy propounded by the late Mr. Sapara Williams, the first Nigerian lawyer as to what should be the role of lawyers in this country has been referred to , I do not need to quote him here again. I am on the same page with the NBA President, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau (SAN) that the contemporary NBA and many individual lawyers have failed in this regards when he apologised and said that :
“ I dare say , with 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 , apologise 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 the country. This apology is necessary because , no other group of professionals is called to this privileged position as the lawyers which is also comes with corresponding responsibility to provide leadership.”
If you look at the history of legal profession living up to that responsibility in different parts of the world you will see lawyers like of Mahatma Gandhi who practiced law in South Africa and later moved to India to lead his people in the struggle for independence of his country. Nelson Mandela led the struggle against the Apartheid in South Africa. He was imprisoned and later came out to become the first Black President in his country. Remember Chief Obafemi Awolowo who later became a SAN was one of the leading and prominent Nationalists that led the struggle for the independence of this country from the colonialists. The late Alao Aka-Basorun, the Mao of the Nigerian Bar as well as Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the Senior Advocate of Masses will not be forgotten easily in their struggle against the military junta. Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, CFR during his regime as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was civilian President initiated and advocated for the amendment of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to Five (5) single term instead of the Two (2) terms of Eighty years that has proved to be grand failure and wasteful under OBJ and PMB. The struggle and advocacy for this Five (5) years single term has been abandoned by lawyers or NBA as a whole. If these lawyers mentioned had not been involved in issues or affairs of their respective countries, would their names be remembered today .
The responsibility of individual lawyer or NBA should go beyond charging clients professional fees and be concerned only about their immediate families. The responsibility must including that of Nigerians by advocating and ensuring for good governance by those in position of leaders. It must not the business of lawyers to prefer assisting the politicians to sustain stolen mandate in office to being on the side of the people. If lawyers or NBA are clamouring for good policy and governance , they cannot be said to be partisan. If the NBA begins the clamour and advocacy that the political parties should be reasonable in the sum of money they charge for the purchase of nomination forms by their members to contest, I do not see how the NBA can be said to be partisan when such clamour is not directed to only a particular political party. If NBA organize a gathering and invite all the political parties or the leading contestants, I do not see how the NBA can be said to be partisan, whether those parties or contestants attend or not .The NBA President has made the position very clear when some NBA branches were said to have adopted a particular political party or contender which he warned them again and said :
“NBA is not partisan; we are not political party, we are representatives of the people , we remain neutral and must be seen to maintain our neutrality at all times-we belong to everyone and to nobody.”
On my consistent clamour that the NBA also needs to fully democratise its political system that by adopting electoral system in choosing some members of the NBA-NEC rather than mere co-option for the fear of compromising their membership, some voices have also disagreed with this my position. According to a former National Officer of the Association:
“There are more than 275 statutory members of NEC i.e. branch Chairmen and Secretaries, past Presidents and General Secretaries, Chairmen of SPIDEL, SLP, SBL, NBA Women Forum, YLF, ALDIN etc. Less than 100 members are co-opted into NEC by the President with the approval of NEC. Pls , help me sir, how can 100 members intimidate the more than 275 statutory members to kowtow to every decision of the President? Are we saying that the past Presidents, Gen Secs, branch Chairmen and Secretaries in the 128 branches of the NBA don’t know why they are members of NEC? Sir, respectfully .I think it is an insult to the statutory members for anyone to say that they are yes men and overwhelmed by the co-opted members.”
Honestly these are wonderful questions to which I will answer by saying that I have on some occasions asked the question that what was the wisdom or rationale behind having some lawyers as permanent or live members of the NBA- NEC ? If those statutory members are not “yes men” why was it that there were some NBA-NEC decisions that were made under the direction of the NBA President that were approved by the NBA-NEC only to be nullified by the court of competent jurisdiction? Let me just cite one example, toward the tail end of Mr. Olumide Akpata’s tenure, the National Executive Committee under his leadership had issued with the General Secretary, Mrs Joyce Oduha and was suspended which suspension was said would be referred to the NBA-NEC for ratification, despite the pendency of a law suit before a court of competent jurisdiction , the Almighty NBA-NEC ratified that suspension which was later set aside by the court. Are the statutory NBA-NEC members not aware that it was wrong taking a further step on a matter already submitted to the court for adjudication? Then what can we call this type of action by the NBA-NEC of about 275 statutory members? Yes Men or No Men? If the NBA-NEC members continue to go that way and the courts continue to annul such , will that not embarrassing to the entire body of the NBA that prides itself as promoting the Rule of Law?
As I said earlier the responsibility of lawyers in any nation goes beyond getting instruction from clients and professional fees. Lawyers must be concerned about how those elected to lead the country perform their duties accordingly and checkmate the excess of those leaders against the led. The other time when the University lecturers went on strike for months keeping students at home doing nothing, I suggested then that the Alumni of the various Federal Universities should intervene to do something. Someone told me it was not the business of the Alumni to intervene in such crisis. That is the irony of the country we find ourselves. During that period, you only heard very few voices like that of Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) rendering assistance and representation for the Universities’ lecturers. Many lawyers among the Alumni considered it that it was not their business since they are comfortable sending their children to school overseas forgetting the wisdom behind the words of Chief Awolowo that the children of the poor you refuse to send to school would eventually be source of nuisance to you all. Is that not now coming to pass ?
This is a period when many Nigerians would remember and feel the absence of the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the Senior Advocate of the Masses. Election is approaching and Nigerian people are put in great hardship and difficult of no money and no fuel under a democratically elected government. Is this the parting gifts from the government in power? Lawyers and the NBA must be at alert and be ready to checkmate any funny game from the politicians as Nigeria is bigger than anybody.
NOTE: Anyone is at liberty to disagree with my above submissions as I will surely appreciate a balanced, fair and objective rebuttal.
5th February 2023