Nation Building – The Role Of The Law And Legal Practitioners

By Agu Moses Chukwudi



In his inaugural address as the President of The United States of America in January 20, 1961; John F. Kennedy said:

 ‘’We observe today not of victory of party but a celebration of freedom—symbolizing an end as well as a beginning—signifying renewal as well as change…. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country…’’

This statement of John F. Kennedy is amplification of the true spirit of nationalism, nationalism is therefore a consciousness that begat nation building and nation building is orchestrated by men and women whose roles are engine of growth in the society, thus the statement; And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country is a propeller that citizens of a given country has a role and responsibility congruent to achieve national integration and the delicate process of state formation. In this regards; Sa’ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto conceived the idea ‘nation building’ in the following words:

’Nation—building is used to refer to the tasking and delicate process of state formation. While nations come into existence as result of historical events, but nations are no historical accidents. They are a result of the hard and difficult process of keeping a polity together by among other things efforts to galvanize citizens to acquire that common sense of belonging and national cohesion through gradual social integration.

According to the Sultan, nation building is a dynamic process and is a journey, not a destination. Development and nation—building do not happen by themselves. They are guided by people, especially thoughtful, insightful, and visionary leaders who are willing to make sacrifices and reach comprises.

In a nation—state like Nigeria, people have stronger affliction to ethnicity or religion than an imagined community of nation-state. It has been remarked by (Oga and Okwori) that how citizenship is understood is therefore essential to the discussion on nation building, because for this delicate process to be achieved all hands must be on deck. Nation building is therefore deeply connected to notions of democracy, development, and globalization. And the need for an instrument which will shape how, this processes is actualized is clearly pertinent, and that instrument is,’ Law.’


Law is an instrument of social control in a formal setting, Humes described law as a social phenomenon. The idea of law is to establish a relationship between law and society. Law is the only source, which controls the behavior of the individual in a society. The means adopted by different individuals in nation building may without conceding be different both in form and in style. Thus the purpose of law was the protection of individuals and societal interests by coordinating them and thus minimizing occasion of conflict in their everyday pursuit which nation-building is no exception. Different approaches may be adopted for the course of nation building, hence the main function of the lawyer is of social engineering, that is satisfying as many interests as possible with the lest friction, and the tool needed for such voyage is,’ Law’.

The institutionalized means of settling disputes between individuals, communities and societies through the judiciary is law. Consequently, law guides the behavior of individuals in the society, and lawyers take interest of all members of his society as given; his task is merely one of devising ways and means of satisfying as many of them as possible. The need of the lawyer arises because of the fact that it is impossible to satisfy all interest of everybody due to scarcity of resources and to the fact that the interests of different people will often be incompatible. Nation building undeniably hangs on the strings of the rule of law, without which there is no environment for growth. The rule of law is guided by lawyers and judicial officers who must ensure that at the every point in time, there is compliance with laid down rules. And since judicial officers are first lawyers before they ascend to the bench and since they wield ultimate power in interpreting the letters of the law, they are without doubt an integral part of nation building

At the risk of repetition, nation building is used to refer to the tasking and delicate process of state formation, these are promotion of the well-being of its citizens, develop strong institutions, strengthen its sovereignty, gain traction in the world map and engender a sense of patriotism in her citizens. Hereunder are selected roles of legal practitioners in nation-building:

Legal Practitioners Owes a Minimum Expected Duty to the Society

As lawyers, we owe it a duty to the society as a measure of goodwill and ‘giving back’, to take deserving cases in this regard, prosecute or defend these to their logical conclusion. Any wrong that goes unaddressed is a dent on the rule of law which has its toll on nation building. The Legal Practitioner’s Act defines thus:

 A Legal Practitioner is a person entitled in accordance with this Act to practice as a barrister and solicitor either generally or for the purpose of any particular office or proceeding. 

Therefore a legal practitioner in Nigeria is a person qualified to practice as a barrister and solicitor. Consequently the duty of the legal practitioner to the society exacts a lot in the business of nation building as his regarded a minister in the temple of justice, the cases he takes, the clients he represents, they have a bearing in charting a more balanced and progressive society. Lawyers should be seen as a mirror through which the helpless and defenseless get justice, as no nation can grow where there is so much uncertainty regarding its legal practices. Lawyers can reject certain briefs against the ideal and notion of nation building, cases like; Aiding and Abetting Money Laundering by government officials and private individuals. Without doubt the legal profession confers respectability on the person of the lawyer, it resonates with pride and high esteem, Thus rejecting certain cases amplifies the respect accorded to the profession respective of the fees, when lawyers do so, it is in right direction to nation building. As nation building is about building a common sense of purpose, a sense of shared destiny, a collective imagination of belonging.

Legal Practitioner’s are the Upholders of the Rule of Law

On the corollary, lawyers play a very pivotal role in nation building and they are the custodians of these laws. As a custodian who is passionate for economic, political and social growth, he must ensure that the principles of an ideal democratic society is adhered to the latter, by ensuring that leaders don’t become the very definition of despotism, since, they understand the law they can sue for change when these laws are not religiously followed by political office holders, because they are the upholders and custodians of rule of law. Prof. Abiola Ojo noted that the rule of law is not a western idea, nor is it linked up with any economic or social system. As soon as you accept that man is governed by law and not by the whims of men, it is rule of law. This is what legal practitioners must maintain at all times as watch dogs, because no society can grow without a justice and balanced society that law reins supreme above any man. The exposition by A.V Dicey, that the concept of rule of law means that the state is governed, not by the ruler of the nominated representatives of the people but by the law and the government must be based on the principles of the law and not of men. According to him, the supremacy of the law is sacrosant, everyone should be ruled by the law not by the arbitrary or discretionary powers of the government.

Legal practitioners must challenge retrospective, and arbitrary legislation that imparts negatively on the society, because it is a sacred duty imposed on them by nature, and a contribution towards nation building as the actions of everyone must be guided by the ultimate law of the land

Institution of Public Interest Cases

Allied to legal practitioner’s duty of upholding the rule of law, and anther of their duty to the society is institution of public interest cases. In this regards offering legal services at no cost or minimal cost to aid a litigant who cannot afford the legal fees as the result of harsh economic realty, these they could do through taking up pro bono cases or even volunteering as a member of Legal Aid Council of Nigerian from time to time. Once this is done, it is unarguably a cause aimed at championing true nation building.

Legal Practitioners/Lawyer as Educators  

The strength of any nation is measured by the quality of education the nation provides to her citizens, consequently, university grounds is a breeding environment; where a nation’s future and strength is anchored upon. Leaders, great scholars, entrepreneurs and innovative scientist, just to name a few are moulded  in the university or educational institutions. Lawyers play a pivotal role of educating the younger generations to achieve their dreams and attain desired heights in life, examples of notable lawyer that has taught and still teaching are: Prof. Ben Nwabueze, C.O Okonkwo, Prof Yemi Osinbanjo, Prof Olawuyi  Damilola, Prof Earnest Ojukwu etc . Not only being a teacher, lawyers can own educational institutions, the term educators suffices, the likes of Prof Afe Babalola etc with their expertise, facilities provided the cause of nation building can be actualized, like I pointed above, nation building is a process.


The few roles of the law, and lawyers listed above is the tips of the iceberg, the role of a legal practitioner is unending as each writer has his own concept and ideas. It should be noted that the precpt of nation building is still developing, however all is centered upon positive change in the society by the contributions of individual as no society can exist without law and humans. Nation building which remains an imprecise and contested meaning could mean a mere abstract process of developing a shared sense of identity or community among various groups making up the population This is process could not be complete without a legal practitioner who feels the pulse of the society and upholds the law for societal growth and development.


1. htttps://

2. Excerpts from the remarks by the Sultan of Sokoto at the recent NIPSS Graduation Lecture, titled: The Task of Nation—building

3. Remarks made by Atiku Abubakar(GCON) former Vice President of Nigeria at the public presentation of the book, Remarking Nigeria: Sixty Years, Sixty Voices, held at shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja,19 August 2021

4. R.Pound, ‘’A Survey of Social Interests,’’(1943-44)57 Harvard Law Review 1

5.  Amucheazi et al ed. The Judiciary and Democracy in Nigeria ( Abuja: National Orientation Agency,1988) p. 13 quoted by Osita Nnamani Ogbu in Modern Nigerian Legal System, ( Enugu; Cidjap publishers 2002) p.8

6.  Section 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act (Cap L.11 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004)

7. A.J.Beredugo., op cit., p. 204

8. Professor Albert Venn Dicey, in his book titled: Introduction to the Law of Constitution 1885

9. See Attorney General of Bendel State v Attorney General of the Federation (SC 17 1981) [1981] NGSC 4 (02 October 1981) for the courts definition of constitution.






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