Why independent, efficient judiciary is key to human rights – NBA

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said on Sunday that the judiciary has to be independent and effective for human rights to thrive in Nigeria.

“The concept of ‘justice for all’ is unattainable without an independent judiciary. Individual rights and freedoms will remain a mirage without a truly independent and competent judiciary,” the NBA president, Yakubu Maikyau, said in the association’s statement commemorating this year’s International Human Rights Day.

The day also marks the 75th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the UDHR on 10 December 1948, and since then, the date has been set aside to mark the rights and freedoms contained in the declaration annually.

This year’s celebration is themed, ‘Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All,’ with the slogan, #StandUp4HumanRights.

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“As an association that aims, inter alia, to promote and protect the principles of the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights, human rights, and people’s rights, this year’s theme and the call to action is one that resonates with the NBA,” Mr Maikyau on Sunday.

Amid plummeting public confidence in the Nigerian judiciary often accused of corruption, perverse decisions, and non-adherence to precedents, Mr Maikyau said “For human rights to thrive, there must be in place a judiciary that commands the respect and confidence of the people – members of society must have confidence in the capacity and integrity of the court to dispense justice.”

Roles of lawyers, judges
On the roles of lawyers in upholding human rights, Mr Maikyau, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said, “Similarly, an independent and vibrant Bar is necessary for the attainment and preservation of individual rights and freedoms.

“As observed by Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, CJN (of blessed memory), ‘The respect in which the Bar in any country is held is the best indicator of the freedom in that country.’

“Consequently, my administration is committed to upholding one of the cardinal objectives of the NBA, which is the ‘Maintenance and defence of the integrity and independence of the Bar and the Judiciary in Nigeria’.”

He also charged members of the legal profession – in the bar and on the Bench- on the need to adhere to the ethics of the profession to gain public confidence.

“We must always therefore, as members of the legal profession, sitting at the Bar or on the Bench, conduct ourselves within the bounds of ethics and our rules of professional conduct, as that is the only way we can earn the confidence, and command the respect of the public.

“We have a critical role to play in society and that is not something to be treated with levity or taken lightly. We must work daily to uphold the rights of Nigerians because human rights are the catalyst for the development we seek.”

He enjoined lawyers to work with civil societies and government functionaries to promote the human rights of all Nigerians, irrespective of religious beliefs or ethnicity.

He also charged them to offer free services to victims of human rights, particularly the indigent people in society.

He said members of the association should sensitise the members of their community to come forward boldly to be helped to advance justice.

“I call on members of the Bar to join hands as we collaborate with other stakeholders to advance the human rights of all Nigerians regardless of ethnic group, state, gender, language, status, or political persuasion.

“I enjoin members of the NBA to get committed to the pro bono programme by volunteering with the NBA Pro Bono Centre, as I have always maintained that remuneration should not be the primary motivation for the services we render as lawyers. We must make provision for free legal services to indigent citizens.

“Let us create awareness in our respective communities and encourage deserving citizens to avail themselves of our pro bono service. And by so doing move ‘Justice for All’ from mere rhetoric to becoming the reality of our countrymen, bearing in mind always that ‘the legal practitioner lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his Country’ (Sir Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams).”

What governments should do
The NBA president also urged governments across the three tiers to renew the social contract with the people by adopting policies that align with sustainable development principles and are people-oriented.

He also asked the government to recognize the place of economic policies in increasing inequality, fueling instabilities and eroding the fabric of society, and take steps to address these.

He reiterated his call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to pay close attention to security, the economy, and the administration of justice to achieve a fair and just society that works for all Nigerians.

He said: “As the world faces new challenges, the UDHR provides guideposts for our collective actions that ensure that no one is left behind.

“Human rights must be applied towards development, peace, and security – we must aim to overcome human rights violations which reverberate across borders and transcend generations; strive to achieve greater freedoms and equality for all; and work together to attain a more sustainable, just, and prosperous country for ourselves and the generations yet unborn.”

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