…As Paul Usoro takes over leadership
Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), on Friday, came down hard on President Muhammadu Buhari for declaring that national security is supreme to the rule of law.
In a communiqué at the end of its 58th Annual General Conference held in Abuja, the umbrella body of lawyers insisted that issues bordering on national security must be handled within the framework and parameters of the rule of law. Besides, the body equally decried what it described as a growing penchant by Buhari’s administration to disobey court orders.
President Buhari had, in an address he presented at the opening ceremony of the NBA Conference, last Sunday, insisted that individual rights of alleged offenders would not be spared when national security and public interest are threatened. He said his government adopted the stance on the basis of subsisting decisions of the Supreme Court.
According to him, “Rule of Law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest. Our apex court has had cause to adopt a position on this issue in this regard and it is now a matter of judicial recognition that; where national security and public interest are threatened or there is a likelihood of their being threatened, the individual rights of those allegedly responsible must take second place, in favour of the greater good of society”.
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The President’s speech has since attracted varied reactions from notable Nigerians, with most of them distancing themselves from his position.
In its first official statement on the issue, NBA which is the umbrella body of legal practitioners in the country, said it “completely rejects the presidential statement subordinating the Rule of Law to National Security”. It said: “The NBA restates that the Rule of Law is central to a democracy and any National Security concerns by the government must be managed within the perimeters and parameters of the Rule of Law.
“As a corollary, Conference frowns at the present growing trend whereby government decides on which court orders to obey. The court has exclusive duty under a democratic dispensation to interpret the Constitution and other laws, and government and the citizenry must comply with court orders at all times until set aside”.
NBA said it was also opposed to the issuance of Executive Orders in respect to matters already in court. It maintained that such order would amount to a breach of the principle of separation of powers.
“Executive Orders should be issued for good governance and to manage operations of government, and not to encroach or usurp upon the constitutional powers of other arms of government, lest Executive Orders become attempts at decree-making.
“Conference resolved that our democracy can be better strengthened by an independent judiciary and consequently calls for a budgetary arrangement that allows for funds to be directly allocated to the judiciary at Federal and State levels”. NBA said there was need for new laws to set higher standards of academic qualifications for political office holders in Nigeria.
On the ongoing war against corruption, NBA, warned that investigative agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, should not be partisan, stressing that the anti-graft war should not be one-sided. It said: “Conference reiterates its support for the war against corruption, but this war must be across aboard and not be selective.
“In this regard, the NBA will work with all law enforcement agencies with the common objective of promoting the Rule of Law, and therefore calls on its members to be vigilant and take necessary steps to prevent the molestation of legal practitioners when carrying out lawful duties.
“The NBA asserts that investigative institutions like the EFCC must remain impartial so as to engender confidence in their operations. This is particularly urgent as we enter into an election year.”
Meanwhile, the conference ended on Friday with a formal handover of NBA leadership to a new set of executives led by its newly elected President, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN.
Before he swore-in the new Excos that will pilot affairs of the body in the next two years, the outgone President of the NBA, Mr. Abubakar Mahmood, SAN, denied the allegation that he manipulated the association’s election process to ensure Usoro’s emergence as his successor. Though he dismissed the allegation as “appalling”, Mahmood, said he has okayed a post audit exercise based on series of criticisms that have trailed the NBA e-voting process.
In his acceptance speech, Usoro, who took over as the 29th President of the NBA, vowed to reform the association’s election process, even as he urged his rivals at the poll to join hands with him to move the body forward. He said the NBA under his watch would not hesitate to criticise the federal government when necessary.
“The NBA will not be living true to its creed and lead motif if it were to become such a yes-man to any government or its agency.
“It is, in truth, not in the DNA to be such a yes-man organization. Rather than crave for yes-men in the NBA, government and its agencies should be craving for collaborative partnership, even if sometimes, adversarial, with the NBA so they could work together in the promotion and protection of the rule of law.
“Such collaboration does not, of course, mean that the NBA would not be critical of government and its agencies when necessary and required.
“We would at all times be constructively critical of government, and of course, would also commend government when the occasion calls for it”.
The new NBA President said he would revamp the association’s disciplinary mechanisms to ensure that corrupt and erring lawyers were identified and expunged from the legal profession.
“The conduct of some of our members brings bad repute to us. It is critical and important that we purge ourselves and, as a profession, regain the moral high ground that historically stood us out as members of the honourable profession.
“Our seniors must lead by example and our juniors must emulate and follow the example of our worthy seniors.
“These are indeed issues that we shall concern ourselves with continuously and constantly with the plan that, well before the end of our tenure, the glory of our profession and legal practitioners shall be truly restored in the eyes of the public”, he added.