Global Challenges: Lawyers Have Role to Play, says NBA President, Akpata at NBA Jos Law Week

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NBA President, Olumide Akpata
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Global Challenges: Lawyers Have Role to Play, says NBA President, Akpata at NBA Jos Law Week

The President of Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Akpata, today, 30th November, 2020 delivered a goodwill message at a Lecture held in honour of Hon. Justice Lazarus C. Dakyen as part of activities marking the NBA JOS Branch 2020 Law Week holding from 27-30 November 2020 at the Millenium International Conference Centre, Domkat Bali Road, Jos, Plateau State.

The lecture had in attendance the Governor of the State, H.E. Simon Lalong, represented by the Honorable Attorney General of the State, Chrys Ahmadu, the Chief Judge of the State the Hon Justice Y. G. Dakwak; the former Governor of Bauchi State, H.E. Adamu Muazu, who served as Chairman of the occasion, NBA General Secretary NBA, Mrs. Joyce Oduah, serving and retired Judicial officers, khadis, and members of the Inner and Outer Bar.

The NBA President, in his address, articulated the problems facing the legal profession as part of the global community in the ‘new normal’ of Covid-19 Pandemic, as well as the role of the major stakeholders in the justice sector, namely, Judges and Lawyers, in the solution process.

The Lecture had other Speakers like Yakubu Bawa, the Chairman of the NBA Jos Branch who delivered the Welcome Address; the HAG of the State, who declared the Law Week open, on behalf of the Governor of Plateau State, and Prof Suleiman Bogoro, Executive Secretary TETFUND, who delivered the Keynote Address, as well as other Speakers and discusants.

Read the full speech of the NBA President, Olumide Akpata.

GOODWILL ADDRESS DELIVERED BY OLUMIDE AKPATA-PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION AT THE NBA JOS BRANCH, LAW WEEK HELD ON THE 30TH OF NOVEMBER, 2020 ON THE TOPIC: THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION IN A SEASON OF GLOBAL CHALLENGES.

PROTOCOLS:

I consider it a privilege to be considered worthy of delivering the Goodwill message at this occasion of the Annual Law Week of the Jos Branch of our great Association.

The ‘Law Week’ Indeed, is one of the cherished traditions of the legal profession across the world. It is usually a week long event marked by various activities, affording lawyers and stakeholders in the justice sector, an opportune moment away from the rigorous and busy schedule of practice, to dialogue on critical issues affecting the legal profession both locally and globally, and how Law, can be effectively used as a tool of social engineering in the thoughts of the American legal scholar, Nathan Roscoe Pound. As a form of Corporate Social Responsibility, it improves significantly the reputation of the law in the minds of the general public when they see the law, not as a threat, and not in a moment of crisis, but as a support system.

In recent years, the occasion is often marked by technical/knowledge-sharing sessions; health walk; interdenominational service and almost always climaxing with a dinner, in the best traditions of the legal profession. I therefore congratulate the leadership of the Branch, and the members for keeping with the tradition in organising this year’s edition, despite the unusual turn the year has taken.

I’m being asked to speak on a rather depressing, but by all means, instructive topic: The Nigerian Bar Association in a Season of Global Challenges. This topic, in my view, summarises the gigantic responsibilities thrust on our shoulders as the primary stakeholders in the administration of justice in Nigeria, with great expectations of the citizens at one of the most momentous occasion in our history.

For starters, we have so far seen how, what opened as a year of limitless opportunities for us, as a Nation and as a profession, receded into one of doom and gloom by the end of the first quarter of 2020, owing to a virulent virus which has left its destructive marks across virtually all parts of our globe with debilitating human and economic losses. Whilst we may be said to be lucky in not experiencing a second wave of the virus, that is currently sweeping many parts of Europe, and America, we’re however grappling with the economic consequences of the pandemic, with our economy now in a second recession within a short period of five years.

Beyond the human and economic costs of the pandemic, we’re also facing a number of national challenges on a different front. Few weeks ago, our country was overtaken by mass protests by our youths against the systemic brutality of an arm of the Nigerian police force-FSARS, which has now been disbanded. That protest gave fillip to what almost became a revolution, culminating in the ugly events of 20th October, 2020 at the Lekki Toll Plaza Lagos, with the shooting of defenceless protesters by operatives of the Nigerian military against all known rules of engagement.

The looting and destruction of public and private properties that followed that ugly event at the Lekki Toll Plaza, by those described as ‘hoodlums’ was writ large of the public frustration and angst in the land. Not even our Temples of Justice were spared. The High Court, Lagos, and a section of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal were razed and desecrated, as Lady Justice stood in her famous blindfold. Indeed, that our country has been through a lot, is vindicated by the Judicial Panels of Inquiry sitting across various state capitals with a common mandate to unravel the extent of complicity of Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies, chiefly the Nigerian Police, in rights abuses, and compensation of victims of the #EndSARS protests and other forms of brutalities.

We have also had to contend with a never-seen-before spate of national insecurity in the form of banditry, kidnapping and insurgency. From Zamfara to Katsina; Benue to Taraba; Kaduna to Sokoto and elsewhere, we have seen how vulnerable our people have become to mind boggling killings by enemies of the State who would not rest on their killing spree while our over stretched security forces watch almost helplessly.

The case of North East Nigeria, of course, merits a special mention. Less than 72 hours ago, no fewer than 43 rice farmers in a village just 20 kilometres to the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, were slaughtered by Boko Haram fundamentalists in their farms, in one of the most horrendous killings in the history of the insurgency yet.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have had to go over these issues of great National concern, to further put in context the topic I’ve been asked to preface this address with. Indeed, the situation is worse than I have attempted to contextualise it. What then does this mean for us, as officers of the law in our respective rights? I believe it is at this intersection that our individual and collective roles is activated.

It was the great revolutionary scholar, Uthman Dan Fodio that observed that, “a kingdom can survive with unbelief. But it cannot survive with injustice”. Yet, a look at some of the problems that agitate us a Nation shows that they stem from years of systemic injustice manifesting itself in diverse ways, not least the trampling of the poor by the so called elite, and the continuous failure of our courts to rise up to its foundational obligation as the last hope of the common man. To be sure, the perception of justice today by the mass of our people, is that it is a ‘social commodity’ reserved only for the highest bidders, in the society who can retain some of the brightest, ingenious, and sometimes, disingenuous lawyers to defend them, even when it is clear they’re on the wrong side of the law.

Whilst this perception may not be completely true in point of fact, they nonetheless hold true among the common man out there on the street. And we the expression of same in the attack and destruction of courts, police stations and correctional facilities from Lagos to Edo; Anambra to Port Harcourt and elsewhere. All of these, should leave us with a moment of sober reflection, as stakeholders in the justice sector, on how we have gone about our respective duty to the high cause of justice. Have we been unduly overtaken by the material gains of our calling, while disregarding the social derivates of same to the larger society who look up to us for guidance and direction? This is one food for thought I hope would agitate our minds over the course of this event and beyond.

Permit me to remind us that the place of the law in the building of great civilisations is well entrenched. Indeed there is no developed Nation in the world today without a strong legal system. This system is often anchored in the promotion and preservation of the Rule of Law and one of the cardinal pillars of the rule of law, is equality before the law. I’m not persuaded that that is the practice in Nigeria today. This should worry us particularly as an Association, having given to ourselves such high mandate in our motto which today seems to be relevant only in its poetic flavour.

What I’m trying to say is that despite the challenges we’re facing today as part of the global community, there’s a high role for the legal profession in Nigeria in solving our fair share of the crisis. And so why we may be entitled to bemoan the global catastrophe visited on our world today, there’s also a role of prognostication on our shoulders as members of the legal community.

I think our roles in this regard is quite clear. As advocates, it is encapsulated in Rule 1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners thusly, ‘A lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner’. As Judicial officers, it is as contained in Rule 2 A(1) of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers thus, ‘A Judicial Officer should be true and faithful to the Constitution and the law, uphold the cause of justice by abiding with the provisions of the Constitution and the law and should acquire and maintain professional competence’.

My honest believe is that these are the minimum expectations of the society from us. And how we discharge them has a direct relationship with the future coexistence of this Nation, to the extent that no kingdom can survive with injustice, in the profound words of that great scholar.

As I conclude this address, It is my expectations therefore that this event would on the one hand, put us in a mood of recollection and self-assessment of how we have been faithful to our respective callings; and on the other hand, stimulate those conversations and action points within which the Nigerian Bar Association may be said to have played its part in stemming the tide of these daunting global challenges. It is only when we do this, that the full purpose of this event, would have been met.

I thank you for your patience.

Long Live the Jos Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association!

Long Live the Nigerian Bar Association!

Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Olumide Akpata
NBA President
30th November, 2020

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