Nigerians go to the poll in the next few weeks to elect a new set of political leaders. As expected of a country that adopts the presidential system of government, the election of a new president has dominated the discourse. Sadly famed as a nation of ‘strong men-weak institutions’, the Nigerian pre-election mood has been centered on the personalities of the persons gunning to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari rather than the real issues that are troubling Nigerians and stifling the progress and prosperity of the nation.
The non-ideological politics haven’t aided the focus on issues. The European football transfer market will respect Nigerian politicians’ propensity to change teams and jump ships at convenience. For context, a major presidential candidate was this time 4 years ago a running mate to another presidential candidate who had sought to lead the country at different times on the platforms of two different major political parties. Also, the typical Nigerian politician’s mentality is not national but personal, little wonder the most popular phrase of this campaign era has been “it is my turn.” In essence, issues and politics hardly meet in Nigeria.
Aside the patriotic efforts of individual members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in nation building and attainment of democratic rule in Nigeria, with branches numbering about 4 times the number of States in the federation, the NBA and her respected members have always played the auspicious part of a strong election monitor in the Nigerian electoral process. As lofty as this endeavour has been in ensuring free and fair elections, the NBA has hardly explored its enviable and respected position as the leading civil society in Nigeria to ask some very important questions of our potential leaders, until recently.
In August 2022 at its Annual General Conference, the NBA became the first professional body to have invited and hosted presidential candidates in the forthcoming general elections to a plenary.
Candidates were asked questions of their proposals for the country and her citizens. However, with the aftermath of the session being dominated by the vapid tale of a candidate’s dress sense, it is safe to assume that both the candidates and the citizens may not recall what was asked and what was promised. But white sneaker on big black suit (as unpleasing to the eyes as it may be) are not the issue, the issues are citizen’s life and prosperity. The NBA leadership highly believes that there should be a re-focus along this line particularly as the elections draw closer.
Therefore, the NBA President, Mr. Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, OON, SAN has convoked a ‘State of the Nation Dialogue’ for the 30th day of January, 2023. The Dialogue will cover the three broad subjects of security, economy, and the administration of justice.
The NBA President who has always insisted that by their training lawyers are best fit to lead the repositioning, recovery and renewal of this country, did not make any pretence that the reason for this event is for the body of lawyers to “generate discussions that will provide Nigerians with sufficient information to guide them in making their choice of persons to occupy elective offices in the upcoming general elections.” According to him, “Nigerians must be satisfied, given the concrete realities of our nation, with the practical solutions that are being proposed by those seeking elective offices as it relates to the current security, economic and political challenges. Consistent with our duty to the people, we cannot allow the nation to be misled, as Abraham Lincoln once said: “let the people know the truth and the country will be safe”.”
Although the presidential candidates in the forthcoming elections have been invited to the Dialogue and they would definitely have their say on the day. But these candidates have in the last months been traversing the country, mostly attending rallies and engaging a most rowdy crowd. They have been doing all the talks and aside campaign chants they are hardly hearing anything from the people they encounter. Therefore, the NBA State of the Nation Dialogue would mostly have them in a listening spot as experts including Ms. Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations take them through what the country and her people need and expect them to fix. On the next day being 31st day of January, 2023, the President of the Bar will meet the press as he delivers a State of the Nation Address which will articulate the position of the NBA on the three main areas of the Dialogue.
The NBA State of the Nation Dialogue is a conversation about nationhood and the Bar ably led by Mr. Maikyau, OON SAN is happy to start that conversation and take the lead in this respect. After all, as Maikyau would fondly quote the first Nigerian lawyer, Sir Christopher Sapara Williams, “the legal practitioner lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country.”
Akorede Habeeb Lawal is the National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association. He writes from Abuja.