The 59th Annual General Conference (usually referred to as “AGC”) of the Nigerian Bar Association (fondly called “NBA”) holding in Lagos, Nigeria is now ongoing having started since 23rd August ending on 29 August 2019.
The formal opening ceremony is scheduled for 9am on Monday 26 August 2019 when lawyers across the globe are expected to gather in solidarity for their Nigerian Lawyer colleagues.
Apart from the many break out sessions, the one-week- long AGC of the NBA has its central theme as “Facing the Future.”
This motif or trope is deep and calls for sober reflection.
How do you “face the future” with a not too palatable past and a shaky present?
Certainly, the gathering is not expected to be a jamboree and its fallouts will not approximate to the usual talk shows that lead to nowhere- long speeches, no action.
The AGC and its loaded theme is an auspicious platform for learned men and invited knowledgeable laymen alike to critically examine how Nigerian lawyers have fared in achieving their set goal and motto titled “Promoting The Rule of Law.”
In “Facing the Future,” it is desirable that the past must be interrogated and the present vigorously questioned because it is aptly said that “an unexamined life is not worth living”.
To the extent that law is an instrument of social engineering, the pointed query must be asked whether Nigerian lawyers are happy with Nigeria being a sleeping giant and the follow up question whether lawyers are not responsible (if not in its entirety at least in condiderable part) for the leadership debacle in Nigeria?
Participants and the populace will want to know whether Nigerian lawyers have been promoting the rule of law or whether they have they been lax or complicit?
It promises to be a tough and tense outing based on the grim realities on ground.
Is it possible to have rule of law in the face of mounting insurgency, insecurity, extra judicial killings, herdsmen bloodletting and attacks, kidnappings, unlawful arrests and clamp down of citizens by security agencies, political party impunity, electoral fraud, compromised and corrupt electoral umpire, judicial corruption, executive lawlessness and legislative rascality?
Aside legalistic postulations, it is expected that Conferees will adorn multisectoral caps and adopt multidisciplinary approaches to profer durable solutions on the way to secure the bleak future of the poor, hungry, vulnerable, disabled, aged and legion of unemployed youths and women in Nigeria.
The primacy of place of the lawyer in the Nigerian polity can not be overemphasized.
More than any other professional groups or even citizens, lawyers have been given total control of one arm of the three arms of government- the judiciary.
In Nigeria, any citizen, no matter his or her profession, can function as a member of the legislature or executive arms of government but the judiciary, the most potent arm of government that is saddled with the responsibility of interpreting laws and settling disputes and created under section 6 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, belongs exclusively to judges who are firstly lawyers.
Furthermore, lawyers also receive an enhanced and enviable status in the executive arm of government because the offices of either the Attorney General and Minister of Justice at the federal level or the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice at the State level (created respectively under sections 195 and 150 respectively of the 1999 Constitution as amended) are and assigned specific functions as Chief Law Officers and Federal Minister of Justice or State Commissioner for Justice.
Only lawyers of a certain age at the Bar can occupy these exalted offices.
To whom much is given, much is expected, they say.
Nigerian lawyers must therefore stand prepared to provide leadership at all times and show a relentless capacity to correct the ills of the society.
If we must courageously face the future, Nigerian lawyers must stop playing the Ostritch and come out of their shells to champion far reaching constitutional amendments and tackle nagging social issues.
Periscoping the future, lawyers must take the lead and drive the advocacy for reforms especially the raging issues of restructuring or self- determination properly called which are now on the front burner.
The present Nigerian project is not working well, at least everybody agrees.
Lawyers in Nigeria must never run away from addressing this leadership conundrum.
The humongous powers donated to the Federal Government under the Exclusive Legislative List makes the nation look Iike a giant with a very big head, distended stomach and very tiny legs.
Nigeria is sick and troubled- power must be equitably devolved and decentralised.
By training and requisite expertise, lawyers are best suited to understand the intricacies on and around the debate on civil, political, economic, social and cultural independence of the various peopes and nationalities otherwise called self determination.
Nigeria lawyers will lead not from the rear the utopian do we turn our diversities into weakness or go
“Facing the Future” means that Nigeria must be discussed and lawyers must lead the way.
Nigeria has no business with the paradox of being a rich country of poor nationals.
The continued retention of the needless constitutional dichotomy between the Chapter II group of rights (fundamental objectives and directive principles of State policy) and Chapter IV group of rights (fundamental rights) is a complete milstone and a retrograde step.
Nigeria must trash such anachronistic and worthless dichotomy in our inalienable bill of rights as such divides no longer exist in the National Constitutions of Kenya (2010) or that of South Africa (1996).
Nigerian lawyers have the sacred responsibility to impress it upon our lawmakers and political leaders alike that human rights are indivisible, holistic, interrelated and interdependent and must be enjoyed cumulatively.
Truth be told, Nigerian lawyers are not doing enough as the NBA is tepid and nonchalant even on matters that it should spearhead .
“Facing the Future” compels that the NBA as a professional, non-profit, compulsory umbrella association of all lawyers must no longer pay lip service to the promotion, protection and implementation of fundamental human rights.
“Facing the Future” requires that NBA must take clear stand on issues of democracy, good governance, sustainable development, transparency, accountability and fight against corruption in Nigeria.
“Facing the Future” means that lawyers must first hold themselves accountable before launching out into the public space.
To this end, are Nigerian lawyers, in individual and private capacities as citizens, free from the national fault lines of ethnicity, nepotism, favouritism, hate speeches, religious bigotry, corruption and lack of patriotism?
Is NBA itself a democratic organisation and are NBA elections at branch and national levels free, fair and credible so that lawyers can have a moral high ground to demand from INEC a reciprocal compliance in the conduct of general elections?
Have Nigerian lawyers done the needful?
In the locus classicus of Macfoy v United Africa Company Limited (West Africa)  3 All ER 1169, Lord Denning was emphatic that “You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stay there. It will collapse.”
Let Nigerian lawyers rise up to the challenge and help build a glorious future. It can be done.
Let’s Face the Future squarely and optimistically!
A new normal is possible!
Prof Obiaraeri, N.O.
Former Chairman, NBA Okigwe Branch 1998 and Former Member of NBA NEC Member, NBA Owerri Branch.