Open letter to the NBA president by Oyeniyi Sodimu.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION, MR. PAUL USORO, SAN, AND ALL CONCERNED AND WELL MEANING MEMBERS OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION

Good day to you all.

I recently called out the Chairman of the Lagos Branch of the NBA to issue a statement and make his position known on the burning issue of the DSS’ invasion of our courtroom, which is but one of the series of the onslaught that the executive arm of the government has embarked on against its judicial counterpart of the government of the day. The response that I received from him as well as from different quarters was that the national leadership that is authorised to speak and react on the issue, has spoken/issued a statement to that effect.

I have read the press release issued under the hand of the National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kunle Edun, ostensibly authorised by the President of the NBA, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, and also seen the much acclaimed interview that Mr. Usoro had with Channels television station on the same in which he appeared to have condemned the brazen irresponsible act of the DSS.

With respect to the 2 mentioned reactions, which I have read and seen a couple of times for the purpose of clarity, I thank the NBA leadership for the proactivity in taking the steps that it has taken, particularly the NBA President who made it a point of duty to go on air to attempt to address the issue. However, I am of the honest and humble opinion that the NBA could have done better.

For starters, the interview that Mr. Usoro had with channels television station, with due respect, did not reflect and express the pain, mental harassment and anguish that some of us have suffered for months now by reason of the incessant attacks on the judiciary and judicial officers (including lawyers). The brazen attack on the judiciary appears to have started with what was clearly a sting operation that the same agency of the Federal Government – the DSS – carried out against the noble Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the dead of the night, and the despicable and humiliating manner in which our CJN, Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen, was removed from office irrespective of what his offences were (at the time). The relaxed mien and calm body language with which Mr. Usoro addressed the burning issue did not reflect the attitude of someone whose house is on fire. His rather tepid composure and manner of addressing the situation left many of us deflated while contemporaneously evoking the feeling of how Chief Gani Fawehinmi (of blessed memory), among a few others, would have reacted in a situation less grave than these that we have experienced in the past few months.

To say the least, the television interview was less than impressive and was completely too lukewarm to have inspired or provoked any sense of duty in us lawyers to stand up for the legal profession in the face of the serial and continued rape of lady justice. Due to this, I shall immediately go straight to address the press release issued by the National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Edun (that I believe preceded the interview of Mr. Usoro) which was more vociferous than the television interview. It is needless to state that the interview was a lost golden opportunity to have consolidated (on) the press release.

The Publicity Secretary aptly captured the moment with the appropriate use of words and body language, which appeared well thought out, in condemning the apparent lawlessness and gangsterism of the agents of the DSS and the crass manner in which they have continued to behave in a so called democratic setting. However, there are few shortcomings in the press release, which I wish to highlight.

In calling for and demanding the immediate suspension of the Director-General of the DSS, his name should have been particularly mentioned for effect and identification purposes. He must be made to bear the brunt and disgrace of the less than honourable activities of the agency that he heads. Rather than a call for his suspension, demand for his immediate dismissal would have been a much better option leaving the decision as to whether to do so or merely to suspend him to the discretion of his paymasters whose bidding he has apparently been carrying out. This demand should have been accompanied by an ultimatum within which the Federal Government is expected to act (failing which there shall be consequences by way of peaceful national protests among others).

Given the circumstances, the press release should have been used as a medium to immediately invite all stakeholders of the legal profession for an emergency meeting towards urgently agreeing on a decision on how best to properly and adequately react/respond to the situation while contemporaneously calling out to all legal practitioners across the country to brace up for a national showdown. The feeble attempt made in the release in which Mr. Edun referred to certain ongoing consultations among an uncategorised and indeterminate “critical stakeholders” did not adequately capture the moment and attention of legal practitioners, let alone evoke the sympathy of well-meaning individuals in the society. This leaves an impression of a mere window-dressing without the political will to do anything or take any step further.

The tone of the concluding part of the press release in which Mr. Edun promised to keep lawyers and Nigerian citizens informed of further deliberations with critical stakeholders was, with due respect, unimpressive either. In fact, the promise immediately fell flat on its face and ridiculed us more than it added any value to us as a professional body, in the face of several past and continued irresponsible acts of the DSS and other supposed law enforcement agents against the judiciary in particular and Nigerian citizens in general.

What has the NBA, under the leadership of Mr. Usoro, SAN, been doing all these while that it appears to be foot-dragging and taking forever for it to take decisive actions on burning national issues such as these that require urgent national attention and consequential actions, which sadly has now become commonplace in our legal system! This lethargic stance, is, with due respect, not impressive or acceptable by any standard, and something urgent needs to be done to salvage the image of the NBA, and by necessary implication the image of the legal profession, in Nigeria. If nothing is done quickly and earnestly, the common man, and the society at large, will most likely lose the remaining trust, respect and confidence that they have left in our judicial system.

In conclusion, I hereby call on the President of the NBA, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, to immediately consult with and direct all NBA branches across the federation to brace up for a national showdown in which we should use all legal means at our disposal to make a loud statement that enough is enough, and show the executive arm of the government that we are not noise makers. Such legal means should include but not limited to nationwide boycotts, peaceful protests across the 36 states of the federation including the FCT, commencing public interest suits (or as may be otherwise considered necessary) against erring agencies of the Federal Government such as the DSS, the Nigerian Police Force among other erring agencies of the Federal Government. Agencies who have now translated themselves into terrorisers of the same citizens of the country, which they swore on oath and are charged by the Constitution of Nigeria as well as the various statutes establishing them, with the duty and responsibility to protect.

The time to act is now! Not tomorrow, not on a later date. I therefore urge the NBA to strike while the iron is hot!

God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria. God bless the NBA, and God bless you all.

My name is Oyeniyi Sodimu.

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