Buhari asks lawyers to join war against graft
• NBA wants Ministry of Justice to take over Prisons • CJN promises e-legal services
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari yesterday urged legal practitioners in both the Bar and the Bench to join hands with his administration in rebuilding the system that would serve as a source of pride to all Nigerians and the international community.
He made the call at the 55th NBA Annual General Conference with the theme: “Lawyers and National Development, which is holding at Abuja.
The President said: “I am convinced that law, law-makers, lawyers, law courts and the law enforcement agencies all have pivotal responsibilities to discharge, if the change we seek is ever to materialise.
‘‘As you all know by now, this administration has taken on the challenge of improving security, fighting corruption and revamping the economy, among many others.
‘‘The fight against corruption is in reality a struggle for the restoration of law and order. Corruption and impunity become widespread when disrespect for law is allowed to thrive in society. Disrespect for law also thrives when people get away with all sorts of shady deals and the court system is somehow unable to check them.”
He continued: “Ability to manipulate and frustrate the legal system is the crowning glory of the corrupt and, as may be expected, this has left many legal practitioners and law courts tainted in an ugly way.
In a gathering such as this, I do not need to elaborate on the way that corruption and impunity have damaged our economy. But I would like to say more on what, I believe, should be your role as legal practitioners, in helping us back to the path of rectitude.
“First, we need to make our courts functional and effective again. This means that we must have lawyers who take the ethics of the profession very seriously; lawyers who will not frustrate the course of justice, even though they defend their clients with all legitimate means and resources.
Buhari further stated that Nigeria needed ethical lawyers who will always keep the end of justice in mind and will never sacrifice the integrity of the legal system to cover the misdeeds of their clients, no matter how lucrative the brief may be.
Noting that lawyers are often in the vanguard of the defence of human rights, President Buhari urged them to view corruption too as a gross violation of human rights.
“For the masses of our people, the millions still wallowing in want and diseases, corruption is a major reason why they cannot go to school; why they cannot be gainfully employed; and why there are few doctors, nurses and drugs in their hospitals and health centres. It is the reason why pensioners are not paid and potable water is scarce.
“In effect, corruption diverts public resources meant for millions of people into the private pockets of a greedy few, thereby causing a lot of suffering, deprivation and death. In my view, there can be no greater violation of human rights.’’
The President also urged the lawyers to work for a more efficient and effective legal system which, he said, will help to attract more investments to the country and accelerate the pace of national economic development.
He assured the gathering that his administration would give its full support to the implementation of the required legal reforms if it was convinced that they are in the best interest of the nation.
“Increased engagement with the outside world is called for as we seek public private partnerships in our quest for enhanced capital and expertise. There is no doubt that all these depend on enforceable agreements and a reliable legal system.
“Contracts are only good to the extent that they are enforceable without undue delay. If by the default of lawyers or the law courts, it is found that cases take ages to conclude or that the judicial system is somehow corruptible, we obviously cannot attract the kind of partnerships which we need or which our large vibrant economy would ordinarily have attracted.
“The world today has been correctly described as a global village. Capital and expertise are readily mobile. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn between our country and others when the choice of where to do business is being made. Our current position in this respect is not good enough. Our process for obtaining licenses and permits are too slow. It takes too long a time to enforce contracts in our law courts and our regulatory and administrative processes are not noticeably predictable or efficient.”, Buhari stressed.
He added: “In all these, lawyers have a key role to play, whether in the reform of our laws and regulation or in the integrity of our judicial systems. It is my fervent hope that this conference and other fora of lawyers and non-lawyers will closely and quickly work out ways of making our legal system much improved in terms of integrity, the human touch, efficiency and rigorous dedication to the cause of justice.”
In his welcome address, the President of the NBA, Mr. Augustine Alegeh, (SAN) said the organization was willing and able to work with the government in raising its change agenda for the country to enable Nigerians benefit from the agenda.
The NBA chief also stressed the need for the Eight National Assembly to discard or where possible, reform some aspects of the bills they must have inherited from the Seventh National Assembly before they are transmitted to the President for assent.
Alegeh also expressed the Bar’s interest in the justice reform in such a way that the institution would serve Nigerians without being too exploitative. He singled out the prison sector, which he believed should be under the Ministry of Justice, as against the current practice where prison is still under the Ministry of Interior.
In his remarks, Chief Justice of Nigeria, (CJN), Justice Mahmood Mohammed, pledged the support of the judiciary to President Buhari’s efforts to strengthen democracy and good governance.
He announced plans to introduce e-legal services like the use of email and short message services (SMS)to deliver judicial notices.
He frowned at several frivolous petitions from lawyers against fellow lawyers, organisations and even against individuals. He noted that such acts should be considered as act of gross misconduct more so if such allegations were not backed by evidence.