A Bar burdened by conflict of moral choices
The foibles associated with an indentified lack of cohesion or integration in the touted absence of rotational leadership (facetiously referred to as “all-inclusive”) in the national political sphere have worrisomely been presumed to be affilictive of the administration of our professional associations. The progressive weakening of institutions which ordinarily should symbolise or epitomise our fortress against tyranny and mis-rule is troubling indeed. The bastion of our collective desire for propriety and a rules-governed social and political milieu is gravely assailed by poor vision and lack of pneuma or an ennobling spirit. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the umbrella organisation of practising lawyers, a once irreproachable and non-partisan body of men and women for who advocacy was a pleasure, passion and worthy pursuit, is groaning under the weight of an ill-clad body of provisions in its constitution.
No Nigerian lawyer, it is half-seriously complained, may be deemed to have fully met the rightful demands of his profession until he has made himself an active member of his local, state and national Bar associations. But largely out of pride and partly out of duty, many lawyers do not play any active part in the affairs of the Bar as they would rather prefer to spend their time “earning necessary quid” they are more interested in their practice or in playing subordinate roles to power wielders.
The national elections into the executive offices of the NBA have been scheduled to hold on July 27-28, 2018 wasn’t certain at the weekend. By the provision of its extant constitution, the country has been sub-divided into three geographical zones namely: North, East and West for the purpose of its periodic elections. Surely, the Bar has been bitten by the bug of national malaise to sacrifice competence for that vagaries of invidious “national spread” federal character, “quota system,” etc.
The requirement to produce the best candidate from wherever he may come used to be reflective of the desire for a legal order that was positioned to edify the legal system, and entrench the ideals of the legal profession. Those high-minded precepts have however been scorned by the base of obscene policy that ill-conceals our fetish of playing pandy to the whems and fancies of political dogmas. It should be noted that when a doctrine once has been firmly established and is achieving an all-time purpose, it need not be changed cavaberly or for reasons of expediency.
The provisions of the NBA restricting the competition for the office of the president of the Bar to named geographical zones is tacky or, perhaps, wrong-headed. Great and solemn documents like the earlier NBA constitution must be held above the passing guts of momentary sentiments. Unnecessary meddling with the base or foundation will surely bring any building down. The NBA is not a political association or party required to reflect all the inanities or predilictions of its membership. The Bar aught not be divided between ‘minorities’ and a supposed majority. Professionalism, competence, seniority and an open field to all who are qualified and desire to compete should be the abiding parametres for competition into available offices.
The Bar’s current methology and praxis are conflictive of her ordained goal or purpose. Specious arguments in newspaper advertorials or features jingoistically canvassing the primacy of geography, ethnicity, or primordial convenience over the ideals of free and un-inhibited franchise are negativing the desideratum, not to politicise or opportunise the Nigerian legal practise sphere. These views should be considered dangerous as they are rooted more in the immediate sense of our exigent political practice than in the need for the nurturing of a free,vibrant and flourishing Bar.
It is tempting to always want to take the charm or allure of the past for granted. We are quick to glamourise the past even as we are faced with the sobering difficulty and danger of attempting to dogmatise about the standard of legal or moral behaviour, effectively observed in the days of old. The civic appropriateness of the Bar as a disquieting spirit or as one possessing a disturbing presence among us especially in moments of the threatened or objective official infringement of personal liberty, of the restriction of fundamental human rights or of its abeyance of the rule of law is today unfortunately cast in historical perspective or significance. Even as our state-society relations are at dismal variance with the deep-seated sensibilities regarding propriety, norminative patterns and the centrality of justice in the affairs of men, our Bar has curiously carved for itself the un-enviable usage of a mere demotic inscription on a conspicuous wall – reminding us merely of its past pomp, glory or majesty. Any special study of the times cannot fail to recognise the un-exercised primal position of the Bar as a major critical platform for opening up the democratic space and for the achievement of the goals of our social contract. The Bar, properly positioned, is able to subvert society’s inclination towards complacency or resignation. Society’s general limited imagination and the bogus or primitive self-interest of our leaders can be rationally challenged by an enlightened or truly learned Bar.
Many have ruefully ruminated regarding the obvious departure from the early cherished history or beginning of the elegant profession of the Bar. They have romanticised the then direct correlation between comteporary political experience and the criticism from the Bar devoted to society’s corrective or reformist quest. The fire and polemical ardour of the Aka-Bashorun presidency, its product knowledge and reasoned combativeness positioned that leadership as fit and proper for interrogating many of our socio-political difficulties. That regime interrogated the validity or fairness of administrative acts of ministers, ministries, agencies of government and of local and subordinate authorities. The unexplainable electricity supply conudrum, the Fulani herdsmen militia brigandage, the poor or failed performance of government regarding its expressed promises or manifesto, the threatened official restriction of the fundamental human right to hold opinion, or of association, or of peaceful protest, the un-federal nature of our federation, etc. are all live matters which find their place at the very heart of Nigeria’s complex of historical or social engineering.
These issues and more are crying for the attention of a live Bar. But the Bar has lost its voice even to condemn the open betrayal by government of otherwise solemn promises made in the fierce glare of the public. Policy somersaults or the numerous 369 degrees. Freely capriccios that have become the stained badge of a government that rode on the crest of a popular “change!” mantra have all gone un-challenged by a weak-kneed Bar.
There is a requirement for the Bar to be pro-active particularly in the face of a threatnening or emerging elective dictatorship. The smug refusal of government to heed or obey court orders, the abridgement of fundamental rights of citizens to hold opinions, the criminal insouciance of law enforcement officers in harrassing and detaining persons for the purposes of extorting money from them, the failure of regarding its major responsibility for the protection of lives and property, the unbridled official lie-telling, strategem or “lie-lie”, the rude absence of a coherent policy on matters a propos our desire for a prosperous, self-reliant, modern state.
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