By Michael Opeyemi Bamidele
To the credit of Nigerian lawyers, the Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is one gathering that will not pass for an annual ritual or gathering of professional colleagues who hardly add value to the different aspects of national growth. Each generation of leaders of the association has worked hard to improve on what was done by the previous leadership in trying to make the body and its members relevant in the on-going search for good governance in Nigeria. The theme for this year’s conference, Lawyers and National development, is most appropriate and could not have come at a better time going by the political philosophy of the current administration and the mood of the nation.
As all roads lead to Abuja for the 55th Annual Bar Conference, it will be a good time to remind ourselves that our role as lawyers in the overall development of our nation cannot be overemphasised and for those who would prefer the narrow option of just being legalistic, it will also be a good time to remind one and all that the legal system is a creation of the political system.
There cannot be national development without lawyers in so far as the true administration of justice remains the firmest pillar of good government. The royalty and political establishment in England realised this sacred fact eight hundred years ago when they enacted the magna carta. Among the most outstanding declaration of the magna carta was the statement:
“To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay right or justice.”
These simple words from centuries ago endured and remain relevant today because of the true meaning and professional expression lawyers have continued to give to it.
Through the efforts of Nigerian lawyers, Magna Carta gave birth to our concept of fundamental liberty and justice as enshrined in the Fundamental Human Rights provisions in Chapter 4 of our constitution, just like American lawyers used it as a platform to enact the Bill of Rights some three centuries ago. The provisions of Chapter 4 of our constitution developed the principles in magna carta, assuring our citizens a fair trial by the court, due process, and protections from cruel and unusual punishment. Magna Carta marked the beginning of the idea of a higher law, one that is not susceptible to manipulation either by legislative acts or executive mandate, one that no man or woman, no matter how powerful, can rise above. It is this very idea of guaranteed freedom and fairness, recognised and embraced by our founding fathers, that is at the heart of the supremacy clause (Section 1, subsection 3) of the Nigerian constitution and the global contemporary concept of the Rule of Law.
Against the background of this historic role and responsibility imposed on us as ministers in the temple of justice, let us go to Abuja2015 resolved to further preach to our expectant country men and women desirous of change that beyond being recognised in our constitution, the concept (of magna carta) must be generally accepted, cultivated and ultimately ingrained in our Government and the hearts of the Nigerian people.
To continue to be relevant, Nigerian lawyers must recognise the current mood of the nation and be ready to identify with and drive the anticipated reforms in different sectors and this must be a major item on the agenda of the Annual General Conference in Abuja.
The heart of the Nigerian Bar Association’s mission must continually be to promote the rule of law and ensure access to justice.Our association must embark on initiatives to provide greater support to programmes that offer opportunities to bring access to justice to the poor and undeserved.The NBA must strive to work with relevant civil society organisations and legal service providers to help narrow the justice gap. By providing equal justice to the poorest and least informed among us, we are all served for the better.