The Nigerian Bar Association and the Protection of Rule of Law in Nigeria

The Nigerian Bar Association and the Protection of Rule of Law in Nigeria

Thursday, August 20, 2020 9:19 pm

File: Nigerian lawyers

By R. A. Lawal-Rabana

In the 46 years of Nigerian existence as an independent Nation, Nigeria has had more
than three decades of military dictatorship. These military regimes were characterized by
suspension of the fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution and brazen disregard for
rule of law and due process. This culture of impunity which was the mainstay of military
regimes has badly damaged the psyche of the nation and affected our political culture.
In 1999, Nigeria returned to a Democratic Government but this return was not matched
with a concomitant democratic culture. The military mentality still pervaded our political
The process of imbibing and respecting the dictates of democracy and the principle of
Rule of Law became a collective challenge for all democracy enthusiasts, a task force
with which the Nigerian Bar Association identified with. This paper will identify the
challenges which the Bar face in protecting the rule of law, the accomplishment thus far
and the way forward for the nation.
The Nigerian Political Environment:
The reoccurring decimal since our return to democracy in Nigeria is the problem of the
tendency of Government agencies to disobey Court Orders. This attitude accounts for
their selective tendency as regards which court judgement to obey and the ones not to. It
also accounts for the disregard for due process in certain activities of the government.
However one major area of concern for the NBA has been the disregard of court
judgements by Government agencies. This trend threatens the integrity of the judiciary
and the protection of individual rights in the country. The executive controls the police
and it is the police that enforce court judgement in Nigeria. The dependence of the judiciary on the executive for the enforcement of judgement allows the executive a
leeway to flout court rulings. The public and interest groups do not have a powerful and
coordinated voice that can compel adherence to court rulings by the executive.
Sadly, these gaps in the political system have been exploited by government in the last 7
years of our democracy. Requirements of due process are not adhered to and the courts
are not in a position to enforce its judgement assuming such a case comes before the
court. The complexities of Nigerian political environment have made it difficult to ensure
the protection of rule of law.

Instances of Disobedience of Court Judgements by the Executive Arm of
In the last seven years we have recorded a number of instances where the executive have
disregarded court orders. From the local government to the Federal Government and its
Agencies, the story has always been the same. The Schedule attached to this Presentation
states the examples of some of the instances of such disobedience by the executive.
The unconstitutional removal of the governor of Oyo State in Nigeria in January 2006 in
spite of the various court orders was the height of the disobedience to Court Orders. The
NBA felt that this sort of constitutional aberration strikes at the root of our democracy
and threatens the fundamental structure of our nation especially taken together with the
lawlessness that is exhibited by the Nigerian Police and other security operatives. The
respect for due process was visibly lacking in the dealings of security operatives.
Individuals are detained without due process and procedural guarantees laid out in the
constitution are not observed. It was against this background that the NBA embarked on
the court boycott to protect the rule of law and awaken the conscience of the nation.
(See Schedule attached)

The NBA Court Boycott of March 2006:
In his press release on Thursday, the 9th of March 2006, the then President of the NBA
Lanke Odogiyon stated that the Court Boycott was intended to draw attention to the
important role the court plays in keeping society together. It was a protest against the
contempt and ridicule of the rule of law by politicians, persistent disobedience of court
orders and the violation of fundamental rights of citizens. The Judiciary he stated may
appear to be the weakest arm of the government, but it is the most important. The boycott
was to give Nigerians the feel of what it is to live without a court of justice and
subsequently underline the importance of the judiciary and the need to respect court
decisions in order to sustain our democracy.
Lawyers in Nigeria went on a court boycott for two days beginning from Monday the 13th
to Tuesday the 14th of March 2006 which made it possible for all Courts in Nigeria to sit.
The boycott was a huge success in that it awakened the slumbering populace and
effectively embarrassed the government. The impact was instantaneous. The government
through the Attorney General of the Federation made a commitment to the Nigerian Bar
that they will henceforth ensure compliance with court judgement and also promised to
take action with respect to old judgements to which the state has not complied and
requested the NBA to forward such Judgments.
The Attorney General has kept faith with this and made several Federal Government
Agencies to comply with some Judgments that were brought to his attention and the
evidence of compliance forwarded to the NBA.

Present Challenges:
The greatest challenge to the rule of law and democracy in Nigeria has been the violation
and/or total disregard for constitutional provisions in the removal of State Governors by
the House of Assembly in some States of Nigerian.
Section 188 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigerian prescribed for
the procedure for the removal of State Governors.
In Oyo State of Nigeria where the first impeachment was recorded in this dispensation,
the House of Assembly broke into factions of political differences and a faction without
the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Clerk of the House purportedly sat in a hotel
and raised Impeachment Notice against the Governor of the State. While this faction did
not have the 2/3 majority of the House of Assembly as required by the Constitution,
proceeded to request the Chief Judge of the State to raise a panel to investigate the
misconduct against the Governor. There were series of suits filed by various parties to
stop the impeachment process, but all the suits were ignored by the Acting Chief Judge of
the State and the faction of the State House that was bent on impeaching the Governor.
The panel which had three (3) months to conclude their Assignment and submit their
report to the House of Assembly as prescribed by the Constitution, did the assignment
within 72 hours i.e. (three days) and without affording the Governor the opportunity of
Defence, found the Governor guilty of gross misconduct and the Governor was
impeachment by this faction.
The NBA condemned this unconstitutional removal of the Governor and the NBA’s
position was vindicated by the Supreme Court of Nigeria when the impeachment was
declared null and void and the Governor reinstated.
The second impeachment involved the Governor of Ekiti State of Nigeria. While the
House of Assembly in this case was properly constituted and had the required
constitutional majority of 2/3 members, they proceeded in an unconstitutional manner by
purportedly removing the Chief Judge of the State who had set-up a panel to investigate
the Governor and had found him not guilty of gross misconduct. The House proceeded to
appoint its own acting Chief Judge contrary to the provisions of the Constitution who set
up a new panel and from the Governor guilty and was subsequently impeached.
The NBA also took a bold decision against this process and pronounced the impeachment
unconstitutional. Due to time constraints I won’t be able to discuss the other two
impeachments but it’s important to emphasis that they were also declared null and void
by the Superior Courts and also vindicated the stand of the NBA against the

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has never been put to test as it
did in recent times and the NBA has been resolute in the supremacy of the Constitution
and the defence of the Rule of Law.

The Role of the NBA in the 2007 Electoral Process:
The electoral process has also thrown up more challenges.
• The NBA in its bid to be part of the process of evolving credible, transparent, free
and fair elections participated in the Voters Registration Exercise, observing the
Conduct of Party Primaries, Nomination of Candidates, Monitoring Election, Post

Electoral Justice, etc;
• The NBA established an Electoral Monitoring Group and recruited the services of
20,000 lawyers as Volunteers to act as Election Monitors nationwide at the just
concluded 2007 elections in Nigeria; and
• The NBA also conducted training for Election Monitors and is currently training
100 lawyers across the Country as Election Petition Tribunal Monitors to ensure
speedy dispensation of all election petitions.

Future Plans:
• Call for the reform of the justice sector: Part of the content of our justice sector
reform initiatives is to empower the courts to enforce its judgement using court
marshals, train security operatives to respect human rights and due process and
sensitize government to properly fund the sector to enhance the quality of justice
delivery thereby ensuring respect of the courts;
• Advocacy for the respect of the rule of law: This has become the motto of the
Nigerian Bar. The Bar has been in the lead in condemning unconstitutional
removal of Judges and Governors. Even at a risk to their lives, the leadership of
the Bar went around the hot spots in the country (States where Governors were
removed unconstitutionally) to condemn the unconstitutional actions and show
commitment to constitutional democracy;

• Condemnation of any form of electoral malpractice and abuse of power by
electoral managers;
• There is constant sensitization of the membership of the bar to ensure that they act
as watchdog on the excesses of the government; and
• Constant dialogue with government to encourage adherence to the rule of law.

These approaches are paying off because when the Bar talks, the nation listens.
Thank you.
– Rabana is the General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association and a member of the Body of Benchers.


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