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As lawyers confer in Lagos…..

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), will from August 17, 2009, start its week long annual conference in Lagos, which will bring together over 8,000 lawyers. The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Underdeveloped Nations, Failed Economies and Future of the Legal Profession’..

Lagos State Governor, Mr Babatunde Fashola (SAN) will deliver the key note address. In this piece, Vanguard Law and Human Rights columnist, Chief Awa Kalu, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, former Abia State Attorney General and Head of Chambers, Awa U. Kalu  (SAN) & Associates, looks at the association, conferences organised by the association and the forthcoming event.

Nigeria is reputed to be the abode of the largest number of black people worldwide. On a smaller scale, it is also home to Africa’s largest collection of Lawyers better known collectively as the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). Over the years, the Bar Association has been appreciated by all and sundry as a worthy catalyst of social change.

It has also been generally acknowledged that the Association is always willing to lend its voice either in support of or in opposition to current issues of the day. It is of interest to note that there are so many issues on the front burner at this time in our national life that should actively engage a concentration of lawyers.

To mention but a few, the unfolding amnesty situation for militants in the Niger Delta is apt for discussion. Similarly, the face-off between the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government on the issue of additional local government councils in Lagos State is another matter fit for discussion. Yet again, the attempt by the National Assembly to amend the Constitution is a reminder of the strategic centrality of lawyers in the magical domain of lawyering. In that regard, it is not surprising that at its Conference for this year, due to start in Lagos (the Centre of Excellence) in the next few days, the theme that will be x-rayed is “Under-Developed Nations, Failed Economies, and the future of the Legal Profession”.

Mr Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), NBA President
Mr Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), NBA President

Rotimi Akeredolu Esq., SAN, current President of the NBA has backed our thesis that the NBA has a strong voice in our affairs as a nation. THISDAY Lawyer (Tuesday, August 11, 2009 (p. iii) hosted the NBA President as a Guest Columnist. He emphasized that “the legal profession takes a look at the primary issues confronting our nation economically, politically and socially, their challenges to society, the practice of law, and our role as lawyers in addressing these issues. Decaying social values and corruption in high places remain at its highest, eroding whatever gains of democracy being trumped up.

The global economic crunch has not isolated any country, neither is the legal profession in Nigeria immune to the political challenges confronting our nation, hence the need to appraise our role as lawyers and our relevance to Nigeria’s  social re-engineering”.

The voice of lawyers ironically has also been associated with derision and has been accorded a lukewarm reception occasionally. Similarly, there is not a shred of doubt that rightly or wrongly, Lawyers have always been at the butt of jokes and have for various reasons faced negative description in the most pejorative way by laymen, other professionally minded persons, and mischief makers alike.

Accordingly, it has been said of Lawyers that they are “a society of men bred up from their youth in the art of proving by words multiplied for the purpose that white is black and black is white according as they are paid”. In addition, the famous author and satirist, Jonathan Swift thought a Lawyer to be “a man, who always tells lies, says he always tells lies.

That is true, so he is telling lies when he claims to be always telling lies. On the other hand, as it is false he is still telling lies”. Standing in defence of Lawyers, Niki Tobi, JSC, from whose book, ‘The Nigerian Lawyer’, the above quotations are borrowed, noted emphatically that “A Lawyer is not a liar. He is a truthful and perfect human being of intelligence, respect, courtesy and condour. A Lawyer is not an interloper, intermeddler, confusionist or rambler. A Lawyer is a person, who, by the sheer dictates of his profession, exposes his services to those in need and in trouble”.

Irrespective of what your private view of Lawyers may be, and notwithstanding what you have encountered or experienced of them, even the Law, which Lawyers in pursuit of their noble profession swear to uphold, has been vilified and lampooned by all manner of people, at various stages of human development. Thus, Jean Giraudoux, (1882_1944), French dramatist (Tiger at the Gates, 1.) said that “there’s no better way of exercising the imagination than by the study of Law.

No poet ever interpreted nature as freely as a Lawyer interprets truth”. Furthermore, William Shenson (1704-63) British Poet of repute argued several years ago that, “Laws are generally found to be nets of such a texture, as the little creep through, the great break through, and the middle_sized are alone entangled in”. As far back as the 6th century BC, Solon, an Athenian statesman recorded a variant of the above statement when he claimed that “Laws are like spider’s webs: if some poor weak creature come up against them, it is caught; but a bigger one can break through and get away”. Of all the quips about the Law, there is one that bears repeating about the constitution.

Horace Walpole (1717-97) British writer, in a Letter to Sir Horace Mann in 1770 observed that “Everybody talks of the constitution, but all sides forget that the constitution is extremely well, and would do very well, if they would but let it alone”. Having regard to the predilection of certain people to blame our Constitution for all the ills that have befallen our nation, the question is would they?

Back to the Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association. The conference theme is “Under-Developed Nations, Failed Economies, and the future of the Legal Profession”. A few pessimists would immediately classify our nation not just as under-developed but would without a qualm also indict our economy as a failed one.

Were you to fall into this category, what future would you identify for the legal profession? Happily, the conference organizers have chosen very romantic and enticing topics to be elucidated and elaborated upon by scholars of diverse experience and international acclaim. Accordingly, this annual conference would have fulfilled its social and intellectual mission by providing a forum for social interaction and mutual conviviality. The annual conference of the Bar is a pilgrimage of some sort and equals the opportunity provided by the NYSC scheme for Lawyers to familiarize themselves with our vast country.

Whether Calabar, Abeokuta, Jos, Kano, Abuja, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt, Lagos or any other city is hosting the conference, you cannot but shudder at what this country would have been had we given ourselves better opportunity at social and cultural integration. A little familiarization with the geographic and scenic beauty of our country drives your imagination to picture what unique blessings nature has bestowed on our land – mischievously nicknamed the giant in the sun.

But this is not about lamentations, so let us get back on track having regard to the fact that the chief host of this conference, the Lagos State Governor, a lawyer of immense talent, has already demonstrated the intellectual acuity that can help in moving our nation forward.

An annual conference of the Bar Association always provides the opportunity for introspection whereby, eminent conferees X-ray the goings on in the profession and recommend a way forward. Right now, it cannot be denied that our profession is getting more fragile and is threatened from within and without. Our noble profession now harbours and accommodates bolikaja and kabukabu Lawyers. Groundnut sellers and tomato hawkers can now be called to Bar whilst some of our beloved colleagues now prefer businesses which in yester-years would have been described as ‘incompatible with the ethics of the legal profession’.

These days, anything goes and with little or no supervision or discipline, a Lawyer can do just about anything. What about our education? Legal education is of utmost importance and should continue to engage the attention of all those who wish our profession well. As F. Lee Bailey, eminent American trial Lawyer pointedly observed several years ago, “A Lawyer’s education is far too important to be left entirely to law schools.

No school, regardless of how good it may be, is capable of teaching the potential lawyer all there is to know about the profession (and business) of law. Having said that, it is too important to add that a lawyer’s education is also important to be left entirely to practicing lawyers. An excellent legal education requires a balance of classroom, courtroom, and office expertise”.

To this end, the leaders of our profession must be congratulated for breaking the Association into sections. For the purpose of continuing education, it is my recommendation that more conferences and seminars organized by the profession for the profession, will go a long way in bridging the gap between those who have the know-how and the vast majority of members who unarguably, are groping in the dark.

It is now time to consider the relationship between the leadership of the Association and the various governments and agencies created under the constitution, particularly, the federal government. in a speech titled ‘NBA and Federal Government: Towards a New Strategic Relationship’ (Remarks Prepared for the Annual Bar Dinner of NBA ON August 25, 2004 by Chief Ojo Maduekwe, CFR, Raising the Bar, selected speeches and writings …pp 189-190) the former Minister of Transport and current Minster of Foreign Affairs appealed for “a re-positioning of the Nigerian Bar in our fragile democracy, as a strategic partner of government in the complex and urgent task of finally creating a modern state.

A strategic relationship does not mean a bootlicking one adorned in the garments of sycophancy. It is merely the rejection of the knee_jerk dissent as a group ideology”. Chief Ojo Maduekwe further argued that “ours is historically a conservative profession, and rightly so. For the law, as the basis of statehood, should ordinarily speak the language of power, even to the powerful. The language of power is, stately, dignified, restrained, decorous and even gallant. For the first wisdom in power dynamics is understanding power limitations and complexities”.

The eminent lawyer and politician then submitted that “A more strategic NBA will criticize government from the perspective of constructive engagement and not with a passion to annoy and alienate. For at the end of the day, in a fragile and highly polarized society that needs all hands on deck, whose interest will the NBA be serving if it renders the government of the day indisposed to listen to it just because of tactics that were more relevant in the days of institutionalized arbitrariness?”

It is my belief that in dilating on the theme of our conference this year, the Bar will be mindful of the fundamental underpinnings of the theme of this conference which eloquently speaks volumes. Under-development, failed economies beget fragile societies and it is undeniable that we are getting sufficiently fragile. Let the Bar speak and let those who care listen.


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