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Legal practitioners’ role in effective implementation of anti-corruption laws

THE exercise of these powers by the Attorney-General, that is, he institution and discontinuance of criminal proceedings cannot be questioned, and subject to the reserved right of his appointor to remove or even reassign him without giving any reason whatsoever for so doing, neither that appointor nor any other person for that matter can question such exercise of his powers. [81]

To the extent, that there are no special nor separate schools or institutions, for the training of prospective or future Attorneys General, it behoves us all individually and collectively, to take responsibility for our professional calling, if we are not to endanger the wellbeing of the larger society, who depend on us, to stand up for the Rule of Law. To my mind, the requirements of learning, integrity, courage and independence of mind germane to the due performance of the role of the Attorney General are such, that every Lawyer should possess, if we are going to be of any help to our country, in the implementation of the anti-corruption Laws.

Without doubt, the Legal Practitioners’ responsibilities are indeed heavy. The wisdom of one of the Nigerian best legal minds of the past is relevant here. We quote his words:

A heavy responsibility devolves on a legal practitioner by virtue of his profession. He is not only an officer of the court who assists in the administration of justice; he is also the defender of the rights of the citizens and custodian of their confidence. In the course of his duties, he risks coming into conflict with the state and even sometimes with the court. He must maintain the rule of law and avoid putting himself in a position where his personal interest will conflict with that of his clients. He must act honourably, for the profession is “the honourable” profession.

In this paper, I have tried not to bore you with cases. I have tried instead to focus on the topic given to me without casting Newspaper Headlines! The main objective of this lecture is to highlight the expected role of the Legal Practitioner in the effective implementation of Nigeria’s anti-corruption Laws. I have done that, within limitations of space and time. In broad terms, this lecture has seven main components. These are introduction; definition of terms; legal education in Nigeria; Anti-corruption Laws and their implementation; Role of Legal Practitioners and rules guiding them; the Lawyer as a Judge and implications for implementation of anti-corruption law; ethical and moral dimensions; and the influence of international law.

Influence of international law

I also draw the conclusion that laws, morals and ethics must work together to create the synergy required for the effective role of Legal Practitioners in the implementation of anti-corruption law in Nigeria.

Nevertheless, I want to conclude on moral note. First, the present perception of lawyers in relation to the fight against corruption is less than favourable. Secondly, our poor role (perceived or otherwise) has both economic and social costs. It leads our people to greater poverty and utter feeling of dejection. Thirdly, from generation to generation, lawyers have served   and continue to serve as agents of positive change. They are too numerous to mention names. However, our generation and those coming after us, obviously need to do more, if our profession is not to suffer odium and perdition. The war against corruption is the major war in our country now. The war cannot be won except lawyers take morals along with laws. It has been said, the spirit of the law is morality. Borrowing from Justice Oputa, JSC; (of blessed memory) The plea I wish to make here is that the Nigerian “Legal conscience should be open to the demands of morality and the profession should lead us back to the path of legal and political rectitude[82]”.

Leading us back to our origins, brings to mind the following passages from the Novel: Remembrance Rock by Carl Sandburg: When we say a patriot is one who loves one’s country ran the voice of Justice Windom “What kind of love do we mean? A love we can throw on a scale and see how much it weighs? A love we can take apart and see how it ticks? A love where with a yard stick we record how long, high, wide it is? Or is a patriot’s love of country a thing invisible, a quality, a human shade and breath, beyond all reckoning and measurement? These are questions. They are as old as the time of man. And the answer to the, we know in part. For we know when a nation goes down and never comes back   when a society or a civilization perishes, one condition may always be found. They forgot where they came from. They lost sight of what brought them along. The hard beginnings were forgotten and the struggles farther along. They became satisfied with themselves.

Unity and common understanding there had been, enough to overcome rot and dissolution, enough to break through their obstacles. But the mockers came. And the deniers were heard. And vision and hope faded. And the custom of greeting became “What’s the use?” And men whose forefathers would go anywhere, holding nothing impossible in the genius of man, joined the mockers and the deniers. They lost sight of what brought them along. You may bury the bones of men and after dig them up to find they have mouldered into a thin white ash that crumbles in your fingers. But their ideas won. Their visions came through. They ought not to be forgotten  the dead who held   in their clenched hands that which became the heritage of us the living.[83]

As our national Anthem goes “the Labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain”.

Fourth, we need to be cautious with the emerging grouping of lawyers along tribal and religions lines. It can be a double edged sword and if not properly managed, constitute a present danger to the performance of our role in fighting corruption. Fifth, there is a wise saying that “not all that glitter is gold.” As it has been said, we should shun every invitation to participate in corrupt practices, no matter how lucrative it may seem. A good name, is undoubtedly preferable to silver and gold. Should we elect to abide by the guiding rules of our profession, then our leading role in the effective implementation of Nigeria’s anti-corruption Laws shall remain guaranteed.

My Lords, Mr. Vice Chancellor, Dean of the Faculty of Law, My Learned and distinguished Colleagues, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Senior Academics, Ladies and Gentlemen, this my humbly lecture in honour of our man of integrity – Justice Mohammed Mustapha Adebayo Akanbi.


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