Worried by misapplication of the federal character principle, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi said on Thursday that the principle should be based strictly on merit rather than on ethnicity.
Sanusi spoke at the 10th memorial lecture of Chief Kehinde Sofola (SAN) with the theme: “The Role of the Legal Profession in Nation Building: the Nigerian Context.”
The emir, who chaired the lecture, said the government should only ensure that representatives of the people in political, legal, or economic institutions in the country were drawn from suitably qualified individuals and not on ethnic considerations.
The Federal Character Commission Act was promulgated in 1995 and later fused into the 1999 Constitution in the wake of agitations for fair share of political positions across the country.
In the guiding principles and formula for the distribution of all cadres of posts across the country, the Act stipulates in its Part 1 that (1) “Each state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory shall be equitably represented in all national institutions and in public enterprises and organisations. (2) The best and the most competent persons shall be recruited from each state of the federation to fill positions reserved for the indigenes of the FCT.”
It was introduced to promote national unity and foster national loyalty instead of regional interests and eventually give every Nigerian a sense of belonging no matter anyone’s religion, language or ethnic group.
Sanusi said:“The issue of federal character should not be an excuse for nepotism; it should be based strictly on merit and not on family or ethnic sentiments.”
According to him, a true application of the federal character principle will help to preserve the rule of law in the country.
Described democracy as rule of law based, the one-time Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria called on Nigerians to protect and defend the integrity and dignity of the nation’s legal institutions.
“As we live today, we must understand that it is our duty to respect the various institutions of our country.
“We cannot sit and watch as spectators as our institutions are being destroyed; to be a true Nigerian we must learn to look at our leadership and tell them where they are going wrong,” Sanusi said.
On human rights and liberty, the emir stressed the need for the society to pay attention to child rights.
“No religion permits infringement on the rights of any child. You find children in the streets hawking when they should be in school while some female children are even forced into marriage.
“Even the Sharia Law requires you to first seek the consent of your female child before giving her out in marriage and so the rule of law expects us to be law abiding,” he said.
Sanusi also urged leaders at all levels to obey the rule of law rather than being intoxicated with power, saying “power is transient”.
As leaders, he said, they should perform their duties diligently for the benefit and common good of the people in accordance to the laws of the country.
For Sanusi strict adherence to the rule of law and treading the path of truth was the panacea to the scourge of corruption currently ravaging the country.
A human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), a discussant at the lecture, called on lawyers to abide by the rule of law and shun every form of corrupt practices in court and in public life.
According to Falana, the rule of law demands that the country is governed by law and the constitution.
He appealed to leaders to ensure that the rights and liberties of the citizenry were protected, adding “this can only be done by adherence to the law.”
Falana condemned corrupt practices by judicial and political officers and urged citizens to stand up and fight corruption.
He described law as the sole guide and guard for any society, and that the court remained the temple of justice with judges as administrators in the temple.
Comparing the operation of law in Africa and Europe, Falana bemoaned the spate of violation of the law particularly in Nigeria and called for a redress.
He noted that some legal officers use of frivolous applications in court to stall proceedings and put a clog in the wheels of justice.
“Take a look at court proceedings and you find some cases lingering on for more than five years; the situation is even worse when such lawyers still come to the same court to seek adjournments.
“There is also this “rude” practice where lawyers undertake briefs for their clients, and seek their opinion if they would prefer the case to be delayed in court; this is simply absurd.”
Falana, who urged lawyers must see themselves as officers of the court and act accordingly, said they should shun practices aimed at subverting the law.
In her remarks, another discussant, Prof. Isabella Okagbue, also criticised frivolous applications aimed at perverting justice and condemned corruption in the legal profession.
“The court must not adjourn any case at the request of counsel; cases must go on and frivolous adjournments must be discouraged.”
A former Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Ayotunde Philips, who spoke on behalf of Kehinde Sofola Chamber’s Alumni, extolled the virtues of the late legal icon.
She described Sofola as a watchdog for all his employees and kept everyone on his toes as well as demanded dedicated to the profession.
She attributed her success in legal practice to the “ever present help” of the late legal icon, adding that lawyers must learn from the good conduct of their predecessors in order to be successful.
The lecture was attended by Edo Governor Godwin Obaseki, a political activist, Dr Junaid Muhammed, Justice Bimbo Obaseki-Adejumo and senior lawyers.