The president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau (SAN) recently did what people in leadership positions in Nigeria shy away from: he apologised for the failure of the members of the legal prefession to live up to their responsibility to the Nigerian people over the years – their duty to uphold social justice and good governance by holding the country’s leaders accountable.
Maikyau made this apology during the association’s maiden State of the Nation Dialogue held at the NBA headquarters in Abuja last week.
At the event in which the presidential candidates in the 2023 general election were invited and eight were in attendance, he said the dialogue was a step in the NBA’s new resolve to get involved in providing solutions to the problems bedeviing Nigeria, choosing three key areas for discussion by experts and presidential candidates: security, economy and administration of justice.
The outcome of the dialogue, he vowed, will be communicated to the presidential candidates so that whoever wins the election will be well guided.
The NBA president recalled his inaugural speech in August 2022 in which he said: “There has not been any time in this country when Nigerians have looked more to the Bar as they do now for a way out of the rather bleak situation, and they are certainly looking in the right direction. We are the ones who, by the privilege of our training and expertise, are positioned to ask the right questions, interrogate the system and call those saddled with the responsibility of providing security for the lives and properties of Nigerians, to account for their stewardship.”
He spoke about the natural leadership role lawyers play in bringing about national development, contending that as professionals privileged to have been formally instructed on the subject of Law, which is the instrument by which governance and justice is dispensed to the people, they are naturally called to provide leadership.
According to him, it is by justice that a people exist and as ministers in the temple of justice, their primary call is to serve the cause of justice.
Recalling Sheikh Uthman Danfodio‘s statement: that “a people can exist without religion, but they cannot exist without justice”, he averred that the survival of a people has a direct connection to the availability of justice, or otherwise, it then means that the primary duty of members of the legal profession, whether on the Bench or at the Bar, is to serve justice, a duty that bears on the survival of Nigeria as a nation.
Also, he said it is a leadership duty they owe Nigeria and which they are now ready to take up, which informed the State of the Nation Dialogue and other interventions of late.
He also quoted legal luminaries who espoused the broad social roles of lawyers , among them
Prof Olakunle Orojo, who held that Nigerian legal practitioners, in addition to their professional roles, must also be involved in social change: they must strive to ensure a strict adherence to the rule of law; that political power is carefully watched and controlled so that it is not used to perpetuate the status quo or class domination; that in their watchdog role, they must, through their independence and total commitment to social justice, provide the necessary support to sustain equally independent and fearless judiciary, while Sir Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams, the first Nigerian called to the English Bar (on 17 November 1879), said: “the legal practitioner lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country”.
The NBA president further pointed out that for the legal profession to carry on this noble role, its members, on the Bench and Bar, must maintain the highest ethical standards.He also said that lawyers, like doctors and clergymen, are not supposed to make remuneration the basis of their practice, but service to humanity.
Participants at the dialogue averred that in order for them to combat the erosion of the rule of law and the corrosive growth of corruption, nepotism and elitism as well as retain the confidence and trust of the people, they must be motivated by their role to serve the cause of justice and the people.
In the interpretation and implementation of the law, they must also show the right conduct to ensure that justice is not only served but appear to have been served.And wherever they find themselves to be serving, in public and private life, if they conduct themselves in the proper way, the country will improve dramatically in all aspects.
Maikyau argued that the direction the Nigerian nation has taken today is attributable to the legal profession’s abdication of the duty to provide direction and leadership to the people.
Going forward he vowed that the members of the legal profession must not be primarily concerned about using their privileged skills for self enrichment but to advance the cause of justice and promote national development, which are its core mandates.
“This is why our administration is strong on ensuring that lawyers observe the highest ethical and professional standards, because only then can we deliver on our primary call to the people. We must quit using our legal skills and knowledge only for remuneration. While remuneration for the services we render is good, we must not make it the primary motivation for the work we do – we must be primarily motivated by the cause of the people. That is the path for national development,” he said.
The NBA president also spoke to the comment made by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo during this newspaper’s recently held Conference and Awards ceremony in Abuja, when he said the credibility of Nigeria’s election will be determined by the electoral umpire, INEC, and the Judiciary. Maikyau vowed that the NBA was ready to expose and prosecute erring members of the legal profession who misconduct themselves in adjudicating election matters, saying the failings of few corrupt legal professionals should not be used to tar the entire group.
> As a newspaper, we approve of the ideals expressly canvassed by Mr Maikyau. Now that the NBA president has set out the nation-building role the legal profession should be playing in the country, Nigerians will be looking forward to the return of the time when judiciary was the last hope of the common man, and not only for the rich and powerful who can buy it. We also look forward to a decongestion of Nigerian prisons where two-thirds of the inmates are awaiting trial due largely to the prosecutorial shenanigans of police prosecutors. Many of those rotting away there are innocent and had never even seen a lawyer. We also look forward to the NBA challenging any illegality that the government imposes on the citizens; in this wise it should collaborate with rights activist bodies lik CSOs, National Human Rights Commission and Legal Aid Council, among others, to ensure that people’s rights are not trampled upon by the rich and powerful.
> Above all, we expect to see a heightened observance of the rule of law in the country, where the political leaders continue to conduct themselves as if they are above the law. We also expect the members of the legal profession to champion the cause of making just laws in the legislature, and challenging obnoxious laws made to protect corruption among political leaders from accounting for their stewardship, among others.
In a country where most people cannot afford the basics of food, clothing and shelter, where most give up their legal rights due to lack of means, this new spirit at the Nigeria Bar Assiciation rekindles hope that all hope of equal justice for the people is not lost after all. It is a huge role, but Maikayau and his colleagues must walk the talk.