Unity Bar Law Week: Asiwaju Adegboyega Awomolo,SAN Delivers Keynote Address



I want to acknowledge the kindness and courtesies consistently extended to me by the Chairman and officers of the Unity Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association. I appreciate your felicitation and encouraging words on the occasion of my appointment as the Chairman of the Body of Benchers, the first from the Branch.
I feel highly honoured and excited to accept the kind invitation to address this great gathering of  learned friends here gathered.
The leadership of the NBA ABUJA BRANCH(Unity Bar) has chosen a very important and apt subject for this year’s law week namely; “DEPLOYING THE LAW TO ATTAIN NATIONAL STABILITY AND DEVELOPMENT”.
I think we are all agreed that the attainment of national stability and development we all clamor for can only be achieved when the proper and the right instrumentality of the law is enacted  faithfully implemented, obeyed and enforced.
The law is only meaningful when it addresses the common goal of government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Nigeria, according to many  academia and leaders of thoughts over the years, has continued to remain stagnated, poorly governed, and underdeveloped because of deficit in the quality of governance by the people we elected into political offices and those appointed into public offices.The country’s problems include a dysfunctional socio-political structure, entrenched corruption, and an unproductive economy.
There is however disputes as to whether Nigeria is a failed State. However, there are agreements that these issues of perenial unemployment, discrimination, religious bigotry and others rules have persisted for a long time, with widespread weak institutional failure, political instability, and social conflict being common issues within the last fifty years. The late Fela Kuti’s words in his popular song “Suffering and Smiling” perfectly capture the Nigerian experience, highlighting that problems persist or evolved in various forms. The country’s problems are not solved, but rather persisted or keep manifesting  in various forms. This has led to huge economic loss, massive brain drain and high loss of majority of Nigerian’s vibrant, intellectual and active youth in what is called   “Japa” Syndrome. The effect of this unfortunate demographic loss   in human resources manifest mostly in professional and technical sectors and industries because of the unemployment of educated and skilled youths.
According to the proponents of the social contract theory, the entire fabric of the society is wired on law and its instrumentality accepted by the people.According to Thomas Hobbes, prior to the social contract, the state existed in what was referred to as the state of nature which was characterized by anarchy.
With no set rules or a sense of right and wrong, the people fell into a warlike state resulting in utter chaos and confusion.
“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
The importance of law cannot be over emphasized particularly in any democratic society because without rigorous observance of the Rule of Law, a democratic society like ours, cannot endure or thrive. Hence, the theme of this year’s law week: “deploying the law to attain national stability and development” is not only apt, relevant and contemporary, it aligns with the primary objective of the governance according to Section 14(2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which declares that the “security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.We then need to ask ourselves whether the  laws we  have enacted since independence or more appropriately since 1999, when the military went back to the Barracks to face their constitutional role, has truly achieved national stability and development.
Before considering the indispensable role of deploying the law to attain national stability and development, it is significant to have proper grasp of key concepts and idea that are relevant to the topic in discourse.
There is no universally accepted definition of law. A definition of law that encompasses all meanings has not yet been proposed. According to Okunniga, “Nobody including the lawyer has offered, nobody including the law is offering, nobody including the lawyer will ever be able to offer a definition of law to end all definitions.”
However, certain authors opinion about what the definition of law is will be adopted for the purpose of this address.
The Black’s Law Dictionary 9th Edition defines law as:  “the aggregate of legislation, judicial precedence and accepted legal principles, the body of authoritative grounds of judicial and administrative action, especially the body of rules, standards and principles that the court of a particular jurisdiction apply in deciding controversies brought before them”.
John Austin defines law as “a rule laid down for the guidance of an intelligent being by an intelligent being having power over him. In other words, a body of rules fixed and enforced by a sovereign political authority”.
Glanville Williams’ definition of the law’s role in society has a more comprehensive understanding: “Law is the cement of the society and also an essential medium of change. Knowledge of law increases one’s understanding of public affairs. Its study promotes accuracy of expression, facility in arguments and skill in interpreting the written word as well as some understanding of social values”.
The consensus held by legal practitioners and jurists is that “the law is what the Courts defined law to be in their exercise of interpretative jurisdiction until Parliament says otherwise.3.0 NATIONAL STABILITY AND DEVELOPMENT Governance in Nigeria is linked to the state’s ability to engender good and efficient public service, transparency, good governance, accountability, adequate income, true democracy, and respect for human rights. Bad governance on the other hand is seen to contribute to underdevelopment, corruption, impunity and poverty.
Governance involves not only making decisions and processes, it also extends to their effective implementation. Experience has also shown that many positive decision of government are not implemented, sometimes due to absence of political will and bureaucracy.
National governance focuses on government institutions, society, relationships, methods, and rules, establishing a legitimate society that adds value to create national stability and a stable political system.
Good governance focuses on political stability, rule of law, regulation,  management, policy on corruption control, and responsibility. High levels of domestic poverty and weak governance make local governance difficult. Globally, democratic concepts and decentralization affect policy formulation, participation, and implementation.NATIONAL INSTABILITY AND UNDEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA – THE GIANT OF AFRICAN; THE REALITY.
Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual Nation that has been influenced by Christianity, Islam, local beliefs, Western, Arabic, and indigenous cultures.
It has over 250 ethnic groups and languages. Its massive oil and natural gas resources, together with its rich agricultural land, make up its land area resources. Strong Armed Forces, ongoing peace operations, and diplomatic leadership in international organizations such as the OPEC, AU, and ECOWAS have given Nigeria considerable regional and international political power. Nigeria is the most populous state in Africa and the seventh most populated country worldwide, home to over 220 million people.
Nigeria is a nation that has a long history of political struggles and domestic instability  due to perceived damaged denunciation and struggle for independent tribes.
It has also suffered from major  environmental degradation, internal conflicts, and corruption. Although its natural resources bring in foreign earnings and investment, they also fuel violence, corruption, and the destruction of the environment and agricultural lands. Nigeria’s low GDP per capita, high poverty rate, and low literacy rate places it among the world’s 20 poorest nations per capita. In addition, the nation unfortunately has been described as a hub for cyber-crimes, drug and human trafficking, kidnapping, piracy, and nascent native extremism killings, as well as diseases and general human suffering.Nigeria has not been able to reach its full potential because of a number of complicated problems, including; poverty, conflicts between cultures, international intrigue, colonial legacy, and insincerity at all levels of governance. Nigeria’s political culture and centrifugal and centripetal forces have kept the country in darkness  despite economic expansion and increased democratic resilience, resulting in instability and possible fracture.
Nigeria, in my view, is blessed with one of the best judicial resources in the world. Statutes or  law, the books are rich and sufficient to sustain good development in our economic and social area. Every year, Parliament enacted law to enhance development efforts of both private and public sectors of the economy.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) institutionalizes the state’s developmental duty, and law is invoked as an aiding instrument for policies formulation. Nigeria’s federal administration over the years has implemented various development policies, reflecting a “swing of the pendulum,” with law playing a crucial role in their operation and achievements.
The 1979 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria after years of military interregnum recognized development variables as part of its fundamental objectives and policy principles. The current 1999 constitution maintains these provisions, stating that the security and welfare of the people should be the primary purpose of government.
The state is obligated to harness the nation’s resources, promote national prosperity, and control the economy to ensure maximum benefit, freedom, and happiness for every citizen, based on social justice and equality of status and opportunity to create an egalitarian society.
For example, let us refresh our memory that according to Section 13 of the Nigerian constitution, all governmental bodies and authorities have the obligation to follow, observe, and implement the laws. Since development is essentially a state responsibility, it is regarded as a right of citizens to enjoying the benefit of good governance.Positive human rights that call for specific developmental actions from the state are known as socio-economic rights.
They are the antithesis of negative human rights that were first meant to shield people from the government, such as civil and political rights. The two categories of human rights were approached differently by the constitution.
Whereas fundamental human rights have been guaranteed since 1960   and are now subject to effective judicial enforcement under Chapter IV of the 1999 constitution, aspirational rights  covered under chapter 2 are not, unfortunately, justiciable except by invoking Treaties and Conventions to which Nigeria is a signatory like the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in any judicial proceedings in rare cases.
Furthermore, the Nigerian constitution, like many other democratic instruments, is supreme and binding on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Section 1(1) of the CFRN 1999 as amended states that the constitution is the supreme law, subjecting every person and authority under its provisions. This echoes Lord Justice Denning’s dictum that “be ye never so high, the law is above you.” Hon. Justice Niki Tobi, JSC(Rtd) (of blessed memory) affirmed the supremacy of the Constitution in A.G Abia vs. A.G Federation in the following words: “…in line with the kindly position of the constitution, all the three arms of the government are slaves of the constitution…in the sense of total obeisance and loyalty to it.”.Consequently, it was decided in Inakoju v. Adeleke(2007)4 NWLR(PT.1025) 423 at 588 that the House of Assembly of the State violated Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution by not adhering to the established constitutional procedure, rendering the impeachment  of the  then Governor of Oyo State, illegal.
The aforementioned court decisions and many more in our law reports made it abundantly evident that the supremacy clause as enshrined in the Constitution is final and cannot be invalidated by any other law.
I have a strong belief that what concerns us most in this Law Week  is the obligations created under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which affects the administration of justice. We as Ministers in the temple of justice and members of the very noble and learned profession must address our obligation and responsibilities as it concerns administration of justice in our Courts. Access to justice, quick dispensation of justice and creation of conducive environment for fair hearing, fair trial and obedience to the global principle of rule of law.
It is important for us to appreciate the nexus between law and economic development.  According to Prof Bolaji Owasanoye; “a sound economy is the surest engine of growth and the shortest route to tackling the challenges posed by endemic poverty in developing countries. Going by the example of well developed nations, sound economic fundamentals contribute to social development which in turn strengthen political stability and good governance. To ensure a sound economy, the legal regime must be equally sound and provide an assuring platform for entrepreneurs and businesses that can create jobs towards alleviating or at least significantly diminishing poverty. The role of law in promoting economic development cannot be underscored because most of our lives and interaction with each other are regulated by law”.
Section 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 vested or donated judicial powers of the Federation to Courts established thereby and  judicial powers of a State are vested in the Courts established by Parliament of the State.
In order to safeguard the independence of the Judiciary at all levels, Section 153 established the National Judicial Council. Paragraph 21 of the 3rd Schedule spelt out the powers of the Council. The appointment, promotion and disciplinary control of all judicial officers all over the Country lie with the Council.
Can we in good conscience say that all is well with the Judiciary in this Country? It is a huge conversation and this Law Week must add its voice.Let us go back to the relevant provisions of the Constitution as it concern matters arising from the theme of this Law Week.
The non-justiciability of provisions regarding civil and political rights cannot be justified, as they require institutional structures and costs. Nigeria, with its abundant resources, cannot feign impecuniousness and should not leave unattended to, implementation of developmental rights aspirational. Civil and political rights are only meaningful when a certain level of development is achieved, as highlighted by Bhagwatti J in Minerva Mills Ltd v Union of India thus: “to the large majority of people who are living an almost subhuman existence in conditions of abject poverty and for whom life is one long unbroken story of want and destitution, notions of individual freedom and liberty, though representing some of the most cherished values of free society, would sound as empty words bandied about only in the drawing rooms of the rich and well-to-do and the only solution for making these rights meaningful to them was to re-make the material conditions and usher in a new social order where socio-economic justice will inform all institutions of public life so that the pre-conditions of fundamental liberties for all may be secured. It was necessary to create socio-economic conditions in which every citizen of the country would be able to exercise civil and political rights and they will not remain the preserve of only a fortunate few.”South Africa’s constitution, as amended in 2003, includes a Bill of Rights that guarantees civil and political rights, including access to adequate housing, healthcare services, food and water, social security, and basic education.
These rights are justiciable under section 38, making them enforceable against the state, unlike in Nigeria.
Professor Sheriffdeen A. Tella further observed that; “The problem with the Nigerian legal regime for economic development is multi-faceted and this problem is most exemplified by the archaic laws, the multiplicity of laws and regulations, conflicting overlaps in the administrative and institutional structures, the absence of laws in critical areas and a weak enforcement mechanism.”
According to Dele Adesina (SAN) FCI.Arb. “The greatest of these problems is lack of effective and efficient system of enforcement of our laws and this is very fundamental”.
There is agreement among lawyers and academia that Chapter II of the Nigerian Constitution is the heart of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is therefore imperative for everyone concerned about the welfare, economic, social and legal rights for all Nigerians to press for making the Fundamental and Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Chapter II of the Constitution to be enforceable in Courts by any Nigerian with legal standing to do so.
There are precedents all over the world and Nigeria can follow in the good examples.
The doors of the Courts should be made wide open for this purpose.
In defending the right to development, this keynote address makes the case that activism  can and must be used in addition to the instrumental application of the law.
The interpretation of civil and political rights by courts can incorporate pertinent socio-economic rights, even though a constitutional change is required to make socio-economic rights enforceable rights.
A sufficient standard of living, for instance, might be considered part of the right to human dignity and the right to health. India has a number of activist cases that highlight the significance of integrating education within the right to life, like Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation
and Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which covers socio-economic rights, in my humble view, is an instrument that encourages Nigeria’s activism. Because socio-economic rights are inextricably linked to civil and political rights, the Charter does not distinguish between the two.
In Nigeria, active citizen participation is essential for effective governance because it enables people to choose leaders they can trust. Achebe’s observation that poor leadership constituted Nigeria’s problem is still applicable today.
The election process is an essential instrument for choosing deserving candidates and representatives to replace outgoing ones. If we consider the percentage of votes in the last election, against registered voters and the larger population of Nigerians, there existed the great gaps in this aspect of our National life.
There was apathy and indifference in electioneering.
Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), labor unions, professional bodies like the Nigeria Bar Association, religious pressure groups, and individuals play a crucial role in a dual bottom-up approach for active citizenship.
However, effective active citizenship requires development education and awareness campaigns, to address misunderstood attitudes.
Let me remind us that lawyers from time immemorial and in this Country in past stood firmly against oppression, abuse of human rights and used the instrumentality of the law to lift Nigeria into National stability and development. Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN (of blessed memory) made great and unforgettable contributions in this respect.
Our forebear, the first indigenous Nigerian Lawyer on the record to have been called to English Bar on November 17 1879, Mr. Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams, conscious of the duty of lawyers in Nigeria was quoted as saying; “The Legal Practitioner lives for the direction of his people and ​​​the advancement of the cause of his Country”.
The role of  legal practitioners cannot be over emphasized in any democratic society in the words of Chief Wole Olanipekun,SAN.  “Jurisprudentially, a lawyer is a social engineer, who by his training stands for and defends the oppressed against the oppressor, the weak against the strong, the lowly against the mighty the poor against the rich, the governed against the governor, etc.   The role might also be played in a reverse order, depending on who briefs who. Stretched further, we as lawyers are expected in the present day Nigeria to wage unrelenting war against arbitrariness, high-handedness, wickedness of man to man, injustice, misgovernance or misrule, corruption and all social or national vices which have become the order of the day in this clime.
For me, the Rule of Law has always been an issue and government after government, has showed that that there are always conversations around the obligation to obey the tenets of the Rule of Law by those in powers. Perhaps, the most notorious has been disobedience to judgments and orders of courts and impunity at all levels of government.
In Onagoruwa v. IGP (1991)Hon. Justice Niki Tobi, JCA(as he then was) (of blessed memory)emphasised that the rule of law is the cornerstone of democracy. “Nigeria is a democracy and by the grace of the Almighty God, it will remain a democracy for all times.
The foundation of any democracy is anchored on the Rule of Law both in its conservative and contemporary meaning.
Putting it naively, we are paid mainly and essentially to uphold the Rule of Law in the entire polity.
And so, once we fail to uphold Rule of Law, anarchy, despotism and totalitarianism will pervade the entire society. The society equilibrium will be broken. Law and order will break down. Everybody will be his own keeper and God for us all.
We, as judges, cannot afford to see society decay to such an irreparable level. We must rise up fully to our duties by vindicating the tenets of the Rule of Law in our practiced democracy.”
According to the jurist, lawyers and judges are paid mainly to uphold the Rule of law.
This is the very essence of our calling; this is what we have subscribed to; it is the very end result of the oath we have taken. For us to rise up and fully attain this mandate to vindicate the tenets of the rule of law in our democracy, the Bar must be virile, learned, vocal, strong, courageous, fearless, reflective, resourceful, alert, sound and God-fearing, while Bench must also be impartial, intelligent, fearless, honest, truthful, dutiful, courageous, independent and like Caesars wife, be above board in all circumstances.   Recently, the Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Justice for the Federation, Prince Lateef Olasunkani Fagbemi, SAN the Nigerian Bar Association and some public spirited organizations supported and co-sponsored the convening of the National Summit on Justice 2024.
It was a historic gathering of all the stakeholders in Justice Sector where very pertinent conversation on the state of Nigerian Judiciary took place.
The summit was declared open by His Excellency, Senator Ahmed Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the President, Commander-in -Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

FELIX CHUKWUMA ASHIMOLE, Esq.,  co-publisher Kubwaexpress

The Legislature was represented by the eminent presence of His Excellency, Chief Godswill Akpabio, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Barau Jibrin, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon.Tajudeen Abbas.
Let me commend the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association under the leadership of Mr. Y.C Maikyau SAN, OON for the role being played to bring about desirable reforms in the administration of justice in Nigeria. The efforts and zeal of the Bar Association is an indication that the Bar is ready to spearhead and activate revolution in the administration of justice sector. We can hold ourselves responsible to produce the Bar which is virile, learned, courageous, fearless, reflective, resourceful, alert, sound and God fearing.The Body of Bencher also played a very active role in the Summit as I was present to put in the stamp of complete agreement with the judicial reforms discussed at the Summit.
Suffice it to say that the appointment of the visionary and energetic Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Prince Olasunka Lateef Fagbemi, SAN has become a great blessing to the Judiciary as the third Arm of Government. He has shown commendable zeal and passion to address the problems in the Judiciary sector. Recently, the President signed into law the Bill that ended statutory discrimination of retirement ages and pension rights of Judges of the High Courts, all over the Federation, passed by the National Assembly and 36 Houses of Assembly as alteration to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
There is a Bill currently pending in the National Assembly concerning improvement to the salaries and conditions of service of all judicial officers. When the Bill is passed into law, it will be a plus for all the stakeholders in the justice sector.
The stakeholders in the administration of justice sector are hoping that the 2024 Summit will produce the much expected return and innovations that will usher in the much expected progressive, constitutional and statutory reforms. The Supreme Court of Nigeria deserves to be free from the shackles of all common law right appeals that arose from the Customary Court, through High Courts and Court of Appeal and eventually entered in the Supreme Court. It is expected that the Supreme Court as a Court of policy in the new dispensation would  be free to exercise jurisdiction in matters deservedly concerned with interpretation of the Constitution, conviction and sentence, of execution and imprisonment. While everyone is waiting for this revolutionary change, the Bar appeals to the Honorable Chief Justice of Nigeria to exercise his statutory powers by constituting Special Supreme Court Panels during the long vacation whereby two panels can attend to and clear all outstanding applications, that had clogged the court dockets since 2012 till date. The Special Supreme Court Panels would by the resumption of the court in September 2024 for the 2024/2025 legal year settle all outstanding applications leaving the court to face substantive appeal. This is the prayer of the Unity Bar to the Honorable the Chief Justice of Nigeria in exercise of his “prerogative of mercy” intervention.
It is my view that this conference or law week will be meaningless and mere academic exercise, if at the end of the date, no significant and meaningful contribution is given to conversation concerning the character of persons eligible to hold a position on the Bench of all Courts. Our discussion and resolution must touch on the appointing authority for judicial officers.
There must be an end to political interference and undignified lobby for appointment to all levels of our Court. Like caesers wife, these eminent men and women of law suitable, eligible and qualified must be seen to be above board and must as a general consensus remain men and women  of character and learning.
The Nigerian Bar Association has championed advocacy for reforms in its publication titled “Advocacy briefing note- Proposal for sustainable reform of Judiciary”. Some of the proposals put forward  may appear revolutionary but with understanding, adequate engagements of all stakeholders, every aspect of the proposal will turn out to be evolutionary and made modified to suit Nigerian environment. The law week must address the growing menace of indiscipline, professional misconduct and rampant abuse of clients confidence, mishandling of clients funds and properties and deliberate scandalization of judicial officers and frustration of judicial proceeding through social media by our colleagues.
Mr. Chairman, we must get going, very strongly, advancing all these points. It is not for nothing that we are called Honourable men of the most noble and learned profession.
Corruption has reached an alarming proportion and the practice cut across  both inner and outer Bar. It is commonly believed that my colleagues of the Inner Bar perpetrate and involve themselves in unwholesome practices with impunity. I have challenged those I read and knew their authors on social media and I am waiting for proofs on any of these allegations.
Let me assure you, my colleagues, of the Bar that no greater honour can be conferred on a distinguished learned gentleman of the Bar than to be conferred with the rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria. It is not a rank to be trivialized. I felt pained when I saw a Senior Advocate of Nigeria bowing and trembling before a criminal suspect within the walls of a  Court room and in a  criminal trial in an ongoing proceedings. No matter what may be  the “public eminence” of a defendant in a criminal trial, he remains a defendant in the criminal trial and he should bow and give respect to the lawyers on their sits in courts. The media now beams every action, body movement of Counsel in all cases of politically exposed persons, appearing before our Court. Let all be wary as no one should bring the eminence of the Bar to disrepute.
There is need for all of us to be conversant with the Rules of Professional Conduct at the Bar published in 2023.
In specific, let all of us get a copy at this conference. There are very fundamental provisions that are in  complete departure from all the previous Rules.
The Body of Benchers will not fail in its duty to apply the Rules and enforce discipline no matter the status, position or rank of any Legal Practitioner.
Let me thank the Chairman for the honour of this keynote address and I pray that at the end of the week, all of us will be happy that we participated in this 2024 Law Week of the Unity Bar. ©️Asiwaju Adegboyega Awomolo,SAN,
(Chairman, Body of Benchers).
8th  May 2024

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