ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION, ABUBAKAR BALARABE MAHMOUD, OON, SAN TO THE NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING OF 10th MAY, 2018, AT CORONATION HALL, GOVERNMENT HOUSE, KANO, KANO STATE.
Your Excellency, Governor of Kano State, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje;
Hon. Speaker of the Kano State House of Assembly, Hon. Chief Judge of Kano State,
Honourable Attorney General of Kano State and Commissioner of Justice,
Members of the Kano State Executive Council,
My Lords, judges of Kano State High Court and all the Superior Courts,
Past Presidents of the NBA,
National Officers of the Nigerian Bar Association, Senior Advocates of Nigeria,
Honorable Benchers, Eminent Bar Leaders,
Distinguished members of NBA-National Executive Committee, members of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Your Excellency, distinguished NEC members, it is my privilege to welcome you all to the National Executive Committee meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association holding in the ancient city of Kano,
My City, My State. Kano has played host to our NEC meetings in the past and indeed to other national events. However, this is the first of such major events with its son as President of our great association. It is appropriate therefore for me to begin this speech by placing on record my appreciation to his Excellency the Governor of Kano. Since I assumed the extra ordinary privilege of leading this Association as President, I have received immense support and encouragement of His Excellency, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje and indeed, his administration and the entire people of Kano State. Your Excellency, I owe you a debt of gratitude. Apart from the various words of encouragement, you kept your doors open to me at all times. You have supported not only the branches of our association here in Kano but you have supported us at the national level. I recall early last year Your Excellency hosted me here in the Government House to a state banquet to honour me and the association. At that event, many of our colleagues from across the country were present and the event was graced by eminent citizens of the State, including his Highness the Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi the II and the late Dan Masanin Kano Alh Yusuf Maitama Sule (May Allah Bless his soul) who delivered an eloquent address of great motivation on the occasion, a recording of which I still have. Your Excellency, in August 2017 you led a team of senior members of your administration and the Emir of Kano to participate in our annual general conference in Lagos. Your colourful participation was one of the major highlights of the conference. Again, this meeting is holding in Kano because of your generous support. Your
Excellency I want to thank you most sincerely for this immense demonstration of support not only to me personally, but to the Nigerian Bar Association.
Our National Executive Committee meetings hold in various states across the country every quarter. In the last year and half we have met in Minna, Niger State, Aba, Abia State, Lokoja Kogi State, Uyo Akwa Ibom State, Ilorin Kwara State and now Kano.
Your Excellency, the National Executive Committee is the highest body of the NBA aside from the Annual General Meeting. At our NEC meetings, we review the state of affairs not only of the association but we undertake a critical appraisal of the state of the nation. We offer criticism and suggestions on important national issues as part of our constitutional duty of promoting the rule of law and good governance and speaking on behalf of ordinary citizens! NEC meetings also afford our members the opportunity to know our country better and also to build bonds of friendship and solidarity. I dare say, that it is no wonder that the NBA has become one of the unifying forces and building blocks for national unity and promoting understanding in the country. I thank our colleagues for keeping faith with this tradition of the bar.
THE STATE OF THE NATION
I want to begin my remarks on the state of the nation by commenting briefly on the state of Kano. Your Excellency, I want to commend your leadership in Kano and the great strides the State continues to make in its quest for development. Kano has in the last few years, both under your leadership and that of your predecessors made tremendous progress in upgrading its infrastructure. In urban Kano, we have noticed road developments, urban expansion and renewal programs. There have been huge strides in the educational sector, in health, water supply and energy. You are building two hydroelectric power plants in Tiga and Challawa which when completed will provide at least 13 Megawatts to augment the energy supply to the State. Kano has now two major state owned Universities, the Maitama Sule University and of course the Kano University of Science and Technology, which I have the honour and privilege of heading as its Pro-Chancellor. Both institutions have continued to grow and contribute immensely to the manpower needs of the state. Kano has always been a regional hub for trade and also an industrial center. I am happy to note that since the setback we noticed at the onset of the Boko Haram insurgency, Kano has consolidated on its peaceful atmosphere as a State and it is regaining its immense status as a regional hub for industry and commerce. I commend your efforts at promoting the ease of doing business in the state and promoting the investment climate. Recently in May 2017 you organised the 2nd Kano Investment Summit and also organised the Kano-Lagos joint investment summit in February 2018. I think these are great initiatives, which should be promoted for the benefit of the State and indeed the country.
Your Excellency, in spite of these impressive strides, I will be doing injustice to you and also to the State if I fail to say to you that we do have areas of concern. The first relates to the rancorous political atmosphere in the state. This has threatened the peaceful atmosphere in the recent past. Kano cannot consolidate its giant strides and emerge as a leader in social and economic development in a region that is much deprived compared to the rest of Nigeria unless its political and social elite get their act together and close ranks and establish a new culture of politics that focuses on development and promoting the wellbeing of citizens. The political elite must devise a new culture of tolerance, mutual respect and politics focused on the welfare of the citizens. Your Excellency, I am by no means placing this on your shoulders alone. I think however, as a father of all, the task remains eminently yours. I want to pledge my support and that of well-meaning members of our association to assist in whatever way we can in this task in any meaningful way consistent with our constitutional imperatives of being non- partisan. Kano is blessed to have been spared by the perennial strife and conflict that seem to have taken roots in many of the states especially in the North. We do not have conflicts between farmers and herders on the scale we see in other places, we do not have the banditry we see Zamfara or parts of Kaduna or the sectarian killings in other parts.
Your Excellency, I want to commend your administration for the harmonious relationship between the executive branch of government and the judicial branch in particular and generally the progress made in the area of the administration. I am happy
that the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice has brought in new vigour in the ministry of justice and I understand there is much improvement in the morale of the staff and there is qualitative improvement in infrastructure. I will however still like to canvass for additional support both for the ministry of justice and the State Judiciary. I know there are many competing demands to the lean resources of the state; nevertheless, Kano must maintain its leadership in this sector. I will like to plead that our High Court Complex commissioned in 1979 is much in need of transformation. At the time, it was the best High Court Complex in the entire country. Complete with state of art central air- conditioning, each courtroom with complete recording and transcription facilities and state of the art library. The Ministry of justice had the best law library in the entire Northern Nigeria. We had journal subscription service through the UK based Crown Agents to many of the leading law journals in Europe and North America as well as other local publishers. Kano was regular in updating and publishing its laws. I am told the last update was in 1992 about the time I left the ministry. Your Excellency, we need major new investments in judicial infrastructure to re-establish our leadership in this sector. At the moment, I dare say, we have surrendered that to Lagos, Rivers and even our less endowed neighbours Jigawa and Kaduna States.
Your Excellency and distinguished colleagues let me venture to broader national issues.
Public Safety and Security
It is a matter of great concern that various forms of communal conflicts, banditry and activities of insurgent groups have continued to lead to violence and loss of lives in many parts of the country. On the 1st of May, 2018, over 60 people were reportedly killed in a bomb attack on innocent worshippers in Mubi Adamawa State. On 7th May again, the news broke out of 45 persons killed in Gwaska Village of Birnin Gwari local government area of Kaduna State. In Zamfara State, bandits operate largely unhindered in vast swathes of the countryside. The stories coming out of Zamfara paint a picture of complete absence or near absence of the State institutions in parts of the State. The killings in Benue, Taraba arising from herders/farmers conflict have largely continued in spite of the efforts of the security agencies. The Nigerian Bar Association condemns these killings and calls of Federal and State governments to do all within their powers to bring this carnage to an end. We are deeply concerned that the country seems to be drifting into some state of near anarchy in many parts. Indeed, the Nigeria is now being counted as one of the world’s fragile States. We must halt and reverse this drift.
The NBA calls on the federal government of Nigeria to rise to the occasion to tackle the rising wave of crime and killings in Nigeria. We also call upon the government to be more proactive in the prevention of these criminal killings rather than taking some reactive measures after the occurrence of the criminal Act of murder.
Your Excellency, my Lords, distinguished colleagues; I have in the past drawn attention to poor quality of governance even at the Federal level. I have called attention to seeming dissonance amongst various institutions. How many critical institutions seem to be working at cross-purposes. This trend has in our view not improved significantly. We still do not observe the much-desired synergy within the administration. Many decisions are
unnecessarily delayed to the detriment of national interest. It is a matter of grave concern to us that almost six months into the financial year, the 2018 national budget is yet to be passed due to disagreement largely between national assembly and the executive. Similarly many critical departments and agencies of government remain without their statutory heads or boards either because government is slow or unable to act or because of disagreement between the executive and legislative branches of government. The Securities and Exchange Commission for instance has been without a board for most of the life of this administration and now without a substantive head for several months since the interdiction of the former Director General. This state of affairs is eroding confidence in the Nigeria’s capital market with huge negative consequence on the national economy. The situation is unacceptable. Indeed the judicial branch of government has not been spared from this dissonance. More than 6 months after the recommendations by the National Judicial Council for appointment of 13 Justices of the Court of Appeal in November 2017, the President is yet to act on these recommendations. Similarly, several recommendations for appointments to the Bench of the Federal High Court and other Federal courts are still pending many months after these recommendations to the President. Acting on the recommendations of the NJC is not a matter of presidential discretion, to be exercised whenever the President deems fit. It is a constitutional duty. Whilst the President is not bound to accept the recommendations, failure to act is a breach of the Constitution. I therefore call on the President to act without further delay! This failure to act is causing unnecessary delays and avoidable negative consequences on the administration of justice across the country. I therefore wish to give notice of the intention of the Nigerian Bar Association to take legal action should this constitutional dereliction continue.
Your Excellency, distinguished colleagues, may I also use this medium to caution that as the next round of the National elections draw closer, every agency concerned with the elections has a duty to maintain strict professionalism and discharge their mandate within the bounds of the constitution. The election management body that is the Independent National Electoral Commission, various security agencies, including the police, the military, the EFCC and the ICPC etc. must all discharge their respective duties in a professional manner and remain loyal to the constitution. We expect none of these agencies to become a tool for furthering any partisan political mission or goal. The NBA will constitute a Task Force comprising very patriotic independent senior lawyers to monitor the conduct of all agencies with functions relating to the National Election and to advise necessary action to ensure that the integrity of the electoral process is not undermined. The Nigerian Bar Association believes that we must play our part as the nation’s watchdog to ensure peaceful and orderly conduct of elections.
Finally, on the state of the nation, the NBA has of recent been inundated with complaints about incidents of police misconduct and brutality directed against lawyers in the exercise of their professional duties. We have received complaints from various branches across the country, including Onitsha, Ikeja and Abuja branches, and other reports from individual members of the association. Our relationship with the leadership of the Nigeria Police at the national level has been very cordial and generally the leadership has responded promptly to all complaints against their officers. I want to reiterate that lawyers are an integral part of the administration of justice. An independent legal profession, that is able to perform its duties without hindrance is a pillar of any democratic society. The NBA will therefore not allow this independence to be undermined. I call on the leadership of the Nigeria Police to accord due respect to our members and ensure that this recent spate of incidents is brought to an end. On our part, we will continue to educate our members on the need to maintain proper decorum and protocols in the discharge of their duties. Lawyers must carry proper means of identification at all times. We must also not attempt to obstruct the police from the exercise of their lawful duties.
STATE OF THE BAR
Your Excellency, let me now briefly turn to the State of the Affairs of our Association. My colleagues and I who have had the extra ordinary privilege of leading the bar since August 2016 have remained faithful to executing this mandate with zeal and determination. We have embarked on very bold and meticulous efforts at not only reforming the association but indeed transforming the legal profession in fundamental ways. Many of the initiatives have come to critical stages of implementation. We intend in the remaining three months or so of our stewardship to continue to push to the finish line and hand over the baton to the next of set of leaders with the hope that the shared vision of a transformed legal profession will be carried forward.
OUR VISION FOR A BRAVE NEW BAR
Our vision for a brave new bar was encapsulated in our four thematic areas of Regulatory Reforms, enhancing the Representational role of the bar, reinventing the NBA as an organisation and our public interest work. I am indeed glad to report that we have made tremendous progress on all spheres.
The Report of the Idigbe Committee on the regulatory reforms for instance, which has been circulated and exposed since May last year has continued to gain traction. So also the Diagnostic Report the KPMG Professional Services on the structure and corporate governance of the NBA. We have continued to sensitize our
stakeholders on the key elements of these initiatives. On 14th April 2018 I made a comprehensive presentation to the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) of the reform initiatives and key elements of these reforms. I am happy to report that the reception and feedback from BOSAN was very positive. A committee of BOSAN was constituted led by Prof Tayo Osipitan SAN to review the specific draft law incorporated as part of the Idigbe Committee Report. We have just last week received the comments from that committee. These will form part of the final review of the draft Bill. The Body of Benchers has also been fully apprised of our regulatory work. A committee of the Body of Benchers headed by Hon Justice Abdu Aboki is now currently reviewing the Idigbe report and will report back to the Body. I will also be making comprehensive presentation to the Body of Benchers at its next meeting on the NBA proposals both as contained in the Idigbe Report and the KPMG professional services on the reengineering of the NBA. I was earlier in March at the National Assembly at a public hearing at the Senate to brief the Judiciary Committee of work the NBA is doing and at our instance further deliberations on the on going work on a new legal profession amendment bill was suspended pending the submission of a comprehensive new proposal from the NBA.
All of these works as our colleagues will recall are as a result of months of hard work and extensive consultations not only with various stakeholders in the country but indeed with organisations and partners around the world. These include the various law societies in South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Australia the International Conference of Legal Regulators. In December last year too as many of us will recall, I led a team of our colleagues on a legal services mission to the UK. During that mission we engaged with all the regulators in the legal services industry in the United Kingdom holding nearly 16 separate meetings and reviewing in detail the work of the various regulators and sharing our proposals for reforms. I am happy to report that there is a great deal of excitement about the prospects of a strengthened and reformed Nigeria profession from around the world. A strong modern legal profession is seen by many of our colleagues and partners around the world as part of the necessary foundation for building a strong democratic, functional and respected new Nigeria. Many are willing to assist us in this project. Only last week I was back in the UK meeting with the Bar Council of England and Wales on continuing support for our work in the areas of training and enhancing our disciplinary process. We are now in talks with the British Council and the UK Department For International Development (DFID) to support the regulatory reform work of the NBA within context of the Rule of Law and anti-Corruption (Rolac) program of the British Council.
Distinguished colleagues, my hope is that we push to achieve a convergence of all these initiatives alongside our constitutional review process, which is also now crystallising and proposals will be circulated shortly and placed before our AGM in August. As I assured our colleagues, at our Uyo NEC back in November 2017 and I will like to quote from my speech then:
“Let me emphasise that the review of the constitution is not tied to any immediate electoral issues. The vision is a much longer-term vision and intended to place our association firmly on the path of reform and transformation and align it to what we observe to be best practice in more mature and functional bar associations. The reforms should help us address many of our current challenges including very discordant and dysfunctional leadership succession system. I urge all our members to contribute to this process.”
Without attempting to pre-empt the Yusuf Ali Constitution Review Committee currently working, the key elements that we expect to address are as follow:
1. To address the leadership succession system with the objective of devising a succession system that is more stable, less rancorous and
guarantees continuity and stability of the Association and is line with best international practice.
2. Reorganising the NBA Secretariat to ensure all appropriate functions are situate within the Secretariat and carried out by competent professional staff engaged for that purpose;
3. The NBA offers alternative value proposition to its members focused on knowledge and skills and professional development;
4. Appropriate review of our governance structures that allow for effective value addition to the association, supervision of the Secretariat, and also proper coordination of our branches. So we are looking for instance at whether we should not replace the existing system of elected national officers with an elected governing council/principal officers which is the model that most law societies and professional association adopt. We also want to look at the possibility of introducing “NBA State Councils” to coordinate state- wide policies and activities so as to strengthen the impact of branches at the state level.
Distinguished colleagues, this is no more than an attempt to socialise some of the ideas. Once the report of the committee is received and deliberated upon, detailed proposals for the constitutional amendments will be circulated and addressed at our AGM. I want to implore us that we have a golden opportunity to place our association on a new pedestal. There is no electoral motive and other consideration other than the best interest of our profession.
Let me now briefly report on our public interest programs. We have continued to pursue these with vigour and commitment. Our North East Task Force and indeed our branches in the North East have been doing a fantastic work supporting the NBA
intervention in the North East region. At a symposium last week in London, commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, organised by the Bar Human Rights Committee, I gave a report of our work on the North East. It was well received and with more promise of support. The Bar Human Rights Committee led by Kirsty Brimelow QC organised a one-week training programme last February for our lawyers in the North East. About 60 lawyers participated in that training. We are now planning another training this time for lawyers in the Niger Delta who will be trained in various environmental rights and other human rights issues. That training we hope will take place late June or early July.
The implementation of NBA-Administration of Criminal Justice Act Project supported by the MacArthur Foundation has continued to make good progress. The 1st phase of the project covering nine states of Akwa-Ibom, Bauchi, Adamawa, Ogun, Jigawa, Kano, Kogi, Bayelsa and Edo is nearing completion and the next phase will begin in earnest. The project has so far been executed through pre-project consultations, legislative advocacy and technical support to State Legislature, and continuing legal education and capacity building for legal practitioners. It is important to note that the continuing legal education component involves a development of a digital platform for the provision of e- learning courses and materials to Nigerian lawyers.
Your Excellency, I want to use this opportunity to call on Kano State government to fast track the process of enacting the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, into a State law. I am glad that Kano State is one of the project states in Phase 1 and our advocacy work here was very successful.
The NBA has continued to build its partnerships with various law societies and bar associations as well as International Development partners across the world. The British Nigeria Law Forum is working with us as a strategic partner for the delivery of the NBA Annual Conference this year. So also the American Bar Association who are considering holding a showcase session during the conference. Indeed the American Bar Association has invited me to give a keynote speech later this month at the opening of its Africa Regional Conference at Cape Town South Africa.
The preparation for the NBA annual conference is on full steam. I want to thank all our members of the TCCP working hard on this. We are determined to build on the successes of the last Conference. We have extended an invitation to Mr Barrack Obama former President of the United States to be the keynote speaker, although we have no assurance yet, but there are indications that the invitation is receiving good attention.
Distinguished colleagues let me end my speech by briefly commenting on the Nigerian Bar Association general elections coming up in few weeks. As we are aware the process is much underway. We have made our best effort to ensure that our elections regain the character of elections as in other respected bar associations rather than of political parties. We were determined to curtail the political party type campaigns. Therefore the ban of campaigns as we were used to will remain in place only to send the message that our campaigns are not in consonance with our constitutional provisions neither do they promote the good image our association. We have constituted an electoral panel, which is now working. Guidelines have been issued and the electoral committee has a complete free hand to organise the elections independently and in a credible manner. We are determined to put an end to our previous culture of rancorous and divisive elections. I want to appeal to the
prospective candidates to cooperate with us so that the Nigerian Bar Association could regain its pride of place as a respected and prestigious organisation. I want to assure everyone, that I have no candidate that I am supporting to take over from me as President. Whoever tells you I am, is on his own. My goal is to ensure that we provide a credible framework for our members to exercise their choice freely. If you observe any lapse, please draw our attention to it. We will correct it.
I would like to conclude my address by once more thanking His Excellency the Governor of Kano State for his continued support and for graciously accepting to attend this opening ceremony to address us and declare the meeting open. We are indeed grateful. I also thank my Lord the Hon. Acting Chief Judge of Kano Justice Nurudeen Sagir Umar for his generous hospitality and also for gracing the occasion.
Distinguished colleagues, I welcome you to Kano and wish us successful deliberations.
God Bless Kano State
God Bless the Nigerian Bar Association and God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, OON, SAN, FCIArb (UK), SFNLI
President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)
May 10th, 2018.