1. The Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) felicitates with President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, the Federal Government of Nigeria, the States and Local Governments of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and indeed every Nigerian on Nigeria’s attainment of 58 years of independence and sovereignty. We certainly have plenty to thank the Almighty for, particularly when we recall that our unity as a nation was sorely tested and almost shattered by and during the Nigerian Civil War. Indeed, our unity has been severely tested a number of times before and after the Civil War and remains a work-in-progress even today. That should not be, after 58 years of independence and sovereignty as a nation. This should indeed be a reflection point for our leaders on this Independence Anniversary day.
2. A 58-year old man should, if he is not afflicted by some debilitating illness, be, in the prime of life and, in all respects mature and able-bodied. In making excuses for our 58-year old country, we often fall back on the arcane saying that “Rome was not built in a day” and that a country’s journey to maturity takes longer than that of an individual or a person. That is not true or correct. Singapore, illustratively, attained self-government in 1959 and became an independent and sovereign nation in 1965 after the collapse of its merger with Malaysia in 1963 and, as at date, that country is miles ahead of Nigeria in terms of development. Yes, Singapore does not have our population size and diversity with its attendant challenges, but it also does not have the gamut of our natural resources ranging from mineral resources, fertile arable land, a pool of talented citizens who continuously make us proud outside Nigeria.
3. What has consistently been lacking in our country is, perhaps, the ability to coalesce these abundant resources and talent which, it must be emphasized, can be found in all the nooks and crannies of this great country, into a unified and productive whole that could and would easily turn Nigeria into the figurative Eldorado and, in the process, turn our diversity into strength and our abounding population into a productive work force. These are reflections that must today occupy the minds of our leaders, of all strata, as we mark 58 years of Nigeria’s independence and declaration as a sovereign nation. This is also particularly apposite as we enter another season of National Elections, the precursor of which has been the recently conducted Osun State Governorship Election. With that in mind, our leaders need to consciously resolve, on this Independence Anniversary day of our nation, to make a difference in the lives of our people. Governments at all levels must renew their pledges to work for the betterment of the lives of our people thereby recording tangible dividends of independence for the Nigerian people.
4. In that respect, the NBA applauds the initiative and maturity of the Nigerian Labour Congress (“NLC”) in calling off its indefinite labour strike on the eve of our Independence Anniversary. Their maturity in calling off the strike should not be misunderstood as a lack of merit in labour’s demand for an increased minimum wage, from the stagnant N18,000.00 (Eighteen Thousand Naira only) that takes no account of inflationary and living condition trends. It is our hope and expectation that the Government negotiators will continue apace with the labour negotiations, notwithstanding the fact that the strike has been called off and, in the process, achieve a resolution that the parties could live with. In making this call, we must remember that the independence of Nigeria was attained through the efforts of our rainbow coalition of nationalists some of whom were labour leaders. Indeed, when we refer to “the labours of our heroes past” we must be understood to refer to the labours of all “our heroes past”, made up of all hues and colours of nationalists and activists, including but not limited to labour leaders, jurists, captains of industries and of course, our political leaders.
5. Those labours of our heroes past, we must continue to insist, must not be in vain. That reminder is particularly relevant as we launch into the 2019 political season. Our leaders need to be reminded that politics and the quest for offices must not divide our people; politics must not lead to violence and the deaths of our people; politics should and must unify us; politics must yield for our people not only the dividends of Independence but also the dividends of democracy. Politics must lead to abundant employment for our teeming youths; politics must give us clean, affordable, uninterrupted energy/electricity which would activate and unlock economic productivity and prosperity for our people. Politics must provide us with quality education, potable water, security of lives and property, affordable and quality health care and quality living standards. Politics must translate into sustainable governance and institutions that would yield for the Nigerian people all the positives afore-specified. Politics must provide our diverse peoples with equal opportunities, without discrimination, taking note of our diversity and the need for inclusion of all our peoples. Politics must not be our bane; it must be for us, a unifying force and the vehicle for our prosperity and enhanced living standards. These are the critical issues that must occupy our leaders’ minds on this Independence Anniversary day and beyond.
6. Finally, politics must not be allowed to debase our temple of justice and the rule of law in our country. Our judiciary and the rule of law must remain sacrosanct. The converse of the rule of law, we must always remember, is anarchy and we do not want to descend into that abyss. We must not, in the name of politics and for political reasons pollute our fountain of justice. The judiciary is one institution that has constantly kept our country united through its pronouncements; the decisions of our courts more often than not ward off ethnic strives, political unrests, chaos, bedlam and riots – the fingerlings of anarchy. We remain eternally grateful to Their Lordships for their services to our Fatherland and pray for continuous Divine wisdom and guidance for them as we journey into another year of national elections. We admonish the political class and indeed, the people of Nigeria, to continue to have faith in our judicial system even as we, the workers and ministers in Nigeria’s temple of justice, must, by our conducts, words and deeds imbue in our people that faith and confidence in our justice sector. It is not sufficient for us to call on the political class not to pollute our judiciary with their politics, partisanship, rivalries and enmities; it is seemly as well that we, as workers and ministers in Nigeria’s temple of justice – ranging from Their Lordships to lawyers and other stakeholders in the justice sector – constantly remind ourselves of the need to uphold the core values and sanctity of our noble profession in and through our words, deeds, actions and conducts, at all times.
7. The Nigerian Bar Association commends these thoughts to all Nigerians and hopes that these would and should serve as constant reminders for us on our journey to greatness, on our journey to a strong, united and prosperous Nigeria where the rule of law shall continue to prosper, abound and prevail.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Long live the Nigerian Bar Association.
Paul Usoro, SAN, FCIArb
President Nigerian Bar Association