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1. It gives me great pleasure to welcome all Nigerians to Year 2020 and to wish us all a most successful and prosperous Year ahead. It is my prayer and hope that 2020 will be kinder to us than 2019. We, nonetheless, have cause to thank the Almighty for the successes that we recorded, individually and as the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”), in 2019 and for keeping us alive and walking us through the perils and tribulations of 2019 into the New Year. A number of our colleagues and countrymen were not that fortunate or blessed; death snatched some of us away. We remember fondly and celebrate those our departed colleagues and countrymen even as we continue to condole and empathize with their families and loved ones.

2. Minor consolation it may be, but I need to mention that, in 2019, we resuscitated the NBA Group Life Insurance Scheme that was moribund at the time we came into office in August 2018. We have, through that Scheme, made some financial payments to the families of our departed colleagues who had paid their Bar Practice Fees as at 31 March 2019 to salve the pains and distress of the loss their loved ones. We would renew and sustain the Insurance Scheme in this New Year and therefore urge all our members to ensure that their Bar Practice Fees are paid by and preferably before 31 March 2020.

3. Year 2020 is a milestone year for Nigeria and the Nigerian Bar Association. It marks 60 years of Nigeria’s independence as a sovereign nation and it is apropos that we take stock, tell ourselves the truth, acknowledge our errors and misdirection even as we applaud the positives. 2020 provides us the opportunity to reposition ourselves for the greater good of our people and our beloved country. On a positive note, we have sustained our democracy, imperfect as it may be, and remained a united country albeit of diverse nationalities, religion, tongues and tribes. Our diversity, in truth, ought to be our strength if only our politicians and leaders will rise above parochial and selfish interests and resolve to weld us together as a united and indissoluble country where peace and justice can and will perpetually reign.

4. As the NBA consistently points out, we cannot have a country where peace and justice reigns if we keep paying lip service to the Rule of Law. In 2019, Rule of Law in Nigeria was persistently assaulted and lay prostrate, thanks mostly to executive misbehaviors and high-handedness. 2019 marked the year that removal of public officers through nebulous and reprehensible ex-parte orders of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (“CCT”) gradually became the norm in our national life. It started with the removal of erstwhile Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honorable Mr. Justice Walter Onnoghen, GCON through a purported CCT ex-parte order in the first quarter of 2019 and, towards the end of the year, this abnormality was repeated with the removal from office of the Acting Registrar-General of the Corporate Affairs Commission, Lady Azuka Azinge through a questionable ex-parte order.

5. This is one “innovation” in our national life that does not bode well for the security of tenure of our public officers. Economic growth can only be attained in an atmosphere of predictability and certainty. This new practice of tripping and removing our public officers through contrived CCT ex-parte orders corrodes confidence in the system. It not only assaults our collective sensibilities when CCT ex-parte orders are used to ease out public officers but erodes due process, a fundamental plank of the Rule of Law. This is as disingenuous as the other unacceptable practice of tarring public officers to provide purported justification for their removal. That practice has been extended to private sector professionals including legal practitioners with potentially deleterious impact on wealth-creation capabilities.

6. 2019 was the year that our courtroom was invaded by officials of the Department of State Security (“DSS”) in an attempt to re-arrest a defendant who had been granted bail by the court and was released by the Department only the previous day. This was a horrifying assault on the Rule of Law and the sacred sanctum of our courts and judicial processes. It is somewhat reassuring that, in the dying days of 2019 and at the instance of the Honorable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, both Omoyele Sowore and Sambo Dasuki were finally released from confinement by the DSS, after being detained for prolonged periods against the orders of courts. It is our hope that, in 2020, we would build on this new resolve by Government and ensure that court orders are obeyed across board by our State officials and agencies.

7. In 2019, our judicial officers and our courts continued to be disparaged, blackmailed and intimidated by State officials. Lawyers and the legal profession were not spared. Lawyers and retired judicial officers were prosecuted, hauled before law enforcement agencies and detained solely on account of their professional services to clients. Some lawyers were brutalized by law enforcement agents while carrying out their professional duties. Law was weaponized against lawyers and judicial officers and some of our judicial officers were kidnapped and assaulted by criminal elements, in an unabated assault on the Rule of Law and, in particular, the twin independence of the judiciary and the legal profession. These assaults not only erode the Rule of Law, they diminish us in the comity of nations and puts our democracy and economic growth at risk. It endangers all of us in multiple ways. We demand that officials of State imbibe international best practices and join the NBA in protecting and promoting the Rule of Law through, amongst others, the preservation, fostering and protection of the independence of our judiciary, judicial officers and the independence of the legal profession.

8. 2019 was our National Election year, and, happily, the disputes that arose therefrom have been largely resolved by our courts but for a straggling few. With the settlement of these disputes by the courts, it is time for our politicians, particularly the winners of the 2019 Elections, to turn their attention from politics to governance and development. Nigerians voted in 2019 for improvements in their circumstances, not least, in their socio-economic circumstances. They voted for improved infrastructure in all its broad spectrum, to wit, power, transportation systems, pervasive potable water supply, quality health infrastructure etc.

9. They voted for an improved quality of education, from the primary to the tertiary levels and they voted, most importantly, for security of lives and property. They voted for food security and for a diversified economy beyond our over-dependence on oil exports. They voted men and women who they expect will govern with the fear of God, injustice and with fairness, taking into account our diversity, amongst others, in tribes, tongues, religion and gender. In 2020, these dividends of democracy must be made manifest to our people. Our lives and circumstances must improve in 2020 in all respects. We must demonstrate to the world that 60 years of self-governance has been fruitful and have not been wasted. We must make 2020 the year that we join the league of developed economies and showcase our maturity as a 60-year old Nation.

10. As Nigerians, our strength lies, amongst others, in our resilience and eternal optimism. No matter our circumstances and no matter the temptation, we must not lose those qualities even as we must persist in holding our governments to account. We must remind our leaders of the pledges that they made when they courted us in 2019 for our votes. We must demand for those rights that are guaranteed to us in our Constitution and in the social contract with our elected officials. We must harness the potentials of our teeming youth population – another of our core strength – in building a strong and viable economy. In 2020, the Nigerian Bar Association will continue to speak for Nigerians. We will persist in holding governments to account, particularly as it relates to the promotion and protection of the Rule of Law and the delivery of democracy dividends to our people. We wish all Nigerians the very best of 2020 and pray for Divine Blessings, Guidance and Protection for all of us.

11. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

12. Long live the Nigerian Bar Association.

Paul Usoro, SAN

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