AS lawyers across Nigeria elect a new President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, today, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, a key question that should be asked is if the foremost association of lawyers has lived up to the expectations of Nigerians? If the truth must be told, the answer is an overwhelming no.
Not only is NBA performing below expectations, but its relevance and impact also seem to be in continuous decline and increasingly being perceived as self-serving, divided, and unpatriotic. In all the key areas of vision, mission, motto, and core values, there is none that Nigerians and even the NBA can really be proud of their achievements.
Focusing on the mission which is ‘to use the law as an instrument of social change in Nigeria’, Nigeria cannot be said to be experiencing the required social change where inequality, insecurity, poverty, unemployment, moral decadence, and corruption pervade and increasing.
A more disappointing outcome is when the motto of NBA which is ‘Promoting the Rule of Law’ is scrutinized vis-a-vis the reality on the ground with absence or very weak rule of law prevalent in almost all segments of our society. In the latest World Bank Governance Matters, Nigeria as usual continues in her poor performance in rule of law and other governance indicators such as regulatory quality, voice and accountability, government effectiveness, and control of corruption.
On the core values of integrity, excellence, courage, and professionalism, the opposite seems to be the case. Not only are many lawyers lacking integrity and professionalism, but courage most needed in the efforts for national rebirth and development is also, unfortunately, disappearing from the actions and inactions of the NBA. Where does one start!
Rather than being a foremost professional association for a progressive and equitable Nigeria, NBA has recently been maintaining a lamentable avoidance and ambivalence in critical national issues even when the issues at stake fall within their immediate area of intervention and leadership.
Intervention and leadership
With such poor performance, the question for all the lawyers that are eligible to vote and be voted for is: what kind of NBA President we want as lawyers and as Nigerians. Before I provide some insights, it is important to note the following: The problem with the NBA is that it seems to be in continuous deviation of what it should be and stand for.
Rather than being a vanguard of social change and good governance, the NBA now seems to represent and amplify the Nigerian leadership problem. For instance, the leadership of the NBA should not be reduced to your membership of the inner or outer bar. Given the peculiarities of Nigeria and the expectations we have of NBA, a tenure limit of only two years is self-defeating and unhelpful.
To make any meaningful impact, it should be a minimum of the four-year limit with the option of re-election for a second term. With the existing non-renewable two-year limit, the leadership of the NBA has been turned into a quick rotating platform for self-promotion of the seemingly cult-oriented inner bar.
Nigerians want to learn from the NBA and expect visionary leadership from them. Unfortunately, from the way it is going, they are contributing to the inequality, unfairness, lack of consensus, and inclusiveness in Nigeria. While we want them to lead from the front, they lamentably seem to be leading from the back. For instance, how does one explain the existing zonal structure of North, East, and West in NBA in present Nigeria or the zoning of five positions to specific zones while six are not zoned?
As every law student is taught in their first year, the law is just a set of norms and values of a people used in a moderating society. When the law is documented, it becomes a formal law while the undocumented ones remain as informal laws. The effectiveness of a law (stating the obligation, justifying it, and punishing offenders) depends on the extent to which the law is accepted, understood, internalized, and complied with.
The success or usefulness of law, therefore, starts from the way the law is stated or expressed, its believability, and amenability with informal norms and values (social norms). As social norms are rules that are not officially stated or enforced by formal legal actions but complied with, the efficacy of the formal law to serve as a good deterrent mechanism immensely improves when it is used to complement social sanctions (informal norms and values).
To emphasize the importance and need for synergy between formal and informal laws, Caenegem (1986: 8 &158) counsels that: “English legal development appears as a historical continuum. There is no obvious rupture, no wholesale wiping out of legal wisdom of centuries, and no division of the law into a pre-and post-revolutionary era. \
In English law, the present is never completely shut off from the past and its historical roots are easily perceived. Out of hard and bitter experience, Englishmen had come to learn that the remorseless, incalculable power of the past over the present was not to be dispelled by the strivings of a single generation. From 1660 onwards, England was never again entirely to forget that the secret of a nation’s strength is to have the power of the historic past behind it, not against it”.
Using the above, Nigeria cannot be said to be a good example. While an alien, misunderstood, and forced a formal legal system (English formal law) is used in our formal governance system, the informal legal system (norms and values) moderate our ethnic groups. Not only did we arrogate superiority to the English legal system, but we also rejected and denigrated our informal legal system (norms and values) in our formal governance systems.
With this grave mistake, we voluntarily set our dear nation in a direction of confusion and contradiction resulting in our seemingly unachievable sustainable development and endemic corruption.
As every lawyer and NBA are aware of the above, the NBA President that Nigerians want is that lawyer whether inner or outer who will be unrepentant and unquestionably courageous in pursuing the needed reforms (particularly legal) for a better Nigeria. We want an NBA President who will not be ambivalent in key national governance issues.
We want an NBA President who will be a chief advocate for the restructuring of Nigeria and devolution of powers starting from moving items from the exclusive list to the concurrent and residual lists. We want an NBA President that will state his position on regional security outfits such as Amotekun!
We need an NBA President who will stand for the truth and tell Mr. President that some of his appointments and policies lack inclusiveness and detrimental to the unity and sustainable development of Nigeria. As the law is the fulcrum upon which the progress or retardation of every society depends, we need an NBA President who will unequivocally fight for an inclusive and effective rule of law in Nigeria!