A presentation by Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice at the 2016 Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association Held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on Monday, 22nd August, 2016.
Your Excellencies, Distinguished participants, let me commence my presentation by expressing my appreciation to the President and entire membership of the Nigerian Bar Association for the privilege to speak on this topic at this very important Conference of our esteemed Association. I must also commend the Governor of Rivers State, His Excellency, Chief (Barrister) Nyesom Wike and the Government and good people of Rivers State for the hospitality we have enjoyed since our arrival in the garden city of Port Harcourt and for the excellent facilities which have been provided for this Conference. I am convinced that this Conference will achieve its objectives and will make the Nigerian Bar Association a stronger and more vibrant body by the time it is concluded later in the week.
2. The assemblage of thousands of lawyers at this Conference is a matter of great joy and confidence in the viability and credibility of our democracy and reaffirms the spirit of the Rule of Law which symbolizes our profession. Lawyers, by reason of their training and inclination, are the best advocates for democracy and due process in any society. Their active participation in formulating and assessing the direction of society as well as reviewing the policies and politics of any Government is therefore necessary if they must continue to play their historical role as societal watchdogs, advocates of social justice and strong voices against impunity and the abuse of power.
3. Indeed, on a day such as this, we must recall with pride the famous words of the first Nigerian Lawyer, Alexander Sapara Williams who once exhorted us to always remember that:
‘A legal practitioner lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country.’
Over a century after this famous statement, the message it conveys still remains sacrosanct and reminds us constantly that the primary obligation of a lawyer is to the society and consequently, the progress of society should remain the passion of every legal practitioner.
LAW IN THE CONTEXT OF THE AGENDA OF THE PRESENT ADMINISTRATION
4. It is against the above background that I approach my presentation which seeks to review the role of Law in advancing the ‘Change’ agenda of the adminstration of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR since its inauguration on May 29, 2015. In light of the current issues of development and inclusive governance with which our country is confronted, there is no doubt that this topic is most relevant and timely to the legal community which is a major stakeholder in our current efforts to renew and transform our country.
5. Your Excellencies, Distinguished Participants, you will recall that President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office at a time when it was obvious that our country faced fundamental challenges. It was indeed common to hear from Nigerians and foreigners alike, characterize Nigeria as a country long on potentials but short on performance in respect of all major developmental indices. We were regarded in the comity of nations as a fortunate country blessed with both human and natural resources in abundance. Regrettably, for reasons known to all in this room, we had however failed to translate these potentials into performance and break the agonizing and inexplicable disconnect between our vast resources and the debilitating poverty of most of our citizens.
6. Against the above backdrop, this administration promised Nigerians of its resolve to promptly address the challenges facing our country in the three major areas of:
i) fighting corruption, which had been identified as the single most critical factor that had held our country down and squandered our commonwealth in favour of private acquisitions;
ii) building a safer and more secure country free of the impunity and brazenness exhibited by the Boko Haram Sect and other anti-social groups; and
iii) improving the economy in order to create jobs, especially for our young citizens, and thereby foster inclusive growth in the economy.
7. Law, as they say, is the secret that binds societies together. In other words, societies cannot progress in a Hobbesian state where life is ‘poor, nasty, brutish and short’ but must instead, strive to achieve order and due process in the course of governance. The Buhari administration therefore recognized early that in order to achieve the core objectives above, it was imperative to ensure that the necessary legal framework was put in place or reinvigorated, as the case may be, to drive the ‘Change’ Agenda. Permit me therefore to highlight the efforts this administration has made in the above areas in the past few months, using the instrumentality of the law.
THE ANTI-CORRUPTION FIGHT
8. The present administration’s fight against corruption using the instrumentality of the law and the courts, obviously represents the most visible evidence to the Nigerian public of how our laws can be effectively utilized to achieve the anti-corruption agenda of Government. There is no doubt that our investigators, prosecutors, private Defence Counsel and even Judges have had a very busy time in the last fifteen months as the justice system has become re-invigorated to play the role envisaged for it under the Constitution. We have now seen a justice system which has acquired the capacity to routinely take on hitherto-untouchable public and private-sector figures and insist that they account to the Nigerian people for the criminal dissipation of their commonwealth.
9. We have seen the tragic evidence of how corruption severely undermined Nigeria’s anti-terror war over the last few years and also seen evidence of how funds budgeted for developmental initiatives and infrastructural facilities grew wings, ended up in illicit private accounts at home and abroad and left our people poorer, sadder and hopelessly more vulnerable. Tackling corruption is therefore the key to our ability as a nation to survive the present odds, achieve our often-touted potentials and take our rightful place in the global comity of nations.