Lawyers under the umbrella of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) have renewed their confidence in the leadership of Paul Usoro (SAN) as president.
This was demonstrated during the just concluded 59th Annual General Conference (AGC) of the NBA with no fewer than 12,000 of them in attendance.
Not only did the lawyers and delegates attend the 2019 NBA conference which took place at the Eko Hotels and Suites and the Harbour Point, Victoria Island, Lagos, from Friday, August 23 but the delegates stayed till Thursday August 29, when the conference officially ended.
In attendance were the President and Commander-in-Chief, who was represented by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami (SAN), the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed, the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, president of the International Bar Association (IBA), Horacio Bernardes Neto, NBA President Paul Usoro (SAN) and many heads of federal and state agencies, captains of industry and leaders of the Bar and Bench.
The conference kicked off with the Jumaat prayer and a church service. It also featured health walk, football matches and other social events.
It featured 42 sessions, 209 Nigerian and foreign speakers from the legal and business community, academia, legislature and the public sector.
The theme of the 59th AGC, ‘Facing the Future’, was carefully chosen to underscore the future of the legal profession, businesses, the judiciary and government amidst a rapidly changing world driven by fast paced technological innovations and increasing external competition in a globalised world.
The conference commenced with the opening ceremony, which included a keynote address by the IBA President, Horacio Bernardes Neto, a special address by the CJN after which the conference was declared open by President Muhammadu Buhari, represented by the AGF.
The CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, declared that the future of the Nigerian judiciary under his watch is bright.
He said since his appointed, his focus had been on reinventing the processes of the judiciary, to ensure speedy justice dispensation and to rid the institution of corruption.
Muhammad added that the judiciary under him was embracing technology to fast-track its processes, adding that the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal justices had forgone their annual vacation this year to clear the backlog of “time-sensitive cases.”
He charged lawyers to desist from the practice of filing needless appeals at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, warning that the apex court would be unsparing in punishing “blatant abusers of the court processes.”
Muhammad added that the judiciary, under his leadership, would not lose “its firm grip on the mantle of honesty, transparency and integrity.”
The CJN said those three virtues formed the nucleus of his administration, adding that judges do not look at anybody’s face or feelings in deciding cases.
“By the grace of Almighty God, I will tenaciously hold onto that even until that very moment of my last breath on earth. Let me assure this assembly, we don’t look at anybody’s face or feelings before making our decisions. If there is any deity to be feared, that deity is the Almighty God. We will never be subservient to anybody, no matter how highly placed,” he said.
He, however, stated that the judiciary was not truly independent, especially at the state level, since the executive was still in control of its funding.
He said, “Please, all that are concerned, let us enjoy our independence. If you say that I am independent, but in a way, whether I Iike it or not, I have to go and bend down, asking (for funds), I have lost my independence.”
The remarks were followed up by a most engaging opening plenary on ‘The Code of Conduct Tribunal: A clash of Judicial and Executive Powers’, which set the tone for the three-day working sessions of 42 sessions, comprising of four plenary showcase sessions and breakout sessions with carefully selected matter experts, chairmen and moderators that shared their wealth of knowledge and experience and proposed innovative solutions.
The Rule of Law Session witnessed two very senior lawyers – Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Femi Falana (SAN) disagreeing sharply over lawyers’ reaction to the removal of immediate past CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
Ozekhome berated lawyers for not protesting on the streets and shutting down government to protest Onnoghen’s alleged prosecution and conviction by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
According to him, that was what lawyers in Pakistan did when former President Pervez Musharaf “unlawfully” removed the country’s chief justice.
However, Falana reminded the audience that the Pakistani CJ was not unlawfully removed under a cloud of having unexplained wealth, like the case of Onnoghen.
During the AGM, NBA President, Usoro raised concern over the welfare of lawyers and said that the story of kidnapping and murder of members was cause of huge concern to the administration.
He said they have constantly called families of deceased members to console them, explaining that that was done not as a matter of duty but because it was the right thing.
Speaking on the 2019-2020 plans, he said that was basically to focus more on the young lawyers, establishment of the Young Lawyers Forum, the Women’s Forum and the consolidation of Reforms and Gains of 2018-2019.
Usoro also assured members of the Bar that the current administration will conduct a credible and outstanding election by 2020.
The NBA president also spoke on fast-tracking the application of stamp and seal. According to him, a total of 45,069 stamp and seal applications were received during the period. This issue was raised following delay in receiving stamp and seal when applied for.
Rising from the conference, the delegates resolved to amend the NBA constitution. Particularly Section 8(3)(e) which now provides that the ‘NBA President and General Secretary must be persons with proven integrity, administrative skills and experience and with demonstrable capacity to serve without expecting or having consideration for pecuniary rewards’.
According to Lateef Omoyemi Akangbe, Chairman NBA Lagos Branch, the conference provided delegates the opportunity to regroup and equip themselves with the requisite knowledge and skills to face whatever the future held.
“There were opportunities for learning, mentoring, networking and for having fun,” Akangbe said.
Meanwhile, what would have marred the conference was when members of the NBA Calendar branch (Doyen Bar) escaped threats of death from armed bandits in Benin, Edo State on their way to Lagos to attend the conference. It was however gathered that there were no casualties.
Also, the conference suffered an initial 30 minutes delay by delegates in the collection of their conference materials, which was also quickly resolved.
However, delegates complained of insufficient food on Monday but that too was addressed on Tuesday and Wednesday when there was left over food for delegates who were fed physically and intellectually.