Paschal Chukwuemeka, Abuja
The Nigerian Bar Association has taken a swipe on President Muhammadu Buhari over his recent statement that rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of national security.
President Buhari had in his address on August 26, 2018, at the opening ceremony of the 58th Annual General Meeting of the NBA said rule of law should play second fiddle to national security and national interest.
He had submitted that the security of the country cannot be sacrificed on the altar of rule of law, especially where national interest is threatened.
Buhari’s statement elicited divergent reactions with many senior lawyers wondering while he would take such a position in a democratic dispensation.
However, the much expected reaction of the NBA was contained in a communique issued by the association at the end of its 2018 week-long annual general conference on Friday.
In the communique signed by the outgoing President, Abubakar Mahmoud SAN, the NBA dissassociated itself from the presidential declaration and condemned it outrightly.
Against the backdrop of Buhari’s statement, the NBA stated that the “Conference completely rejects the presidential statement subordinating the Rule of Law to National Security”.
“The NBA restates that the Rule of Law is central to a democracy and any National Security concerns by the government must be managed within the perimeters and parameters of the Rule of Law”.
In addition, the NBA berated the Federal Government for having penchant to disobey valid orders made by court’s of competent jurisdictions in the country.
“As a corollary, conference frowns at the present growing trend whereby government decides on which court orders to obey” the communique stated.
“The court has exclusive duty under a democratic dispensation to interpret the Constitution and other laws, and government and the citizenry must comply with court orders at all times until set aside” the NBA insisted.
More so, the NBA objected to the issuance of Executive Orders in respect to matters already in court and observes that “any such order is a breach of the principle of separation of powers”.
Rather the communique counseled the Buhari administration that “Executive Orders be issued for good governance and to manage operations of government, and not to encroach or usurp upon the constitutional powers of other arms of government, lest Executive Orders become attempts at decree-making”.
The conference had it’s theme as “TRANSITION, TRANSFORMATION AND SUSTAINABLE INSTITUTIONS”.
At the closing ceremony on Friday, the 29th President of the NBA, Paul Usoro SAN and his national executive council members, were sworn into office by his predecessor, Abubakar Mahmoud SAN
In his inaugural address, Usoro debunked what he termed “misconception that the NBA is in constant adversarial position with government”.
“Lawyers and their association, the NBA are not adversaries of government but partners with government the promotion and protection of the rule of law.
“The NBA’s significant role in that partnership is to serve as the watchdog of society and, in the process, call the government to account.
“We shall not shirk our responsibilities in that regard” Usoro stated.
Usoro assured that the NBA under his watch, will not be a toothless bulldog, and one that is tossed around by those in government.
“NBA will not be living true to its creed and lead motif if it were to become such a yes-man to any government or its agency.
“It is, in truth, not in the DNA to be such a yes-man organization. Rather than crave for yes-men in the NBA, government and its agencies should be craving for collaborative partnership, even if sometimes, adversarial, with the NBA so they could work together in the promotion and protection of the rule of law.
“And there are indeed so many areas that we could and should collaborate, ranging from the review and/or enactment of our laws and legislation to the prosecution of crimes and criminals (including but not limited to corrupt practices), to the institution of enabling environment for investments and doing business, to law and order in our society, to our electoral processes and elections” he said.
A the Nigeria progresses towards the 2019 National Elections, Usoro posited that there is room for constant and consistent collaboration between government and the NBA with the aim of ensuring the conduct of a free and fair elections.
“Such collaboration does not, of course, mean that the NBA would not be critical of government and its agencies when necessary and required.
“We would at all times be constructively critical of government, and of course, would also commend government when the occasion calls for it” the new NBA President assured.