Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), Monday charged lawyers in the country to stand up against the rising culture of impunity in the country saying the Nigerian Bar Association would have the biggest blame if members with their requisite training and presence in diverse sectors do not fix the national problem.
Addressing a gathering of eminent jurists including the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, at the flag-off of a two-day Workshop with the theme, “The Rule of Law: The Bedrock for Sustainable Democracy and Development”, organized by the NBA Rule of Law Action Group, Governor Fashola said there was need for members of the legal profession to rise against the malaise because the rest of the citizenry were looking up to them.
The Governor declared, “My appeal to all of us here today, is to reach out to every member of this Association, in the Armed Forces, in the Police, in the Judiciary, in the Customs, in the Immigration Sector, in the Public Service. We must say no to the culture of impunity”.
“Wherever and whenever you find anything that is contrary to law, speak up. Let us form a critical mass of a group of people who from today will rise up from this meeting and say that we will dedicate the rest of our lives to handing over to our children and their children a Nigeria that is better than the one that we inherited”, the Governor said.
The Governor stressed that the problem is more than the Government alone could handle adding, “Everybody has a role to play. But we owe that responsibility of leadership by virtue of who we are. We can talk all we can but the people who do not have our skill are looking up to us to act. People who do not have the privileges that we enjoy are looking to us to act. What we are here to do and the theme is not new. What will be new is what we decide to do when we get up from here”.
Noting, however, that it would not be easy to dislodge those perpetrating the culture of impunity, criminality and other societal ills, Governor Fashola declared, “The culture of impunity that we see, the increasingly broken nature of our society, benefits some people and they will not give up those benefits freely. But we are sure that they are a very small minority and by the large number that we command, by the sheer decibel of our voices saying no at every time, to impunity, to criminality, to fraudulent conduct, to reprobate values, we will reclaim back the promise of this country”.
He warned that without adherence to the principles of Law and Order, the country was in danger of collapse pointing out that history was replete with such nations as the ancient Roman Empire which although gave the world the Common Law, collapsed when she turned her back to the Rule of Law.
Still insisting that Lawyers are in the best position to solve the problems of the country ,Governor Fashola declared, “I do not know any other people or group who are best trained, best endowed, and more knowledgeable to deal with problems of our country than lawyers”, adding that the society has entrusted so much in the hands of lawyers.
“Our training has prepared us, unlike anyone else in the society, to be the ones to solve our society’s problems. So we would be doing a great disservice to our society if we are the ones that cause the problem. Whether it is in the Police, whether it is the Army, or the Customs or Immigration Service, our members are sufficiently represented”, the Governor said.
According to the Governor, “The Rule of Law is a necessary condition for sustainable democracy and development. If we turn to ancient history, it is replete with nations which collapsed when they turned their back on the Rule of Law. But perhaps, the tragedy of human history was in the collapse of Ancient Rome”.
Thanking the organizers for the courtesy of their invitation, Governor Fashola said his acceptance to attend the occasion, in spite of the day being the Executive Council meeting day in the State, was informed by his commitment to the Rule of Law and Order adding that when he was inaugurated for the second term on May 29, 2011, the bulwark of his acceptance speech was commitment to the Rule of Law.
“It was based on what I saw on the horizon. But, unfortunately, I did not see this far”, the Governor said adding; “The fact as we know it today is, however, not new to anybody. What will be new is what we are going to do when we leave here”.
In her remarks, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, thanked the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association for fostering a harmonious relationship between the Bar and the Bench saying such relationship was imperative if the Judiciary must maintain its relevance in a democratic society.
“I seize this opportunity to appreciate the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association for their efforts at fostering a harmonious relationship between the Bar and the Bench. The relationship is important because the Judiciary in a democratic society cannot remain aloof of the realities of its operating environment even if only for the pragmatic necessity to maintain its relevance in the society. It has a critical role in mediating conflicts and upholding human rights through the application of the rule of law,” she said.
According to the Chief Justice, “The Rule of Law is a dynamic concept which must be employed not only to safeguard and advance the civil and political rights of the individual in a free society, but also to establish social, economic and educational conditions under which the legitimate aspirations and dignity of the individual and groups in the country may be realized and all these contribute to the sustainable democracy in the country”.
Also in her remarks, the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Hon. Justice Ayotunde Phillips, charged the Nigerian Bar Association to think up what to do to save Nigeria from sinking into a state of anarchy adding that the time has come to discard foreign theories and formulate home-grown policies to deal with Nigerian problems.
“We cannot have a civil society without the rule of law. It is time for us to speak the truth to each other. Let us sit down and think of what to do to make Nigerians to obey the rule of law and order. Let us formulate our own theories and policies to deal with Nigerian problems. Let us be proactive”, she said.
In his goodwill message, Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, expressed dismay that democracy has not necessarily enabled Rule of Law to thrive in the country adding, “There is need to revisit our Justice System, especially the Criminal Justice System,. The shortcomings in our Criminal Justice System have now become a matter of national insecurity”.
President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Okey Wali (SAN, in his address, decried the culture of impunity that has, according to him, “bedeviled our nation”, adding regrettably that the culture has affected all aspects of the society including the Judiciary.
“We must arrest it or the society will collapse”, the NBA President said adding that for the Judiciary to be in the position to fight the situation, it must sanitize itself and regain its independence. “Independence of the Bar and the Bench is the Pillar of the Rule of Law”, he said.
The President commended Governor Fashola for not only his support to the Association but his dogged fight to reestablish the rule of law in the society adding, “We are determined to establish the rule of law and fight corruption”.
Describing some lawyers as “television practitioners”, the NBA President told the Governor, “Do not mind some of us who are television practitioners. We are the ones working with you to restore the rule of law. We must defend the independence of the Judiciary always”.
Pointing out that the nation’s democracy is under attack, the NBA President condemned what he described as “arbitrariness’ going on in Port Harcourt, Rivers State saying nothing could justify such arbitrariness. He, however, called for increase in the budgetary allocation to the Judiciary pointing out that if the independence of the Judiciary must be maintained, it must be well funded.
Earlier, in his welcome address, Chairman of the NBA Rule of Law Action Group, Mr. Dele Adesina (SAN), said for Nigeria to continue to stand tall in the comity of nations, “the rule of law must stand tall and continue to be the benchmark for determining the validity or otherwise of all actions by governments, governmental agencies, institutions and authorities”.