President Muhammadu Buhari Sunday has urged Nigerian lawyers not to sacrifice the integrity of the country’s legal system in a bid to cover the misdeeds of their clients, no matter how lucrative the brief may be.
He spoke on Sunday at the opening of the 55th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
He called on the lawyers to support his administration’s war against corruption and help the country return to the path of rectitude by making Nigerian courts functional and effective again, pointing out that all those connected with the law and law enforcement have pivotal responsibilities to discharge if the change the nation needs is ever to materialize.
“The fight against corruption is in reality a struggle for the restoration of law and order,” he stated. “Corruption and impunity become widespread when disrespect for law is allowed to thrive in society. Disrespect for law also thrives when people get away with all sorts of shady deals and the court system is somehow unable to check them.
President Buhari declared that the ability to manipulate and frustrate the legal system is the crowning glory of the corrupt and has left many legal practitioners and law courts tainted in an ugly way.
Outlining the way forward, he said the courts must be made functional and effective again.
“This means that we must have lawyers who take the ethics of the profession very seriously; lawyers who will not frustrate the course of justice, even though they defend their clients with all legitimate means and resources.
To that end, he said Nigeria needs ethical lawyers who always keep the end of justice in mind and will never sacrifice the integrity of the legal system to cover the misdeeds of their clients, no matter how lucrative the brief may be.
He noted that lawyers are often in the vanguard of the defense of human rights, and urged them to view corruption as a gross violation of human rights.
“For the masses of our people, the millions still wallowing in want and diseases, corruption is a major reason why they cannot go to school; why they cannot be gainfully employed; and why there are few doctors, nurses and drugs in their hospitals and health centers. It is the reason why pensioners are not paid and potable water is scarce.”
He said that meant that corruption diverts public resources meant for millions of people into the private pockets of a greedy few, thereby causing a lot of suffering, deprivation and death, declaring that there can be no greater violation of human rights.
“This should rouse us to fight it with the same zeal and doggedness as we deploy in the defense of fundamental rights,” President Buhari said.
He also called on the lawyers to work for a more efficient and effective legal system which will help to attract more investments to the country and accelerate the pace of national economic development.
He pointed out that contracts are only good to the extent that they are enforceable without undue delay, warning that if by the default of lawyers or the law courts, it is found that cases take ages to conclude or that the judicial system is somehow corruptible, Nigeria obviously cannot attract the kind of partnerships which she needs or which her large vibrant economy would ordinarily have attracted.
“The world today has been correctly described as a global village,” he said. “Capital and expertise are readily mobile. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn between our country and others when the choice of where to do business is being made. Our current position in this respect is not good enough.
Our process for obtaining licenses and permits are too slow. It takes too long a time to enforce contracts in our law courts and our regulatory and administrative processes are not noticeably predictable or efficient.”
Lawyers, the president said, all have a key role to play in this regard, whether in the reform of our laws and regulation or in the integrity of our judicial systems.
He expressed his fervent hope that this conference and other fora of lawyers and non-lawyers will closely and quickly work out ways of making Nigeria’s legal system much improved in terms of integrity, the human touch, efficiency and rigorous dedication to the cause of justice.
The President assured the gathering that his administration will give its full support to the implementation of the required legal reforms if it is convinced that they are in the best interest of the nation.