By Martins Odeh/Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has said the rights of individuals in the society must always take a second place where national security and public interests are threatened.
President Buhari said this today while declaring open the 58th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Abuja. The conference has as its theme: “Transition, Transformation and Sustainable Institutions’’.
He said although his administration subscribes to the rule of law as the foundation of the society, it is also guided by the belief that the rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest.
“Our apex court has had cause to adopt a position on this issue in this regard and it is now a matter of judicial recognition that; where national security and public interest are threatened or there is a likelihood of their being threatened, the individual rights of those allegedly responsible must take second place, in favour of the greater good of society”, President Buhari said.
Buhari urged lawyers to join his administration in achieving the core objective of enhancing Nigeria’s business environment and promoting social justice by promoting respect for the Rule of Law; contributing to the law reform process and putting national interest and professional ethics above self in the conduct of their business.
The President recalled the challenges faced by his administration since its inception in 2015 and efforts being made to put the country on a better footing.
“Let me assure you of the resolve of this administration to promote measures that will achieve a vibrant economy under which the practice of law will thrive.
“Through fiscal discipline, good housekeeping, we navigated the difficult days of economic transformation at the beginning of this Government in 2015 and have now come to improving economic indices, including the consistent increase in our foreign reserves; thirteen straight months of decreasing inflation; the expansion of social safety nets programmes as well as the blockages of historical drain pipes in our national treasury, all within the context of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.
” It is equally significant to emphasise that our willingness to hold persons accountable for offences against society, through the judicial process, will equally transform the future of public service in Nigeria in a positive manner.
He urged lawyers to uphold and improve the sanctity and integrity of Nigeria’s judicial and electoral institutions which play a fundamental role in the sustenance and growth of our democracy.
“While we have made appreciable progress in several sectors, including public awareness of the need to challenge the corrupt and the brazen in our midst, we have also learnt useful lessons on the dynamism of our society. However, elements within every society, including some lawyers, can equally become unduly resistant to change, even where it is proven that such change is to serve the interest of the larger society. At worst, corruption fights back.
“As we gradually move into another season of intense political activities preparatory to the 2019 General Elections, I enjoin you to remember that by reason of your profession, you all have a responsibility to work for national cohesion and unity through your speeches and public positions and most importantly in your advocacy in court.
“In the context of opinions and narratives about our past and present political and socio-economic experience, you cannot afford to jettison rational and proper analysis of issues in a manner which builds, rather than destroys the nation. I also urge you to work to uphold and improve the sanctity and integrity of our judicial and electoral institutions which play a fundamental role in the sustenance and growth of our democracy.
“However, let me remind you all, my dear compatriots, that the law can only be optimally practiced in a Nigeria that is safe, secure and prosperous”, he said.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen said the members of the Legal Profession had always waited for the NBA annual general conference as it served as intellectual compass for the members.
He said the choice of President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana as the main speaker for this year’s conference and other notable local and internal resource persons spoke volume to how NBA had expanded the frontier of the conference.
“President Nana Akufo-Addo is a vibrant Legal Practitioner of many decades and has championed the cause of human rights for many years before becoming a president.
“He therefore reserves the right to speak to the theme, and it is our hope that the conference would come out with salient outcomes that would enrich our association and country’’, CJN said.
On the forthcoming general election, Onnoghen said democracy provides citizens the freedom to decide who govern them.
“The significance of the ballot for sustaining democracy must be protected by all and sundry.
“The electoral members must be thought to conduct themselves in the most acceptable manner.
“In the event of election disputes, the judiciary must be prepared to play its role with substantial credibility’’, Onnoghen said.
On the attempt to introduce flexibility in filing of appeals at the Supreme Court, the CJN said the deadline for the Nigeria Legal E-mailing System would soon be activated.
According to him, the system is deployed to end paper filing of processes in the apex court.
He however, advised the lower court across the country to adopt similar measure to forestall the present cumbersome nature of filing processes in courts.
The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN) described the NBA as a premium association that had assisted the country in various spheres.
Malami also said the association was an agent of transformation and positive change, adding that this year’s conference had shown the mileage the association could cover.
He said the country’s journey toward ensuring supremacy of laws was still in order, adding that the government had in the last three year strengthened the country’s prosecutorial agencies to perform better.
On his part, Mr Abubakar Mahmoud, outgoing President of the NBA, said the association had in the last two years embarked on programmes to build the confidence of the public on the profession.
Mahmoud said the association was interested in the growth of the country, adding however that such growth could be stiffened if rule of law was not in place.
He said the choice of the conference theme was deliberate, adding that it was intended to cure the widespread disconnect and weakness in most of the country’s institutions.
On security, the NBA president said the association has had on the spot assessments of situations in the North East, Kaduna, Zamfara, and Benue.
He said the Federal Government must increase its visibility in those trouble spots to abate the ongoing killings by hoodlums.
Mahmoud further said that the practice where those state governments used their allocations to fund federal security agents must be discouraged as according to him, the practice is draining state funds.
Mahmoud said the 3-day conference would address Climate Change, Human Rights, Equality/Justice, Rule of Law, Security, Conflict Resolution as well as Innovation in Technology.