President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday implored lawyers in the country not to sacrifice the integrity of the Nigeria’s legal system on the altar of their clients’ misdeeds, no matter how lucrative the briefs may be.
He said, as the vanguard of the defense of human rights, lawyers must also view corruption as a gross violation of human rights.
The president, who stated this when he declared the 55th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) open at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, called on Nigerian lawyers to support his administration’s war against corruption.
This, he said, they should do in order to help the country return to the path of rectitude by making Nigerian courts functional and effective again.
Buhari said: “I am convinced that law, lawmakers, lawyers, law courts and the law enforcement agencies all have pivotal responsibilities to discharge if the change we seek is ever to materialize.
“As you all know by now, this administration has taken on the challenge of improving security, fighting corruption and revamping the economy, among many others. The fight against corruption is in reality a struggle for the restoration of law and order.
“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.
“The ability to manipulate and frustrate the legal system is the crowning glory of the corrupt and, as may be expected, this has left many legal practitioners and law courts tainted in an ugly way.”
The president noted that in gatherings such as the conference, there was no need to expatiate on the manner in which corruption and impunity had damaged the country’s economy, saying he would rather dwell on the role legal practitioners should play in returning the country to the path of rectitude.
He said, “First, we need to make our courts 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.
“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,” President Buhari told the country’s lawyers.
Urging the lawyers to view corruption too as a gross violation of human rights, Buhari lamented that for Nigerian masses, especially the millions still wallowing in poverty and diseases, corruption is a major reason why they cannot go to school; why they cannot be gainfully employed; why there are few doctors, nurses and drugs in their hospitals and health centres; why pensioners are not paid and why potable water is scarce.
The president continued: “In effect, 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. In my view, there can be no greater violation of human rights.
“Viewed in this way, I think we can all fully appreciate the gravity of this oppressive and destructive evil. This should rouse us to fight it with the same zeal and doggedness as we deploy in the defence of fundamental rights.”
Buhari further urged Nigerian lawyers to work for a more efficient and effective legal system, saying it would assist in attracting more investments to the country and accelerating the pace of national economic development.
He said, “Increased engagement with the outside world is called for as we seek public private partnerships in our quest for enhanced capital and expertise. There is no doubt that all these depend on enforceable agreements and a reliable legal system.
“Contracts are only good to the extent that they are enforceable without undue delay. 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, we obviously cannot attract the kind of partnerships which we need or which our large vibrant economy would ordinarily have attracted.
“The world today has been correctly described as a global village. 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.”
Buhari noted that Nigeria’s current position in terms of doing business is not good enough as the country’s process for obtaining licences and permits are too slow.
He said, “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. In all these, lawyers have a key role to play, whether in the reform of our laws and regulations or in the integrity of our judicial systems.
“It is my fervent hope that this conference and other fora for lawyers and non-lawyers will closely and quickly work out ways of making our legal system much improved in terms of integrity, the human touch, efficiency and rigorous dedication to the cause of justice.”
Buhari assured the lawyers 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 country.