The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, on Friday, tackled President Muhammadu Buhari for declaring that he would continue to place national security and interest above the rule of law.
The legal body in a communique it issued at the end of its 58th Annual General Conference that held in Abuja, maintained that issues of national security must be managed within the perimeters and parameters of the rule of law.
NBA equally frowned at what it described as a growing penchant by Buhari’s administration to disobey court orders. It will be recalled that President Buhari had in an address he presented at the opening ceremony of the NBA Conference last Sunday, insisted that individual rights of alleged offenders would not be spared when national security and public interest are threatened.
He said his government adopted the stance on the basis of subsisting decisions of the Supreme Court. According to him, “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”.
The President’s speech had since attracted varied reactions from notable Nigerians, with most of them distancing themselves from his position. In its first official statement on the issue, NBA which is the umbrella body of legal practitioners in the country, said it “completely rejects the presidential statement subordinating the Rule of Law to National Security”.
It said: “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. “As a corollary, Conference frowns at the present growing trend whereby government decides on which court orders to obey. 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”.
NBA said it was also opposed to the issuance of Executive Orders in respect to matters already in court. It maintained that such order would amount to a breach of the principle of separation of powers. “Executive Orders should 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.
“Conference resolved that our democracy can be better strengthened by an independent judiciary and consequently calls for a budgetary arrangement that allows for funds to be directly allocated to the judiciary at Federal and State levels”. NBA said there was need for new laws to set higher standards of academic qualifications for political office holders in Nigeria.
On the ongoing war against corruption, NBA, warned that investigative agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, should not be partisan, stressing that the anti-graft war should not be one-sided. It said: “Conference reiterates its support for the war against corruption, but this war must be across aboard and not be selective.
In this regard, the NBA will work with all law enforcement agencies with the common objective of promoting the Rule of Law, and therefore calls on its members to be vigilant and take necessary steps to prevent the molestation of legal practitioners when carrying out lawful duties. “The NBA asserts that investigative institutions like the EFCC must remain impartial so as to engender confidence in their operations. This is particularly urgent as we enter into an election year”.
Meanwhile, the conference ended on Friday with a formal handover of NBA leadership to a new set of executives led by its newly elected President, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN. Before he swore-in the new Excos that will pilot affairs of the body in the next two years, the outgoing President of the NBA, Mr. Abubakar Mahmood, SAN, denied the allegation that he manipulated the association’s election process to ensure Usoro’s emergence as his successor. Though he dismissed the allegation as “appalling”, Mahmood, said he has okayed a post audit exercise based on series of criticisms that have trailed the NBA e-voting process.