The lawyers belong to the conservative stock preserving the status quo ante. Their guiding philosophy is the morality of the ruling class who they provide services for a living. It has not changed that much except for occasional throw up of a handful of radicals and rebels who come once in a while like the Biblical voice in the wilderness; they come and go, leaving a gulf and huge vacuum.
By Mike Kebonkwu
The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) hitherto had remained the pristine association of lawyers in Nigeria with a monolithic whole. There were neither Muslim nor Christian lawyers associations. There were no Arewa, Oduduwa, or Ohaneze lawyers associations as they now rear their heads. The waters of cultural organizations do not mix up with the fountains of professional associations.
Every segment of the nation, Nigeria has been reduced to ethnic fiefdom; Arewa this, Ohaneze and Oduduwa that; Christian this and Muslim that. It is difficult to know what is really holding Nigeria together as one at the moment. In our clime, our leaders wear the face of Janus, promoting religion and ethnicity above humanity and at the same time parroting patriotism and one Nigeria derisively. This is a great disservice to those who laid their lives to keep this country together as one.
The NBA like any other professional organizations of its kind probably exists first, to cater for the interest of its members but without ignoring its fundamental responsibility to the society as a watchdog ensuring checks and balance between the three tiers of government, the executive, judiciary and the legislature.
Lately, the NBA appears to have lost its democratic credential to the rapacious monster of ballot corruption and electoral heist while conducting its bi-annual conference rituals of electing leadership of the association.
However, it has managed to put itself together again after each round of such failures. Beyond representing the interest of its members, which of course is a moot point, one wonders if NBA is actually relevant to the Nigerian society of today.
One function of the law which I find quite attractive is the one that sees law as an instrument of social engineering. To this end, without the society, the law will be useless or put differently, when the law ceases to serve the interest and good of the society, it is no longer fit to be so called. Lawyers are hardly revolutionary activists as they are mostly elitists in training and orientation. The lawyer is as conservative as the law and legal practice itself and that is why it is only able to throw up a few activists who take radical position from the orthodoxy in what is perceived as judicial activism whether at the Bench or the Bar.
One remembers with nostalgia the days of Alao Aka-Bashorun as the NBA President, the association became a radical and revolutionary organizations with synergy and interface with other mass based organisations and student union movement. They challenged every harsh economic and social policies of the military regime in carnival like protests all the way. I remember as if it were yesterday, one young man then, Opeyemi Bamidele as the NANS President addressing the NBA committee in Aka Bashorun Chambers in Ebute Meta in Lagos explaining the propriety of calling out students for nationwide protest against commercialisation of education and sundry other national issues and the endorsement it received by the NBA leadership.
You could hear the shrill voice of the inimitable and irrepressible Chief Gani Fawehinmi even on the streets of Lagos. He was up with his brief case defending students and activists who were victimized and incarcerated by institutions and government across the country. He was everywhere defending the poor and the down-trodden from the case of the expelled students of Obafemi Awolowo University to University of Maiduguri, just name it. In those days, the choice of who to invite to speak at the NBA organized conferences was not determined by deep pockets of unscrupulous politicians, or position in government.
It would have been unimaginable for the NBA to attempt to invite any controversial person with questionable democratic credentials or tainted with ethno-religious bigotry to address it. What played out in the last convention giving rise to splinter groups in the NBA is a demonstration of the level of degeneration of the association itself and the level of intense religious and ethnic divide of the nation. The NBA has lost its temper and has become a platform for mere social interaction and self-aggrandizement. We may have recovered from it but the problem is far from being solved.
Today, Nigerians are groaning under the weight of the hike in fuel price. On top of it is an additional yoke of undeserved huge hike in electricity tariff as we continue to live in darkness. Today, the nation is groaning under relentless siege and insecurity. We have the coteries of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the ubiquitous Nigeria Labour Congress sitting in the Labour House like a dazed elephant doing nothing beyond rhetoric for higher pay for members only. They abandon the interest of the mass of the people as if the salary increment translates to better life for the worker in the midst of harsh economic reality of a depressed and devalued currency.
One remembers when the Babangida regime embraced the international financial institutions and the World Bank, by experimenting with increase in telephone tariffs and the student movement rose up and challenged it. The minister then, who later became a Senate President for eight years or more, in his naivety was asking why students would be protesting against telephone tariff when they do not have phones. In every step of the way, you had the Academic Staff Union of the Universities (ASUU), National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS), organized labour, NGOs like the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Market Women Association and of course NUPENG who had very progressive, radical leadership challenging harsh economic policies of government. But what do we see today with labour unions, divisive, highly compromised, incompetent leadership in comatose that cannot raise a flag in defence of the people against harsh economic policies unleashed on the country.
It is a shame that those bickering and whining for withdrawal of invitation to a politician who is not able to manage the diversity of his state cannot rise up to challenge the current punishment unleashed on the suffering people in Nigeria. Before now, the NBA that I used to know before becoming a lawyer myself, would have risen in defence of the musician that was sentenced to death for alleged religious heresy and defaming of the Prophet in his song or clip. What a country indeed!
The NBA needs a rebirth like every other civil society organisations and NGOs. It is not just enough to get money from donors to serve self and make publication in the media of seminars and workshops which translate to nothing in the lives of the people; that is fraud. The Nigerian state has become an epic tragedy of the Orwellian proportion in the Animal Farm where having dethroned man, the animals started learning the habits of man.
The APC led government like the PDP before it has failed Nigerians because the political space is made up of the same stuff like half-a-dozen-and-six. Infrastructure decay is still with us, corruption remains a huge spectre and life has become less meaningful as unemployment and insecurity have become a daily salad. A Nigerian citizenship is a possibility if we cure ourselves of pedestrian, sectarian, religious and ethnic irredentism that has become a national malaise.
- Kebonkwu Esq writes from Abuja.