NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION
JOS BRANCH LAW WEEK HELD AT MILLENNIUM INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE CENTRE, JOS, NOVEMBER 30- DECEMBER 5, 2018
THEME: THE ROLE OF LAWYERS IN ENGENDERING FREE, FAIR, CREDIBLE AND ACCEPTABLE ELECTIONS IN NIGERIA
Rev. Prof. Pandang Yamsat
Centre for Value and Attitudinal Reawakening (CVAR), Integrity House, Rahwol Kanang,
- O. Box 425 Bukuru, Plateau State, Nigeria
1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Romans 13.1-4, New International Version).
Lord God of righteousness, justice and of impartiality, as I give this keynote address and as these lawyers you have given to us in this state and the nationshare with one another this week their own role in bringing about “free, fair, credible and acceptable elections in Nigeria,” help them to understand far more than ever that their role is not simply a matter of brain and legal work or money matters, but a divine call and assignment to bring about righteousness and justice for a peaceful, harmonious and progressive State and nation, which the masses of this country yearn for. Help them also to listen to one another as people who all have your divine mandate for this purpose. And so help them also to listen to you speak to them this week that they have set aside for this purpose that they may be better instruments in your hand for this very purpose. We pray this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Protocol: The Chairman of the occasion, Your Excellency, the Governor of Plateau State, Barr. Simon Lalong, Distinguished Guests, the organizing Committee and learned lawyers on the Plateau and outside, I greet you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I feel privileged to be invited to give the keynote address at this very august gathering of eminent lawyers of the state during your Legal Week on a very critical theme: “The role of lawyers in engendering free, fairs, credible and acceptable elections in Nigeria”.
Learned lawyer, big and small, the fact that you started your Law Week with the worship of God at the Mosque and Church means, that your work is not only about the law of the law as it pertains to elections or any other legal issue, but your work is also about God and what he says about you and what you do. And the fact that you picked this critical and sensitive topic for deliberation during your week, I also take it that you agree that your work imbibing godly values, a critical thing in the life of a people like Plateau in particular and Nigeria at large.Since you are agreed with these by your actions, the implication then, the implication is that for lawyers to play their role of engendering free, fair, credible and acceptable elections, they themselves have to be men and women who imbibe as a lifestyle the values of freedom, fairness, credibility and conventionality to be able to make their own contribution well in our desire as a nation to bring about free, fair, credible and acceptable elections in Nigeria, since they cannot give what they do not have, as you also say in your circle. This brings me to this keynote address that for lawyers to play their role or responsibility to engender or bring about “free, fair, credible and acceptable elections in Nigeria,” their profession demands that they be:
- Personally qualified
- Professionally qualified
- Professionally capable of handling post electoral petitions and complaints;
- Subscribers to the supremacy of the law and stability of the democratic system.
- Personally qualified
In law and in practical life, it is believed that one cannot give what he has not except what he has. To give justice, the lawyer must believe in justice and must imbibe justice as a way of life. Besides this, laws are not made for the head or the intellect, but for harmonious and peaceful conducts of citizens of given land, and to be able to protect the law and defend his client, he must believe in that law and must be law-abiding himself so as to defend his client well, based on that law, without violating or manipulating the law to get what he wants or his client wants. This means that the lawyer must:
- Personally knows himself well
If a lawyer does not personally know himself well, his capability and incapability or his areas of strength and weaknesses, how can he help a person in need of help or refer a case to someone who can do it better and thereby boost his integrity, since no one knows it all and no one is incapable of knowing some things? If a lawyer accepts a case that he cannot handle or a case that has no merit, simply because of the money it brings to his chamber and pockets, then he is not a lawyer with integrity and is not only robbing his client of his money but ruining his person and the legal system.
- Personally knows God whom he represents
Modern man has so compartmentalized life so much so that it has now become a problem to him.In other words, man’s legal life, belief in God as his source for everything and the values that drives him are all to be separated from each other. To do that, is to live a split life and one who lives a split life is an abnormal person who needs the attention of a psychiatrist or counsellor. Concerning the severance of religion, morality and law by some people in modern times, even some lawyers, Lord Denning has this to say:
Many people now think religion and law have nothing in common. The law they say, governs our dealings with our fellows.: whereas religion concerns our dealings with God. Likewise they hold that law has nothing to do with morality. It lays down rigid rules which must be obeyed without questioning whether they are right or wrong. Its function is to keep order, not to do justice.
The severance has, I think, gone much too far. Although religion, law and morals can be separated, they are nevertheless still very much dependent on each other. Without religion, there can be no morality: and without morality there can be no law (Sir Alfred Denning, The Changing Law, New Delhi: Universal Law Publishing Co.2012, 99).
Thus, for a lawyer to succeed in his law profession, he needs not only to know himself, but he must know personally God his Creator, for the Christian, knowing God personally means accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord Savior who died to give him life abundantly including his legal profession. If there was no connection between the law, your faith in God and ethical values or morality, you could not have started your Law Week by going to worship in the Mosque and Church, as we said. You went because you believe your law profession originates from God who must be worshipped and the implication is that your law profession must be done alongside the ethical values God has put in place to enable you successfully achieve your profession goals.
- Must know and imbibe the godly values and laws governing elections.
Knowing and imbibing ethical values as a lifestyle are what drive any person and and professional person to excellence in his field. Without this one goes nowhere in terms genuine and lasting achievement in life. And so a lawyer cannot be of help to his client and the legal system if he or she does not know and imbibe godly values which wants to protect in the court of law. Ajogwu, SAN, makes this point very clear in his book, where he quotes the communique issued by the Section of Legal Practice of Nigeria Bar Association as saying,
- A lawyer lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country,” therefore fore, as lawyers, we owe a duty to the society to observe the intrinsic rules of basic fairness, equality and justice. We are to carry out our profession in the spirit of these three ideals: organization, learning, and a spirit of public service.
- Lawyers should at all times uphold the core traditional values that underline the very essence of our calling as professionals … (Ajogwu, 2013, 115).
- Professionally qualified
If lawyers must play their role to bring about free, fair, credible elections, the association must ensure all whom they accept into the association are truly academically and professionally qualified. They should have a regular way of allowing their members go through some kind of screening to make sure they are up to date in the profession. Failure to do so in a globalized era, the association will be ridiculed by the activities of quack and unqualified lawyerswho would pull down the image of the association and before the association knows it, Nigerian lawyers would have not only run out of business but would have destroyed the justice system of the nation.A lawyer who knows his subject well and is in a position to defend the law and his client well, If his case has merit or to inform his client that his petition has no merit and so should save his money and time is the lawyer who will not run out of business and his fame will go places. To be able to do so, the lawyer must be:
- Conversant with the laws governing the process of election
- Conversant with the laws governing the election itself;
- Conversant with the laws governing the collation and announcement of the results;
If a lawyer does not know the electoral law from the selection of candidates and the primaries in the parties, the law governing the conduct of the elections and the laws governing the collation of results, how can he know whether there has been free and fair election, for free and fair elections encompasses all three so as to stand to protect the law and defend his client well or counsel him to drop the case for lack of merit and thereby help him save his money, integrity and time and the tribunal’s and lawyer’s time and integrity as well?
- Ability to handle post electoral petitions and complaints professionally
It is one thing to know the law governing post electoral petitions and complains and it is another thing to able to handle them well before the tribunal in defense of one’s client and in the protection of the legal system. The lawyer in doing so, should know he is:
- Counsellor and advocate of client not an employee
A lawyer who knows who knows himself personally should know that he is not an employer of the petitioner in a just concluded election but an advocate of justice and of the petitioner to have what is due to him or her should he or she has a good case. Should he not have a good case after having studied what transpired from the process of election to actual election, since the lawyer is not after grasping money from the petitioner but out to his or her role to bring about free, fair …. he or she should give his expert advice to the petitioner to drop the case honorably. As a lawyer, he should know that there are petitioners who are ignorant of the law and there are those who find it difficult to accept defeat and so would want to cover their defeat by going to court even though they know they have been defeated. Such a client is in great need of counselling by the lawyer if he is able or he could do it in collaboration with a professional counsellor or the pastor or Imam of the petitioner who is trained to counsel his members in need.In the words of Fabian Ajogwu, SAN,
In representing his client, it is the lawyer’s duty to do so within the bounds of the law/ He should not breach any law or rule even if his client desires that he should do so and no matter how much he is paid by the client. A lawyer should not advise his client to breach the law or influence judicial decisions through bribery. A lawyer should not fabricate facts or evidence and he must not undertake fraudulent or illegal activities on behalf of his client (Fabian Ajogwu, Law and Society, Lagos: Centre for Commercial Law Development, 2013,131f).
The role of the lawyer is primarily to defend the right and condemn the wrong and protect the law from being trampled upon by the lawless and not be partners with those who do wrong, for he is a partner with the tribunal or judge in dispensing justice and no partner with his client to justify his petition at all cost.
- A partner of the tribunal to dispense justice not a rival
On the lawyer being partner of the judge or tribunal, Ajogwu quotes Lord Denning who says,
As an advocate, he is a Minister of Justice, equally with the judge. He has a monopoly of audience in the higher courts. No one save he can address the courts unless it be a litigant person. This curries with it a corresponding responsibility … He has a duty to the court which is paramount. It is a mistake to suppose that he is the mouthpiece of his client to say what he wants, or he stood to do what he directs. He is none of these things. He owes allegiance to a higher cause. It is the cause of truth and justice (Ajogwu, 132).
Earlier to this, Ajogwu says Crampton J. had said,
This court in which we sit is a temple of justice, and the advocates of the Bar as well as the judge are equally Ministers in that temple. The object of all equally should be the attainment of justice (Ajogwu, 133).
Thus, the lawyer must see his role as that of a defender of the legal system and not its enemy. As we saw in Romans 13.1-7, the power to award/acquit or condemn/punish or to dispense of justiceis entrusted in the hands of lawyers and judges/tribunals of a state or nation. And because they are agents of God and the state in adjudging elections as free, fair, credible …, they are partners and not rivals in the settling of petitions and complaints regarding the processes and conducts of elections.
- Belief in the supremacy of the law and the stability of the democratic system
It is mandatory that the lawyer believes in the supremacy of the law and defend the stability of the democratic system through which credible leaders are elected. To have credible leaders the role of the lawyer is to believe in and protect the supremacy of the law over and above persons, no matter how highly placed, even the President of a country, for the good and protection of the rights of every law-abiding citizen to voted and be voted for and make his or her vote count.
As we therefore approach yet another election year in Nigeria, it cannot be over-emphasized that free, fair and credible elections are a mechanism for political stability and peaceful co-existence. Electoral justice must be deliberately championed through instituting a transparent, accountable and credible electoral processes. As you are aware, international observers have alluded that past elections have been marred by vote buying, electoral violence, intimidation and poor management of electoral logistics and impositionof candidates and or buying voters at primaries against popular will of party members and the intimidation, buying of voters and manipulation of results at the election.
This conference musttherefore set in motion the modus operandi for improving electoral outcomes through credible, free and fair electoral processes. Also, lawyers must be equipped to face the emerging electoral challenges with a view to responding to the deficiencies in the electoral law and processes as well. The association is in a position to develop a framework for tracking election results and reporting same, by serving as electoral observers and so on. They should also sensitize people on voting credible candidates and demanding for credible elections. And above all, lawyers should be seen to be true partners with judges in ensuring free, fair ….. and not be seen to be partners with their clients and rivals with judges in ensuring free, fair and credible elections.
I find Lord Denning’s conclusion fitting to this keynote address:
And what does it all come to? Surely this, tht if we seek truth and justice, we cannot find it in by argument and debate, nor by reading and thinking, but only by the maintenance of true religion and virtue. Religion concerns the spirit of man, whereby he is able to recognize what is truth and what is justice; whereas law is only the application, however imperfectly, of truth and justice in our everyday affairs. If religion perishes in the land, truth and justice will also. We have already strayed too far from the faith of our fathers. Let us return to it, for it is the only thing that can save us (Denning, 122).