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NBA Annual General Conference: Kwara lawyers   attack Buhari over his position on rule of law


The Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) that began last Friday took a dramatic dimension on Sunday as legal practitioners condemned President Muhammadu Buhari for placing national interest above the rule of law.

President Buhari had in his speech presented at the opening ceremony of the 2018 NBA annual conference in Abuja, insisted that the individuals’ who err the law would not be spared when national security and public interest were threatened.

“Rule of Law must be subjected 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 had said.

Legal practitioners have however repudiated Buhari’s position on this issue of national interest and the rule of law maintaining that the president doesn’t have respect for the constitution.

Among those legal practitioners who reacted to his speech is an Ilorin based Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Abeni Muhammed.

Mohammed who kicked against the position of the president stressed that if rule of law is not respected and obeyed, Nigeria and the institution of democracy will be in jeopardy. He  added that any country without rule of law as its watchword is a ‘lawless jungle’.

He said, “What is national interest that rule of law must be sacrificed for? Rather, it is in the national interest of any government to obey and subject Nigeria to the rule of law. Where there is rule of law, every interest, including that of the nation is safeguarded. A country without the rule of law is a lawless jungle.

“I don’t know who wrote that speech; it is the first time in our jurisprudence that I will hear a President complaining that the rule of law must give way for national interest. The first national interest of a country is to subject itself to the rule of law.

Mohammed also stressed that the rule of law implies that no one should be doing things to suit the whims and caprices of some persons, but the generality of the country, maintaining that the dictates of constitution must not be thrown under the carpet in Nigeria. ‘Unless he (Buhari) wants to take Nigeria back to 1984 when he was military head of state, when his words were law.’

The chairman of the Ilorin branch of the NBA, Barrister Muhammed Idowu Akande noted that president position should not be totally discarded but should be viewed in two ways.

According to him, the interest of everybody supersede that of an individual and in such instance, national interest is above.

Akande alluded to the case of Asari Dokubo against Attorney General of Federation saying the judge who decided the matter stated that individual fundamental human right cannot override national security. He said that when national security is threatened, individual interest can be suspended.

The Ilorin NBA chairman also noted that one cannot use the issue of national security to justify the disobedience of court order adding that what the federal government is doing on the issue of National Security Adviser to the former administration, Sambo Dansuki is an aberration.

“The respect for the rule of law is in connection with the court order and is one of the fundamental principles of democracy. What the federal government is doing on the issue of Dansuki is wrong. Court granted him bail but federal government ignored it. It’s very wrong for any government to jettison court order. It’s bad and it is antidemocratic,” Akande said.

He further added that the implication of Buhari speech is not good for the country democracy adding that it is the common man that will suffer it most if the idea is adopted. He noted that once the court has ruled over an issue, the executive and other arms of government must honour it.

In his reaction to the development, one of the NBA presidential aspirants, Prof. Ernest Ojukwu, SAN, said:  “It is unfortunate that our President made that speech. I think there is a fundamental problem which we need to address on that issue.

“If our President says that rule of law must be subjected to national interest, then it is an ominous sign that our democracy has failed. The civil society needs to rise to reverse that speech whether it is in substance, form or reality, otherwise we will be in trouble.”

Contrary to the opinions of lawyers on the issue, the president seems to have found support of constitutional lawyer and anti-corruptiion adviser to the president, Prof Itsey Sagay, who said, “I agree with him absolutely. I will even go further because people are saying that he is referring to the case of the former NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd) and Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, my own goes beyond all that…

Meanwhile, the conference will however be coming to an end tomorrow with the Annual General meeting which is considered as the biggest arm of NBA. This is where the outgoing president of the Bar, Abubakar Mahmoud SAN and his executive will give account for their stewardship and also hand over to the Paul Usoro SAN led executive.

The theme of this year is Transition, Transformation and Sustainable Institutions.

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