President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday urged Nigerian lawyers not to sacrifice integrity of the legal system in a bid to cover misdeeds of clients, no matter how lucrative the brief.
The president made the call at the opening of the 55th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.
Buhari called on the lawyers to support his administration’s war against corruption and help the country to return to the path of rectitude by making courts functional and effective again.
“I am convinced that law, law-makers, lawyers, law courts and the law enforcement agencies have pivotal responsibilities to discharge, if the change we seek is ever to materialise.
“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.
“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.
He stressed the need to make the nation’s 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.’’
According to him, 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.
While noting that lawyers were often in the vanguard of the defense of human rights, Buhari also urged them to view corruption as a gross violation of human rights.
“For the masses of our people, the millions still wallowing in want and diseases, corruption is a major reason why they cannot go to school; why they cannot be gainfully employed; and why there are few doctors, nurses and drugs in their hospitals and health centers.
“It is the reason why pensioners are not paid and potable water is scarce.
“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 defense of fundamental rights’’, he further stated.
The president urged lawyers to work for a more efficient and effective legal system which would attract more investments to the country and accelerate the pace of economic development.
He called for increased public and private partnerships in the 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 we need.
“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.
“Our current position in this respect is not good enough. Our process for obtaining licenses and permits are too slow.
“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.’’
The president maintained that in all these, lawyers had a key role to play, whether in the reform of the laws and regulation or in the integrity of the judicial system.
He hoped the conference and other fora of lawyers and non-lawyers would make legal system much improved in terms of integrity, human touch, efficiency and rigorous dedication to the cause of justice.
The president assured that his administration would 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 nation.’’
The three-day conference is being attended by lawyers, including Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who is also a member of the NBA and other invited dignitaries.