A Speech Delivered By The Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki At The Show Case Session Of The Nigerian Bar Association On Monday 24th August, 2015
Your Excellencies, members of the Bar and Bench present, ladies and gentlemen.
I am honoured to have been invited by the NBA to Chair the show case session of the 2015 Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association.
My invitation to Chair a session of the NBA could not have come at a better time than now – especially as our country is going through significant political and economic change, and is pursuing a new direction of prosperity and opportunity for our people. No time could have been more auspicious than now – when our new regime, led by President Buhari, is steering the nation towards a new Nigeria that is corruption-free; where freedom, inclusiveness, fairness and good governance are guaranteed.
The cardinal challenge to this vision rests squarely on changing our already weak criminal justice system and reviewing the regulatory environment that makes doing business in Nigeria unfriendly. We must also deliberately and in a more accurate manner, improve the environment for the rule of law to thrive using enlightened advocacy and innovative lawmaking to solve the problems of a 21st century Nigeria. The NBA as a critical stakeholder and one of our nation’s strongest voices of reason has a major role to play in shaping the institutional and legal fundamentals that will help us achieve sustainable change.
The role of the legal profession in shaping this new legal regime on which the above vision for a new Nigeria that the APC government envisages cannot be over-emphasized. It is in this context that I see the aptness in the choice of the theme of this year’s conference, ‘Lawyers and National Development’, as a profound theme.
As we all know the country is bedeviled with a lot of challenges ranging from mal-administration, weakening economy, endemic corruption, high spate of insurgency and unemployment. The question that this conference should seek to answer will be: ‘How will the Nigerian Bar Association conference help deepen the debate and proffer innovative solutions to our contemporary issues?” I will be glad to see this showcase session deliberate on this and enable the NBA seize the moment.
For example, what intervention do we have to put in place in order to improve the quality and efficiency with which our courts deal with matters that come to it for adjudication especially corruption? How can we build legislative interventions that can help our businesses strengthen integrity, enforcement and sanctity of commercial contracts and obligations? How do we improve on the conflict resolution systems to expand economic freedoms and opportunities for our people? These are some of the vital questions the 8th National Assembly; other stakeholders with the NBA find answers to as we strife to build a more efficient democracy and resilient economy.
As a professional body founded on the ideas of integrity, justice, equity and good conscience, the NBA is suited to provide clear advisory on many of these issues. It is important to note that while we may have had pocket of successes on the issue of justice sector reforms, none has gone deep enough to substantially change the face of this very vital area of our national life.
The 8th National Assembly is alive to the challenge of reforming the justice sector and has made priority the agenda to use its legislative opportunities to significantly improve the expectation of this very vital sector. But as this conference theme has indicated, the NBA and lawyers will have a crucial role to play and it will take collaboration with NBA, the Bench and the generality of the Nigerian populace to build consensus on the best approaches to solving these justice sector challenges. I therefore urge you to come up with proposals on these issues. We know that some of the issues attached to the problem of our courts may require constitutional amendment. While you may not have the authority to vote on the amendment of the Constitution in this wise, the NBA has the voice that compels national attention. It is this voice that must speak out and join the National Assembly and the State Assemblies to get such proposals to pass through the legislative mill.
I will personally welcome in the Senate proposals dealing with; the right of appeals on interlocutory matters, the Rule of Law, Judiciary, Separation of Powers, Human Right, Rules of Courts, Decongestion of Prisons etc. All of these are key components of our rule of law. If the Rule of Law is weak and the judicial system is susceptible to political interference, manipulation and corruption, then our nascent democracy will be threatened.
The independence and incorruptibility of the judiciary is another veritable ingredient in this reform agenda. Significantly, there is a pertinent need for the judiciary to function independently without undue interference from the executive and the legislature this includes financial autonomy. In the same vein there is the need to ensure that the people’s confidence in the integrity of our judiciary remains unshakable and untainted by a perception of corruption. Judges are expected to discharge their duties without fear or favour. The appointment of Judges should be based on merit and track record of integrity rather than being left purely under the dictates of politicians who may want to either appoint or remove a Judge just for selfish political reasons. This is where the National Judiciary Council (NJC) should play a prominent unbiased role in the interest of justice.
The 8th Senate is determined to use its legislative powers to deliver the dividends of democracy to our people. In this order, for the first time in the history of this country, the present National Assembly has forged a legislative agenda, encapsulating clearly laid down legislative priorities and goals in one document which will help the National Assembly have a much more focused and efficient legislative time. The legislative agenda, which is to be deliberated and adopted by the Senate upon resumption, covers legislative interventions aimed at strengthening our public institutions ability to deliver good governance, accountability and expand our peoples’ ability to participate in a more liberal economic space.
The 8th Senate is determined to deliver change, tangible change to ensure that it will no longer be business as usual. The objective of our legislative agenda is that our legislative business is people driven; combating poverty, reduce unemployment, tackle insecurity and address long standing challenges of infrastructure deficit and environmental degradation including desertification, erosion and pollution.
This current Senate is poised to make efficient use of her legislative resources for timely delivery and passage of bills, support government reform programmes and reform the Annual Budget and Economic Planning process for proper budget implementation to avoid further abandonment of projects and block all areas of revenue leakages in the economy. Our policies will remain unsustainable if they are not backed up by legislation. We are ready to partner the NBA to deliver a major review of our business laws to make our business environment a lot friendlier.
I must take leave at this juncture to salute the contribution of the NBA to the deepening of our democracy. The NBA have continued to blaze the trail on good governance and rule of law advocacy. The successes of the 2015 general elections and the peaceful transition of power could not have been possible without the abiding commitment and resilience of the NBA and the Nigerian Civil Society in general.
I use this unique opportunity to congratulate all lawyers who are in government either by election or appointment and I hope that they will bring their wealth of knowledge as lawyers to bear in their official capacities. And on a more serious note, let me seize this auspicious opportunity to congratulate one of your own, a Professor of law, the Vice President of the country, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, for having been elected to this exalted position. I am convinced that he will do well to assist President Mohammad Buhari in achieving the much-desired change the country aspired for.
On the part of the National Assembly, I pledge to you that we will run a much more transparent National Assembly ready to protect our common wealth through effective lawmaking, oversight and representation. You can count on us as partners and feel free to send me your advise, legislative proposals and opinions. Be assured that they will always receive my utmost attention and the attention of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I thank the NBA for this great honour and wish all of you a successful and memorable deliberation.