By Ijeoma Popoola/Sandra Umeh, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
The Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Conference (NBA AGC) – the largest gathering of Nigerian lawyers – ended at the weekend in Lagos State, where the lawyers placed some contemporary issues on national agenda and reviewed their operational framework.
At least 12,000 delegates registered for the conference, the 59th edition, which had the theme: “Facing the Future”.
The Eko Hotels and Suites and the Harbour Point Events Centre, both on Victoria Island, hosted the lawyers for the weeklong event that began from Aug. 23 and staged 41 technical sessions with 206 guest speakers.
Among the issues of discussion at the AGC were the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), with the delegates calling on the Supreme Court to clarify whether the tribunal is an organ of the executive arm or a quasi-judical tribunal capable of being vested with criminal jurisdiction.
Other issues discussed were Clash of Judicial and Executive Powers, Capacity Building in Oil and Gas Industry, Social Media Culture; Liability and Professional Ethics, and Domestic Policy Change.
The 2019 NBA AGC also discussed Tapping the Opportunities, Digital Trade in Legal Services, Next Generation Lawyers and Leveraging Technology in Practice, among others topical issues.
In a communique it issued at the end of the conference, the NBA said it was necessary to determine the status of the CCT in the interest of justice.
The NBA encouraged judicial officers to be independent, courageous and unbiased in the execution of their functions without regard to the appointing authority, in order to bolster and retain investor confidence.
“Laws with severe punitive measures for sex offenders should be enacted, sensitisation programmes and community dialogues should be promoted to remove the stigma around gender-based violence,’’ it added.
In a session entitled, “Kidnapping and Terrorism: Threat to Freedom, Security and National Development’’, panelists had called on lawyers to associate themselves with public interest litigation in an effort to tackle insecurity.
A Senior Lecturer in the University of Lagos, Mr Wahab Shittu, argued that the twin evil of terrorism and kidnapping posed grave dangers to the survival of the Nigerian State.
Shittu, an Economic and Financial Crimes Commission prosecutor, said that the survival of the political, social, economic and diplomatic sovereignty of any nation would depend largely on its national security, which he defined as the aggregation of the security interest of individuals, communities, ethnic groups, political elites and institutions in a nation.
“The 2010 United States Department of State Country Report on Terrorism places Nigeria as the third terrorist country of the world,” he said.
He called for enforcement of anti-terrorism and anti-kidnapping legislation, noting that meaningful development could only thrive in a country devoid of insecurity.
The conference also condemned sexual harassment of female lawyers by their senior colleagues, with Mrs Mia Essien (SAN) urging that lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct should strongly condemn sexual assault and bullying.
Essien, the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Legal Practice, spoke on “Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Community”.
“There are situations where senior lawyers travel with junior female colleagues and make no hotel reservations for such females,” she said.
The senior advocate of Nigeria said that such females ended up in the rooms of their principals, who deliberately did so to sexually exploit them.
Stressing the issue, a panelist in the session, Mrs Awulika Osuigwe, said that bullying and sexual molestation in workplaces had been going on unnoticed due to poor reportage.
She advised females to report acts such as slapping of their buttocks by men.
“In some places, married women are given specific periods for pregnancy, if they must keep their jobs,” she regretted.
While declaring the conference open, President Muhammadu Buhari had reiterated his administration’s commitment to upholding the rule of law.
Represented by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), Buhari said that the conference’s theme reflected that the NBA was a critical stakeholder in the affairs of the nation.
He urged the delegates to take advantage of the conference to develop legal practice.
The President of the International Bar Association, Mr Horatio Neto, remarked that there was the need for legal practice to reflect the advancement technology.
According to him, the bar must look forward to adapting to the reality of new technologies.
“There is the need for technology to infiltrate every aspect of legal practice including filing of processes as well as assignment of these processes,” he urged.
In his presentation, Justice Nelson Ogbuanya of the National Industrial Court decried the slow rate at which Nigerians adopted technology.
The judge discussed: Leveraging Technology in Justice Administration, Issues and Challenges”.
He advised that judges should update their in Information Communication Technology (ICT) knowledge and take charge of their ICT processes.
Speaking on legislative framework for admissibility of electronic evidence in Nigeria, another judge, Justice Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye, said: “We cannot escape form the reality of the digital age, as cases coming into the courts now take new forms and actions such as cyber crime.
In his address of welcome, NBA President Paul Usoro said that the conferences was to afford lawyers the opportunity to place contemporary issues on national agenda and review the framework within which they operated.
“The essence of being lawyers is to ensure that the rule of law is preserved, as lawyers represent the voice of the oppressed,” he said.
Usoro said that the rule of law would ensure access to justice, protection of the weak and strong, and independence of the judiciary, adding that it had no preference for tribe or political groups.
The NBA is optimistic that if the issues and others are adequately tackled, its members and other Nigerians will be able to face the future with confidence.