Professor Tahir Mamman, SAN, is former Director- General of the Nigerian Law School, NLS. He is also the Vice-Chancellor of Baze University in Abuja. In this interview, he speaks on the upcoming Nigerian Bar Association, NBA’s biennial election and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
With barely some weeks to the end of the tenure of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, the issues of his successor has been a major issue. The frontline aspirants from what we gathered are Chief Authur Obi Okafor, SAN; Prof. Ernest Ojukwu, SAN, Mr Paul Usoro, SAN, and Mazi Afam Isigwe.
What is your reaction to this development? With the 2018 elections around the corner, there is as usual an array of distinguished lawyers seeking to be elected President of the Bar and other offices. It is of course critical that the members of the profession use the opportunity of universal suffrage to elect a leader who is really a model in integrity not just by mouth as a lot of people are, has served the Bar and country selflessly and has vision, cares for the noble values of the profession and is concerned for the welfare especially of the young lawyers and older ones who have retired but not comfortable.
Secondly, those organising the elections should absolutely ensure that the process is free, fair and credible to avoid the rancour and stigma which bedevilled the current leadership which is seen to be a product of serious malpractice, despite that A.B. Mahmoud, SAN, cuts the personal image of a man of integrity. Lawyers and their leaders must be role models of integrity and fairness in elections and chief promoters of the rule of law.
It will, however, appear that the voice of the Bar has not been loud enough against those who have continued to behave with impunity in managing the resources of the country or even failed to act when they are required to act to prevent death/injury or destruction of property across the country. We need a Bar whose leaders are courageous, mature and outspoken against abuse and impunity, while at the same time caring and supportive of the weak and those without voice. Foreign practitioners cannot practice in the country unless they have been called to the Nigerian Bar.
On this, can’t such scenario be changed? A sovereign independent country regulates the way business is transacted on its shores which includes professional practices such as law, medicine, etc. Some are more accommodating and flexible with their requirements. That of Nigeria is still ancient and rigid. It’s my view that as the present government has significantly reviewed and introduced an ease of doing business regime, the practice of the legal profession needs to be opened up and urgently too.
Nigerian business market has opened up, Nigerian lawyers are heavily transnational in attitude and there is much to gain in the expertise of lawyers from other jurisdictions once they have inroad in the country’s legal market. As a matter of fact, foreign lawyers do quietly participate in critical legal matters in transactions affecting Nigeria. Where we don’t see them are in courts due to the restrictions in this regard. So, it’s better to open up the market. Similar proposition has in fact been advocated for sometime even in the education and training of legal practitioners in Nigeria. The profession needs reforms in these areas as it is happening at really dizzying speed in other jurisdictions.
The Nigerian Government recently tagged some persons as looters and their names were published, despite the fact that some of these persons have pending cases in court and some just returned monies for settlement outside the court? Naming of looters would appear to be a weapon of last resort by the government, having not been able to see through the trial process of many big names accused of massive stealing within the time-frame Nigerians expected convictions and recoveries.
It may not be an elegant approach to fighting corruption but honestly, those who stole our treasury dry seem to be getting away with the loot. For whatever it is, it’s helpful for discerning members of the public to have the information while the trials go on. I do not see any breach of right to fair hearing here. Quite often, we flaunt the right of accused persons to the detriment of the larger interest of the people who have suffered greater damage from massive pillage of state resources. Those people will still have their day in court. Against the backdrop of killings by herdsmen in some parts of Nigeria, what is your position on the argument that self-defence is the natural course of illegal attack?
First, our laws and any law for that matter allows for self preservation, defence of one’s property and honour where there is imminent attack or threat of it. What is however not permissible is organised self defence or using attack as self defence. This is exactly why the state, acting through government agencies, are set up. Organised self defence will degenerate to pure anarchy and complete breakdown of law and order where it becomes survival of the fittest. In this second context, this must be rejected. That’s why criminal codes are replete with Laws that protect the state, restrict ownership and use of instruments of coercion, by private people.
As the 2019 elections in Nigeria draw near, how will you rate the first tenure of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government and what do you envisage in the country’s coming presidential election? One can understand the anxiety and desperation of Nigerians for quick results from this government having been short changed for too long since independence. However, the business of government isn’t like going to a shopping mall to pick a commodity. It requires much planning, focus and financial resources in that order. A lot of Nigerians seem to also understand dividends of democracy to mean direct cash coming to them. It’s not like that in a responsible, accountable government where the outcome of good governance is demonstrated by provision and assurances of security and safety of citizens, provision of basic infrastructure, social services such as education, healthcare, shelter and support for the weak and vulnerable, the elderly, the young unemployed,and generally, creation of an environment where citizens and others can pursue life’s activities with ease and convenience. Going by these summarised criteria, you will see that the government is doing a good job.
It can of course be still better especially in the areas of time taken for taking certain decisions. But overall, this government definitely deserves to continue in 2019 to take to reasonable fruition a lot of its projects on infrastructure, power and social support. No doubt, improved power supply in Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa will lead to greater economic growth and prosperity for one of the most populated regions of the world. The US Congress on February 1, 2016 passed the Electrify African Act, EAA.
What would you say about the impact of the Act in Nigeria? Energy is a facility that underscores the ability of a country to move from underdeveloped to a developed, industrialised country. Support from any country that will add or improve the energy needs of Nigeria is welcome. The major caveat is that focus should now be on clean energy and an infrastructure which isn’t susceptible to collapse from minor weather conditions as we now experience in Nigeria.