On Thursday, 23rd March, 2017, the 10th year memorial lecture in honour of a legal icon: Kehinde Sofola, SAN, CON was held at the Muson Centre. The lecture was titled: “The Role of the Legal Profession in Nation Building: the Nigerian Context”.
The event was chaired by HRH Muhammadu Sanusi II, CON, Sarkin Kano. A lecture was delivered by Dr Wale Babalakin, SAN; after which a panel discussed the topic of the lecture. The discussants on the panel were Professor Isabella Okagbue, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, Dr Junaid Muhammed and Honourable Justice Bimbo Obaseki-Adejumo. In attendance were several dignitaries, elites, members of the legal profession and pressmen.
In the contribution of Mr Femi Falana, SAN, he said that the role of the “Rule of Law” is the ruling of a country in accordance with the law, and that no one is above the law. He also stated that the actions of a few corrupt lawyers, has led to the society tagging all persons in the profession as corrupt and which must be removed. He challenged the profession to identify the corrupt ones and act in upholding the sanctity of the legal profession and referring to the late Kehinde Sofola, SAN, CON, in whose honour the lecture is being held as an upright lawyer worthy of emulation.
Dr Junaid Muhammed spoke on the topic of the lecture from a political stance. He stated that over the years, those who come into power want to remain in power and expect people to succumb to their ways of operation rather than abiding by the law; and that people who refuse suffer threats when they refuse to adhere or cave in. He stated the need for a consensus among the elite to build a nation, pointing out that democracy alone does not determine economic development.
The Honourable Justice Bimbo Obaseki-Adejumo addressed the challenges of the judiciary in the performance of its duties, such as delay tactic employed by some lawyers to delay the determination of their cases; adjournments with a view that the targets set for the judges are met; the process of taking notes of proceedings and writing judgment, and the lack of adequate training of newly appointed justices of the federation.
Her Lordship also stated that the judicial arm of government has been under serious scrutiny that members are now in some instance unable to relate with friends/colleagues for fear of being tagged corrupt; she added that the unenforcement of judgments by the enforcement agencies seemed to be a tactic to make nonsense of the judiciary. Her Lordship stated that all these issues above and much more have and are deterring those in the legal profession desirable of being justices from such offices. Thus, her Lordship enjoined members of the legal profession to refrain from such delay tactics; the need for the rule of law to be upheld and for the judiciary to be allowed to perform their duties and responsibilities effectively and efficiently, whilst noting that the judges are human and should be treated as such; and that everyone in the legal profession has a part to play no matter how little to assist in building of the nation.
All the discussants made remarkable commendations on the work ethics, professionalism and personality of the late Kehinde Sofola, SAN, CON, and referred to one of his quotes which states: “If I sweep the front of my house clean and my neighbours on my right and left do the same thing and everyone on the street does the same thing, the whole town will be clean”, in acknowledging that nation building is dependent on the collective effort of everyone in the society, and that elites and the legal profession need to play their part in building the nation.
In rounding up the discussions, the Chairman stated the need to abide by the law in performing one’s duty in whatever position of authority occupied and that such persons should acknowledge that such position is held only for a temporary period. He also stated the need for checks and balances by the arms of government to prevent the arbitrary use of power and reduce the rate of corruption in the country, which has been a major issue facing the country.
The knowledge and information therefore garnered from the discussants and the question and answer session, is that the legal profession (i.e. the judiciary and the lawyers) plays an integral part in the development and growth of a nation; the rule of law plays an important role in building a nation and must be upheld; and the need for individual actions as well as collective actions in ensuring the development of a nation.