By Lateef Fagbemi SAN
Your Excellencies, my noble Lords, distinguished learned colleagues, permit me to begin by expressing gratitude to the Almighty God for the privileged opportunity afforded me to serve as the 24th Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; and my immense appreciation to the President, for finding me worthy of this very important position. I do not take it for granted; and I assure you of my commitment to serve with utmost dedication in line with the oath I subscribed to.
While the responsibilities can be challenging, I am comforted by the fact that we have a leader, Mr. President, who, over his decades of service to the nation and humanity, has remained a staunch supporter of the rule of law.
On behalf of the Justice family, the Official Bar, let me register my sincere appreciation to the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) and the 2023 Annual General Conference Planning Committee (AGCPC) for the time and resources which you have undoubtedly invested in this excellent outing and also for the opportunity afforded me to share this platform at the 63rd edition of our annual conference. I equally commend you for the choice of this year’s conference theme: Getting it Right – Charting the Course for Nigeria’s Nation Building.
Today, there is one thing I share in common with my amiable brother silk, Y.C. Maikyau, SAN, the NBA President. While this is the Association’s first annual conference under his watch, this is equally the first annual conference I am attending in my capacity as the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. I also commend all past NBA Presidents and leaders of the bar for how far our association has evolved, to occupy a pride of place as the foremost professional association in Nigeria.
These are interesting times in the global economy. Nigeria, as a global player, has not been spared. Coming out of successive economic downturns caused, in the main, by the 2019 corona virus pandemic, the hopes of a rapid post-Covid-19 recovery were soon dashed by the pervasive impact of the Russia-Ukraine war. It is therefore not surprising that many nations are grappling with unprecedented challenges. This is a phase that could, with commitment and perseverance from us all, be overcome.
My humble charge to all legal practitioners in Nigeria, be it on the bench or at the bar, is that in the discharge of all our professional endeavours, we should be continually guided by the need to place the interest of our nation first. This is easily achievable if we follow the mission of our association, the NBA, which is the promotion and protection of Human Rights, the Rule of Law, and Good Governance in Nigeria; and the directive of our calling through the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2023, that is, every legal practitioner should be a proud vanguard of the rule of law and promote the course of justice.
Your Excellencies, my noble Lords, distinguished learned colleagues, if our nation must get it right, then I dare say that the NBA as a body and indeed all legal practitioners must rise up to occupy a strategic place in the architecture of nation building. We must play persistently active roles in the way the powers of the State are deployed in the attainment of the fundamental objectives and principles outlined under Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), running public institutions to achieve social, economic, political, security, legal, democratic and other forms of development. As learned gentlemen in the society, our fulfilment should constantly draw from promoting the ideals of nationhood and nationalism. Our fellow citizens are looking up to us for leadership and direction and it is incumbent upon us not to let them down and to act as the true conscience of the nation.
This brings me to my newly assumed position of practice, operation and responsibility. I wish to remark that barely a week in office, the enormity of the challenges on ground, as well as the huge expectations and tasks on my shoulders have manifested in no small dimension. I had cause to analyse what I wish to attain in the time as may be afforded me by Mr. President. I have realised that with the enormity of tasks at hand, the most reliable approach to making significant progress will be to place the people at the centre of every policy and strategy of the Ministry. With the generous support of Mr. President, my Ministry will dedicate its time and resources in the promotion of people-centred justice. In the implementation of the much-needed legal and judicial reforms, we will maintain fair, transparent, and responsive processes that will reflect the aspirations of Nigerians in the overall promotion of the rule of law and administration of justice.
My actions will be guided by the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other relevant laws, the oath of office which I subscribed to. As the Attorney-General of the Federation, I will provide leadership in addressing the following critical areas:
- improving and strengthening strategic relationships among all the arms of Government and the justice sector institutions and agencies;
- facilitating a responsive justice sector system that promotes public confidence in the administration of justice and adherence to the rule of law;
- introducing reforms in our laws, the judicial systems, and law enforcement system, with a view to achieving compliance with extant laws and judicial decisions;
- strengthening capacity to effectively coordinate the activities of all the justice sector institutions;
- benchmarking our investment law regime to favourably compare with global best practices and thus supporting other economic growth regeneration initiatives of the government across sectors; and
- investing in and leveraging on 21st century cutting edge information technology to reposition our justice administration for better outcomes.
I look forward to constructive engagements with the NBA and other learned colleagues in the justice sector for my success will be our collective success. I will explore opportunities available through the platforms of the Body of Attorneys-General and the General Council of the Bar and the Nigerian Bar Association in driving our common desire for improvement. I will work to chart a new course, promote respect for and independence of the judiciary, facilitate strategic legal interventions that will assist the Government in policy formulation and implementation.
It is now my honour and rare privilege to introduce to this solemn assembly, my indefatigable boss and leader, a man of historic destiny, an icon of our democratic struggles, an apostle of renewed hope, a champion of federalism, an architect of nation building, a most detribalised Nigerian and undoubtedly, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Your Excellencies, My Lords, Distinguished Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, with a standing ovation and thunderous applause, please join me as I respectfully invite to the podium, the number one citizen of this great nation, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, to deliver his remarks and declare the 63rd annual general conference of the Nigerian Bar Association open.
Being the goodwill message delivered by Prince Fagbemi, Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, at the opening ceremony of the 63rd Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) held on August 27th at Moshood Abiola Stadium, Abuja.
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