NIGERIA SHALL BE THE FOCUS OF THIS DISCOURSE
The parameters of democracy entail a system of government that embodies the will of the people in their majority. Furthermore, democracy thrives on the rule of law which is the conduit through which its cardinal principles are channeled. The rule of law on the other hand is midwifed by the laws of the land. It is common place that the Legislature makes the laws, the Judiciary is saddled with the responsibility of interpreting them, while the executive implements same. However lawyers cum advocates are the oil which greases the wheels of this “Separation of Power” cart. Separation of power is in itself a direct offshoot of democracy. From the making of the law to its passing, to its adjudication and enforcement, the input of lawyers is rife. This input is best felt when there is an organized and coordinated collection of lawyers backed by statute. This collection of lawyers is known as the Nigerian Bar Association (“Bar Association”).
THE ROLE OF THE BAR ASSOCIATION IN A DEMOCRACY
With the doctrine of Separation of Power comes the doctrine of Checks and Balances. These doctrines are as elementary as a topic in a Government textbook in a secondary school. Their principles are more or less within the fingertips of any student of Government.
The kernel of this write-up however transcends the conventional principles of separation of power and checks and balances as they relate to the arms of government. It takes them a step further and adds a 4th player in the scheme of things. The fourth player as hinted in the introductory letters of this piece is the bar association.
THE BAR AND THE LEGISLATURE
In an ideal democracy, the process of making law is never complete without an input from the bar association, for it embodies the best collection of legal minds necessary to ensure that the letters of any enactment are geared towards the betterment of the citizens as it should be in a democracy. This serves as a check on the Legislature in discharging its duties under the doctrine of separation of powers. It is a dual role for the bar in this regard- the role of assisting the legislature in making laws and the role of being vigilant to ensure that the laws being made answer to democratic principles.
THE BAR ASSOCIATION AND THE JUDICIARY
Having passed the law, it behooves on the judiciary to give life to its letters. While any lawyer regardless of whether or not he identifies with the bar association can bring a suit to court in furtherance of the tenets of democracy, it almost always takes the organized approach of the bar association to make greater impact especially as it relates to checking the excesses of government. The bar association owes the country a duty to, when necessary, bring before the courts public interest suits in assisting the judiciary in its role of interpreting the law and protecting the rule of law.
As it relates to checking the judiciary under the doctrine of checks and balances, the bar association plays its role in the appointment of judicial officers so as to ensure that the best are put in charge of adjudication. This role is however advisory in nature. To this end, Okey Wali, SAN past NBA President, once called for a more robust engagement and involvement of the NBA in the appointment of judicial officers.
THE BAR ASSOCIATION AND THE EXECUTIVE
This subhead is perhaps the most controversial in the bar association’s role of separation of power and checks and balances. The heat of the bar is usually felt in this regard when issues of public interest stemming from government’s actions or inactions are at play. The bar association is always at loggerheads with the Executive regarding policies that touch on the lives of the citizens. A fearless bar association is always at the forefront of ensuring that people oriented policies and nothing less are what emanate from government.
In checking the excesses of the Executive, the bar association attempts to protect the institutional integrity of the other arms of government especially the judiciary. An example of such protection is the NBA’s stance on the financial autonomy of the judiciary which culminated in the recent JUSUN strike.
Another example of the NBA’s role in checking the Executive is the recent suit against the Attorney General of the Federation regarding the unilateral amendment of the Rules of Professional Conduct for legal Practitioners.
Generally, the bar association partners with the mass media in ensuring the freedom of speech which is perhaps the strongest pillar of democracy and the rule of law. It is safe to suggest that in an ideal society, the bar association should share the “fourth estate of the realm” status with the mass media in conjunction with its direct engagement with other arms of government.
Beyond assisting and acting as a check on the arms of government, the bar association equally needs to check its own members cum lawyers so as to guard against any sabotage of its efforts at entrenching the principles of democracy and the rule of law. A very recent example of this check is seen in the NBA’s petition to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee against lawyers who facilitated the issuance of conflicting court orders on political matters.
In sum, the bar association plays a holistic role in entrenching democracy in its finest form.