Bar leaders at the African Regional Forum of the just concluded International Bar Association (IBA) conference in Vienna, Austria, called on African lawyers to upgrade their skills to enable them compete favourably in a globalised world. Mohammed A. Abubakar, the Chairman of Arewa Lawyers Forum (ALF) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) expressed his view on the issue. Abubakar, who is also the governor of Bauchi State, spoke to select journalists and JOSEPH ONYEKWERE was there.
How can African lawyers upgrade their skills to meet global competition?
Well, there are international best practices in all facets of life, particularly in the legal profession. All we need to do is to adopt them and abide by these international best practices. That is the best thing to do and the way forward. Just like the Nigerian Bar Association has started some years ago, the issue of continuing legal education, I believe that is the way forward. There is a need for us to be abreast of developments in law all over the world. That is the only way we can be international players in the legal profession.
You know that when individual lawyers join the IBA, they have the opportunity of belonging to different sessions and the sessions you belong to are determined by your interest. The areas of your practice. Primarily, I have been attending public interest sessions. For instance, yesterday morning we attended the session on judicial corruption.
This is a problem that is endemic in most developing countries and it behoves any lawyer who is attending the conference from these jurisdictions to be abreast with what is happening internationally in that respect. Other sessions that interests me include the session on international commercial arbitration because that is the trend all over the world now. In the legal profession now, we tilt more to Alternative Disputes Resolution (ADR) because of its manifest and obvious advantages over litigation. I have interest in arbitration particularly. I am an associate member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, UK and of course a member of the Nigerian branch and for that reason, I pay special attention to these areas whenever I come to this kind of conferences.
What do you think Nigerian delegates can take home from this conference in terms of the organisation, resource persons , materials and delivery?
Well, if you heard the Secretary of the IBA on the opening ceremony, he said that there were well over 6,000 lawyers attending the conference. That is a very huge number for somebody to manage. And if you notice at the very beginning, when you go to register you will notice that things have been well arranged, particularly if you registered for the conference on time and they had sent you the voucher for fast track, the moment you use that voucher, you will not spend more than two minutes at the counter and you will collect all the conference materials.
This is what gives us trouble back at home. We have to find a way of arranging our launches that are offered at our conference venues. These are areas that give us problems at home, we are always in a hurry but we can still improve on these and take things easy when issues like that are involved but we can still improve on that and do better in this respect.
How do you think your knowledge of the law and experiences from international conferences like this will impact the justice delivery in your State?
I have a general belief not only in the justice sector. I have this belief that the major players in the government of a State, the players I expect to come on board in Bauchi State, the Attorney-General, the Commissioners and Advisers. What I intend to do is to make it possible in a legal manner for this people to own decent accommodation and decent means of transportation while they are in office. After doing that, then I will challenge them, they must deliver and they cannot touch public money. I believe that we can extend this to the judiciary. These are usually some of the traps we fall into in public service in Nigeria, when one looks at the fact that he will retire without a decent accommodation or good car. So if we take it as a government policy to make sure that high ranking public officers are taken care of in this respect, then I think we can reduce this incidence of corruption in high public offices.
How do you intend to achieve this in Bauchi State?
I have a choice piece of real property in Bauchi State. We had an old airport in the GRA, a new airport has been built.Recently, the Federal Ministry of Aviation released this choice real property to me. And what I intend to do is to develop a new modern neighbourhood at that place. I have already started discussing with entrepreneurs who are interested in investing. I will purchase some of the houses they will build in that place and I intend to use it for this purpose. If you are a commissioner in Bauchi State, we will make it possible for you to own one house there so that we can be deducting the money from your salary so that by the time you finish your tenure, you will have a decent house in the State. The same thing with transportation, so this is my plan.
You have been in charge as the Governor of Bauchi State for almost six months now, what has the experience been like and how is the journey so far?
I must confess that the experience has been very challenging though I knew before I ventured into the project that it is not going to be a tea party. Because everybody knows the situation in Nigeria. Nigeria is a country that depends so much on oil, as a means of its revenue and we are all aware the oil price has been dwindling in international market.
Therefore, the Federal Government of Nigeria gets little revenue from that and by implication, the States and Local Government Areas too get very little revenue. And most of the States over the years have been depending on the revenue from the federation accounts to run the States, only few States in Nigeria generate enough internal revenue to run their states without the Federation account. This is a big challenge for us. For some of us, even if you want to, there is a limit to which you can increase your internally generated revenue.
It is the turn of Arewa to produce the next President of the NBA. What steps are you taking to nominate a candidate that will compete favourably in international community?
Well, let me assure the legal community that the Arewa Lawyers Forum has already started meetings. We intend to call on all sons and daughters of ALF who have aspirations for any office in the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to write us formally and tell us. This will enable us to determine whether we have a multiplicity of aspirants in any particular office or not. Where we do, we will then sit down and look at the amicable ways of settling that issue so that we do not go through the unnecessary bickering of tearing ourselves apart through elections with more than one candidate vying for one particular office. I am assuring you that we will do this and we will do it successfully.
What is your plan for justice sector reforms in Bauchi State?
Well, we have in fact at the Northern Governor Forum kick started the issue of Judicial reforms. There was a meeting of the Attorneys General of the Northern States in Borno, to now kick-start this process. We took the decision at the last meeting of the Northern Governors Forum. What we are envisaging is that these groups of experts, our law officers will now sit down and fashion for us the parameters for this justice sector reforms in the north. You know that we have a uniform criminal code in the northern States, the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code before the newly enacted Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
So, there is need for whatever reform you intend to embark upon to commence from those documents. You will be surprised to see that some of those documents still contain provisions that were borrowed from India and Pakistan in the 50s. They are still prevalent in those books and there is a need for us to sit down and critically look at them with a view to reviewing them to meet the challenges of modern Northern Nigeria.