Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), Monday flagged off the 8thAnnual Business Law Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association in Lagos with a call for unity of purpose and massive turnout during elections as the most viable means to achieve the much desired good governance in the country.
The three-day Conference with the theme, “Exemplary Governance: Enhancing Economic Development In Nigeria”, which is featuring prominent local and international legal luminaries and members of the Nigerian Bar and Bench as Chairmen, Speakers and facilitators of sessions, is taking place at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos.
In his remarks before flagging off the Conference, Fashola said the only way to enhance good governance was by changing bad governments through the ballot box pointing out that voting out a government would always send a strong signal to the incoming one about what the expectations of the people are.
Citing examples of developed nations of the world that have achieved good governance, the Governor said such nations have had to go through many processes to achieve good governance, adding that they have come to the realisation of what is good governance by unity of purpose to make the necessary change in government to reject what is unacceptable to the people.
According to him, the first challenge facing the country is that the citizens are yet to agree as to the true and acceptable definition of good governance. He pointed out that until the people come to such agreement, it would be difficult to act in unity in the pursuit of good governance.
“The question that is before us is have we agreed as a people about what we really mean when we ask for good governance? For some people, good governance may mean ‘well our brother is the Governor and this is our time’, he said.
The Governor further pointed out, “So, until we agree on a reasonable definition of what is good governance, it may be difficult to unite our actions in the pursuit of what is good governance’, adding, “I hope that this conference will find a definition that is sufficient for all of us to embrace”.
Noting that good governance does not come like manna from heaven but must be earned, Governor Fashola declared, “I think that if we trace the history of those countries of whose standards we seek to measure ourselves it may perhaps shed some light on how seemingly elusive the process of good governance or good government is”.
“Perhaps if we find out what those other countries went through we will realize that they have not suffered lack of good governance the way we have. You will, perhaps realize that they have gone every time to make a change. They have made this change always from the ballot box”, the Governor said.
He recalled that in the last ten years, Britain has had four Prime Ministers while in the last four years Japan has had five Prime Ministers adding, “The message I want to pass through is that we must rise and make a change whenever there is election. We must be able to come together to retain a good government in office or remove a bad government from office”.
“When we are able to do this, I think we will be sending a stronger message to political parties and politicians that we will not suffer or endure bad governance. The realisation that bad government is routed out would send a strong message to the incoming government that the same thing would happen to it if it did not do well”, the Governor said.
He further emphasised, “At the end of the Second World War, Great Britain voted out the Prime Minister and the message simply was ‘You were a war time leader, this is peace time; the situation during the war was different, that was when we needed a war time Prime Minister, now is peace time and a war time Prime Minister would not be good for peace time”.
Urging Nigerians to resolve to come out and vote massively for good governance in 2015, Governor Fashola expressed regrets that whereas in the last and most recent Indian elections, 73.3 percent of registered voters turned out to choose the leader of their choice and even in South Africa, 72 percent turned out, he could not recall when up to 50 percent of registered voters turned out on Election Day to vote in any part of this country.
“At most we have about 31 percent of registered voters coming out to vote. The truth is that if you don’t come out to vote you deny yourself the opportunity of good governance. So I ask the question, do we really deserve good governance? As we prepare for 2015, I hear talks like ‘will my vote count, will they not rig it? That is what I hear. But what I say is nobody will count the vote you refuse to cast”, he said.
The Governor urged the members of the legal profession to brace up to the responsibility of building strong legal institution that would protect the integrity and sovereignty of the country adding that achieving good governance would depend largely on the integrity and professionalism of the nation’s Judicial System.
He expressed dismay at the actions and utterances of some members of the legal profession which, according to him, send very wrong signals to the outside world adding that some lawyers too often hasten to court to obtain injunctions and other orders even when they do not have sufficient evidence on the respondent against the person or institution.
Warning that the responsibility of achieving good or bad governance rests largely on the professional bodies including the Judiciary, Governor Fashola declared, “When buildings collapse and it is said that it is government that has responsibility; truly Government has responsibility but it is not Government that designs buildings, it is architects who do. Whether a building stays up or collapses it is on the advice of the architects and it is the decision of the structural civil engineer. Whether government is able to provide medical service to a community or decides to send patients abroad it is really the challenge of the medical profession”.
He charged the Conference to re-examine the tenets and ethics of the legal profession in order to bring it to acceptable international standards adding, “And I have asked my colleagues that serve with me in the Executive Council that what is different with our professionals here; what is it that the professionals in most other jurisdictions have that we don’t have. Are we reading different textbooks?”
In his keynote address, former Deputy United Nations Secretary General, Lord Mark Mallock Brown, noted that Nigeria was faced with the challenge of achieving her true potential adding that the battle to take the nation to its true leadership role in the African continent should be led by the NBA.
“Nigeria”, the former UN Deputy Secretary General and also Vice Chairman of the Soros Investment Funds said, “is a country which is always about to come but never really arrives” adding that it was like that with Brazil before but that country has finally arrived as a strong economy.
He charged the NBA to be at the frontline of the battle to lift Nigeria up pointing out that the cell phone revolution in Nigeria was a good example of what the country could achieve “when demand and supply are aligned in the right way”.
The former diplomat praised the Governor of Lagos State for his transformational leadership in Lagos which, according to him, has demonstrated Nigeria’s potential to grow in spite of all its challenges adding, “Each time I visit Lagos I see development on a continuous basis”.
He said in spite of the enormous challenges faced by Lagos in terms of increase in population, Governor Fashola has been able to build business and people friendly environment adding, “the Lagos example has shown that it is possible to replicate it in Nigeria”.
Lord Brown charged Lawyers in the country to bring accountability back to the courts in order to build confidence in the judiciary adding, “Accountability must rest on the Nigerian courts which should not allow gangsters and other criminals to escape the course of justice”.
Also in his remarks, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal who was represented by Mr. Moyo Onigbajo (SAN), commended the Business Section of the NBA for sustaining the annual conference pointing out that it has aided professionalism and restored confidence in the profession.
Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Auta, who was represented at the occasion by Hon Justice J.C. Sou, commended the vibrancy of the Section on Business Law (SBL) saying the Federal High Court was ready to partner with the Section to strengthen professionalism in the legal profession.
Represented by the Head Judge, Hon. Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade, Chief Judge of Lagos State, Hon. Justice Ayo Philips, in her remarks, commended the SBL for its contribution to the law profession recalling that it was at one of its Conferences that she delivered her first speech after inauguration. She said a lot more work needed to be done to enhance the economic development of Nigeria while also giving an insight into the various initiatives taken to improve Justice delivery in the State
Chairman of Section on Business Law, Mr. Gbenga Oyebode (MFR), in his remarks described the theme of the conference as apt saying in a year when Nigeria’s economy has been rebranded making her the biggest economy on the African Continent, success and economic equality would not be achieved without good governance
In his welcome remarks earlier, President of the NBA, Mr. Okey Wali, congratulated Council Members for upholding the objectives of the association saying Sections offer opportunities for specialization in the legal profession. He added that there is need to strengthen the sessions in order to encourage lawyers to specialize.
Also present at the occasion were Head Judge of the Lagos High Court, Hon. Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade, other distinguished legal luminaries, Members of the Nigerian Bar and Bench, members of the International Bar Association and other top government functionaries.