‘Punishment of electoral offenders ‘ll serve as deterrent to others’

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Bon S. Ngyou is the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Jos Branch Chairman. In this interview with Legal Editor JOHN AUSTIN UNACHUKWU, he discusses the Branch’s Law Week, law practice and administration of justice. 

It is widely believed that the quality of practice has greatly diminished. What is your reaction to this and how can it be improved?

The quality of law practice diminishing should not be surprising. Lawyers were first students and passed through our schools before graduating to become lawyers. Their capacity to raise the standard of legal practice depends on the quality of training or education they received in the institutions they passed through. Unfortunately, the standard of education in our schools, beginning from primary to the university, except for some private institutions, are far from being impressive. Without a proper foundation, the edifice will give way. And how do you expect to put something on nothing. And this is not peculiar to Legal practice or the legal profession. It is the collapse of the standard of education, which negatively affects every facet of professionalism in our country. We must realie this and give it serious thoughts. Attention must, as a matter of urgency, be paid to our primary and secondary education. This is the starting point. Once we get that right, we would have made remarkable progress in addressing the low legal practice, nay law standard in our professionals in all fields.

Law is described as an instrument of social engineering. Do you agree?

Law, no doubt, in communities and nation, is a social engineer and also directs and shapes the economy of nations. In developed climes, the law sets the pace for their socio-economic and political activities. All are whipped into line within the prescription of the law. But that is hardly the case with us. Our laws are not pro-active and are mostly decades behind. But for the recent efforts, most of the laws we operate in the Middle Belt, for instance, were either pre- or post- 1963 laws. In this part of the world, physical developments still remain unplanned because people build without the prior existence of town planning laws. Indeed, except in the few areas of politics and the economy, a lot remains unattended to by law. And indeed the saddest part is that where the laws exist, the populace prefers to either operate without the law or continue to hold on to the laws that have gone extinct or are spent. This is why our society is termed in some quarters as lawless. In this Eighth Assembly alone for instance, about 32 bills have been passed into law, including the Produce Enforcement of Export Standard Amendment Act, the Import Control and Management Amendment Act and Water Resources Amendment Act, all signed in 2016, Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act and Anti-torture Act all signed in 2017, etc., merely exist on paper.

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What is your assessment of the general elections?

There were high expectations from the bar, Nigerians and the international community, that this election should be an improvement on the 2015 exercise. Nigeria is no longer an infant in the electioneering process. Having had four un-interrupted elections since 1999, besides others held midstream, we are by this, expected to have got our axe right and deliver to ourselves and the international community, a free, fair, credible and acceptable elections in 2019. The stage was set for the task ahead.

The critical stakeholders in this effort are the politicians themselves, who have vital roles to play, including playing by the rules of the game. The one sure way to ensure that the politician plays by the rules is to ensure that violators of the rule are punished.

Where sanctions are not enforced, no politician will be deterred. This is in addition to the sensitisation that must be done by INEC, and ensuring that their words are matched with action. Such sensitisation as to have them accept that an election is an expression of the will of the people is key.

Politicians must be made to understand this and be obligated to allow the people’s will as vox populi vox Dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God) and therefore accept that will without seeking to subvert it by thurgery, ballot stuffing,  and to accept the outcome of the polls.

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Your branch has held its Law Week. Can you tell us about it?

The theme of the week: The role of lawyers in engendering a free fair credible and acceptable election was not only timely but apt, coming at the heels of our general elections. No other time in the history of our country than this do we dearly need a credible and acceptable election.  And this would not come by a mere wish. It must be deliberately pursued with all the desired vigour. To the bar in Jos, this is the catalyst for action on the Plateau and as vanguards in proactivity, it is needful for us to champion this very important aspect of our national life. We needed to be in the frontline of participants, making efforts to ensure that the 2019 elections met the credibility test to be accepted. Here lied the sense in the choice of the theme.

What do you consider to be the benefits of the week?

The law week was immensely beneficial. Useful lessons were learnt from the presentation of papers by a professor of repute – Onje Gyewado – and the discussants – Nde Jonathan Ishaku and  Harun Audu. The papers and discussions were simply a takeaway. Scales fell off the eyes of many after hearing the thought-provoking presentations.

Colleagues were better informed of their roles in the electioneering process. They were certainly well equipped to play the role of observers, monitors and sensitisers of the public.

I believe strongly that the gains from the law week had  shaped  the role we played at this election generally and with particular references to both the partnership we have with domestic and international role players in this process.


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