The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, on Monday, January 30, in Abuja, engaged the candidates for the February 25, 2023 presidential election in a “State of the Nation Dialogue” where selected experts set agenda on economy, security, and administration of justice for whoever eventually wins. Unlike in August 2022 during the NBA Annual General Conference where the presidential candidates and their programs were the focus, this time, it was the turn of Nigerians to share with the candidates the expectations and needs of Nigerians. . Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, NBA president, in his welcome address, said that at a crucial time like this, Nigerians rightly look to the Bar for direction “for a way out of the rather bleak situation. “We are the ones who, by the privilege of our training and expertise, are positioned to ask the right questions, interrogate the system, and call those saddled with the responsibility of providing security for the lives and properties of Nigerians, to account for their stewardship…We have what it takes to precipitate the leadership that will bring the succour and freedom Nigerians deserve and we cannot afford to shirk that responsibility.” He noted that “Nigerians must be satisfied, given the concrete realities of our nation, with the practical solutions that are being proposed by those seeking elective offices with the current security, economic and political challenges. Consistent with our duty to the people, we cannot allow the nation to be misled, as Abraham Lincoln once said: ‘let the people know the truth and the country will be safe’” According to him, the training of lawyers equips them to perform this task. “We are naturally called to provide leadership. It is by justice that a people exist, and as ministers in the temple of justice, our primary call is to serve the cause of justice. It was Sheikh Uthman Danfodio who said: ‘a people can exist without religion, but they cannot exist without justice’. That is to say, the existence of a people is directly connected with the presence or otherwise of justice, and if our primary call as members of the legal profession, serving on the Bench or at the Bar, is to serve justice, it then follows that our responsibility is intricately connected with the existence of our nation, Nigeria. Righteousness exalts a nation; sin (one of which is injustice) is a reproach to any people! It is this leadership that we owe Nigerians.” In addition to performing their traditional functions of catering for the professional needs of the citizens, of administering justice and manning the various legal institutions of the state, he argued that Nigerian lawyers must also be involved in social change. “They must be committed to law reform to ensure the harmonisation of law with the culture of the people and they must strive to ensure a strict adherence to the rule of law, and among other things, ensure that the newly acquired political power is carefully watched and controlled so that it is not used to protect or perpetuate the status quo or class domination. As the watchdog of the people, they must, through their independence and total commitment to social justice, provide the necessary support to sustain equally independent and fearless judiciary, the last hope of man for law and order, peace and progress.” He feels that Nigerian lawyers have failed the people in this regard. “I dare say, with utmost respect, that to a large extent, our experience today as a country is a direct result of the legal profession’s abdication of the duty to provide direction and leadership to the people. I must therefore, as one who is privileged to lead the Bar at this time, apologise to Nigerians for the abdication of our role. Today, as members of the Bar, we are reputed more for how much fees we charge our clients, as opposed to the discharge of our primary call to offer guidance and/or offer ourselves for the advancement of the cause of our country. This apology is necessary because no other group of professionals is called to this privileged position as the lawyers, which also comes with corresponding responsibility to provide leadership.” He said NBA chose three thematic areas of security, economy and administration of justice. “We will, using our carefully selected keynote speaker and Panelists on the three subjects, set the tone for the nation from the perspective of the NBA. We have invited all the Presidential candidates to participate in this conversation in the hope that whoever wins the election, we would have a basis to further engage and hold government accountable to the people of Nigeria. We shall document the position of the NBA from this dialogue and make the same available to all the presidential candidates. We believe that doing this will also help in re-establishing our leadership position in the society, based on our service to the people, while ensuring that we protect the legal space and mentor the younger generation in this path of nobility.” The dialogue was divided into three major segments: A review of the Nation’s Economic Journey in the last decade and the way forward; The state of human and state security in Nigeria and the way out; and Administration of Justice in Nigeria: Problems, prospects and possible solutions. On the economy, Engineer Bala Zakka, a petroleum engineer and chartered accountant; Professor Dahiru Hassan Balami, a professor of economics at the University of Maiduguri; and Emeka Okengwu, an economist, looked at what the next president should do to address the challenged economy. Okengwu opined that Nigeria is not yet a nation. “We don’t have a nation; we are building one. Fundamental issues should be addressed first”. He argued that the crisis in the downstream sector of the petroleum sector is not because of subsidy on petrol but the cost of Nigerian currency against the Dollar. “The end cost of petrol is not because we removed subsidy, but because of our currency erosion”. According to him, “subsidy is not the solution to our problem; alternative sources are.” He suggested that Nigeria should apply science and technology to agriculture to feed the nation and utilize the value chain to industrialise the country. Zakka was concerned that the Nigerian economy is in red. “Incomes are eroded by inflation. Any country where the monthly income cannot buy a 50kg bag of rice, then there is trouble.” He feels that deregulation of petrol price is not beneficial to the country. “Nigeria is in crisis from the deregulation and importation of refined petroleum products. The country is losing about 200, 000 tankers of crude oil daily… Removing subsidy will bring disaster. Since we removed subsidy on diesel, how many investors have come for diesel?” All the leading presidential candidates are sold on the total removal of subsidy on petrol. Zakka has a strong premonition on the consequence. “The economy will collapse into a bottomless pit, not even a valley! It is very strange that we predicated the deregulation of fuel on importation. It will be a costly mistake to remove fuel subsidy. If subsidy is not working, check inefficiencies in the system.” Prof. Balami, on his part, decried the level of unemployment and inflation in the country, suggesting that “Government should encourage and raise the level of productivity”, while security should be improved, and being import-dependent fixed. On unemployment, he argued that the next president should adjust the curriculum to make the youth employable. “The school curriculum should be adjusted to make graduates creators of jobs, not seekers of employment.” He urged the next president to fix electricity and make Nigeria a producing country as production creates jobs and deals with unemployment. He harped on creating a blue economy, which will use available resources in ways that the future generations will benefit. To this end, political appointees should have something to offer; “Every minister you appoint must come with a blue print and a basis for assessment.” On Human and State Security in Nigeria, three eminent Nigerians – Solomon Arase, a former Inspector General of Police and current chairman of Police Service Commission; Abubakar Hanafi Sa’ad, a retired brigadier general; and Sadiq Garba, a retired group captain – raised issues for the eventual president to consider and adopt. Arase reaffirmed that the security of lives and property is the responsibility of government. He also rationalised that “there is no country in the world that is free of crime.” In Nigeria, he noted, “law enforcement agencies are seriously challenged.” To him, security is visibility and dominance of security agencies. Though there is need to increase the numbers, “I want to see government talking about security, not numbers.” He called for a considerable upgrade in the security ecology of the country. He urged the next president not to waste time setting up committees of experts to make more recommendations as there are enough reports to act upon. “There is no need for more reports; what is needed is political will to implement existing reports.” He emphasised local content in policing the country. “Policing is local but avoid a state of anomie where everyone is bearing arms.” Arase advised the next president to forget about witch-hunting and focus on the way forward. “It is not beneficial to come in and try discrediting the former leaders. Study the situation and do the right thing; security is holistic and humanistic.” Sa’ad argued that everything revolves around security and the next president should get security right. “Security is development,t and development is security. When people are happy and free, they are easy to govern.” He said that Nigerian security system is a product of colonialism where security was seen in “we and them” paradigm. Such a system leads to human rights abuses as is happening in Nigeria. He identified religion and ethnicity as the bane of Nigeria’s unity. “Nigeria has never been more divided along ethnic and religious lines than now, since independence. Our greatest asset is our population, but it has to be the right population because asset could become destructive if not harnessed. We want to remain together but we have to come up with a robust security policy and strategy”. For Shehu, human security and national security are intertwined; “one leads to the other.” He regretted that failed actions of government harm its citizens. He affirmed that security predicates on the welfare of the people. “Whoever comes as president should summon the political will to act. Love for the people and working for the people equals to security. Follow the security sector reform report and implement it.” Shehu urged the next government to be digitally savvy on cyber security and watch what they put online; “once you link a device online, don’t save anything important online.” Three senior lawyers – Babatunde Ajibade, SAN; Wale Fapohunda, SAN; and Mrs. Huwaila Mohammed, addressed – addressed the issue of Administration of Justice System in Nigeria. Babatunde argued that there are three critical issues affecting the administration of justice in Nigeria. The first is personnel. He said that both the quantity and quality of personnel are not enough to guarantee justice delivery. “Having 1200 judges to a 200 million population is inadequate. It leads to excessively degraded quality. The mode of appointment of judges has declined to who you know and not what you know. We lost sight of how important the judiciary is.” The other factors are administration and funding. He noted that some judges are very poor while some are very rich and this affects justice delivery. Investors assess the justice system when deciding on which country to locate their business. “Sensible investors will ask lawyers how long it takes to resolve issues in court in case he has business disputes with his partners.” Fapohunda lamented that “government has failed the judiciary. They have been on the same salary structure for over a decade. This is very demoralising.” He decried the slow progress of prison reforms. “This is the time to make changes. Implement the various documents and reports already in existence.” Fapohunda, immediate past justice commissioner and attorney general in Ekiti State, regretted that appointments by the National Judicial Council, NJC, did not reflect quality. He urged the next president to convince the NJC to enforce/amend existing guidelines to reflect objective examination. “This is fundamental because it has effect on other things.” Similarly, he noted that most bodies in the judiciary have over-concentration of power. As a result, they wield inordinate power. “Decentralise that power so that when the occupier is not good, it doesn’t affect the system. Users of the system should also be part of the system.” He further pointed out the lack of reliable statistics, which impacts negatively on efficiency. “The consideration of appointments by the CJN is not based on any statistics to determine the number of judges a state needs”. Mrs. Mohammed reaffirmed the central place of justice in the search for security. “Justice leads to peace; no justice, no peace.” She recalled that the justice system was simplified by a 2013 law but this has not been fully implemented. “This law needs to be better implemented. We have beautiful laws but needs funding to implement. We need new tools for justice administration. They will work but money is needed to run it.” Boss Mustapha, secretary to the government of the federation, thanked the NBA under its new leadership for initiating the national dialogue. “This shows that you are bringing back the responsibilities bestowed on us as members of the legal profession.” He agreed with Arase that the next president should focus on the essentials. “Don’t discard everything. Pick something and work on it.” He asked NBA to forward a copy of the report of the Dialogue to the government. “It will form part of what we will hand over to the next government.” Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary general of the United Nations, in her virtual address, observed that equal participation in politics is crucial for gender equality, but regretted that the number of women vying for political offices has been in decline. “The Nigerian population is young and talented and yet, they are not heard. Seventy percent of the Nigerian population is under the age of 30 years, yet they are also not represented, and often not included as active participants in decision-making. My sincere hope is that this can be turned around to build a more equal and just society when we embrace the best of our traditions with open minds and build the trust that would allow us move towards a better future together.” She highlighted factors militating against peace and security in Nigeria to include injustice, increasing social inequalities, impunity, rights violations, and the lack of economic opportunities for citizens. “Nigerian women constitute only 3.6 per cent of the national parliament, and none is 35 years of age or younger. My appeal is to prioritise gender equality, women’s right, and increase the number of women in government.” Mohammed noted the importance of the dialogue as it would provide legal professionals a platform to discuss roles in managing conflicts from the outcome of the election. The three major contenders for the post of president of Nigeria: Bola Tinubu of APC, Peter Obi of Labour Party, and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, were all absent at the dialogue.