Buhari Presidency: What Lawyers Expect

I was asked to do this piece as part of  a series for TheScoopNG.com. The piece was first published on their website, here.

PGMB

I did not support General Buhari’s candidacy for the 2015 elections and I am therefore wary of adding my voice to the growing list of people setting an agenda for him. However, as someone recently pointed out, he’s going to have a difficult enough time merely living up to his campaign promises without the input of this new self-appointed council of state, so I suppose this piece cannot do too much [further] harm.

The original topic I was asked to discuss was the Judiciary’s expectations of the incoming president. As I am not a judge however, I asked for latitude to discuss what I think will be the expectations of the legal profession as a whole.

Judicial Reform

There is no better person in the world to be Vice President, when it comes to the issue of judicial reforms, than Professor Yemi Osinbajo. He is the reason why the Nigerian Law School had to develop additional course material on civil procedure. During his time as Attorney-General of Lagos State, he oversaw the introduction of revised rules of court that sought to make the process of litigation a much smoother and more efficient affair. Many states have since amended their rules of civil procedure to conform more to those in Lagos State.

Unfortunately, however, even though Lagos continues to lead the country in judicial process innovation, trial times still average 2-4 years for hearing relatively uncomplicated matters. Many people do not mind being taken to court because they know immediately that the pressure to take remedial/corrective action has been lifted for a while. Many people, on the other hand, also resort to self-help because they do not have the luxury of 2 years to waste on a decision which they can’t even reasonably predict. I have previously discussed judicial reform here.

Of course, this is a matter on the Concurrent Legislative List, meaning that the Federal Government cannot dictate how States run state courts. However, the Buhari-Osinbajo regime would do well to pioneer the reform process at the Federal Courts. If they are successful, it is only a matte of time before the states follow suit. Faith must be restored in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man. There should be relative predictability of durations and outcomes. The judiciary staff, especially the support staff should become more professional and less demanding of “facilitation” to give dates or progress files.

Regulatory Certainty/Stability

This is probably the great desire of my constituency of commercial law advisers and practitioners. As it stands today, you would be hard-pressed to find legal advice with absolute certainty on all applicable taxes applicable to a business. Most advisors will only give an approximation because we have 3 tiers of tax, which get murkier as you descend down the federal ladder. Some of the taxes overlap and although successive governments have promised to address the matter, very little progress (some would even say effort) has been made.

If you add into the mix the growing number of chartered professional institutes and professional regulatory bodies all jostling for relevance and adding further barriers and hurdles to the business process, the picture becomes even cloudier.

Uncertainty is a disincentive to business and investment. It hinders proper planning and leaves avenues for businesses to be exploited by unscrupulous government officials. Of all the talk and bandying about about of the much clichéd “creating an enabling environment” for businesses, putting entrepreneurs in the position to resist the imposition of random and stealth levies ranks nearly as high, in my estimation, as ensuring stable electricity. Let everyone know what their obligation to society is and be free thereafter to pursue their interests.

There is also the uncertainty that comes about in legislating via directives. Heads of government agencies, very many times on whims, change policy or business requirements with a mere letter or an interview in the newspapers. Thankfully, a few directives have successfully been challenged (eg FRSC directive on new license plates) but a system where wide-reaching policy shifts or legal requirements don’t go through the rigorous process of law-making or being issued as gazetted regulations must be discouraged.

Rule of Law

This should not be too hard for the ex-General as his greatest asset is his reputation for abhorring corruption and corrupt practices. I would approach upholding the rule of law from 2 sides. The first, more obvious side, is that which compels government and its agencies to respect the law and be subject to due process at all times. The less popular, and less expounded side, is that which insists that there must be consequences for wrongdoing, no matter how highly placed the wrongdoer is.

Conversely, agents of government must also act within the limits of their powers. Wearing a uniform and brandishing a firearm should not become a license for trampling on the rights of citizens. Policemen should no longer be available as intimidators-for-hire to settle civil disputes (which, when you think about it, would no longer be necessary if the courts granted timely/speedy justice).

This point also extends to our orientation as a people. While it would be totally unacceptable for the country to go back to the floggings of when the General was last at the helm of affairs, we do need to be “whipped” into shape. The “Do You Know Who I Am” syndrome had to die an urgent death. People must learn to wait their turn, be orderly and show consideration for the next person. So whether it’s in the conduct of one’s business or simply driving from Point A to B, upholding the rule of law on the part of both the government and the citizenry, means everyone understands the legal and social consequences of all their actions.

The public office side probably should be higher on the priority list, however. And if they can reform the judiciary and speed up the dispensation of justice, it should no longer take 2-3 years to determine if a public official pilfered or not. There should also be no interference from the Federal Government with the various law enforcement agencies, as long as those ones also act in good faith within the scope of their enabling laws. They should be free to investigate and prosecute without let or hindrance.

To conclude, there are probably a few more areas that the profession would like to see the impact of the incoming government. However, it is my belief that achieving even one of these items would be transformational for the entire country. Achieving all three would be nothing short of earth shattering. If the government can ensure that the system works more efficiently, is fairer to those on the lower rungs of the societal ladder, and metes out commensurate punishments for crimes (no more N300,000 fines for N50bn thefts), then I am quite confident that the government will earn a veritable commendation from the legal profession.

SACKISM IS NEXT TO LAGOONISM – Philosophies of the 2015 Elections

Philosophy

These have been the most interesting times for Nigeria. Campaigns were had, tents were pitched, votes were cast and a winner was declared. The heavens were supposed to have fallen but they didn’t. It seems the world’s pillars are foundationed in Nigeria as, in spite of the world’s very best predictions of our imminent collapse, we still seem to be holding up half of the African sky.

This season witnessed the birth of new political philosophies in our country. There was Jonathanism and Buharism and fencism, fencists roundly being declared to be closet members of one side of the divide or the other. Interestingly, however, we have seen subsets of Jonathanism and Buharism evolve into unprecedented schools of political thought that would make even the member of the ancient Agora jealous. Jonathism has given way to sackism and a small faction of the Buharist school of thought propounded the theory of lagoonism. So stand back, Plato. Stand back Hobbes and Montesquieu. Stand back, Louis van Gaal. The age of new philosophy is here.

What is sackism? Sackism is the Jonathanian belief that after the fatal loss of an election, order can only be restored to society by sacking every gaddem thing and person in sight. You see a sitting head of the ports authority, feeling pretty and secure in their position, you sack them. You see the head of the police authority revelling in his unprecedented gall to ignore his mobile phones in spite of his commander-in-chief’s telephone calls, you sack his gaddem ass. In fact, one of the strongest tennets of sackism is, if you were not already on your way out after fatally losing an election, you might as well sack your gaddem self. Order must be restored, no matter the obstacles.

What is the ultimate aim of sackism, however? What do sackists ultimately believe? Is there a special heaven for sackists? Do they believe in the ultimate redemption of the sackist’s body, through imperious sackism in the last hours in office? This is not yet known. But Patience is a rite of passage for sackists. Not just patience but fakanistic patience, the sort of which a sackist must have endured prior to his fatal electoral loss. There is yet no agreement on how fakanistic the endurance of patience must be for a sackist to find true redemption but this is still a new, emerging and evolving philosophy. Not unlike lagoonism.

Lagoonism is a theory propounded by the house of kings, espousing a belief in the fatal submersion of all intransigent non-indigenes who resist the call to conformity. The pillar of this belief is that the philosophy of a king is rooted in the infallibility of the poseidonic progenity of Percy Jackson. Lagoonism is akin to baptism but only as far as it relates to submersion. Lagoonists do not believe in the emergence of the submerged body in a cleansed form or state of elevated sanctification. Lagoonism believes that the submerged body of the non-indigene must perish, travel to hades and hope to be reincarnated in the kingdom of the kings as an indigene, to find redemption.

So far, the High Priest of the Lagoon remains the philosophy’s only real proponent but the philosophy has grown a few legs and traversed the length and breadth of the country. Many have visited the temple of Lagoonism and sought in vain to propagate its gospel but their faith was insufficient to surmount the shame there. A quick note must also be made denouncing the purported and oft-pointed out similarity between Lagoonism and Coffinism, largely because philosophical thought must be expressed by known persons in order for credence to be lent to the emergence of the articulated thought as philosophy indeed.

Thankfully, these philosophies are yet to go mainstream and the believers in one are generally not far in proximity to believers in the other. The age of enlightenment is upon us and we salute the espousers of these gaddem newnesses of thought. Commit yourself to deep thinking, that ye might find, ultimately, enlightenment.