Presidential Candidates Atiku, Obi, Others Storm NBA Annual General Conference

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PDP's Atiku at the 26th NBA Conference, flanked by Olisa Agbakaoba SAN to his left.

The Nigeria Bar Association commenced its 26th Annual General Conference with its first plenary held today at Eko Hotels, Victoria Island, Lagos. The elite club of Nigeria’s legal luminaries usually holds its annual conferences in August to discuss the state of the legal practice, human rights, the rule of law and good governance in Nigeria, and to elect new officers of the body.

This year’s conference is scheduled for 19-26th August.

The theme of the conference is “Bold Transition”, as the country heads to an important general election in February 2023.

Several frontline presidential candidates were invited and in attendance including Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the maIn opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, and fast-rising Labour Party candidate Peter Obi but the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, candidate Alhaji Bola Tinubu shied away from the event. He was represented by his vice, Kashim Shettima.

The candidates spoke on the topic “Democratic Transitions in 21st Century Nigeria 2023 and Beyond”.

According to the NBA, the invitation was to give the candidates “an opportunity to critically assess Nigeria’s democratic journey since 1999, identify key challenges which have perenially bedevilled the polity and evaluate sustainable solutions”. It said it neither campaigns for nor endorse any candidate or party.

Formal election campaign starts 28 September, according to the election timetable released by the electoral umpire, INEC

The gathering on Monday was the first time since emerging candidates of the various parties the major presidential contenders were meeting together in a formal platform.

In one of the convivial moments of the event, Labour Party’s Peter Obi’s entrance into the venue was greeted with tumultuous applause from delegates. He walked straight to fellow contender Atiku Abubakar and knelt to greet him but Atiku quickly stood up into his warm embrace. Peter Obi who recently left Atiku’s PDP was the VP candidate to Atiku in the 2019 polls believed in some quarters to have been won by the duo.

International novelist Chimamanda Adichie gave the keynote address of the event.

In her address, she cautioned the Bar to “look inward not to be corrupted” even as it “fights the abuse of power” by the government.

Nigerians”, she said, “are disillusioned because they know of the decline of professionalism in some sections of the legal profession”.

The novelist admonished lawyers to speak out more forcefully against injustice and tyranny wherever it is found. “Federal and state security dragging journalists to prison is tyranny. A journalist ill-treating his domestic staff is tyranny. The rape of young boys and girls is also tyranny. It is tyranny when state governments do not pay pensioners until they slump and die as broken people. The physical harassment of lawyers and some judges is tyranny. The use of the law by some people to oppress the poor is tyranny”..

As long as we refuse to untangle the knot of injustice, peace cannot thrive. If we don’t talk about it, we fail to hold leaders accountable and we turn what should be transparent systems into ugly opaque cults”.

In his address to the august gathering, Labour Party, Obi said the 2023 elections was a watershed that should not be about tribe, religion, connections but about competence, character and commitment to deliver on promises.

Remember, the elections we are going to have next year will not be about the tribe, not religion, not connection, not an entitlement, but about character, competence, capacity and commitment to deliver. And the candidate must be able to tackle all the important areas aggressively for a greater economy.

We got here simply because of the accumulative effect of bad leadership. We need a bold transition from a highly insecure state to a highly secured state.” 

Mr. Obi warned that the country was dangerously on the precipice and exhibiting characteristics typical of a failed state. “One of the characteristics of a failed state is when you are no longer in charge of your territory. Today, we are among the top terrorized countries in the world.  

“We have 80 per cent of our oil stolen. In July alone, if you calculate it, we’ve lost over N1 trillion oil revenue to stealing. Nigeria is the only county apart from Venezuela, which is not meeting OPEC quota.” 

According to the former Anambra governor, investment in intangible assets such as education and power are critical for an economic renaissance.

What we need to do is the two most intangible assets: security and law and order. We need to provide a conducive environment to attract investors, then education and power because the economy is driven by these intangible assets,” he said.

In his address at the conference, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP said “Since the return of democracy in 1998/99, Nigeria has never found itself in such a very critical point in our history. Today, we have had all the negative indices. Today, we are all disunited in the nation. We have never experienced this level of poverty, insecurity and unemployment. We have recognised all these negative development in our history.

This is where history and experience beckon on us to make sure that we don’t get it wrong at this point, otherwise, I don’t know when we will ever get it right.

Speaking on his bold policy if elected into office, Atiku said: “My bold policy framework will embody Unity, Security, Economy, Education and Devolution of power to states and local governments.

Known by the acronym Unity-SEED, these five policy prescriptions are interconnected. A new Nigeria of our dreams is possible in the hands of a bold man of experience“, Atiku concluded.

But in a rather terse yet eloquent speech of his own, Alhaji Shettima called his principal Bola Tinubu an “economic wizard”, and arguably credited him with transforming Lagos State – Nigeria’s commercial city, into the “third largest economy in Africa”.

In his weird remark that may have unsettled his learned listeners, Shettima said, Tinubu his boss “will concentrate on the economy by God’s grace and I will handle the security arm. Not only handle the security arm, I will lead the troops to battle across the length and breadth of this country.”

Under Nigeria’s constitution, the president is the Commander-in-chief of the country’s security forces and the vice president has little specific constitutional role assigned to it.

Shettima is the ex-governor of worn torn Borno State, the spiritual home of the world’s fourth deadliest terror group Boko Haram. While he was governor from 2011-2019 when the terrorist activities were at their apex.

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