Muritala Abdul-Rasheed, Chief of Staff to the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), president and secretary of the conference planning committee speaks on his expectations at the conference with YETUNDE AYOBAMI-OJO and KEHINDE OLATUNJI.
What are your expectations?
We are expecting a very good conference, where every member of the bar and those who are not members would network among themselves and across borders and Africa. For the first time in the history of NBA, we are having a conference that is not going to be attended by lawyers alone. Other professionals have also registered because it is a conference that intends to address issues surrounding the economy and economic development in Africa and others pertaining to institution building and how Africa can realise its full potentials and compete favourably with the rest of the world. We are going to have for the first time in this conference, members of the academia, professionals, accountants and bankers. We are also expecting business moguls, Aliko Dangote and big players in all sectors of our economy and in Africa. We are also bringing about 40 speakers from abroad –– men and women, who have made marks in their various professions and endeavours. They will tell us how they got to where they are. In essence, the conference is for the whole of Africa, and it is bringing resource persons from all over the world and it is meant to benefit lawyers and non lawyers alike.
What is the numbers of those who have registered?
As at Thursday, we had 10,300 that have registered and I can tell you that the number have gone beyond 12,000 as at Friday.
What informed the choice of this year’s theme?
The theme is ‘Africa Business Penetrating Into Institution Building.’ We chose the theme because we have seen that rather than building institutions that can be enduring in Africa, we have concentrated in building people and when we build people, they come and go after their tenure. They go with their ideas and products, but if we build institutions, it would be long lasting. What has worked in other countries is that they have taken their time to build institutions, so irrespective of the political actors at any particular time, the institutions would remain and anybody coming will have to abide by the laid down principles that have been set for each sector of the nation. African business penetrating into institution was conceived by the Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP) to expose and diagnose the problem that we are currently having, why our growth have not been at par with other part of the world and how we can now move ahead to become a better nation.
Has government any role to play in the conference?
We are involving government because they are to build institutions, so, we shall be expecting array of government functionaries at the conference. The conference would be declared opened by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN). He will also lead the discussion on Monday, morning, which is on building institutions on the economy. Zain Ejiofor Asher of CNN will moderate the session. We also have the former Minister of Georgia and Governor Akinwunmi Ambode among many others. There is another forum for governors on Wednesday, where each of them will tell the audience what they are doing in their states to better the lives of the people. We have Monday for Lagos State, Tuesday for Rivers State, Ondo on Wednesday, Bauchi and Kaduna and so on. Apart from the political actors, top technocrats in government are also involved. Dr Ibe Kachukwu, Minster of State for petroleum; Dr. Kayode Fayemi of the Ministry of Solid Mineral; Babatunde Fashola (SAN), Minister of Power, Housing and Works; Adebayo Shittu, Kemi Adeosun and others will be in attendance. The Central Bank governor, many ex-governors and technocrats in government have sessions to moderate. We have carefully chosen the speakers and resource persons to represent both the public and the private institutions in the country. From the private side we have Aliko Dangote, Tony Elumelu, and lots more. The conference is a convergence of who is who, both from the political front and economic sector of our nation and Africa. We, also, have people coming from South Africa, Ghana, Zambia, Tanzania and the US and lots more. I think the whole of Africa would converge in Lagos for the conference.
What informed choice of Lagos as avenue?
Lagos is 50 this year; so, we are using the conference to showcase Lagos, which is the 6th largest economy in Africa. In terms of governance, Lagos has served as a template for other states in Nigeria. We believe we should join Lagos to celebrate 50 and show the capacity Lagos has shown over the years maybe others can learn from it. In actual fact, we are trying to partner with Lagos to enhance the quality of governance and leadership in Africa.
What is the significance of the conference and plans to implement its resolutions?
We have seen over the years that our problem is implementation, because there have always been policy somersault. We have had so many visions, vision 2010, 2015 lots of millennium and sustainable development goals. We have had a lots of conferences and economic summit, but the problem really is that there have not been continuity in policy implementation and there was no continuity because we are building all the policies around the occupier of the offices at various times, rather than building institutions. For instance, when Charles Soludo, who is also one of our speakers was the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, he came up with lots of reforms in the banking sector. During his time, he said each bank must have at least N25 billion deposit, but many banks could not make that and they collapsed.
After Soludo came Sanusi. He came with a lot of wonderful reforms and tries to pump a lot of money into the agricultural sector. Now, we have Emefiele who is trying to manage the exchange rate, liquidity and all that. Each of them jettisoned the priority of the other and focused on his own priority. Look at the Agric. sector. Dr Akinwunmi Adesina did wonderful work by promoting small and middle scale entrepreneur, dealing directly with farmers across the country. Another one is here now, and he has his own policy. So, if we have taken our time to build institutions, irrespective of who the occupier of an office is at a particular time, and we focus on the policy and get it entrenched, no minister would come up and say he wants to change it. You can bring your own policy to fit into what they already have in the institution. With this we will move forward, but the moment we come and say we are not going to do this and we are going to do that, then we will have problem. Even at the highest clime of our political leadership, the problems still exist.
Obasanjo’s priority was not what Yar’Adua’s priority was and they belong to the same party. Yar’Adua’s policy was not what Jonathan followed to the letter. Now, we have another government in power and they have their own priority also. So, all we are saying is, our bane in Nigeria and, indeed, Africa is that we have not been building institutions. Remember Barack Obama said the problem with Africa is that they have been building persons, instead of institutions; it is only when Africa learn to build institutions that Africa will move forward. In the US, the security agencies refused to proceed to investigate some people in disobedience to the order of the president because they believe they should not go that way. Do we have a director of SSS in Nigeria who can tell Mr. President that the person you asked us to investigate, we are not going to investigate the person or we have investigated the person and he is not culpable of any offence? What we have is that governance in Nigeria has been dependent on the whims and caprices of those in power and that is what this conference is going to address.
Any incentives for the young lawyers?
What we have done for them is to ensure that the conference fee is drastically reduced. Young lawyers between one and seven years are to pay N20,000 only. They are going to get a tablet, worth N50,000 pre loaded with all the materials they need in court. We are giving 100 lawyers full sponsorship across the country. We are, also, sponsoring 26 undergraduates of law from various universities across the country. United Nation Economic Commission for Africa is sponsoring 26 lawyers, fully paid across the country and lots of incentives for them and I can tell you that as at last week, Thursday, 65 per cent of those who have registered are young lawyers. My category at the bar is paying N100,000 for the conference, while SANs are to pay N200, 000. We have made it young lawyers friendly.
How about security issues?
We have a fantastic team led by Prof. Kanyinsola Ajayi. For the past five months we have been working to ensure that it is a hitch free conference. In terms of security, lawyers who have been saddled with such responsibility take guests or delegates straight to their hotels with security guards. At the Landmark Event Centre, venue of the conference, you can’t enter the facility without your access card. It is not going to be free for all. We are working with the IGP who will also be attending. Chief of Army Staff is attending, so we have full-fledged security for the event. Lagos State Government is also partnering with us and they have done a lot to ensure that our foreign guests go back with positive image of the country.