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The Place of Law In National Development

"A lawyer lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country"
– Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams (1855–1915), first indigenous Nigerian lawyer.


In the last week of August, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) held its 55th Annual General Conference which had a theme that has resonated through ages – “Lawyers and National Development”. The role of law in the development of human societies cannot be overemphasized. Man’s journey through history, has therefore been constantly shaped by law in its various forms including customs, norms, edicts, rules, regulations, legislation and judicial precedents, such that it would have been impossible for humanity, in its various spheres of evolution, to have survived without the instrumentality of the law.

Law’s greatest gift to mankind, perhaps, is the evolution of Fundamental Human Rights as inalienable rights; recognized in virtually all jurisdictions worldwide. The basis of the existence of civil, economic and social freedom, guaranteed in democratic societies, is traceable to these inalienable rights that have now been universally codified and given the force of law.

This article traces the origin of the nexus between law and development from the ante-diluvian age to the days of the Magna Carta in medieval England, then to the post-World War II era and today’s increasingly integrated global economy. Taking the Nigerian experience over the years as a case study, the law shall be shown as an indispensable vehicle of development and advancement of a people and a nation, wherever.

In The Beginning

Naturalists believe that certain, universally acceptable moral principles pre-exist the human society, which are discoverable by human reason and act as the standards against which the validity of manmade positive laws must be tested. The inherent recognition of these inalienable rights has been the cause of man’s struggle, through history, to be truly free from invasion, slavery and other forms of limitation and oppression.

But for the development of the concept of the rule of law as an instrument of social control, the struggle for personal liberty and property right would largely have been overridden by the rule of might and the condition of survival of the fittest which characterize Thomas Hobbes’ idea of the pre-law and pre-order State of Nature.

One of the earliest instances of the influence of law on governance and social development was the creation of the Magna Carta in England, 800 years ago (on 15 June 1215) as a binding charter between the then King John and his Barons who had rebelled against the king’s authoritarian rule and protested against the denial of natural inalienable rights to personal liberty and property ownership. Before that time, human beings who were subjects of monarchical authority in England and elsewhere were not better treated than mere chattels; and the king could do no wrong with his absolute powers.