The formation of a parallel New Nigeria Bar Association (NNBA) by some Lawyers in the Northern part of the country and the purported removal of stamp and seal by the Attorney General of the Federation AGF Abubakar Malami is presently causing ripples among the rank and file of the NBA. Our correspondent Michael Ofulue speaks with some legal practitioners , here are excerpts:
The newly formed New Nigeria Bar Association (NNBA) by some branches of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, in the northern part of the country has been described as an attempt to cause disunity and separation among the lawyers .
An Akure based legal practitioner, Mr Wemimo Ajegbemiga who spoke with our reporter on the recent move by some northern branches of NBA to form a parallel NNBA was nothing but because of disinvitation of Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai of Kaduna state to speak at the vitual conference of NBA 2020 edition.
“The genesis of the whole problem leading to formulation of NNBA was nothing because of withdrawal of El-Rufai from speaking at NBA initially invited but there were protests and many of them objected to the choice of the governor, in fact many of them appended their signatures rejecting him. Their position was that El-Rufai was not fit to speak on the topic of the conference which centered on fundamental human rights which he (the governor) was a violator.
” The governor is a victim of violation of court orders and disobedience to the rule of law and such a person could speak in the presence of nobble men .Look at what happened in Kaduna, southern Kaduna especially where Christians were killed and El-Rufai as Chief Executive of the state saw nothing wrong with that and has been disobeying court judgements given against him. These were reasons why he was withdrawn from participating at the conference,” he said.
He disclosed that the formation of NNBA would soon fade away because it does not have the backing of the National Executive Council, NEC, of the NBA and moreso many senior members of the Bar were vehemently opposed to such.
According to Ajegbemiga, El-Rufai is not a lawyer, he was only invited to speak on the conference and when protests greeted his nomination to speak at the conference which borders on Human Rights and many lawyers opposed due to his violations of human rights and disobedient to court order, he was quickly withdrawn from speaking to noble men at the conference.
He stated that due to the problem, the Attorney General of the federation, AGF, Mr Abubakar Malami has used his office to unilaterally amend ,remove and change the stamp and seal of lawyers claiming that it is no longer important which he lacked powers to remove. For a Chief Law Officer of the federation to purportedly and unilaterally amend the rules of professional Conduct (RPC) for legal profession is a cause for question .
The purported Amendment by the AGF is contrary to the provisions of section 1of the legal practitioners Act (LPA) which authorised the 57 members of the General Council of the Bar( GCB) to do so .RPC is a vital documents for legal practitioners to practice in Nigeria.
His word” AGF lacks the powers to remove stamp and seal of NBA which is official stamp used by lawyers while filing documents at the court. We told him that he has no right to do so because for him to be able to do that, he must pass through the NEC of NBA who has the mandate to take decision on such matter. The action of Mallami is gross impunity. As I speak to you now, Chief Femi Falana, SAN, has vowed to challenge the action of AGF in court.
“The argument of those who want to form a parallel association is that anybody who want to form association can as well register under Company and Allied Matters Act CAMA where NBA was registered and since NBA registered under CAMA ,it means anybody who has been called to bar is automatically a member of NBA.
“I am a member of Egbe Amofin Odua which is a body under NBA and what we are saying here is that those behind the formation of a parallel NNBA are doing so for their personal and selfish reasons and moreso they are trying to bring division into NBA as a noble professional body .
“My positions in the whole episode is that the AGF has acted wrongly because he has no power whatever to iota or remove any provisions of NBA Rules without passing through the general council of the Bar ,” he stated.
The Senior Lawyer who said the removal of Stamp and seal of NBA will give room for fake Lawyers to come into the system hinted that the action of Mallami which he said will not stand in the test of time said it will only bring division, tribalism ,segregation ,disunity among the Lawyers in Nigeria.
He was in the opinion that such segregation if allow to stand will not help the image of a country that preaches indivisibility and oneness at all times.
While saying that calling on AGF to retrieve his step being a Senior member of the Bar. disclosed that no lawyer can attain the position of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria without NBA recommendations or without being a bonafide member of the Bar.
The legal practitioners under NBA will remain indivisible entity despite what is happening at the moment. I used this medium to condemn the recent hike in petroleum and electricity tariff described the action of the federal government as insensitivity and also a clear attestation that there is regional tribalism and that we are not one.
My humble view about the issue of formation of a parallel NBA and other issues confronting the noble profession is as follows.
Let me say it is quite unfortunate because it is believed and expected that Nigeria Bar Association is an association of the legal minds. It is an association of the masters in the temple of justice and if there is division among us, it means there is no hope for the country because the hope of a common man in a democratic setting lies in the hands of lawyers.
So if the lawyers are now seen as having a house that is dividing or belonging to association that is divided against itself, then, it is quite unfortunate and it means we are in trouble in this country because there is no way you can separate the law from the society
My humble view about the formation of a parallel NBA, is that it does not worth it. .What actually precipitated to the formation to new Bar association was as a results of the last NBA election.
It is glaring, that some cabals were behind all these problem facing the association :It is simply because their preferred candidate lost in the election.
My believe is that for someone to have lost an election should not be the end of the world.
I don’t think it should be the major reason why some people want to divide the noble association and It is also to be noted that those who are aggrieved because of dis-invitation of Governor Mallam Nasir E-Rufai should know that Mr El -Rufal is not a lawyer, did not go to school to study law.
The legal practitioner said supposing El -Rufal is a lawyer, those who are fighting for his disinvitation to speak at virtual NBA conference would have been justified.
According to him, there are some hidden agenda that are not open to the public which is beyond the E-Rufai issue. I do not see that to have necessitated the formulation of New Nigeria Bar Association NNBA.
He disclosed that those who are behind the formation of a parallel NBA are doing so for their personal and selfish reasons.
“if the NBA parallel association was actually based on the fact that El rufal was prevented to talk at the NBA conference, it is a difference ball game .There are some fact that are not open to public that are attached to those issues. I believe they are not meant for public consumption and with due respect, there are so many things under which I will not want to dabble into.
“What I know for sure is that the NBA parallel formation is as a result of the election that was lost by one of the anointed candidate of the big fish in the legal profession because I also know as a fact that this big fish might have been trying to influence others to cause disunity among the lawyers.
“In any contest, somebody will win and somebody will also lose That you lose today does not mean you will not win tomorrow. I believe that division is not healthy for the association and the best thing that is important now is in the interest and unity of the Bar. All of us need to come together and remain indivisible an association and that would be what people will be proud of .
“We are not like health workers or other associations that have divisions among them. If we have Northern ,Southern and Eastern NBA, it does not make sense ,it shows we are not one Nigeria and such division must not been seen among a profession like ours.
As regards the issue of NBA stamp and seal that was purportedly removed by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), it is not a welcome development at all because the introduction of NBA stamp and seal is one of the ways to check the incursion of fake lawyers trying to infiltrate the legal profession, if you are now removing that stamp and seal , in fact that cannot happen I still believe that it is a rumour because the AGF cannot singlehandedly amend the Rules guarding practice of Law in Nigeria .
“Stamp and seal is one of the major pride of lawyers. Lawyers use that stamp and seal to make more money from their client and if you want to confirm the genuineness of a lawyer, if you want to easily ascertain who is a qualified Lawyer, it is through the stamp and seal because it carries the lawyer’s name, and call to Bar number from the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“So, if somebody is now coming up and say because somebody is not invited to NBA and he wants to scrap stamp and seal, with due respect, I don’t think the AGF have that power to scrap it so if he says he has the power, then he should tell us where he derives such power from.
“The difference between document you put stamp on and the document that does not have stamp is very wide”, he said.
According to him ,when you see a client that knows much about the operation of Lawyers ,he will not accept any document that does not have stamp and seal, so with due respect I don’t think the AGF is wrong if indeed, what we are hearing that he has amended the rules of legal practice is correct, but if actually it is true, his action is not right because he needs to carry the General Executive Council of NBA along.
“However, I believe that the best thing for us as lawyers is to remain united, because in unity we stand and in divided we fall. This is my candid opinion”, he submitted.
In my humble opinion, the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami lacks the power to solely amend the Rules of Professional Conducts for lawyers (hereinafter referred to as “the Rules”) as he purports to have done in the new instrument he recently issued out. I have tried to conduct thorough research into available statutes which include Legal Practitioners Act and I cannot find any scintilla of legal authority be it judicial or statutory solely vesting the powers to amend the Rules in the Attorney General of the Federation.
Without belabouring this issue, the law is explicit that the Rules can only be amended by the General Council of the Bar otherwise referred to as “the Bar Council”. This Bar Council comprises of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and the Attorneys General of the 36 States and 20 members of the Bar, I mean NBA. As a matter of law and procedure, the Bar Council must meet to ratify any purported amendment to the Rules. We heard it from reliable source that the Bar Council never met to ratify the purported amendment made by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation to the Rules. It therefore connotes lawlessness and impunity on the part of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation to have solely amended the Rules without recourse to the General Bar Council. It baffles discerning minds that the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation could purport to have amended the Rules without carrying along the statutory stakeholders because the law is clear to that effect. This now gives room to suspicion and speculations to the effect that the motive behind the purported amendment was political and ill motivated. The purported amendment came barely after the conduct of the NBA general election where Mr. Olumide Akpata, a non Senior Advocate of Nigeria emerged for the first time in decades. Some stakeholders are sensing conspiracy amongst the SANs to distabilise the NBA thereby making it ungovernable for the incumbent president. There is another school of thought that linked the action of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation to the recent activities of some disgruntled members of the NBA who went to form a splinster association known as New Nigerian Bar Association (NNBA). It should be noted that Mr. Abubakar Malami purportedly amended the Rules few days after members of NNBA wrote a letter to the office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation seeking formal recognition of the splinter group. It then becomes logical to deduce that the amendment was done to politically favour the NNBA. Let us look at it from this angle: members of the NNBA will naturally not want to have anything to do with NBA per se. Yet NBA is responsible for the issuance of stamps and seals for lawyers in Nigeria. Affixing NBA seals on court processes and other documents prepared by lawyers is mandatory pursuant to Section 10 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers which is one of the sections purportedly deleted by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation. The implication is that if Section 10 is not deleted members of the NNBA will not be able to file documents before the court or prepare any legal document whatsoever since they won’t have access to seals from NBA. Having deleted Section 10 of the Rules now, filing of processes in court and preparation of other legal documents ceased to become the exclusive preserve of lawyers but for all comers including members of the NNBA. This is unfortunate because there is no legal or moral basis for proscribing the provision for the affixing of lawyer’s seal on court processes and other documents prepared by lawyers as provided for by section 10 of the Rules which has been purportedly deleted by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation. If we allow this to stand how do we curb the rising cases of fake lawyers taking over the noble profession? So if we look at it critically we will understand that there are more than meet the eye. This is the reason why some discerning legal minds have been agitating for the separation of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation from the office of the minister of justice in order to whittle down the political influence being wielded by the present holders of the office. My humble suggestion is that the NBA should go to court and challenge the illegal and impulsive amendment of the Rules which to the best of my knowledge is detrimental to the wellbeing of lawyers in particular and the entire society in general.