THE Nigeria Bar Association is going through a stormy moment. The entire scenario facing the association include the formation of facsimile body of legal practitioners, controversies over the recently concluded elections into the national executive body of the association and the last that broke the camel’s back was the said amendment to rules of professional conducts.
THE crises facing the association which prides itself as the largest bar in Africa is undoubtedly the most unfortunate internal squabbles it has found itself. It is an ill-wind that blows nobody any good – neither the body, nor the Nigerian people that are supposed to be the ultimate beneficiary of the rule of law, which the lawyers’ body is expected to champion.
THE election that produced Olumide Apata as the President, though believed to be skewed in his favour, was a manifestation of the internal squabbles within the Bar. For example, many young lawyers had complained over the years about neglect by the NBA. They often accused the NBA of not representing their interests. The young lawyers alleged that candidates in previous elections had promised them special package, but none really changed their lot.
THEY accused the members of the inner bar of exploiting them, and the NBA turning a blind eye to their welfare . They therefore felt it was time for a revolution and opportunity to change the scenario. Many of them saw Akpata as young and pragmatic, and someone they could easily relate with.
EVEN before resolving the election impasse, some members filed a petition against the invitation earlier given to the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai as a Guest Speaker in the NBA’s Annual General Conference. The petitioners alleged violation of rule of law and mishandling of security issues in parts of the state, following which the association withdrew its invitation, a week to the event.
THE development immediately triggered sharp reactions from some lawyers who accused the NBA of depriving the governor of his right to fair hearing and for pandering to political, ethnic and religious sentiments. Subsequently, lawyers in some branches of the association mainly from the northern parts boycotted the conference.
TO worsen the matter, some lawyers wrote a letter to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, notifying him of the formation of the New Nigerian Bar Association (NNBA). The conveners stated that the formation of the new body became imperative due to “activities, disposition and most recently, the decision of the NBA National Executive Committee (NEC) which apparently failed to take into consideration our national interests, and particularly do not promote the unity of our indissoluble country.”
THEY also cited poor welfare conditions of lawyers under the NBA, and alleged partisanship of the Bar as their reasons for forming the new group.
THE recent decision of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) to amend some sections of rules of professional conducts, RPC, seems to be the last that broke the camel’s back. In fact, it appeared to be deepening the division, especially as some members of Nigerian Bar Association accused the Minister of using the purported amendment to RPC to facilitate alleged plans by Northern Muslim to break away from the national body and create a factional body known as the New NBA.
THE Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 was amended by deleting rules 9(2), 10, 11, 12 and 13.
WHILE rule 9(2) relates to the default in payment of practicing fees, rule 10 relates to the issue of stamp and seal for legal practitioners.
RULE 11 relates to the mandatory continuing professional development, rule 12 relates to annual practicing certificate for legal practitioners, while rule 13 has to do with the obligation to give notice of the commencement of legal practice to the branch of NBA responsible for the jurisdiction in which the practice is located.
THE implications of the amendment include the fact that the requirement for NBA stamp and seal on court processes has been deleted. The payment of annual practice fees by government lawyers has also been abolished.
Malami’s action is unpatriotic. Our position is that not only that the AGF lacked the powers to effect such amendment, the fact that such action was executed without consultation calls for serious concern for acting ultra vires and beyond the limit of his powers.
ONE lesson perhaps of these crises is the need to sensitize many members of the association, and seek to accommodate their views on matters of serious concern. The NBA could have avoided the crisis had it given due consideration to dissenting views.
IMPORTANTLY however, lawyers need to come together to resolve their differences, not by breaking into splinter groups, but by ironing out their views through consensus. They must necessarily have hearts large enough to appreciate dissenting opinions, and to abide by principled agreement. The NBA is traditionally an influential opinion moulder and group that helps shape public policy. It is never going to fulfill that role if it is divided.
THE Nigerian society is deeply afflicted with issues of corruption, lack of good governance and subversion of due process, all of which lawyers are, by their very nature, in a good position to tackle. The average Nigerian will not forgive them for abdicating that responsibility.
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