Since yesterday, Wednesday, 15 May 2019, I have been wrestling with myself whether or not to write this piece. I finally came to the conclusion that it will be a disservice to my students, many of whom aspire to become better lawyers, as well as society, if I fail to put this out there.
In recent years, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has come under intense criticisms for it’s failure or refusal to promote the interest of its members, especially those of it’s young and unprivileged members. I have had to offer office space to young lawyers who say they would rather be on their own than remain under some senior lawyers who treat them like slaves. In fact, in recent years, the NBA has become more concerned with taking from its members and giving so little to show for membership of the association. The poor organisation of the yearly Annual General Conference is a case in point. After collecting practising fees from lawyers, the NBA still requires lawyers to pay huge amounts of money for the yearly conference where they receive only substandard conference bags (that is if one is lucky to be given one). They never consider the less privileged lawyers have the means to pay, yet they expect lawyers to have continuous legal education. How are they to acquire this continuous legal education?
The NBA is an association deemed to have been registered under Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA). The mere mention of the the NBA in legislative instruments such as the Legal Practitioners Act and the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners does not take away the fact that the NBA is an association. Albeit, I concede that the NBA is a professional association in a class of its own. As an “A” rated association, so to speak, so much is expected of the NBA. For, to whom much is given, much is also expected. But this is not the case with the NBA.
The NBA used to be in the forefront of the struggle for social justice in Nigeria. It used to be the champion of the people; the down trodden in our society. All that appears to be gone for good as a few among the ranks of the association are the ones profiting through the use of their positions, status and the name of the association. Today, it appears what is remaining if the NBA is its carcass. I want to believe that the NBA’s gradual decline in stature started when it tried to stop Gani from representing those who needed legal representation. That was hypocrisy in display. The NBA has failed to show up to the party when it’s presence is needed. They even went on to remove his name from the Roll of lawyers but failed. That was, and remains a stain on the image of the NBA. Today, we see a similar thing happening when the NBA suspended or purporting to suspend a branch chairman in one of the states in the West for not towing the line of certain individuals who believe that their wishes are law unto all lawyers. And because of the ignominious manner in which the NBA has carried on, a greater number of lawyers have continually challenged their own association. This is unprecedented in the history of the association. These individuals, who desire to see their association return to its past glory, are threatening what appears to be the unwritten delegated powers of the General Council of the Bar to the NBA, which have been in practice for as long as i know. So much so that we are beginning to see other smaller associations of lawyers applying to be registered. No one can blame them for doing so.
The NBA is failing, it is falling apart but I hope for the sake of future generations of Nigerian lawyers that the centre should continue to hold. The growing ranks of lawyers who do not see any need to continue to surrender their rights to the NBA have been asking critical and germane questions of the NBA. Today, similar to what we see in our country’s politics, some lawyers use their positions in the NBA to further their personal cause rather than promote the general interests of lawyers.
Few weeks ago, I had cause to reply to an email from the NBA President, using this platform, regarding what appears to be an attempt to make the failure to pay the Bar Practising Fee on or before 31st March a professional misconduct. I wondered to my self, why is the NBA not proactive regarding issues affecting the welfare and well-being if lawyers especially the underprivileged lawyers. Why is it always quick to identify and address issues affecting or likely to affect the financial intake of the association? Yet, each year, the standard of its deliverables to its members is continually declining!
A fish begins to rot from the head and with time the whole body goes bad as well. During the administration of Chief Godswill Akpabio, NGN 100 million was donated to NBA in Akwa Ibom State with Uyo and Ikot Ekpene branches receiving NGN 50 million each. The money was specifically meant to support the building of their secretariats. Many years down the line, the secretariats have not been built.
Today, the issue of building a Secretariat for the Uyo branch has resurfaced and information reaching me has it that certain individuals who pushed for lawyers to be levied for the purpose of funding the building project are the same people who know how the donation that was made by the former governor was expended. If these individuals had used that donation judiciously, today the available funds would have been used to put finishing touches to the proposed building. The burden that is now being put on lawyers who do not know how the donations were mismanaged or misappropriated would have been avoided if that donation was properly applied to undertake the project.
I wish to commend, however, the effort of the current Chairman of the NBA Uyo, even though I believe that she will do better by exposing the rot in the previous administrations of the branch NBA, for brining transparency and accountability to the management of the affairs of NBA Uyo branch.
The problems facing governance in Nigeria are replicated across board from small associations such as students associations, cooperative societies, professional bodies, etc. The fact that people are lovers of self than the community in which they belong has constantly ensured that they abuse their positions to further their personal interests to the detriment of those of the community. Corruption continues to weaken our society and it’s institutions. But we must not forget that corruption has social costs and it is those at the lower layer of society or group who always bear the brunt.