State of the Nation
We are presently in the election season, which means that those in the positions of authority are more likely to abdicate their responsibilities to the people that they were elected or appointed to govern, in pursuit of selfish electoral fortunes. The NBA should constantly interrogate the affairs of Nigeria against its stated aims and objectives, as the voices of lawyers must be heard on issues concerning the masses of our people, especially those of security and welfare.
To this end, the NBA NEC should mandate every NBA Branch to raise the stake of discourse on the State of the Nation as part of the agenda of their monthly meetings. A gathering of lawyers cannot be complete if it does not discuss and take decisions on fundamental and topical issues affecting the nation. Lawyers should not just gather to discuss branch dues, practicing fees, stamp and seal, NBA elections, etc; we must affect society for good. It does not matter what the government in power feels or says, the NBA must be guided by its own Constitution and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The NBA as an organization cannot be pro-government, it just cannot happen, because it won’t work. And it is gratifying that the President-elect has indicated this in some of his interviews after the election. The Exco can count on the support of all lawyers in this regard. In my humble view, the responsibilities associated with the office of the President of the NBA may not permit him to be the official spokesperson of the Bar, but he must delegate that function to other officers so long as any intervention from the Bar on national issues has his input.
State of the Bar
The Bar in Nigeria is too fragmented and nothing says this more than the previous election that ushered in Akpata. The new Exco should strive to build bridges across the Bar and work assiduously to downplay the issues that drove the campaigns during the election, which divided the Bar along ethnic and class lines. The Bar should henceforth speak with one voice, devoid of all manner of dichotomies. It was shocking to me the angle that the last Exco brought to the last Conference in Lagos on the issue of BIG WIGS of the Bar, where an attempt was made to showcase senior lawyers considered to be less of courtroom advocates but who have in their career achieved landmark milestones.
It was totally an avoidable distraction, if you ask me. The Nigerian Bar is unique in the sense that it combines advocacy with solicitorship and so any lawyer called to the Bar in Nigeria is entitled to continue to combine both. When it became necessary for him to do, Mr. Olumide Akpata donned his wig and gown and appeared in court to defend the NBA against the attempt to whittle down its powers and we all hailed. I am sure that if he has any reason to do so, the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, will adorn his Silk and appear in court; so too the Honourable Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN and the Honourable Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN and indeed all other senior lawyers currently engaged in one political assignment or the other.
Lawyers and judges have become endangered species, as the practice of the legal profession, whether on the Bench or at the Bar, is increasingly becoming a dangerous path to tread. The persecution of lawyers, purely on account of the prosecution or defence of the cause of their clients, cannot continue. The Exco should have Standing Committees comprising seasoned lawyers and activists, across the six geo-political zones, monitoring cases involving lawyers who are victims of overzealous security agencies, to take them up with superior authorities and to file cases in court for judicial pronouncements. Judges are unofficial members of the NBA and as such, the NBA Constitution requires that the NBA should ensure that judges are independent, well catered for and protected.
The relationship between senior and young lawyers calls for urgent review. We need to find a balance between ambition and consolidation. The senior lawyer has spent years setting up his practice, invested heavily in it and is looking forward to the days of harvest. This is expected. However, he didn’t build the practice alone, so he must show enough magnanimity to accommodate the needs of those working with him. I’m concerned with the pitiable plight of young lawyers, especially in terms of remuneration, but given that law practice is mostly personalized, the new NBA Exco should as a matter of priority consolidate on the Akpata initiative on the guidelines on the issue of remuneration.
As the African saying goes, if the hunter should reflect on the vicissitudes of hunting in the wild, he would most probably be unwilling to share his game. It is a commendable and pragmatic move that must not be allowed to die. However, this must correspond with established ethics of the profession, especially on the issue of due deference to and regard for senior lawyers. (To be continued)
Adegboruwa is Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).