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NBA Election And The Reforms We Want To See In NBA

Source: S.O. Akobe, Esq.
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Permit me to begin this piece with a quote from my article entitled "Beyond the Politics of Endorsement, Decamping, Adoption and Monetary Donation" published in 2019 by Kogi Reports (https://kogireports.com/beyond-politics-of-endorsement-decamping-adoption-and-monetary-donation/), where I had the cause to state thus:

"Election period is very intriguing as it comes with different "games" and events. What is not possible in ordinary time is very possible in election season. Desperation and extremism find their completeness in election period. Fake promises, fictitious achievements, blame game/ justification of unfulfilled campaign promises, and other related acts of propagandas play out very well when the clock of elections tickens closely".

It is no longer news to any active Bar man in Nigeria that the Nigerian Bar Association will be conducting its election in no distant time from now. The last two elections were conducted in 2016 and 2018 respectively, amid several agitations and protests due to some alleged irregularities and visible shortcomings which ultimately lowered the standard and prestige of the outcome of the whole exercise. The 2016 election was widely condemned to have been flawed with electoral fraud, inducement of voters, manipulation and compromise, so much so that an aggrieved contestant for the office of the President (J.K. Gadzama) challenged the outcome of the election in court. The 2018 election was even rated as worse, as one of the contestants for the office of the President (Ernest Ojukwu), was reported by Premiumtimes.com of 21st August, 2018, to have said that he “contested against corruption, massive vote buying, vote capture, rigging and a skewed process.” In fact, shortly after the NBA AGC that held at the International Conference Center, Abuja was declared closed, many lawyers bore placards of different inscriptions which reflected their grievances over the election that produced Paul Usoro as President of the NBA.

But, just like the Late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua whose election was marred with manifest irregularities (a fact he admitted himself during his swearing-in ceremony in 2007), but whose sterling performance within the short time he spent in office as Nigeria's President, made many Nigerians to pardon, forget, and, or overlook the errors that ushered him in, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), after he was inaugurated as NBA President, has performed very well to an extent that many Bar men must have by now, pardoned, forgotten and, or overlooked the irregularities which characterized the election that brought him in as President.

But, then, another election season has come. Shall we continue in electoral fraud and irregularities that good performance in office may abound? Is it not possible to conduct a good and unbiased election and yet produce leaders who would also perform even better in office?

The NBA is a professional body of Learned gentle men in Nigeria. Sadly, when it comes to NBA election issues, especially in recent times, the NBA has not lived up to expectation. If a professional body like NBA cannot organise and conduct free, fair and credible election for itself, where then lies the moral justification to issue press statements condemning electoral violence, malpractices and irregularities during periodic elections in Nigeria? Again, if the NBA cannot monitor its own election so as to ensure that the votes of its eligible members count during NBA elections, where then lies the moral standing for it to be part of the accredited Election Observers during Nigerian elections? Charity, they say, begins at home!

As usual, I, and many others too, have been receiving unsolicited messages, inspirational quotes, and even covid-19 safety tips from hitherto unknown Bar men and women who are contesting for one position or the other in the forthcoming NBA election. The questions are: Where have these ones been before now? How did they get our contacts? If our contacts mattered to them before now, why did they not reach us earlier before now? Is this attitude not the same with that of Nigerian politicians whom the electorates get to hear from only during election times?

As it is today, there are many issues to be addressed and essential reforms to be carried out as far as lawyers and their well-being are concerned in Nigeria. Thus, we must ensure that those to be voted into power in the forthcoming NBA election are people who are willing, ready and passionate about effecting laudable reforms and addressing issues of serious interest, thereby bringing to birth the enviable NBA we all desire to be proud of. It is not enough to craft political slogans or mantras just for the purpose of securing votes without a clear-cut plan to bring to reality the expectations that are embedded in the crafted slogans or mantras after election has been won. We are tired of hearing election slogans such "the new NBA", "the People's New Bar", "the Glorious Bar", "the Powerful Bar" etc. All these are just mere political coinages and slogans which are meaningless if there is no corresponding passion and determination to bring to fulfilment the message they proclaim.

As election draws near, we want to hear issue-based campaigns that center on lawyers' welfare (especially the junior lawyers), lawyers' protection from police brutality and other security agencies of the Government, promotion of rule of law in Nigeria and improvement of our electoral system, promotion of justice and prevention of corruption in our judicial system, etc.

Talking about welfare of lawyers, I shall touch only two issues in this particular piece. The first has to do with remuneration of young or junior lawyers, while the second, relates to expiration of NBA Seal. On the issue of remuneration of junior Counsel in Nigeria, successive NBA Leaderships have done little or nothing to alleviate the sufferings of young advocates. Some senior lawyers pay as low as N5, 000 only to their juniors and yet, expect them to work like horses from Monday to Saturday, and even Sundays at times! Amongst the few rare senior lawyers who happen to pay their juniors between N20,000 to N50,000, only few of them hardly give their junior lawyers any breathing space as if they are in servitude. In my humble view, there is no better explaination of man inhumanity to man than this!

Comparing the legal profession with the medical profession, the NMA unlike the NBA fought for the welfare of it's members such that even a-day old medical doctor is well remunerated in any establishment (Government or Private) he or she finds himself. In fact, from NYSC, the difference between a lawyer and a doctor is clear in terms of what they earn. As a matter of fact, doctors are paid during their period of Housemanship which is somewhat an equivalence of Court Attachment or Externship (as it is called now) for lawyers. All these didn't fall from heaven; their professional body - the NMA fought for them and they got them! We want to hear that the NBA under a new Leadership that will soon be elected will fight for the welfare of it's members especially the junior ones.

On the issue of expiration of NBA Seal, I do not want to go into legal arguments and neither will I make any reference to judicial authorities. And this is because, our laws are made for us and not us for our laws. What is being advocated for here in this article is reforms of the existing rules and not an analysis of the legions of rules that have held us hostage for donkey years now. Though not closely related, the issue of expiration of NBA seal is nevertheless, lawyers' welfare-related issue. In my view, it is unjust to say that a seal which I have fully paid for but yet to use (probably because I got no client(s) at the moment to use the seal for his or her case or document), has expired simply because another 31st of March has come! It is an evil law or rule and we want those that are contesting for varius NBA positions to see it that way and indeed, push for the amendment of the Legal Professionals Act and other legal instruments related thereto from which this unjust rule derives its validity. If it is impracticable to change the whole rule so as to make NBA Seal not to expire once it is issued unless and until same has been used, it is my recommendation that the NBA Seal of lawyers below 10 years post call (1-9 years) at least, should be exempted from the expiration rule so as to encourage them in their formative years of legal practice and career development.

Furthermore, I also recommend that Practising fees payments should not be separated from payment for NBA Seal at first instance. What I mean by this is that our legal instruments should be reformed and or amended so that once a lawyer pays his Bar Practising Fees as of when due, he is automatically entitled to his NBA seal for that year. If any lawyer happens to exhaust his seal before the payment of another Bar Practising Fees, then such lawyer will be charged to pay if he or she applies for additional seal. If this recommendation will be harsh on the financial purse of the NBA if it s implemented across board, then it is my further recommendation that it should at least be made to apply to lawyers between 1-5 years post call. In other words, once a lawyer is within 1-5 years post call, his payment of Bar Practising Fees should automatically entitle him to NBA Seal for the year of payment and therefore, no money should be distinctly paid for NBA seal by such lawyer. These are the reforms we want in NBA. Like Donald Trump, whose mantra is "America First", our aspirants in the forthcoming election must be bold and honest enough to proclaim the "Welfare of NBA Members First"!

The Paul Usoro-led NBA like I earlier said, has done very well especially on the issue of NBA insurance scheme for our departed colleagues. Recently, the current leadership of the NBA under Paul Usoro requested for the bank details of deserving junior lawyers (of which I am exempted by virtue of my employment as stipulated) for the purpose of sending them money as palliative in this period of pandemic. Although, we are yet to see the expected result of this commendable step taken, commendations await him when the needful is done!

Conclusively, we are legal practitioners and we must be able to press the button of change and reforms we desire. Our learned heads are not sitting upon our shoulders in vain just as our legal minds are not to engage in meaningless thoughts! NBA election has come and we as members of the NBA know what we wants. If we must achieve what we want, then we must cast our votes with our conscience and not by inducement. We must vote for the candidates of our choices based on what we honestly believe that he or she can offer positively and not based on inspirational text messages and covid 19 safety tips or other forms of inducements that they have sent to us in the build up to the election. If we do not by ourselves, change the narratives for good, who will change them for us? Your answer is as good as mine!

(S.O. Akobe, Esq., can be reached via [email protected])

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of S.O. Akobe, Esq. and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."