Law News
Lawyers to new NBA President: Pursue transparency, electoral reform

Mr. Austine Alegeh, SAN, has finally taken over the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA and this is time to put to work, all his electioneering promises for the bar, as lawyers in the country look up to him, to fulfill what he had promised, while seeking their votes.

To perhaps add by way of advice and agenda, some lawyers, who spoke to Vanguard Law and Human Rights, listed some areas the Alegeh leadership of the NBA must give priority attention.

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Augustine Alegeh SAN

Those who spoke include former NBA President, Chief OCJ Okocha, SAN, former Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Ayotunde Phillips, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, Chief Morah Ekwunoh, Carol Ajie and Udo Jude Ilo.

Chief Okocha, SAN
The motto of the NBA is promoting the rule of law. I believe that if the new administration carries on with that in focus, it will do well. So, I urge the new president of the association and all the members of the executive committee to ensure that the rule of law is upheld in Nigeria at all levels (federal, state and local government).

Chief  Ozekhome, SAN
Young and old, but impecunious lawyers’ welfare; stamp and seal e-voting, including decentralisation and democratization of the voting process to enable all lawyers vote, rather than the delegates system.

A stronger proactive voice and posture on national issues especially as we approach the critical 2015 general elections is important. The new NBA President’s agenda should further include rooting out quackery in the legal profession; enthroning stronger discipline in the legal profession; democratization of National Executive Committee, NEC proceedings and procedure.

The NBA President should fight hard to ensure that acquisition of SANship is democratised and made transparent; strengthening the legal profession by   beaming the searchlight on corrupt judges, complicit lawyers and stamping out mediocrity from the system of training lawyers at the various Nigerian Law schools.

Justice Ayotunde Phillips
The NBA President, Mr. Alegeh, SAN, should ensure a better and stronger relationship between the Bar and the Bench, as they are partners in progress, and officers in the Temple of Justice.

There should be a reorientation of the members of the bar in order to ensure speedy justice delivery as opposed to achieving the opposite. Implementation of the code of conduct as enshrined in the Legal Practitioners Act, towards demanding a very high standard of practice from all members of the NBA, should form part of his agenda.

The SANs and very senior members of both the Inner and Outer Bar should be made to mentor the younger lawyers towards ensuring a much higher standard of practice throughout the country. The NBA should join hands with the judiciary to ensure that the latter is information technology compliant to remove all bottle necks from the system.

Chief Ekwunoh
Such hot issues as the hydra-headed monster of crushing insecurity that has regrettably left the country at  a tipping point, brazen corruption and human rights violations deserve pride of place in the cardinal programme of  the new  NBA administration.

Other issues touching and concerning welfare and well- beings of lawyers, particularly at the juniorate level, as well as executive encroachment on the financial autonomy of the judiciary are, also, worthy of priority attention by the new executive.

In the crucial case of financial autonomy of the judiciary, singular efforts of Dr   Olisa Agbakoba, SAN,who through selfless litigation brought it to public domain stand out for commendation and emulation by the executive and   other members of the Bar.

I strongly feel that the issues of insecurity, corruption, human rights violation and financial autonomy of the judiciary should be fought with the same, if not more zeal and vigour which the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and late Alao Aka-Bashorun would have fought with if they were still alive.

Peace and security in the country, no doubt, is, at present, a mirage, while the economy is comatose as a result thereof, while corruption and human rights abuses have combined to leave the country at cross-road. In these respects, the social engineering role of the NBA need to be re-invigorated so that, among others, it serves as the voice for the voiceless and as an   effective bulwark against injustice, oppression and repression by the state against its citizens.

Carol Ajie

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Chief Mike Ozekhome

Mr. Alegeh, SAN may not be the first President of the NBA with nil knowledge of the civil society but before now little known in NBA circles; for a lawyer enrolled in 1986, it was when J.B Daudu SAN was elected in 2010 that sought Mr Alegeh’s ‘enthronement’, first by creating the NBA Database Verification Committee which Mr. Alegeh chaired until his election this year.

So, it was a fast track arrangement that saw Alegeh beat all other candidates in a fiercely contested election that threw up some of the known NBA activists who also had sizeable war chests.  Alegeh out-spent them in a race the South West was unable to agree a standard bearer, and at which Alegeh presented the agenda of e-voting for lawyers, and resulted in his emergence as our President.

Unfortunately, after his election, his e-voting tone changed to “e-voting for delegates only” but we have re-stated it unequivocally that we will accept universal suffrage for lawyer, every lawyer on NBA database should be entitled to vote at the next election in 2016, one click away. He set up a Constitution Review Committee to write and submit its recommendations to him on or before November 30 and regrettably gave the committee wrong terms of reference which provoked blog debates.

We have said to them we agree the principle of “one lawyer, one vote” upon which he was understood to have ran his campaign and some of the benefits include increase in NBA revenue base, more lawyers paying practising fees, independence of the bar, ability to chose bar leaders in a free and fair election, away from money politics, so that the NBA may get some of the best brains to move the association towards her millennium goals.

For the first time in the annals of the association,  his acceptance speech actually set as part of his agenda, lobbying for board and committee appointments as the official policy of the NBA President Alegeh, having now listed a committee headed by the Chairman of the Midwestern forum, to be the ones lawyers should be ‘lobbying’. He calls it “appointment into positions committee”  I call it a committee of “tokenism and official patronage.” Wrong message to the public.

Curiously, the NBA President formed all his NBA Committees in fragments.  The 3 or 4 committees named in his acceptance speech Friday August 29, were all broken, incomplete, truncated lists. Hear him: “more members of these committees and alternate Chairs to be announced in due course,” leaves it less than average.

Although there are some mouth-watering offers to lawyers verified, to expect NBA Identification chip cards to enable us enjoy discounted rates from proposed corporate partners; some questions on capacity to implement these. He said he is still talking to the airlines to agree on discounts and some hotels but known to him, some of those hotels have blacklisted NBA over non-payment of NBA debts.

Transparency needs on NBA agenda for public good: the NBA President should, out of respect to the generality of members who co-own NBA, disclose the terms of NBA-BOT deal on NBA Victoria Island property built on NBA land by Stabilini Nigeria Limited under the supervision of one of our members in the estate world, commissioned on August 12, this year by his immediate predecessor-in-office, Mr. Wali who did not allow lawyers access to our NBA estate information.

Mr Udo Jude Ilo
NBA suffers currently from huge credibility deficit sustained by an opaque operational system that undermines its effectiveness; a political process that lacks transparency and a distorted strategic vision that suffers from incoherence. Its value to the professional development of lawyers is on decline and it faces the danger of becoming irrelevant.

However, NBA is a brand that has a rich history and huge potentials. To reposition this organisation, the current leaders should do the following:
Urgently implement the report of the NBA Committee on the Professionalization of the National Secretariat. This is key for a number of reasons. There is low morale at the secretariat making it difficult for staff to work optimally. NBA is in breach of many laws regarding employment, health insurance and Tax.

In this situation, it is difficult for NBA to talk about rule of law without obeying the law in its own operations. Financial procedures are well below standard calling into question the integrity of the organisation. This report referenced above has recommendations on how these issues can be dealt with.

The NBA must engage national issues from objective and empirical standpoint. We should prioritise our interest and programmatically engage issues with clear understanding of what we want to achieve. To do this, it is important that the NBA establishes an effective programme department that will guide its engagement with the national issues, partnership with civil society organisations and collaboration with international development agencies.

Welfare of lawyers has always been a major campaign message but there has really been no realistic structures on ground to achieve this. There is need to have further consultation with experts on this issues (not necessarily bar leaders) to develop a business module that can help lift lawyers in Nigeria.

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