Over the years there has been an argument in the Nigerian Legal Community about the automatic membership of Lawyers in the NBA.
This is Born out of the fact that some believe that the mandatory membership of Lawyers in the NBA is not provided in statute for Constitutional reference and as such a breach of the Right to freedom of Association as stated in the 1999 Constitution. Most recent of such arguments are the articles titled ‘The Freedom of Association and the NBA” written by Seun Lari Williams and a rejoinder on same topic written by his learned friend, Ebi Robert.
However, the court seem to have given a judicial pronouncement on the issue following the case of N.B.A. v. KEHINDE (2017) 11 NWLR (PT 1576) 225 AT 250 -251 paras H- A where His lordship NIMPAR.JCA observed as follows:
“The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) was established for the purpose of regulating the affairs and conduct of all legal practitioners in Nigeria and upon being called to the Nigerian Bar, there is automatic membership to the NBA on a lawyer. See Chinwo v. Owhonada (2008)3 NWLR (Pt.1074)341. Hence, as long as one has elected to join and remain within the noble profession, he is a member and ought to comply with the directive of the Association”
The court went further to speak on the status of the NBA, and whether it has the authority to regulate the legal profession.
The Court of Appeal per TUKUR, JCA at page 246 in the NBA v. KEHINDE
(supra) put the points lucidly as follows:
“I agree with the arguments of appellant’s counsel to the extent that the NBA is statutorily recognised by the Legal Practitioners Act. This was why my Lord Hon.Justice Obaseki,(JSC) in the case of Chief Gani Fawehinmi v. Nigerian Bar Association & Ors (No.2) (1989) LPELR-1259( SC)PP. 92-93,paras. C-E, (1989)2 NWLR (pt.105) 558 at p.628, paras. G-H while commenting on the status of the Nigerian Bar Association stated thus: “The Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Assocition is not a statutory instrument. It is not a subsidiary legislation to the Legal Practitioners Act….It was accorded its due superior position by the Legal Practitioners Act, 1975 in the conduct of the affairs of the Nigerian Bar Association by the General Council of the Bar”
A recent example of the recognition of the Nigetian Bar Association’s regulatory role in the Legal Profession is the issue of seal and stamp, which flows from the provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct 2007, which is a subsidiary legislation.
Rule 10( 1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct provides thus:
” A Lawyer acting in his capacity as legal practitioner, legal officer or adviser of any Governmental deparment or Ministry or any Corporation, shall not sign or file a legal document unless there is affixed on any such document a seal and stamp approved by the Nigerian Bar Association”
In the case of Bello Sarkin Yaki v. Senator Atiku Bagudu (2015) LPELR 2571 (SC), (2015) 18 N.W.L.R (Pt. 1491)288 the apex Court held that failure to affix the seal and stamp as approved by the Nigerian Bar Association, on a legal document renders such document voidable.”
Following the foregoing, it is obvious the Court of Appeal’s point of view concerning ”The Election to join the profession” as a road to automatic enrolment. This is to say that every lawyer called to the Nigerian Bar automatically becomes a member of the NBA. This seems to be close to the argument of the learned writer, Chioma Unini and Ebi Robert, Co-Editor of TheNigerialawyers, and until the Supreme Court says otherwise, the mandatory membership of the NBA remains the Law.