By Sylvester Udemezue (udems)

A CORE AIM OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (NBA):”Establishment of schemes for the promotion of the welfare, security, and economic advancement of members of the legal profession” (See section 3(13) of the NBA Constitution, 2015)

In response to my earlier commentary titled, “IF THE JUDICIARY IN NIGERIA IS NOT INDEPENDENT, BLAME IT ON SUCCESSIVE NBA LEADERSHIPS”, and posted on LPD et al on 05/04/2021, Mr Folarin ALUKO (a respectable and respected bar leader) said, “How do you defend an institution that rewards those who undermine it? The question of the moment is one of priorities:Of all the problems plaguing the Judiciary, which problem should be addressed first? I think the best answer is that charity begins at home.The biggest way the NBA can defend the judiciary is to hold it accountable to its public duty”.

His humble reaction however provoked further comments from me, as summarized below:

MY RESPONSE:

Dear sir , it doesn’t matter how you frame the question or how you prefer the question to be framed; it doesn’t change the gravamen of my worry, as expressed in my SHORT comment, last night, which simply is this: the NBA (whether at the National or at the Branch level) is doing practically nothing either to achieve true independence for the judiciary or to hold the judiciary “accountable to its Public duty”. And, my brother, if you ask me to say exactly what the Nigerian Bar Association is currently doing or preoccupied with , and these are they only things the NBA (national and Branches) is interested in doing, I will respectfully give you the list as follows:

1️⃣. Collecting Bar Practicing Fees, Branch Dues, etc, much of which NBA wastes or lavishes on frivolous and jamboree (white elephant) projects, resulting in TOTAL FAILURE OF CONSIDERATION as lawyers, most of whom are practically compelled to pay these fees and dues (sure, in order to get NBA seal), get no practical value in their professional lives, for the money paid. NBA leaders EGOISTICALLY take collection of BPF/dues very seriously; with due respect, it shouldn’t be so. By going about to beg and coerce lawyers to pay BPF and Branch Dues, NBA leaderships are subtly exposing their vested selfish interest in the monies ultimately collected. NBA leaders have no business and no reasons “appealing” to anyone to pay BPF and dues. Members ought to pay WILLINGLY and HAPPILY, knowing (1) what they stand to benefit (ie., assuming they stand to gain anything) and (2) what the consequences of failure or neglect in this respect are. See why such appeals or reminders are not necessary: (a) section 4 of the NBA Constitution provides that if you don’t pay BPF, you’re disqualified from practicing law in all its facets and from doing anything whatsoever that only a lawyer may do, for the rest of that year, until you pay. The same section says non payment of BPF is a form of unprofessional conduct. Gentlemen, are these not enough warning and eyeopener to Lawyers? Why should the NBA keep reminding and pestering lawyers to pay and more often than not, even playing the role of a town crier? I will tell you why NBA is doing this! It is all our of selfishness; money collected or to be collected is too important to the nba leaderships, they desperately want the money in order to be able to continue to sustain their misadventures, egoistic grandstanding and play-to-the-gallery. They want that money to continue to WASTE and LAVISH on frivolous projects and useless policies and programs. Useless because they have no direct or indirect positive impact on the professional lives of those who are forced to pay these monies.

If things were going on well within the NBA, if NBA members were happy with the NBA, if they were getting VALUE FOR THEIR MONEY, they would happily and promptly pay BPF and any other dues without any reminders, without any town-crying adverts by the NBA leaderships and without any compulsion. I tell you again, there is a situation of TOTAL FAILURE OF CONSIDERATION, as I have come to realize. Nigerian lawyers hardly get any value for the monies they pay to the NBA. This is partly why the Hon. AGF wanted to stop the COMPULSIVE PAYMENT of BPF by lawyers. 90 percent of lawyers who pay BPF do so only because they want to be able to collect Stamp and Seal. In other words, they pay because NBA practically COMPELS them to pay. Else, they wouldn’t and the NBA knows this, because there’s hardly anything lawyers get in return, BY WAY OF VALUE.

2️⃣. Organizing conferences, workshops and seminars aimed to “expand” the horizon of members’ knowledge or to increase the knowledge in their heads. Meanwhile, and this is where the real problem lies, NBA hardly ever does anything to help create job opportunities for these lawyers; these lawyers need to get gainfully employed SOMEWHERE in order to be able to apply, use or ventilate the knowledge “acquired” during the conferences, seminars, etc. If a lawyer is or remains JOBLESS, homeless, hungry, and therefore frustrated, of what use are your conferences, seminars and workshops and the irrelevant topics discussed thereat?NBA, please answer me!

I give a PRACTICAL ILLUSTRATION: Section 66(3) of the Nigeria Police Force (Establishment) Act (NPFEA), 2020 provides that it is henceforth mandatory for the Nigeria police to post AT LEAST one lawyer who is a policeman to each and every police formation/location in all states in Nigeria, to supervise compliance with human rights provisions of our laws. There are approximately more than 3,500 police locations/formations/stations in this country. To be able to post at least one lawyer to each of these stations, the Nigeria Police need to employ no fewer than 3,500 additional legal practitioners. Seniors and colleagues, is this not a good job-opportunity for our unemployed lawyers? Is it not the NBA leaderships that ought to take steps to get the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), the Minister of Police Affairs, the PSC (Police Service Commission) etc, to do the needful in this respect? What is the NBA currently doing to make this beautiful provision a reality? Of what use is the provision if it is not implemented? As investigations have shown, the NBA is doing practically nothing? Rather, NBA is busy organizing lectures in the name of “Continuing Professional Development,” on topics such as “Introduction to Energy Law”, etc. What a funny situation? How can the NBA be organizing lectures for persons already called to the bar, on topics usually taken and concluded in their 200/300/400 level as undergraduate students in the law faculties of universities? What an irony? Why not leave all this grandstanding and urgently liaise with the AGF, the PSC, the Minister of Police Affairs, and the IGP, to ensure a speedy implementation of the directive in section 66(3), NPFEA, 2020? There are no fewer than four immediate benefits accruable from putting section 66(3) into action:

▪️1). Many unemployed Lawyers would get immediately employed. Nigerian lawyers need the job urgently oooo.

▪️2). Rule of law would be promoted and enhanced at the police stations, and future ENDSARS protests may thereby be averted.

▪️3). We would have lawyers on hand to assist or advise in criminal prosecution (by the police) in magistrates’ courts around the various police stations.

▪️4). Filing of baseless charges by ignorant lay police officers would be drastically reduced leading to decongestion of our courts.

3️⃣. NBA is busy Issuing Press Releases it never follows up. Since I became a lawyer, every other day, one wakes up to see a “Statement” issued by the NBA on this, on that and on all sorts of things under the earth. The problem is not so much with issuing statements as it is with following up the statements issued. Of what use is it if you issue statements to condemn an alleged illegal or unconstitutional action taken by government, which actions still later goes on unhindered, unchallenged, and without any iota of further protest or action by you? I think Nigerian political leaders have perfectly understood the psyche of the NBA; the governments never ever bother themselves about NBA’s public statements; the governments already know that NBA is merely a barking dog that never bites. They know that beyond issuing statements, NBA does nothing else to either follow up its statements or to hold leaders accountable. Ironically, in the face of brazen violation of rule of law by governments and political leaders, it’s to the NBA and its members that the ordinary man looks for protection. NBA, where then at thou, beyond issuing statements?

Is any one shocked that one person sat down inside his living room or office in 2020, and singlehandedly (albeit purportedly) “altered” the provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC), 2007 and later sent it to be gazetted? Come off your shock, dear friend! If he had believed the NBA could/would bite and not only bark, he wouldn’t have done any such a legally unsupportable thing. And, true to his expectations, beyond issuing the usual statements, NBA has till today done nothing concrete to end the unnecessary controversy and uphold the rule of law.

4️⃣. NBA PUTS OTHER PEOPLE (NON-LAWYERS) FIRST; THIS IS WHY OTHER PEOPLE (INCLUDING GOVERNMENTS) PUT THE NBA MEMBERS LAST. The most worrisome aspect of NBA’s character is that NBA whose house was, still is, on on fire 🔥over the purported RPC amendment, left that issue and went to court against Buhari over the latter’s extension of the tenure of the then retiring IGP. Dear NBA, what have you done about the crises inside your own household? The very foundation of Legal Ethics is under an assault, assault considered by many as legally unsupportable, and which has thrown NBA’s household into chaos and commotion! And the NBA folds its arms and does nothing meaningful, but would suddenly wake up, jump up and start fighting against Buhari over the latter’s extension of the IGP’s tenure.

I HAVE A QUESTION:
Between the extension of the IGP’s tenure and the RPC amendment crisis, which should the NBA have taken more seriously? Does charity not begin at home? Even the Bible says, love your neighbors as you love yourself, an indication that love must start with yourself. It is after you’ve loved yourself well enough and satisfied, that you begin to look for outsiders to extend love to. It is not even wise to love outsiders well unless you’ve loved and taken good care of yourself, because the yardstick for measuring the amount of love you’re expected to shower on another person or on others, is how you’ve loved yourself. NBA doesn’t know this. If it doesn’t, it would make a u-turn, and come home to face its internal obligations. Section 3 (13)& (14) of the NBA Constitution provides that the aims of the NBA shall be, among others: “(12). Creation of schemes for the encouragement of newly qualified members and assistance to
aged or incapacitated members of the Association. (13). Establishment of schemes for the promotion of the welfare, security, and economic
advancement of members of the legal profession”. Can someone name one concrete activity, scheme or policy of the NBA of late that is genuinely targeted towards “the promotion of the welfare, security, and economic
advancement of members of the legal profession”? I can see none! And I know how NBA can contribute to promoting the welfare, security and
economic
advancement of its members: they include (See section 3, NBA Constitution, 2015):

(a). Expansion of the Legal Practice Areas/Space by creating job opportunities for lawyers outside law firms, Ministries of Justice, the Legal Aid and Legal Departments of Private Institutions and a handful (only a handful) of public Institutions. Legal Department in all the 775 LGA’s (Local Government Councils) in Nigeria; Legal Departments in all MDA’s (Ministries, Departments and Agencies); Legal Departments in all police formations and stations; Legal Departments in all Universities, and schools; etc.

(b). Setting machinery in motion to retrieve or recover legal practice jobs/areas already stolen by non-lawyers. Fighting to stop external encroachments on traditional legal practice areas. Land agents, commercial banks, foreign embassies, consular sections and high commissions in Nigeria, the CAC, Probate staff members, Land Registry officials, Omo N’Iles, the Police, the army, Area Boys and Louts, etc , each and all now share and enjoy law practice rights/jobs with lawyers in Nigeria — these even get paid higher than lawyers for jobs the right to which is ordinarily exclusive to lawyers.

(c). Taking steps, in conjunction with relevant stakeholders, to standardize lawyers’ remuneration and for professional jobs, and working to stop underpayment of lawyers which is one of the greatest menace currently ravaging the profession, driving many lawyers out of law practice.

(d). Fighting with all stakeholders to enthrone true independence and financial autonomy for the Judiciary in Nigeria. If the Judiciary is not independent, NBA can never be independent and its members can never be safe.

(e). Working to enthrone smooth and symbiotic working relationship between the NBA and other institutions especially the law enforcement agencies — police, EFCC, NDLEA, Customs, Immigration, Correctional Services (the Prisons), Banks, etc.

(f). Encouragement and protection of the right of access to courts at reasonably affordable fees
and of representation by counsel before courts and tribunals.

(g). Working together with relevant stakeholders to enthrone speedier dispensation of justice and a more effective administration of justice in Nigeria.

(h). Promotion and advancement of Legal Education through assistance to, and in collaboration with, existing legal educational Institutions in Nigeria, especially the Council of Legal Education ( Nigerian Law School).

(i) Maintenance and promotion of the highest standard of professional conduct, etiquette and discipline among lawyers in Nigeria.

(j). Instigating, promoting and supporting law reforms, especially in those areas that are beneficial to the NBA and its members while making lawyers more relevant to society.

(k). Genuine promotion of peace, unity and good relations among members and segments within the NBA. NBA Abuja Branch has two Branches. What’s the NBA doing to end the perennial feud? If you ask me, na who I go ask?

The list is not exhaustive. Please, tell me, which one is the NBA seriously working on now? None is the answer!
NBA is still seriously too busy organisizing Conferences, seminars and workshops, in addition to issuing Public statements and dragging Buhari to court over alleged illegal extension of the IGP’s tenure. Dear NBA, please come back home, I beg thee. There’s a raging fire on the mountain, and the mountain is right inside NBA’s own household. There is no time to stand and stare. Enough of this holier-than-thou attitude because the NBA is not any better than our political leaders and any other institution. You can’t help others people unless you’ve helped yourself and your (NBA) members. Peter Drucker said, “You can not manage other people, unless you manage yourself first” Jada Pinkett said, “You always have to remember to take care of you first and foremost, because when you stop taking care of yourself, you get out of balance and you really forget how to take care of others”.TEmily Maroutian said, “If you want to have enough to give to others, you will need to take care of yourself first. A tree that refuses water and sunlight for itself can’t bear fruit for others.”

I agree with all these because self-care is not selfish; you cannot serve from an empty vessel. Looking after yourself is the greatest act of kindness you can give the world. Loving yourself first is the best way to spread love to others. Whenever you feel compelled to put others first at the expense of yourself, you are denying your own reality, your own identity. Besides, always putting others first creates deep resentment, destroys your happiness, and is unsustainable. Putting yourself first allows you to meet your needs in the most skillful way. This, in turn, increases your happiness, joy, and capacity to love, so you can give freely to others. Rachel Bartholomew said, “You have to be self-interested in order to be selfless. You have to put yourself first if you want to be of use to other people.” Put yourself first right now. Because right now is all we have. Holly Bourne put it this way, “You don’t have to stop looking after yourself just to help the world. In fact, sometimes it’s better for the world if you put yourself first. That’s not being selfish, in fact looking after yourself is the greatest act of kindness you can give the world. Loving yourself first is the best way to spread love”. In a somewhat illustrative manner, Shelley K Wall said, “There is a reason flight attendants tell you to put your mask on first in an emergency…you cannot be important to anyone else if you are not first and foremost important to yourself. Appreciate and love yourself then use that to do the same for others”.

The bottomline line, therefore, is that NBA Leaderships must urgently repent of their sin of misadventure and misplacement of priorities, retrace their steps and start prioritizing the profession and welfare of its members, by giving priority to the profession’s priorities. By putting the profession and its members first, NBA could and indeed would ensure that our cup is always full so we can then have enough to give and help others. The ball in NBA’s court. I have said my own! He or those who have ears, let him or they hear. You cannot continue doing the same thing over and over again and still expect a different result. Nigerian lawyers are disappointed and angry that their professional association (the NBA) is hardly doing anything to improve the profession and the professional life of its members as well as to give the profession a better deal in a country in which it ought (with its members) ordinarily to be on top!

▪️Not End Of Discussion; Discussion to be CONTINUED!
Respectfully,
Sylvester Udemezue (udems)
08109024556.
udemsyl@gmail.com. (06/April/2021)

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