The Nigeria Lawyers’ team comprising of Chioma Kate Unini, Maryjane Nwoye and Paul Alobi Nyambi had a no-holds-barred interview with the immediate past General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, who was also the former Chairman of NBA Unity branch, a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Administrators and associate member of Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators , Mazi Afam Osigwe during the 56th Annual General Conference of the Association held in Port Harcourt City tagged “Garden City 2016” he outlined his experience as an immediate past General Secretary of the NBA.
Below are the excerpts from the interview:
No matter the campaign promises you have made you still work under a president and the administration has a program it wants to execute, so no secretary can claim he has a program different from that of the aggregate of the executive or the administration under which he served. So I can’t talk about myself, I will rather talk about the achievements of the administration I had a privilege of serving for almost two years.
What areas do you consider as the most Challenging aspects of the position as the General Secretary?
The question could be looked at in various ways, one could look at it from the point of view of what program the administration had problems or greater challenges in implementing. The question could also be answered as personally discharging your duties as the general secretary, what were the areas you encountered more challenges. Permit me to take it from both perspectives.
Now, from the perspective of the administration, we had a major challenge in implementing stamps and seal policy. Issue of treating applications and getting lawyers to accept it, overcoming the initial challenge by some lawyers that there was no legal basis for it, that the law was yet to be enacted to empower the NBA to whistle it. It continued until even I had to personally on behalf of the NBA speak before the Supreme Court when an argument was taken in the celebrated case of YAKI vs APC. I had to address the Supreme Court because there were misconceptions arising from the eariler case which people interpreted that the Supreme Court had pronounced that there was no legal basis for it. Our contention was that the policy didn’t derive it’s legality or legitimacy from the secular issued by the CJN. That the CJN directives were merely administrative assistance for the implementation of the policy. That the policy derived it’s legal effect from the Rules of Professional Conduct which stipulates that every lawyer shall affix a stamp approved by the NBA on any legal document and the Supreme Court agreed with us and upheld the objection founded on the stamps and seal and threw away the challenges that there were no legal basis to it, to me that was a big challenge .
Then we had to face the challenge of dealing with increasing volume of applications that were received from the banks having to do with backlog. Having to deal with the facts that we didn’t have as much staff we should have because of space constraint and quite a number of other factors and being able to get the stamps to the branches. Because when you insist on implementing a policy, the onus shifts on you to ensure that when people have applied, you will have to get it to them as quickly as possible. Along the line we had this challenge , where branches will collect the applications and fail to forward it to the National Secretariat and then tell their members that they have actually forwarded.
Another challenge is the issue of identifying who is a lawyer and dealing with the fake lawyer. People who have changed their names after being called to the bar without taking the necessary steps to effect their names on the roll. People uttering the sequence of their names and people improperly filling their forms, people putting documents that appears doubtful, a whole lot of factors. We were able to surmount them
Towards the end we were faced with another major challenge when you naria became greatly devalued. We were faced with the decision whether to increase the price of the stamps and seals or reduce the quantity.
The insurance policy was a piece of cake, it was a working pack, it didn’t give us any problem. The welfare of lawyers, implementing the trade mission and other things that the administration set out to do.
Another Challenge was the building of the NBA building , which we met at the ground level. That was a major challenge having to do with construction, the initial contracted N2.5b and trying to finish the house without having to borrow. We channeled most of the resources into finishing. Being personally involved in the supervision to ensure that the contractors or the subcontractors kept to time for the commissioning of the project which was one of the promises of the administration.
One of the aspects I found very challenging from my point of view is that, being an individual discharging the functions of the office. It takes the whole deal of your time, it requires your attention most of the time, especially with respect to disciplinary matters and issues of administration of the secretariat, with the fact that it is a non salaried work, which requires that you will have to run your personal practice and earn a a living for you to be able to take care of your personal and family needs. I also guess that, for the fact, that I’m based in Abuja helped a lot, some days I go to court then change to go to the secretariat and will stay there till night. In all it was wonderful, we were to do it.
Sir, you made mention that one of the challenges you encountered was that people change their names without taking the necessary steps, can you highlight the processes involved in change of names after being called to the Nigerian Bar?
Before answering your question, the point must be made that stamps are only issued to legal practitioners whose names appear on the roll. This presupposes that, if I issue a stamp to a person bearing a particular name, that if a search is further conducted at the Supreme Court with that stamp the name would be found there. For instance, where a woman is married and wants to change her name, she is supposed to go to the Supreme Court with a deed poll, an advertisement and an application for her name on the change to reflect her new name after marriage or her new name after call to Bar. Even a male lawyer who has changed his name for one reason or the other, has to do same otherwise he could be mistaken as a fake lawyer. Because when a check is run on the data base and the new name which you’re applying for change is not reflected there, your application will not be processed. So you are supposed to go to the Supreme Court, apply to the Chief registrar or Officer in charge with the documents I mentioned for your name to reflect and they will give you a letter. Then they will do a data base update and supply same to the NBA, then your new name will reflect.
It therefore suffices that NBA is not duty bound to cause a name to be changed, even when an application is made to them for such change?
We are advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, we are called by the body of Benchers by law, the Supreme Court keeps that roll. NBA is part of the bodies that regulates the legal profession in Nigeria, not being a repository of that record it will be wrong for the NBA to sit on its office to effect such change. So you have to go to the office which keeps the roll, but we work with the data base provided by them.
What do you think is the greatest legacy(ies) of your administration led by Augustine Alegeh SAN.?
I’m always uncomfortable praising or speaking by the achievements of any administration which I was part of. I prefer for history and those who witnessed that administration to give their vindict, so that I will not be accused of blowing my own trumpet. I would rather not comment on this.
What is your take on the conflicting judgments being delivered by the court. For instance, the Federal High Court Abuja and the Federal High Court Port-Harcourt regarding the PDP convention.
Pretending to answer your question, it will amount to misconduct for a lawyer to discuss a Matter that is sub-judice and it is in my belief that these matters are pending in court. So permit me if, I don’t comment with particular reference to the judgment of this very courts you have mentioned. But I will say that confidence in the judiciary will be eroded when they feel that there’s no degree of certainty with pronouncement emerging from the court contemporaneously on related subject matter and by the court of coordinate jurisdiction.
Lawyers and litigants should with some degree of certainty predict that if a matter went to court, it would be decided in a particular way because of judicial certainty. So in a situation where judges being aware that there contemporaneous matters pending and being aware of others and then insisting on making pronouncement that makes it appear that there’s some kind of rival between brother judges or brother courts or litigants, it should be a source of worry to all of us and should be condemned. And if it happens in any given situation disciplinary measures should be taken against the erring judicial officers or even lawyers who may in one way or the other contributed to it. But if it deals with pronouncement, the spotlight should be put on the judges involved, because we may erode the confidence of the populace in the judiciary . The people may think that the judges have an interest in the matter, so I think it is a cause of worry if it happens in any given situation.
What area(s) do you think that the new administration will need to consolidate.
It will be wrong for me to speak for them. It is a fact that every candidate who runs for an office has a manifesto or programmes that he promises the electorate that if elected into office, that he will execute and I think if the winners ran on their manifesto based on which lawyers have given them the Mandate, it means that lawyers considered those manifesto of utmost importance, and that some of the things they expected the winners to address.
So I think I’m not compete to set agenda for them, but only to say that the new administration is expected to ensure that it delivers on its manifesto because that’s is what gave them the victory in the first place.
What do you think that you couldn’t do but if given an opportunity would like to do it?
Unfortunately, I will not be given an opportunity. What I wanted to do which I couldn’t do was to have a functional NBA website , that if you are searching for a lawyer in Nigeria, you could go there. For instance, if you want to know if Chioma Unini is a lawyer in Nigeria, you could go there. Not only does it tell you that she’s a lawyer but it will also give you an idea of what she looks like and you will also be able to view her profile. I wasn’t able to implement that, we were working on it but unfortunately we weren’t able to finish it but we hope the new Brave new bar will do that.
Another thing that we couldn’t do which is utmost important that it could be done is to allow E-PAYMENT of BAR PRACTICE FEE. For lawyers to be able to go online and pay it, to cut out the issue of going to the bank. You would notice that the Teller given to us in banks is carbonated and fades over time, so if you don’t photocopy it, it disappears. Now if we can put in place an acceptable E-PAYMENT platform that once you put in your name, it tells you how much to pay then you pay like you book an airline ticket, then, it mails you a receipt and also keeps it in your profile page so that any where you want to print, your receipt it does that. Also the E-PAYMENT platform will issue you with a practice license for the year and also compile a date of your annual practice list. Which by the RPC, NBA is supposed to issue every year to show lawyers who are in good standing and pay their practice fee.
I thought I could do it but couldn’t. I believe that they will be done. I want to talk about this fee areas.
It is no longer news that one of the major contenders in the last concluded NBA election has gone to court . Do you think, it is healthy for the bar?
Like I said, I don’t like to comment on matters that have gone to court. But I believe that at the AGM held on the 27th day of August, 2015 we gave ourselves a new constitution which is section 16 put in place for the first time a dispute resolution committee that we intended that the best cause to follow when a dispute has arisen is to avoid litigation but to exploit alternative dispute resolution mechanism. I think in saying that and given the committee 60 days within which to resolve disputes, we as lawyers opted for a non litigation based mechanism. This was also enforced by the NEC meeting of the NBA, held on sunday in Port Harcourt resolving that litigation may not be the best for the association. And so we put in place a five man elders committee to be headed by Thompson Ononigbokpoko, the past president of the NBA to wage into the matter and reach out to Chief J.K Gadazama, who is the litigant in this instance with the view to resolving the matter out of court. So, I think that lawyers in agreement that litigation may not be the best and may not be in the interest of the association.
What is your advice for the new administration particularly to the general secretary?
I will like to keep my advice to my successor, private and confidential for obvious reasons. He has won the election, members imposed confidence in him and gave him their mandates with the believe that he can continue . And if the verdict is that the administration has done well, I’m sure that whatever thing they did right that made it to be adjudged a successful administration, I know he will want to do better than I did.
But generally, by way of omnibus advice I will say, do your best to best and do much better than we did. Where we failed, make sure you avoid our mistakes, avoid the pitfalls we got into, so that you can succeed. Where we got it right, take it to the highest point. Where lawyers require an explanation on where we failed, please give it, where we gave it continue giving it. Let the people feel that the administration is in touch with them and in tune with their needs, connect with them whenever they desire it. I hope this advice will suffice.