There has been a hue and cry amongst lawyers over a petition written against Aliyu Umar SAN, who is currently prosecuting Onnoghen, the suspended CJN on behalf of the Federal Government before the Code of Conduct Tribunal over declaration of assets.
In response to the petition, the General Secretary, Gunu Taidi, on behalf of the NBA, on February 12, 2019 forwarded the letter to Umar, SAN to respond to the allegation of professional misconduct against him. The General Secretary of the NBA said he acted in the ordinary course of his office and duties as the General Secretary and believed he should pass on the petition to Mr. Umar for his reaction and the NBA National Publicity Secretary also confirmed transmission of the letter to Umar SAN. However, the NBA has through its Chairman, Paul Usoro SAN dissociate itself from the letter.
Legality of forwarding the letter by the GS.
The powers of the General Secretary are clearly spelt out in the NBA constitution. It provides in section 8(5)(e) as follows:
“The General Secretary, under the overall direction of the President shall be in charge of the National Secretariat and other offices of the Association and his/her duties shall include the following:
(i) He/She shall, on the instruction of the President or in accordance with a previous decision of the National Executive Committee or pursuant to a requisition made in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, summon the Annual General Meeting, Meetings of the National Executive Committee or other meetings of the Association;
(ii) He/She shall record and keep the minutes including attendance and summary of all decisions taken thereat;
(iii) He/She shall write and dispatch circulars, letters, and other correspondences of the Association including that of the National Executive Committee;
(iv) He/She shall keep a roll of members and an up-to-date list of Branches of the Association;
(v) He/She shall furnish an annual return or special reports of the activities of the Association or any of its organs at the Annual General Conference;
(vi) He/She shall be an ex-officio member of all committees of the Association;
(vii) He/She shall perform all other duties as may be assigned to him/her by the President* or the National Executive Committee or the Annual General Meeting”
From the above provisions, it is clear that the constitution is silent as to whether the General Secretary can single handedly forward a letter to member of the association upon receipt of petition against the member without consulting the president or any other office. Such obligation is also not provided in any other place in the constitution. It has long been settled that what is not expressly prohibited in law is allowed. For the avoidance of doubt see ALHAJI IBRAHIM HASSAN DANKWAMBO v. JAFAR ABUBAKAR & ORS (2015) LPELR-25716(SC). Therefore, the GS did not breach any law by forwarding the petition to Umar SAN.
The NBA National Publicity Secretary, Kunle Edun, confirmed it categorically that Any member of the Nigerian Bar Association is entitled to send petitions to the NBA against any member who he perceives to have committed any infraction of our Rules of Professional Conduct. When such a petition is received, NBA forwards same to the colleague against whom it is written for his response. That is what the NBA has just done. It is a long standing standard procedure. The Nigerian Bar Association, in adhering to these laid down procedures is impervious to emotions or sentiments.
It is submitted that even if there are disciplinary rules requiring the GS to consult with certain offices before sending the letter, the Association should have find a way of resolving the matter instead of resorting to issuing contradictory notices in the media. It is pertinent to add that the petition against Umar SAN is a matter that is sub judice and same should not have been forwarded to the learned silk. This would give an irresistible impression that all is not well. It is a notorious fact that house divided against itself cannot stand.
But to avoid similar issues in the future, it is hereby recommended that Mr Paul Usoro SAN should call a meeting and put the house in order and GS should henceforth notify me president such issues before taking further actions. This is in the interest of the image of the association.
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