In search of the value proposition from the NBA Presidential aspirants, we had a great time talking to Mazi Afam Osigwe just few days before he was disqualified from running for the office of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association by the Electoral Committee of the NBA.
Mazi spoke with so much passion about his vision of an NBA and how he would restructure the association. To Mazi Afam Osigwe, the NBA is an association that should look out for every of its members. Also read how he expressed genuine fear that he may be disqualified from running for the office. Unfortunately, his fears became reality and today, we run this interview not because of its relevance to the Presidential Election but because of the issues it brought to the fore.
Regardless of the turn of events, there are still takeaways from the interview.
DNL L&S: It’s now common knowledge that you are running for the office of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in the coming election. What motivated you to throw in your hat for the race?
Mazi: For me, one of the problems we have in Nigeria is that we are very good at identifying problems with governance but very many of us are not willing to be part of making that difference we desire in whatever sphere we find ourselves. So, I believe that I am better off being an active participant than an armchair critic. Like my late father would say, if you want to get something done, join in doing it. So, for me it is about wanting to do things differently and better. Many lawyers agree that the NBA could be run differently to focus on the welfare of members, to address issues affecting the practice of law and the legal profession and a hands-on approach to doing this, we need pragmatic solutions to problems and you need dedication to get them sorted. So, I want to contribute my own quota in that regard.
DNL L&S: How would you assess the reception of your candidacy by members of the Legal Profession?
Mazi: I always warn myself that I could exaggerate my perception either positively or negatively. I prefer not to judge myself, rather, I see myself as a dancer who is unable to judge whether he or she danced well or not. So, I would leave that perception to be given by persons other than myself.
DNL L&S: The NBA has not been run professionally. What is the innovation you intend to bring into the Association?
Mazi: The running of NBA has been like plotting a curve. It rises and falls with the various leadership. The perception which could be right in some circumstance could be a result of lack of continuity. Every President comes with his unique leadership style and ways of doing things. Some may be political and some may be very professional. I believe that the NBA that I was part of was highly professional and that is why we were able to do quite a number of things because we believe that the secretariat must be responsive. That people should be able to make certain inquiries or demands from the secretariat and get service delivery without having to know any person. NBA would not be run like a closed system. So, when we were in office, there was continuous update to lawyers and policies were implemented successfully within the period of time we had. The two-year tenure may appear short, but it’s time enough to achieve anything you want to and we were able to finish a building, introduce the personalized adhesive stamp and seal, introduce automatic insurance cover to lawyers who paid Practice Fee, reduce conference fee, among many other achievements. So, it depends on what you set out to achieve. We cut down on expenditures. So, we ran it professionally and NEC was business-like. People were allowed to air their views irrespective of whether you are seen as a friend or foe. People expressed their views on a number of issues and that is why we were able to get a constitutional amendment through because we allowed the people to own it, discuss it, agree to it and vote in a transparent manner for it, following the due process as contained in the constitution. It was not about sloganeering. And there was also no personal interests involved in the things we did. We did them professional and then saved costs. For example, the NBA building was contracted to be built for N2.5b, we got it up to 85% and could have done the whole 100% at 1.7b and we refused the application for variation by the contractor. If we were profited from the building we would have in the usual corrupt manner allowed the request for variation so we would be gratified, but we didn’t. It was all about the Association and all about saving cost and investing money for the future. That is the kind of thing I also want to see also done in NBA. Do things professionally, keep the account open and then for the first time too, we published account every quarter at NEC as part of documents distributed to NEC Members which they took home. So, they saw how money came in and how it was being applied.
We also cut cost on the production of stamp. The stamp we met which was for us to implement was to cost N12, 500 (Twelve Thousand, Five Hundred) for a pack of 50 stamps but we felt it was too expensive and the stamps by the way did not have names and enrolment numbers of lawyers. So, we felt that for a stamp and seal policy to work, the price has to be low and it has to be a personalized stamp and we were able to get it for production at N3,600 (Three Thousand Six Hundred Naira) for a pack of 120 stamps. We presented to NEC and NEC approved that it be given to lawyers at N4000 for a pack of 120 stamps. I think this is being professional. Being professional also means running a place in an efficient and effective manner at an accessible and transparent and accountable manner and also saving costs and avoiding waste.
DNL L&S: You mentioned the Issue of political aides, many people have queried the establishment of the OPNBA, Chief of Staff to the NBA, etc. What are your thoughts on these?
Mazi: If you want the NBA to be run in a professional manner, those offices don’t have to be there. If you say you need professionals to run the place, then bringing in a retinue of aides and creating a new political structure called the OPNBA with the attendant allowances and the waste and abuse of power that may come with it, then it would be right to say this is antithetical to the professionalization of NBA. To this is a No-No for an association that wants to run professionally. You don’t need them. You don’t need a Chief of Staff. I worked under a President who had a personal assistant who he paid from his personal pocket who was a lawyer in his law firm. There was nothing like the OPNBA because the three structures NBA has at the National Leadership is, the National Officers administering the national secretariat and then the NEC and the AGM. So, when you come and bifurcate National the national leadership of the Bar and have National Officers and OPNBA, you create a new structure that does not fall into the constitutional organogram of NBA. You are bound to have a distortion in the flow of authority. You create offices that may actually be in conflict because a Chief of Staff may feel that he is superior to the General Secretary and the Executive Director and you may have a whole lot of things. We worked without it at the NBA and we were able to achieve success so for me, it is not a model I would want to recommend.
DNL L&S: The Leadership of Okey Wali SAN, had an approved budget and plan for the building, when Augustin Alege SAN’s leadership came on board, where you served as the GS, the whole thing was changed, in fact some people are saying that this change was done in bad faith. How do you reconcile this and your clamor for continuity?
Mazi: Let me say this, renegotiating a contract price is not the same thing as deviating from the building plan. The plan we used to complete that building was the same plan the Okey Wali SAN administration got approval for the building. We didn’t alter anything. Indeed Okey Wali SAN remained Chairman of the building committee until it was commissioned. And that should tell you something. We only had a disagreement with the contractor on variation and completion of the work. The initial agreement as obtained in the contract was that the contractor would give them NBA an Advance Payment Guarantee (APG), then NBA will pay in money into their account, then the bank will release money to the contractor upon Certificates being issued when the contractor achieved certain milestones. The speed of work was being adversely affected because the contractor could not meet with the requirements of the bank. These prevented the contractor from securing releases of funds in time to meet contractual timelines. When we came on board we had to agree with the contractor on a different financial arrangement which entails NBA making cash directly available to the contractor in return for postdated cheques and agreement for a milestone to be reached before the next tranche of funds could be released. We did this because it was an the President, Augustine Alegeh SAN insisted he wanted to complete and commission that building before we left office, The renegotiation sped up the work and that was why when the man came back to say he had an entire agreement for N2.5b we said look, by accepting this new agreement, we have departed from the previous one because the entire contract agreement presupposes that the contractor was going to source for funds, build and get reimbursement upon submission of certificates. Therefore built into that fixed sum was his cost of sourcing for funds, interest payable and all other issues. Since he was no longer incurring any cost in sourcing for funds, he could no longer insist on that. We agreed were going to do valuation of work actually done and not pay any fixed contract price. That was why we refused variation of the contract price. It would not have agreed to a contract variation it was NBA fund that was at risk because we were giving him money without any guarantee, aside from the postdated cheques he gave NBA. NBA was exposed wholly to him without any guarantee and he incurred no interest or other costs for sourcing for funds. Thus if there was failure of performance we would not likely get back our money. We felt that was also a more direct and cost saving way of getting the building done within the cost. So, there was no deviation.
DNL L&S: But it would appear that that contractor did not do a good job. I say that because we have seen pictures being circulated of the National Secretariat, certain floors are now “dilapidated” if I may use the word.
Mazi: You would be wrong to use the word dilapidated. They are not dilapidated. If you also saw some of the pictures being circulated, you would see floor tiles. The floors are open, the tiles were to be put on them. Dilapidation means you completed that work, and then it fell into ruins. Remember I said earlier we got up to 85% of the building completed. There were some floors that were to be tiled and the tiles were already on site. The floors were not partitioned so that businesses or organizations may want them, may require a different specifications. They require different quality of tiles, then they may have to do that or some form of partitioning. That is not dilapidation. And if you also see some of the pictures they are showing as dilapidation, you see that some air conditioners remained in cartons, almost 18 months after we left office if not more than by now, and you see that the piping were still ongoing when we left. It was just a question of finish the piping for the AC and close up the open spaces. Even the scaffolding being used by workmen at the time we left office are still there with no work apparently do since we left. In any case, these unfinished items formed part of the outstanding percentage of work left to be done to achieve 100% completion. Take your mind away from propaganda, dilapidation would be a wrong choice of word. We never said the project was 100% completed mind you, and the handover note of Augustine Alegeh which is now available in public domain where expected payments to be made for certain things to be done and uncompleted works completed. So, when I say dilapidation is an unkind word, you will understand why I say so. They also take pictures of an adjoining land that is being eroded. That is not part of NBA land every land in that place ought not to have fence, so you have walk-ways, arcades joining you to the next property. So, the covered walk-way you see is where the NBA Land ends. After the walk-way, the by the right is an adjoining property which does not belong to NBA. And even if some parts of the NBA land on the left are affected by erosion, (because that land is on a slope), that would still not be justification for saying the property is dilapidated. If there faults after more than one and a half years of operating from the same, you fix them. It would not be ground for blaming your predecessor. Government is a continuum. In building construction, you do retain 5% of the contract sum so that 6 months after the contractor leaves site, if there are faults, you use the money to fix the faults. Nobody is God. So, dilapidation would be a wrong word. And you ask yourself, how come two years after, there were people who were willing to rent those property and they have not been able to rent them? It is not dilapidation. We should be talking about what improvement has been introduced in the building since we left. Okay, assuming we didn’t do it well, how has the next man improved on it? We never claimed perfection, but we did something and under budget.
DNL L&S: We heard that the reason why the administration of A.B Mahmoud SAN is not following up with what Augustine Alege SAN did was that he was quoted to have said that he didn’t meet enough fund to proceed with whaat has been put on ground.
Mazi: I would have to cut in here. I have had to issue a statement on this, and my position is out there in the public domain. When we came in, we didn’t meet much money in the NBA account, which is usually what happens in NBA circle. By conference, most of the money is out. We met less than 10m when we came in, we didn’t cry, we didn’t shout. We met so many outstanding from the conference, we took care of them. The Association was not bankrupt and I refer people to the financial statement for 2016 were we stated that cash in the bank as at July 31st was over N100 million, by the time payments were made for conference. So at the very day we were leaving office, cash in the bank was about N20m and we stated that there were monies due to be paid to contractors. Whatever figure you hear us say we put into that NBA house, we did not meet in the account. So NBA circle of funds goes up and down. In-flow of money peaks by March 31st when payment of practice fees is at its highest, then you have a lull. But when payment for conference starts, it picks up again. After conference, it goes down again, so you wait for the next circle. This administration will soon leave office, we would see the millions they will leave and if there won’t be debts incurred in the course of running the Association.
I made a point earlier, if you were able to generate over a billion Naira, why spend it on a conference? Couldn’t you have applied some of it to paying branched or even improving the building you claimed was dilapidated? N1.5bn blown on a conference. It has never happened. You see, until we learn to stop blaming; stop looking at the failings if at all of your predecessor and focus on your campaign promises and achieving them, we would never make progress.
Whoever succeeds AB Mahmoud in August and I pray I would be the one, will meet an account that will be depleted and maybe debts to be paid. Obasanjo did not incur most of the Paris club debts his administration sorted out. Some started from Shagari’s time. He didn’t start crying and rolling on the ground. He did what a leader should do, negotiated an exit. I thought we should be talking about that.
DNL L&S: Are you taking away the glory of the last AGC? Because it was fairly adjudged above average.
Mazi: The last conference was good. But we could have spent less on it. That is the point I am making. For a country barely out of recession, and which has one of the worst poverty rates in the world to pay N1.5b in a professional conference, you would agree it is very high. Just like the suggestion we should bring Obama to speak at the next conference and pay about $500,000, many NEC members thought it was not necessary and I do too. I am talking about the items and the pricing. You don’t need to spend that much to have a great conference. And most of these costs were based on the tabs and a great percentage of the tabs are no longer functional today. Most of the cost of that conference went into paying for the tabs. Hundreds of millions. I mean, aboutN500m.
DNL L&S: Welfare of Young Lawyers. NBA not being responsive to the welfare of young lawyers.
Mazi: It is sad that in an election year, people brandish the word welfare and amount lawyers should be paid, creep into discussions and amount some firms pay, creep into discussion without showing how these figures would be actualized in the lives of these young lawyers. It is like showing a hungry man food without any assurance that he can partake in it. If we must be honest to ourselves, NBA cannot give money or employment to lawyers. If you look at the statistics, it is frightening. A minimum of 6,000 entrants join the Bar every year, and of this number, not more than 30% ever get into any form of job whether in the informal, government or organized private sector. When you talk about payment of minimum wage, there would appear to be a suggestion that you have something to give them by way of take home pay. I hear people argue that you have to pay a particular amount to them. We can’t also legally force a firm to pay a certain amount but we can prescribe and use moral persuasion to get them to pay these amount. To discuss minimum wage in a manner that suggests one can make it happen, would be nothing but deception. When we also focus only on ‘minimum wage’, we only focus on not more than 30% of those who will ever get into certain jobs that this may be applied to. What about the 70% that is without employment? What plan do we have for them? So NBA should focus on the empowerment of lawyers through a knowledge driven policy that focuses on Continuing Legal Education (CLE), empowering them to face the challenges ahead, whether they are in some form of employment or not. NBA has to invest in CLE. NBA has to move away from organizing political and patronage-driven conferences and seminars where select persons are brought and given “free accommodation” and “given scholarship” and which are only taken to major cities; Abuja, Lagos, PH. We have to focus on training lawyers in the different localities where they are found. NBA must not be a ‘get and spend’ association that has high budget for every event that will just go for media bliss and funfair without focusing on training of people. If you look at Rule 12(1) & (3) of the RPC, they talk about NBA preparing an annual practicing list and issuing practicing certificate to those who have paid their practicing fee and fulfilled minimum continuing professional development hours, units prescribed by the bar. Meaning, that your right to practice law is not dependent merely on your paying practicing fee, but your being trained and this is where NBA has to focus on. NBA has to bear in mind that it should be all about teaching these affected population about how to fish since we cannot give them fish. And so in an election year, people start paying practicing fee and it is called welfare. It is not welfare but what I call “festivity love”. So you get a goat and feed it to fatten it for killing. So the payment are geared towards enticing people to vote and these are not welfare issues because after election, they cease. They sponsor you to certain places, give you hotel accommodation. That is not welfare! In what way has it intellectually and professionally impacted on these persons. Welfare is putting some tools at their disposal, we should license certain online tools and pay for them, we should also put some social safety nets for some of these young lawyers like entering an agreement with an HMO to provide some form of medical insurance. People should know that the very successful businesses in the world are driven by entrepreneurs. Persons who apply their knowledge to find a need in the society and proffer a solution to them or solve that problem in the society and most times also, our education prepare us for employment does not prepare us for entrepreneurship, and NBA needs to refocus people’s mind set to face the realities. Bureau of statistics makes it clear that many people have lost their jobs. The bar cannot be insulated from this, it also means that the economy ahead grew by a certain percentage in the last quarter, but if the economy is not growing at a very wonderful pace, the legal profession will not be earning so much, so don’t hold up promises that are impossible to young lawyers because of election. In what institutional way is NBA going to help them? And that is where I would be focusing on. Institutional way of aiding lawyers welfare by focusing on training and making sure that these people attend the training without having to break the bank. If NBA does not have a fund for it, we create fund for it and fund it. Do this in collaboration with branches, take the training to them where they are.
DNL L&S: In other words, you do not advocate for instance having a minimum wage to pay lawyers.
Mazi: Of what need is it for me to say, pay minimum wage that I cannot enforce if you don’t comply. It is a mere suggestion it goes to no issue so, it would not be the main crux of my thinking because it is an unenforceable suggestion. It is just like whetting young lawyers’ appetite even when you know you cannot satisfy same. What happens when they cannot get the minimum wage enforced? The real bitter taste will surely follow!. So, you recommend it, what next?
DNL L&S: Apart from these issues you have identified which focuses on young lawyers. Are there other things you would be focusing on should you become the President of the bar, you have mentioned a few CLE, young lawyers. Within and outside of the bar, are their things that you are thinking of against?
Mazi: We need to look at Pro Bono services. I give you a quick example; over 70% of prison population are made up of awaiting trial persons. So, it means that this 70% are persons who are yet to be charged to court, so it also means that lawyers who would have had something to do providing legal services to them are not engaged. It also means that our administration of criminal justice does not work well. So NBA will drive a pro bono scheme that will focus on lawyers who volunteer to work with Legal Aid to certify these cases that lawyers would do. NBA will try to get funds to pay some form of appearance to encourage more lawyers and also for NBA to even by trying to keep its members engaged, do a much needed Social Responsibility work of focusing on the plight of prisoners. It is a sad commentary on our administration of criminal justice that persons may be in detention and serve more time than they would ordinarily serve if they were convicted. And when you recall that such persons may be innocent, and that in the cause of spending time in the prison they may contract terminal diseases, die or come out of prison broken for life or even bent the wrong way and become a menace to the society. This is the more reason why the NBA should focus on it and do something positive and tangible on it. So you get so many lawyers engaged. We have so many lawyers who may thereby also get experience and access to clients to represent even though at low payment of professional fee but NBA must be seen to get out of its comfort zone out of sitting down in board room and meeting rooms.
DNL L&S: So, your administration as the NBA President is going to have a budget for pro bono
Mazi: Yes there must be budget for pro bono. We must need to cut down on some of the expenses on some of the things that do not have any direct impact on lawyers and the society and focus on these areas that will keep lawyers engaged and keep lawyers of use to the society.
DNL L&S: The issue of CLE you mentioned earlier that paying practicing fee alone is not the only qualification to practice law, lawyers also need to get minimum point to be qualified to practice. we all know that CLE is something most lawyers are not taking seriously. Both the leadership of the bar and lawyers do not pay much attention to either encouraging it and or participating in it. How do you intend to ensure that lawyers take CLE seriously?
Mazi: In 2016 we sought to comply with the RPC by publishing the list comprising lawyers who are entitled to practice law upon payment of practicing fee and meeting the minimum requirement but we realized that we could only do that based on the practicing fee aspect. So, we need to ensure compliance with the RPC. Doctors, Pharmacists do this and if you don’t you don’t get your annual practicing licence. So, there would be service providers who would render these services and the courses would be accredited and people would do them. Some may be online some may be offline. NBA would organize free online and offline CLE programs for young lawyers. We have to show that the entitlement to practice in Nigeria should count for something beyond walking into a bank to pay practicing fee. When we start enforcement, nobody needs to beg and the Annual Practicing List will be published and people will see it and read it and know those who can practice law. So if a counsel is appearing on the other side and he or she is not entitled to, you can always go on the NBA’s website and look it up to know whether that person can practice law. When we brought out the stamps and put validity date people complained it was because NBA was making money from it. NBA makes nothing from the stamp. We made a point that if you read from Rule 9 to 12 of the RPC you would see that there is a licence to practice renewal regime in the Rules. People have got used to thinking that once you are called to bar you can practice till you die. That is not correct. You need to renew your licence, update your knowledge, then you pay the subscription. So, you cannot have a stamp that runs in perpetuity while your right to practice is supposed to be renewed annually. So that was supposed to be the first phase. We need to now take it to the next phase and enforce these Rules. We also need to introduce things like Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Requirement for lawyers. I drafted one that was presented to NEC but, we felt we should step it down for the current regime to treat. We need to have some regulatory and compliance issues that lawyers must have to deal with to be able to continue to practice law and maybe someday, we get that amendment that also set up a body that would also licence law firms and also inspect the books and records of law firms. We can’t get there without putting some of these initial building blocks.
DNL L&S: I don’t think lawyers are actually complaining about the expiration of stamp per se. The complaint about expiration was introduced by the non-availability of the stamps. We cannot be finding it difficult to source for the stamp only to finally get it and realize that you have a few months before it expires while you waited for so long to get it. This I think was the reason for the agitation that people should be allowed to obtain as much stamp as they can afford for keeps because they are not easily and readily available. How do you react to that?
Mazi: The word there is validity not expiration. The truth is that if your right to practice a profession is annualized, you can’t have an instrument of that practice that is not annualized and the stamp is an instrument of practice. But I understand the other aspect of it, which is the delay in getting it. So we need to digitize the mode of doing it so all application for stamp would be online. It cuts out the paper work and the delay in trying to wait for your branch secretary who is in turn waiting for Abuja. You go online and apply. Simply set up your password on the NBA system which will be secure with a payment platform in place. You can pay with an ATM card. So automatically, there is a handshake between the NBA website and that of the producer so once the initial checks are concluded and you have paid, the producer gets the instruction to produce stamp for you. So, it means that within a few minutes of your completing your application for stamp, the producer has that instruction to produce the stamp. There would be no human interface. I say this bearing in mind that people now complain in some branches that there are people who demand money for them to help them get their stamp from NBA. In life, people create obstacles, cause delays or capitalize on delays and bottlenecks to make money. We need to cut out that human interface. The stamps must be produced timeously and sent to the owners. You cannot have more than 5 days turnaround time with this. You can even apply for stamp in the morning and NBA can take delivery in the noon because the major delay comes from the collection at the branch level which sometimes can take weeks because some branches are not having so many members. So, when one person apply, he has to wait for more persons to bring and they gather them to send to Abuja which may take weeks, and Abuja may then have a deluge, if a Branch like Lagos comes with 700 and Ikeja comes with 400, people have to manually go in to verify. But the online application will ensure that as you are doing it, just as you did online registration for conferences, it would pull up your details and then you will sign in with your password as was used in the last election. So it would be secured. So the fear that somebody may apply for stamp in your name is not there. Except you compromise your password and electronically, your receipt is emailed to you. And we work it out so that you can also track the progress of your application for stamp. Whether it has been produced and delivered to NBA or dispatched. You don’t need any person. We must cut out waste, we must cut out the delays, we must have ease of doing business with NBA. The emphasis will be on efficient and time service delivery that is in line with international best practice.
DNL L&S: Is two years tenure enough to achieve all these? I am saying this because as it stands now, NBA does not have a website that is functioning optimally, you have so much to do to be able to create profile for all lawyers.
Mazi: What does it take to make a website functional? What does it take to integrate a payment platform on a website? If we are serious, in two weeks, this would be implemented. Then all the data we have been gathering over the years, will be integrated into the site so that when you come in you would be able to pull up your data and do what you want to do. We need to have the vision, the will, understand the issues have an idea how to approach them and it is easy to do. I don’t promise anything I have not made some inquiries and consulted people on and it would be done very easily.
When I was the General Secretary, the branch chairmen and secretaries christened me the Indefatigable Digital General Secretary (IDGS) because we ran an e-secretariat and tried to digitize the way we did things. You don’t need to send letters to us by courier, scan and email them to us we respond to you, send through whatsapp, we respond to you, you must have a hands on approach to the way of doing these things. We have these complaints because we don’t want to do things differently.
DNL L&S: The issues you have raised now bothers on the Secretariat and by the constitution, the person that should primarily oversee that is the general secretary, we also understand that the success of any administration to an extent lies on the way and manner both the president and the secretary are able to work cooperatively. If there is any issue whatsoever between the president and the general secretary it may frustrate whatever aspiration. About 5 persons are contesting for the post. Who would you prefer to work with?
Mazi: Any of them. Each of the individuals has run a branch as chairmen. They are eminently qualified. Some may have more strengths than the others. I have the privilege of having each of them as personal friend long before this politics and I think it would be unkind for me to opt for any of them. I have a whole lot to think about, achieving my own aspiration to be dragged into preferring one ahead of the others but I also have to say that part of the success too would depend on interpersonal skills of the President and the GS to relate first as friends but generally despite the big English that the NBA constitution has used in giving power to the GS, my understanding of the work of a GS is to interpret the policies of the President and implement them because he cannot have his own personal policies in terms of giving direction to the association.
DNL L&S: Wouldn’t the job of a GS clash with that of the Executive Director that NBA now has?
Mazi: There is actually no job specification for the Executive Director. What we call the Executive Director is a legal anomaly under the NBA constitution. The real word for it is Director of Administration. But NBA has been using Executive Director because, internationally that is what is obtainable. But for some reasons, lawyers have been skeptical about creating an office for Executive Director. So the last time a proposal was made to create that office, when the constitution was amended in 2014, lawyers voted it down. So if you also look at it, it is just a one liner in the constitution; “NBA shall appoint a person to be known as Director of Administration”. It doesn’t give that person any power. So in one of my recommendations to the Yusuf Ali SAN’s constitutional amendment committee, I said, the NBA should create a specific office for the Executive Director with functions in detail to avoid overlap of functions and clash between the Executive Director and the General Secretary. I didn’t have clash with the Executive Director in our time but I knew it could always be a problem, one person feeling he/she is not subject to the GS but to the President, this could be the issues, so there is the need to properly delineate their functions.
DNL L&S: Do we expect this delineation in your administration?
Mazi: There were somethings I did as GS that I thought could have been done by another person. I had to minute on all petitions, the staff will not touch a petition when it comes in until I minute on it. I have to sign a letter forwarding it to a Respondent. I think we need to look at the NBA to see whether an office could be created within the NBA bureaucracy to deal with this issues so that the GS could deal with some other matters. May be when the matters now finish from disciplinary panels to now in conjunction with a team that will be constitutionally recognized, look at them to know the ones that should proceed to LPDC, do an in house review. I think that so many of the functions that the GS presently performs could be done by professionals.
DNL L&S: What is your perception of the ECNBA?
Mazi: I don’t want to comment on that but I believe they are eminent lawyers and I have no reservation about any of the individuals but I have some reservations about some of their guidelines. I have nothing about any of them and I have no adverse comment to make about them.
DNL L&S: Which of the guidelines are you referring to?
Mazi: When a guideline brings out a nomination paper and says your nomination you must get letter of good standing from your branch chairman, your nominators too must get, it introduces a new layer of guideline that is not constitutionally valid. The constitution says every candidate shall be nominated by two persons who must have the same qualification as the nominee. And that they must have paid their practice fee as at when due and must have been members of NEC for 2 years. When you add this requirement, it introduces a requirement that is not in the constitution and I ask, what if your branch chairman refuses to give the letter of good standing? What if for example, you are not friends, what would happen to you? What if your nominators have similar issues, the chairman does not like him or the chairman finds out that your nominator is supporting an aspirant he is not favourable to and he feels that the way of frustrating that person is by refusing to give you a letter of good standing or giving you a faulty letter of good standing? There are so many ‘what ifs’. And of what use is that good standing? When all you require to be is a person in full time private practice and then to have paid your dues. The only place good standing is mentioned in the uniform bylaw is that it says that any lawyer that requires it may be issued with same. So, good standing is a personal need that is to be given to a lawyer on his own request. It is not meant for electoral committee purposes. It is an optional thing. So the Electoral committee on its own, to my mind is wrong to add it as a requirement for nomination. And secondly, I have read some articles on this and I agree with a few of them. Also, the NBA constitution I think the 2nd Schedule, Article 2(2)(d) or (f) paraphrasing: says that all lawyers shall be entitled to vote in an election provided they have paid their practicing fee and branch dues as at when due and registered to vote in an election. Not the word register. I do not think the electoral committee is right to say that branches should give them their list by certain date. The presumption is that NBA already has the full record of those who paid their practicing fee. No other person has that record. So, why is NBA asking you to come and bring your teller? What if you are out of the country? And they are depending on social media dissemination of information on this. There is no radio announcement, no newspaper advertisement. Usually NBA used to advertise election notice in full page in two national dallies at least. This time around none. You put it in whatsapp and you feel you have sent a notice to all lawyers. Then you have that record, why are you asking people to submit photocopy of their teller? The normal thing to do is that you have your record of paying practicing fee, you tell the branches to give you their own proof of those who have paid them dues. They don’t need to issue receipt where branches issue receipt. Like in Abuja, people will pay into the Bank so what Abuja will do is go to the bank and print out statement of their account and send to the secretariat. And email them a soft copy of it. So to get the initial rough voters register, you merge these records from branches and that of those who paid practicing fee then upload it and tell people when it is open to go and register for the election. NBA has been collecting N2000 from people for verification and you are turning round again to ask the same people to give you their email addresses and phone numbers. So, what is the essence of collecting money for verification? And it is that same data that they use for the purpose of issuing stamp, so why are we going back and forth? If the constitution say you must have registered, why is NBA Electoral Committee asking branches to collect this. And I saw an alarm raised by the secretary of Port Harcourt branch that the Chairman did the compilation alone that some names may not be there, it shows you also that this thing can be manipulated. So, somebody can put names that are not supposed to be there or exclude names that should be there. It is taking us back to the delegate system where branches had to show those who will vote and it is wrong.
DNL L&S: Do you think it is a deliberate attempt or a genuine omission on the part of the ECNBA.
Mazi: I am watching events as they unfold. But if it is a genuine omission and there has been some write up on it and they have not backed down on it, so, it would be that it may be deliberate. I listened to Prof Auwal Yadudu in Kano NEC meeting saying that everything they have done is founded on the NBA constitution. We were not recognized to disagree with him but like I pointed out to you, let them point out the sections of the Constitution. It is not enough to say you are backed by the constitution. They haven’t proven it but we are watching
DNL L&S: What would Mazi Afam Osigwe do if they proceed with this to the election?
Mazi: I am still watching the event and keeping my powder dry.
DNL L&S: You raised the issue about the letter of good standing. We hear that Mazi is going to have issues with getting this letter from his branch?
Mazi: You are pushing me into a discussion I am trying to avoid but I will tell you for sure, people came to me and boasted last year and told me that there are those high up in their decision who have boasted that I have been disqualified from running for election because Abuja will not give me letter of good standing. But not to worry, I have letter of good standing.
DNL L&S: From Abuja branch?
Mazi: From my branch. The point I am making is that you could also read bad faith into this, if it is at last year and you also know one of the bloggers boasting openly about it. Writing consistently about it. When people start boasting about what is not legal, then there is something wrong. I wanted to stand up and fight it, but after consultation I I made necessary adjustments and joined Nnewi Branch since I had residence and practice in Nnewi which permits to change branch pursuant to Paragraph 4(1) of the Uniform Bylaws.
DNL L&S: If your letter of good standing is not from Abuja branch which is your branch, and the ECNBA refuses that good standing, which is a possibility, what would be the option open to Mazi?
Mazi: NBA constitution allows people to change branches and there is no procedure for it. It talks about if you relocate to a place or you carry on practice there or you have residence there. We don’t need to split air over it. You require a letter of good standing and someone brings it from a branch that acknowledges him as its member. What is your business? There is no specification that a person should remain a member of a branch or be consistent in a branch for life or for a specific number of years before one can run for national office in NBA. It worries me that in a contest, people are more interested in who would be disqualified. It shows weakness. It shows fear of having a fair contest and it is a sad commentary on our democracy that people are gloating over who gets disqualified. What are they afraid of? Must we go so low in an election? Must we try to muscle people out? What kind of professional association does that. And our motto is promoting the rule of law. And highly ranking persons in the leadership are shamelessly boasting that I would be disqualified from contesting in an election many months before it is to take place! High officials going about with a swagger talking about disqualifying people by introducing unnecessary requirements in an Electoral Guidelines, long before the Electoral Committee is formed! It worries that the Electoral Committee may be tele-guided or be a rubber stamp of these undemocratic officials. Please take out your time and read that paragraph 4(1) of the Uniform Bylaw to understand what I am telling you. And not one, not two persons called me to say so and so person is boasting that you would not run in the election. That they will require good standing and they know you cannot get it from Abuja. It worries me. This is not the Association I used to know. We are becoming worse than the military. Impunity seems to have taken over our very soul in NBA.
DNL L&S: Who is your strongest contender?
Mazi: We have not submitted nomination so it would be premature to say. But I have my thoughts on that. And because we have not started the real contest, I actually also forgot to say this; the same Electoral Committee also without any legal backing says that any candidate who goes to branches to campaign would be disqualified. I have never seen this. Is it a ground for disqualification in the constitution? And then you did not provide what is your platform for campaigning. They have not said that these data they are gathering should be made available to all aspirants if you say they should not go campaigning. And what is campaigning? If I find myself in Lagos and they are having meeting, I cannot speak to them? Or a branch invites me to law week and I decide that since I am around in this territory and there are lawyers here let me hook up with them and we have a chat with them. What is campaigning? Why should the Electoral Committee be concerned about that matter? When the constitution has given the real ground for disqualifying a candidate and visiting branches is not one of them. Can they also say this is justified by the NBA Constitution?
DNL L&S: They may be guarding against NBA campaign not becoming too noisy and unprofessional
Mazi: Well this is universal suffrage that is what the constitution says. So it is either you proffer your own solution about how to campaign. You cannot just come out and say what they will not do without telling them what they will do and how you make it easy for them to do it. And I assure you, they will not want us to have access to these data they are gathering but some persons may. So, how do you want people to campaign? Why are we being Chichidodo. We have to face reality, how do you let people know if you are aspiring and what you present. They have not opened any channel of communication but they want to close all doors.
DNL L&S: The constitution says you collate your campaign materials send it to the Electoral committee and they will upload to the website.
Mazi: The constitution also did not make any specific provision on campaign. It does not and then if they don’t go to the website? These data, email they are gathering, would they give it to us? Would they give us the phone numbers? No, because you cannot close all doors and not give a window open. So, if you are saying by this date, we make available this to all aspirants to use it then you regulate how they can be used.
DNL L&S: Who would you want to step down for?
Mazi: None. I have no reason to delay my ambition. Trust me. If there would have been reason, I wouldn’t be at this point. I am not an impulsive person. I don’t assume. This is something that has taken many months of my life, at least you should know that for me to have gone on it this far, I have given it serious thoughts, I have weighed every options and I understand where I am going to.
DNL L&S: Do you think you are on top of this ambition amongst every other persons?
Mazi: So, you don’t think I am in this to win? If I am not in it to win then I will not be in it. There are no half measures with me.
DNL L&S: The EBF has anointed a candidate. Does it not put you at a disadvantage?
Mazi: It must be noted that Endorsement is not in line with the universal suffrage guaranteed ny NBA Constitution. At the heart of endorsement lies the much criticized, discredited and corruption-ridden Delegate system. Endorsement which is done by branch Chairmen, SANs and others who constitute delegates voting to adopt a candidate will defeat the success achieved by the NBA Constitution, 2015 which upheld the agitation of many lawyers who insisted that every lawyer who is financially up-to-date should have a right to vote (One lawyer, one Vote). The rebirth of universal suffrage for all lawyers was widely celebrated as it was in accord with the universally accepted practice of according right to vote to fee-paying members of NBA. So even though I participated in the EBF Endorsement in 2014, I no longer believe in its usefulness in the light of the need for lawyers to vote to determine who leads them without any fora using delegates to make nonsense if the universal suffrage by limiting or excluding the same right at a regional level. I have no doubt universl suffrage will make NBA stronger by ensuring the emergence of selfless leaders who will reflect the true intendment of the Association and be a true representative of all members without classifications as well as reduce the influence of money in the Association’s electoral process which delegate system always brings about. In any case, different fora have anointed candidates who went on to loose in an election. It is not automatic. The aspirants have to showcase themselves to the world. How many members of the East belong to that forum you are talking about. Like my late father used to say, when you walk into a bush with a bag, and you fail to make effort to gather nuts and put in your bag you would come out with an empty bag. So, endorsement or no endorsement, you have to work. This election will not be determined by endorsement but by the voters. What are the issues that interest them, what solution do you have, do they trust you? Do they think you have the requisite experience to lead?; Do they think that you are the man for the job at this time?
DNL L&S: Of all the contestant you are the only one that has been at the national level do you think this would give you any advantage?
Mazi: It should give me some advantage. But it also depends on how I campaign and how I convince people that I am feat for the job, so that they can trust me with leadership. Like I said on issue of endorsement, it is not the fact that you have been there you have this that will win the election. It is the other issues you bring in to play, how you address issues, people’s perception of you. Your ability to galvanize both the base and all that to vote for you to win.
DNL L&S: What is your assessment of the present leadership of the NBA?
Mazi: Permit me not to make a comment on this. They have many more months so they can still do so much within the time. Let us wait till they are done and be able to speak about them in the past.
DNL L&S: There is a general perception that the president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) is as effective as his secretariat. In fact, the Constitution puts the Secretary in charge of running the NBA Secretariat. Amongst all the contenders of the position of the General Secretary of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), who do you think you would be more comfortable working with?
Mazi: I can work with any of them. when I was running for NBA chairman in Abuja, I didn’t make a choice as to who the Secretary should be. And over 60% of those who came in as Excos didn’t want me to be Chairman if not up to 70% but I had a healthy working relationship with almost all of them. So, I can work with any person and I hope that the winner can also work with me.
DNL L&S: What would you propose for electoral reforms in terms of leadership succession in NBA. We heard that Presidential candidates spend over 200 million seeking to be elected. What are your plans?
Mazi: You know, I am involved in the present contest and even as we are campaigning we are gathering data of some of the things that add to the cost of the campaign. My opinion would be better formed at the end of it. I have already identified a few things but the way we ran the 2014 campaign when all of us realized and its contained in Austin Alegeh’s inaugural speech where he made it clear that the delegate system was riddled with corruption and so that necessitated a constitutional amendment which brought in universal suffrage but I will also tell you how the individual aspirants try to leverage on this universal suffrage is adding to cost. So, you hear of people gathering many branch chairman , paying return tickets for them, giving them huge sums of money and taking them all over the place. We will also look at the things we may be able to regulate and then also branches all springing to life conducting all manner of law week, summit so that aspirants could come, give money for good will message, we need to look at them and see the ones NBA can regulate because we need to keep the cost down. I wouldn’t know whether it cost up to 200million I don’t have that kind of money and I will never spend that kind of money in a professional election campaign if I have it. My take away from your question is that there is need to reduce cost of becoming the President. We need to also reduce the danger of travelling to so many places but until we put some alternatives in place, am afraid that we need to keep travelling. And I am willing to put that alternatives in place. The way my mind is working is that when candidates are known, they should have access to data of potential voters and be able to campaign to them. Unfortunately, it is not the case. Take a slot on prime time TV for them to talk. In every NBA organized event, every aspirant who desire especially GS and President should be given a speaking slot. It makes it even and people may resort to other means of campaigning.
DNL L&S: Why should any lawyer want to be active in NBA?
Mazi: You see, until we show people that NBA is proactive in how it addresses issues, it’s a lot more interested in what happens to lawyers in the area of practice in the advancement of the legal profession and the bar association will give certain benefit to members and by its action offer some level of comfort and protection to lawyers then that trust deficit would always be there. Because people will always believe that NBA is run by a few individuals who only take power and use it to advance their selfish interest and don’t care what happens to anybody and when they get there, they become inaccessible when the Bar does the opposite of these perceptions, and then there is accountability and people see what happens to their BPF and they are involved more in what NBA does. I have an idea about amending the NBA constitution and removing this patronage reward system of we campaigned for this president, we always campaign for that other president, when its election time if you want to win in this state call me and then they are the ones that get appointed into committee as if it is the biggest badge of honour they get. When we move towards the IBA model where committees membership is opened to members to subscribe and join, we increase better participation, so people may choose to be involved more in committee activities than in the main body and then NBA must show willingness to develop people to provide an avenue for people to learn and also contribute their quota to the advancement of the legal profession and then NBA will provide a pool of opportunities for lawyers to draw from. Until we are able to do that, then yes many lawyers would not want to be involved in NBA activities and also view those who are involved as thieves. I have had to respond to people yesterday who openly accused me of being a thief and accused me of misappropriating NBA funds and I told them that I beat my chest to say I make not a farthing from NBA and even on the last day I will stand before God because I didn’t. We need to clear that perception because people wonder why you spend so much money to get into an office that does not pay salary. They believe it’s because you are going to make it ‘big’ when you get there. There is what is called service, and people serve to make a difference and that was why as the GS I am glad we made some differences never mind that people are trying to politicize some of them now because of the pending election. But the point is that NBA has to give back to members, build their trust and win their confidence make them centerpiece of what NBA does so that they would want to and actually participate and don’t think they need to know any person to amount to anything.
© Copyright DNL Legal & Style 2017.
This piece may only be copied on the condition that DNL Legal & Style is duly acknowledged in this manner: “Source: DNL Legal & Style. View the original