To us in DNL Legal & Style, as a professional body, the NBA Election should be contested and won on the basis of the value proposition by the candidates. Manifestoes are important but sometimes cosmetics. We gave the candidates an opportunity to speak to Lawyers from their heart and we present to you in series the interviews conducted with the potential candidates for the office of the President of the NBA.
In this interview, the ever amiable Paul Usoro SAN spoke passionately about how he would institutionalize the NBA and make it a professional association that lawyers in Nigeria would be proud of.
We present to you Mr Usoro’s value proposition to Nigerian Lawyers.
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?
Paul: Well, I don’t wear hats (General Laughter). But seriously, why did I decide to join? I think I can make a difference. It is purely a value proposition I am putting in for the NBA that is my motivation. I also believe that things could be done differently. If by God’s grace, I get to be the President of the NBA, there are several things that I think could be done differently and which by extension will impact on the profession and would also impact on the larger Nigerian society. I could give you some of the things I am considering. The NBA as it is currently structured has not succeeded in having to make it into an institution. It is essentially running on ad-hoc basis and because it is not yet an institution, it is prone to all sorts of challenges. I will give you a couple of examples and also tell you what makes a difference having an institution. Having an institution means that you have processes, you have defined procedures of having to do certain things and then you also have corporate governance installed in place. And which makes it easy for you to have transparency. I give one significant area where if you ask, 10 lawyers, 9 of them may give you a negative response and that is in the area of financial accountability. Most people believe for example that people running for position in the Bar association whether local or national bar are essentially interested in what they can get out of the office finance. Some others, if you ask them, they will tell you they don’t really see the value that they get from the bar association apart from paying their annual practicing fees and branch dues that they really do not know what those monies are used for. Now, because I come from a background where you have, talk, and practice corporate governance, I can say that if you are going to prevent some of these types of problems, then, it is necessary in the first place that you should have a chartered accountant, professionals who are taking care of your accounting and finance issues. If you have been privileged to look at the KPMG diagnosis of the NBA recently, it says that we really don’t have any corporate governance standards at all and that financial management and financial reporting is literally zero. I believe that the NBA should have couple of professionals. For an organization that is generating close to if not more than 1B, I think having those kinds of professional accountants that would be able to take care of your financial management, your financial reporting investments etc. is something that the organization should have. That is part of the process of having to build corporate governance and an institution. And I am giving you only one small example and I will tell you the knock-on effect of having something like that in place. If you remove some of these backbiting and tinkering on “what really is the association doing with the finances that it gets,” and you could actually make things transparent, and where there are mistakes or errors it would be easy to know and to correct. That is one.
Secondly, it would actually give the association very serious credibility. And that credibility is important in multiple respect. It helps you if you are criticizing the outside person; whether you are criticizing the larger profession in regards to their bookkeeping or their financial management or reporting or you are criticizing the larger society, you need to have that moral platform that you can truly actually criticize and you shouldn’t be in a position that somebody would say, look at your backyard, what does it look like? And more importantly, it helps as far as giving confidence to the members and you do need the confidence of the members which is greatly eroded right now. But that is only one aspect of it.
The other aspect of it is, even if I cannot prove it, when you notice that there is such stiff fighting for offices as far as the association is concerned, whether it is at the national or the branch level, then something tells you that some of that fight may not necessarily be because people want to serve, but because of what they are going to get out of it. And you can only fight that way, because of what you are going to get out of it, if the system as far as that accounting processes, financial management etc. is opaque which allows you to fiddle with things, and do different things. In Abuja, it is common knowledge that as at today, there are about 18 law suits relating to the Chairmanship of Abuja Bar. It can’t be that they decided to institute that number of suit simply because somebody is very interested and dying to serve the association. There might be somethings more than just service. Once you have put in place processes, then it makes it easy for people who truly want to serve to come out and serve and also makes it more difficult for people who simply are looking for the office because of what they can get. It becomes far less attractive.
The advantage in having to put those types of processes in place is, once you are able to do that, and then you can start focusing on the more serious things about the profession. You can start focusing on the much serious and larger issues about the society at large. But without having to sort these other ones out, most people particularly even the officials would get obsessed.
DNL L&S Some people are of the opinion that with the level of success you have attained in private legal practice, you shouldn’t be involved in the politics of the bar. How would you react to that?
Paul: Quite true. And the truth is, historically I wasn’t interested in going for bar politics which is a very different thing from the other propaganda people say that Paul hasn’t made contribution to the bar. That, is a falsehood because I have made tremendous contributions. Very recently, because of all that hype that Paul is not a bar man and hasn’t done anything as far as the bar is concerned, I asked my accounts people to look at their books and let’s see. In fact somebody threw up the challenge; mention 4 things that Paul has done for the bar between 2010 and 2016. So I told my account people, look at the books and let’s see verifiable records what have I contributed in financial terms, let’s start from there. And in that period, what my firm has contributed in financial terms to the Bar Association, and am talking here about the National and the local bar, that is the Lagos Bar and also the Sections, was about 19million plus. That is almost 20million naira and I will challenge all the other contestants put together let them come and show how much they have contributed. And I think it just doesn’t make sense somebody who has contributed that much apart from holding positions in the SBL that you brand him as not being a bar person and therefore not qualified to run. But to address your question, there is this thing that everybody says, I think it’s largely true, if good people and capable people continue to stay away, then what you would ultimately have are incapable people and people who are not exposed, they do not have the skills, they do not have the knowledge and their reasons for wanting to get into office might be definitely not altruistic and those are the ones who actually get to be in the office. And the impact of what they do in office affects all of us. I give you a very simple example, I talked about building an institution and having the processes and procedures, it includes even in regards to areas like the appointment of people to statutory bodies, now go and do your own research, check the quality of some of the people who are representing NBA in some of these statutory bodies, and am talking of NJC, FJC, CLE, etc. and these are bodies that have significant responsibilities as far as the profession is concerned. They are the bodies that have the responsibility for having to appoint judges. So, when you are sitting down and people start complaining and saying we are not having very good judges or the standard of education has been falling, then it’s important to ask yourself, the NBA has representatives, what have those representatives been doing? By the way, how did they get appointed to those positions? Because, if you appoint very good materials, even one into a body, the likelihood is, he might impact and influence the other ones particularly if he is knowledgeable and he actually goes there with a mission and you are also monitoring exactly what the person does in that place. And that is what happens. I have been privileged to have sat on boards of companies since 2000. The first one was Airtel. Between 2000 and today, at any given period, I sit on a minimum of two boards. Currently, I sit on the board of Access Bank and PZ, these are public liability companies. Now, let me tell you what boards of companies do. They prepare strategic plan and when they set out strategic plans. They will have long term plan, usually might be 10 years. In exceptional instances it could be 15years plan. Then, you also have medium terms and then when they set out these plans, it would also be clear on how they intend to achieve these plans. They will work at having to achieve them. For several years, I was for example representing Zenith Bank on Credit Registry Plc. It is a regulated organization licensed by CBN and it is for the purposes of having to profile people’s credit. One of the things I did as a representative of Zenith Bank was, each time we have a board meeting and we come back, prepare a report and let them know the outcome of the meeting. If there are challenges, I would let them know these are some challenges and these are things that needs to be done. I did the same thing, when I was managing the Portfolio of Akwa Ibom State in Airtel. And I was in Airtel from 2000 until this year and that is exactly how to operate. Does the NBA have something like that? That is how institutions are built. So, I don’t see it happen in the NBA and we can’t have the right result if we don’t have these things in place and so, if you also do not have people who have been privileged by God’s grace to have that type of exposure, that type of experience, that type of skills, then there is no way you are going to have any significant or sensible change as far as what happens here. So, those were the considerations and yes, there were friends of mine who felt since it was coming to the East and I come from the East that I should indeed throw my hat in. It was conversation that went on over this matter for some reasonable time and it was only in September last year, after the AGC that I made up my mind that I might as well take up the challenge and I decided to take it.
DNL L&S: Would you consider that the bar is ready for this kind of refine, gentleman and structured arrangements you are proposing from the experience you have gathered,
Paul: Let me answer it this way, this is actually not a gentleman’s approach to the bar. This is actually what it means to build an institution out of the bar. In truth, some people believe that the things I am proposing are very radical. May be that is what you meant to say. But I will also tell you my own experience talking to different people in different places. My experience has told me that the general members of the bar, if you put a proper value proposition to them and you explain exactly how it benefits everyone, they are very willing to have those types of changes. That is the experience I have had. In fact I have come to realize that there are actually those who number amongst the good and forward looking people amongst members of the bar. They definitely outnumber those ones who might actually be backward looking. Now those who are backward looking mostly are because of what they think they can get, may be people who have benefited from the status quo and they would not like to have a change and they would like to keep it that way, but then like I said, if you ask 10 lawyers who are remotely interested in the bar matters, if they are satisfied with things, a minimum of 6 will tell you that they would like a change. And if a minimum of 6 tells you that they would like the change that tells you that they would like the change. And you see it is one thing to talk about change, it’s a different thing to talk about it in practical terms. Perhaps the advantage I have is, because of my exposure, experience I can talk about it in practical terms that these are the practical things that perhaps we need to do differently. So, I believe that it also a matter of having to explain it to the people and make them see the value that is on the table for everyone.
DNL L&S: As a very busy Legal Practitioner, how are you going to run the bar. How are we sure that it is not going to be a case of having just a Paul Usoro as the President of the bar while some other persons run the affairs of the bar because the President is not available?
Paul: Very valid concern, but you see, number one; from my records which is out there for anybody to see, I don’t put my hands into something that I am not going to see through. I have already conditioned myself that two years of being a Bar President would actually be two years of sacrifice. I intend to still practice, I am not going to tell you that I won’t be practicing. But it would also largely be years of sacrifice particularly if I have to do the type of things that am determined to do as far as the bar is concerned. Then, it would be years of very serious sacrifice because I would want to reform a lot of things and change the cause and trajectory of the bar. God has been very kind to me. I have managed to build a practice literarily from the scratch that currently has not less than 40 lawyers and they are still there and working and that also helps very much. Yes, there are some clients who would like to see Paul and talk to Paul and yes I would try to make myself available to some of them but the truth of the matter is, trust me, Paul doesn’t handle all the cases that goes on in that firm. There are plenty of other people that have to handle those things. And the fact that you are working with people, and you are exposing those other ones and mentoring them, it does multiple things, you are building an institution but it also relieves you to focus on bigger things even as regards the firm and things that you handle gets to be more and bigger and more serious. But understandably it is not everybody who is organized that way, so, you find plenty of people who would still have to do those things themselves. Don’t forget, I mentioned that I have been on boards of companies. That is a full time task on its own but I have combined them with serious practice, the kind of practice that makes you sought after, by God’s grace. So, I still intend to do that.
DNL L&S: A lot of people assumed you were coming out as A.B Mahmoud (SAN)’s anointed candidate, corroborating those assumptions were the fact that, you were seen representing A.B Mahmoud SAN at a number of events then. However, recently, the President of the NBA openly declared that he does not have any anointed candidate to take over from him as the President. Some members of the bar took that as a vindication for your camp while others say it was a blow dealt on your ambition. How did you take that public declaration by the President? Was it a blow or a vindication?
Paul: Let me say this, A.B Mahmoud SAN has been my friend for a long time. He is still my friend. And it doesn’t matter whether he supports me or he doesn’t support me. I also actually seek for the support of everyone. The same way that I have been to J.B Daudu SAN, I have been to different other people. I have spoken to Austin Alegeh SAN, they are all my friends and JB Daudu SAN, we were together in Kaduna, Austin Alegeh SAN is my very good friend. So, yes I have sought A.B Mahmoud’s support exactly the same way I have sought every other person’s support. Is A.B Mahmoud SAN giving me that background support? I am not aware of it. Let me be practical. You know, I believe very much and which strictly speaking, perhaps there might also be a slightly different way to do these things going forward but for the moment the only way that you get in to be the President of the NBA is that you really must campaign. People campaign in different ways, some people go and they tell people things like, as soon as I get into office I am going to make you to join some statutory board or the other, and they trade favours so you support me, I am going to give you this etc. I have gone out but you simply need to map my movement and the things I say to people. What I say to them is not much different from this, it has more texture because there are several other ones that time will not permit me to talk about here and it is more to explain to people that, yes I am coming in to run the NBA and I am coming in because, this is my vision of the NBA. As from tomorrow, we are going to start sending out emails generally that tells people, this is my vision of the NBA and every week, I am taking one topic. We start with the young lawyers and their welfare. So, I am more in having to go to people, talking in regards to this are the things that I can do, and this is my experience why I believe I can do all these things. Now, somebody who is sponsored shouldn’t go through that kind of trouble or hassles because the whole thing is more or less fixed. It simply takes the godfather to speak to people and say hey, this is my anointed and its done. That’s not what is happening. Just verify it, check. So, when the other people think it’s a blow, they actually do not know me because I wasn’t counting on that type of anointing. I would rather get in there because people believe in me and believe in that vision and have confidence that Paul getting in here, he can do something different. You know why, because if that is how you get into office, then, you do not have strings tired around you, it leaves you free to be able to do the things that you committed to people that you are going to do and which are the right things. So, I don’t have any negative feelings or any disappointment contrary to what those people think in regard to whether A.B Mahmoud said he is not for anyone. By the way, when I succeed, by God’s grace, it will be on the strength of the message that I am presenting. It will not be because somebody was pulling strings. It will not also be because I was making stupid promises and I was also for example committing to people that I am going to make you committee leaders. I wouldn’t say that people have not asked those things but I would tell you the answers I give people, I tell people, you know, the kind of reforms I am going to do, there is a lot of work that would need to be done, and the process of having to do that work would definitely involve having to perhaps set up some committees and yes I intend to involve people. Because if you are going to do the kind of things that I am going to do, you must also have an implementation strategy which means you must for one be ready to market it to people. And when I am laying it upfront to people, it is part of the implementation strategy. So that people know upfront, these are the kind of things I want to do and they buy into it. It makes it easier when you get into office for you to tell them, these are some of the changes we need to do because, I tell people also, you know, some of these kinds of things that I want to do, would require amendment to the constitution. Start from there. There is no way that you are going to bring somebody, for example a chartered accountant, into the house and you don’t have to amend the constitution as regards to the powers of the treasurer, in regards to the powers of the financial secretary and those who are hooked onto office, it is not impossible they might feel upset about it. They might say they don’t want to do it but everybody needs to also get the larger picture that there is a lot of things that people would need to do and that would be positive for all of us. So, even if the powers are tinkered with, it would be for the overall good of everyone and it doesn’t mean that people will not have work to do. So, to be honest with you, I wasn’t upset that A.B Mahmoud made a public declaration and by the way, it has also helped us because for those who are saying, we don’t like your face because A.B Mahmoud is your sponsor, we can very easily point out that well you heard A.B Mahmoud, or do you have any cause not to believe him? He is a gentleman and he is an upright person, so, he wouldn’t be speaking from both sides of his mouth and that also addresses your question to an extent.
DNL L&S: How would you assess lawyers’ reception of your candidacy?
Paul: Let me put it this way, you know I came out in September. Other people came out many years before I came out. Some came out 2012, some came before then. Okay, the way I look at it is, if I came out in September and by March, April, May, I am the most attacked by almost everybody, then it tells me there is something. They are not attacking each other. Everybody is attacking Paul. So, that simply answers your question. It just simply means that people are feeling that there is a potent possibility that this guy could become the President. They all uniformly attack me. I am the only person who is not attacking anybody incidentally. But every other person is attacking me. They say in where I come from that the cow that has no tail, that God is the one that drives away flies from him. So I am that cow.
DNL L&S: You have talked about some of these innovations you are going to bring to the Bar. You talked about building an institution out of the NBA. I have actually had someone say, NBA is a professional association that doesn’t have professional leadership. Apart from building these institution are there other things that Paul Usoro is going to do. Or do you just want to concentrate on building an institution that will eventually run on auto pilot sort of?
Paul: No, it can’t run on autopilot. That is actually not possible. That would be like saying that Access Bank or GTB is running on Autopilot. Trust me, there is no institution that run on autopilot. That is why you still have management actively directing the affairs because the affairs of man are dynamic and that is why you must also have a revision in terms of what needs to be done. But let me give you one other example which to an extent will answer that your question. I did mentioning that I belong to boards and that we prepare strategic plans and objectives, I have never heard of one for the NBA and I think it would make sense to do it and then you put in several things that you need to do. Let me give you examples of things that should be put in there and which the NBA should pilot. Let’s talk in the area of justice delivery. It is actually in my own view a disgrace and a disappointment that in 2018, we still have judges having to be recording proceedings long hand. And yet we also talk about delay in justice delivery not to mention the effect it has on the health of the judges. And not to also mention being human and you might experience this, you find that inadvertently, what might be recorded, when it would be transcribed into records of proceedings, they might miss things and they might write wrong things. And all of these impact on justice delivery. And I don’t see why we should not change that and lets have electronic recording system that has integrity and that people can trust. Now, an NBA that has strategic plan would for example decide that. I intend to prepare the strategic plan that would have say, 10 year thing, could be reviewed and then you indicate that this is something that really we have to do something about this and this is when we want to start doing something about it and these are the steps that needs to be done in regards to that.
I will give you another item, everybody talks about this quality and standard of lawyers declining and nobody also talks about seriously what needs to be done. In fact we don’t even have a database that can tell us exactly what the problems or the challenges are and whether we are under lawyered or over lawyered or what are the spaces in the economy and what are the projections so that we know where lawyers could fit in. That one, you can marry it to this challenge in regard to the young lawyers’ welfare and you see there are several ways of looking at it. Even this young lawyers welfare or in fact the welfare of lawyers, nobody has also seriously done and that’s part of what am giving you a preview of what you will see this week from your email. Nobody has seriously done a root cause analysis. What are the challenges? I think amongst other things for example that there are essentially three things that you might attribute to the challenge why the welfare of lawyers is actually not as good as it ought to be and why young lawyers are not paid well. You could say one of them is greed or insensitivity of seniors but that’s what everybody is focusing on. Seniors simply have money and they don’t want to pay. Ok but there are two other things which are more economic. And one is that the senior might actually not even have the money to pay and the reason why he doesn’t have the money to pay if you drill it further down might be one, there is serious encroachment into the legal services market by outsiders. Within Nigeria for example; land transactions is seriously encroached upon by Estate Managers. At the upscale level, then you talk about encroachment by foreign lawyers and foreign law firms. There are not many people who might recognize that some of our multinational companies some of whom I also work for by the way, that their in-house counsel who are foreigners. Each of those positions that is taken takes away job opportunity for a Nigerian and the thing about it is, we don’t have a regulation that should be able to protect this larger pie for the Nigerian lawyers. That is taken opportunities away and that is something I believe we should do something about. But let me go somewhere else. A lot of lawyers are not schooled in strategic planning, investment management, financial management and so you find that most law firms, they simply like the Israelites depend on God to provide manner so they do not understand that for you to get the jobs sometimes you have to plan, in fact, you should actually have a budget, this is what is going to be your expenditure budget for this year and this is what your income budget should be. Because this is what your expenditure budget should be, you have to look for where that income is coming from to take care of that and you have that type of plan. And because there is no such plan, and they are simply waiting that hopefully things will drop, if things don’t drop, they may not have the money to pay. I will give you another scenario, some like any other business, you have dry seasons and you have the wet seasons and the money that the lawyer makes during the wet seasons, if he is not skilled on how to manage the funds well, then it also dries out and then he is not able to take care of his liabilities and obligations and that is when you find that lawyers the lawyers engages they are not able to pay their salaries on time you could play out some of these scenarios, not so many of us have records of account or anything. How to take care of them? I believe for example that things like financial investment management and strategic planning should be part of the CLE and specifically you can box them under law office management and it would help a lot of people. When I was setting up my practice long time ago, I had a strategic vision that I was going to do a differentiation. I was going to be handling those matters that are tough because those things that are tough and difficult, if Exxon Mobil or Airtel or Access has a difficult problem, they need that lawyer that is going to sort it out for them. One, they would not underprice you, you would come to an agreement, again depending on the relationship. And two, you hardly would have somebody sitting down and believing he has done you a favour and therefore he needs to share the fees with you. Unlike for example somebody in organization where all you need to do is to stamp and register a document, that doesn’t take so much intellectual acuity. All it takes is somebody having to go pick the documents. The documents have already been prepared, so the guys who is in house thinks he is doing you a favour. So, while I was working on having to achieve that differentiation, I was also smart enough, and am not praising myself here but I was smart enough to realize that I needed to also pick those other ones at least to keep body and soul while I build that profile that will take me there. These days I don’t do stamping and registration of course but as I was doing it I was also engaging my junior colleagues. I was sending them sometimes to go and collect documents for stamping from client. One day, the legal adviser of one of the clients who was a much older person and a good friend thought he was looking out for my back. He called me and he said Paul, why do you expose these younger people to these things, why do you send them? Before you know what is happening, they will get to know an ED or they will know somebody and then they will start having to take that job away from you and giving it to them, he wasn’t the only one who thinks that way. I can tell you plenty of people think that way, but what they cannot see is one, if you yourself are smart and then you expose those other people and you have a relationship, no matter how these other people go, because they are learning from you and you are also improving yourself you are not standing in one spot, the principal will always want to hear from you. The relationship, you are the one keeping it, by the way but they are helping and you are also building them. And that’s how you build an institution. Not too many people understand that, so, they are simply looking at that myopic way, that I have exposed this one, and that to an extent also addresses your question in regards to how I will manage. The things I did even in practice, the way I addressed things 3 years ago, if you look very well, might be different 3 years subsequently, because I keep improving, I keep actually asking myself, can I do this in a different way, can I do it better. So that person who thought he had actually copied me, if he stopped and he wasn’t still following what I was doing, he misses.
The point is that in the processes of having to build an institution, there is so much that is involved that you can’t really say is that all you are going to do because it has multiple facets I can’t begin to tell you all of them but there are different things. I know the things.
DNL L&S: Are there genuine fears you nurse on the modalities put in place by the Electoral Committee for the general conduct of the election?
Paul: To be honest with you, I really haven’t taken time to look at it. I simply have confidence in the people who are there. I know some of them personally and I expect that they would do the right thing and I also expect that they would be independent and nobody is going to appoint people for them, and therefore they will take responsibility for whatever happens. A lot will also depend on the vendor that they use. If they use the right vendor and they supervise very well, then things should come out well. But of course, it is also important that I should look at that and I expect that when we have that meeting with them, they will be more open and we know exactly what they are going to do and if there are suggestions, definitely I will make suggestions to them.
DNL L&S: Who do you consider as your strongest contender in the coming election and why?
Paul: Very interesting question. To an extent I will answer the question simply by telling you if I am the person that is the most attacked, then there must be reasons why I am the most attacked because I am actually quite attacked. I also know that the people who are attacking me are hoping and they say all sorts of things about me which is okay. And by the way, I also think we should have a system that check the manner attacks are being meted to applicants. It has not been brought to my attention that any of the people who are directly working with me for example have been abusing anybody. But I am thoroughly abused and maligned and people actually wish me to be in jail. It is as if they actually go to the extent of praying and hoping that Paul would get into trouble and all of this doesn’t make sense and I think that is very unprofessional apart from simply being very malevolent. And this things shouldn’t happen. I somehow have faith and believe that we get into office and we do much of these changes and I have that faith and believe because I know that the greater number of lawyers actually want that change. If you ask me and this is despite my disability. Because I have a significant disability. You know that disability? I will tell you. Of all the contestants, I am the only one who is still actively practicing. Tomorrow, I am in court at the FHC and on Wednesday I am in court in Abuja. On Thursday and Friday am in court in Benin. And these are very contentious matters that the clients in no circumstance should I not be there. Despite my disabilities which has made it impossible for me to tour as much as I could, I can tell you, the reaction and the reception from people have been tremendous. If it wasn’t, perhaps, I wouldn’t be encouraged to continue.
DNL L&S : The election is going to be online, do you have any fear that there might be manipulation of figures in the election? If you do, what are the things you are proposing?
Paul: You can only have fears when you have the full fact that this is exactly how it is going to be done. As at now, I don’t have those facts. I don’t think they have indicated that this is how it is going to be done. Whether people are going to be allowed into the backend to monitor etc. and who the vendor would be. So, I would reserve my comments until they have come out with that. The only thing that I can say is, like everything in this type of process, the more transparent you make it, the more credibility you vest in the process. So, I will simply encourage the committee that they should be transparent and they should allow transparent process. And transparency means, that significant stakeholders would have access to see and monitor the entire process.
DNL L&S : The Eastern Bar Forum has adopted one of the presidential aspirants as its candidate. How would you react to that?
Paul: I have already reacted by continuing my quest for the office. The good news is that the EBF is not an organ of the NBA and adoption by EBF is not one of the qualifications for you to run for office of the NBA and therefore the issue of adoption becomes mute and I don’t think a greater number of lawyers, people who would have to vote, it is not only Easterners who would vote. So, nobody is bound by what the EBF has said. May be in the time of delegate election, it was a lot easier to lure people and make sure that everybody faces one direction. But in an era of universal suffrage and with all the young folks making up their own minds, the adoption thing will really not have as much impact. That is the way I see it.
DNL L&S: Have you also been adopted by Akwa-Cross?
Paul: Let me put it this way, there is no formal adoption and I am not looking for that kind of formal adoption but what I have done is that I have given them a value proposition and I believe that most if not all from there can see the value proposition and that is the critical thing.
DNL L&S: If you are to step down your ambition, who would you urge your supporters to support and why?
Paul: I haven’t been asked to (general laughter). As lawyers, you know what the court says? You don’t speculate. So, you are asking me to speculate. Let me put it this way, and I will so to speak leave you with that judgment. If am going and I have just shared with you my kind of vision for NBA, if I have to step down, then I would only step down for someone who shares that kind of vision. Who first of all has that understanding, that kind of broad spectrum understanding? Because you need to understand the kind of things before you can even start thinking of how you are going to do it. And you know what my problem is, speaking seriously I can’t see any person who have that kind of understanding. Not to talk of the ability to put it into practice and with all humility, the economic stability and independence to be able to make those judgement that you need to make. I don’t see it in any of them.
DNL L&S: The present leadership of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) is at its last lap. In your assessment, how would you rate its performance?
Paul: I think what I would rather say is in some respect there are limitations. Some of the things am talking about having to reform the bar, they might not have had as radical ideas as I have had and some of them they may not have thought through them the way I have thought through them. I think I have also been advantaged by the fact of my own experience and my exposure which I intend to bring to fore as the President of the NBA. But it would also be very unfair for me to say that they have not had some of these ideas. The other thing is, perhaps if they had to do it again, the one I would advise them would be on implementation strategy. You could have great idea but implementation strategy becomes a challenge. Like I told you that for me even having to talk about some of the things am doing is an implementation strategy, because it helps people know. Nobody is going to say tomorrow; Paul is coming with some of these things and he never told us that these are the things to expect, because I have been telling them and I am also putting it out there that these are the value proposition. And in some places I actually tell them I am letting you know these things because I would come back and I would need your support for the purposes of having to amend our constitutional document so that we can get somethings done. So, may be that is where they have issues. You know, the National NBA is a very big elephant, you really must have God’s grace and you must also have skill and acumen. The people skill is very critical to be able to change the cause of things and to be able to get people to buy into some of what you want to do. And you must be very strong willed and determined in what you want to do. So, I think what is important more is for me to learn from what they have done and if they haven’t been able to achieve somethings, to understand why this were problematic and then see how best I can improve and do things differently.
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?
Paul: I would be comfortable to work with any of the candidates elected by the electorates. I haven’t really had individual assessment of the aspirants to the office of the General Secretary but I can tell you that I would be able to work with any of them comfortably.
DNL L&S: From your assessment of Young lawyers, do you really think that we have any hope in terms of the future? All these models that you conceptualize and you are thinking of implementing, it is young lawyers at the end of the day that would begin to fit into them. If the crop of young lawyers we have now do not have these kinds of set skills and understanding to come to terms with these things we may have a big problem. How would you access young lawyers and what advice would you give.
Paul: Let me put it this way. I think generally I am a very optimistic person. I am optimistic in the sense that I believe that the whole set of people cannot be inherently bad. There must be good people amongst them and therefore what one needs to do is to look for those good ones among them. Let them be the leading light and let them also pioneer the change or be the mantle holders and carry on. And then in that process you try to reform those ones that may have slipped or do not have those types of values that they should have. And that is how society generally gets built. The second thing that will help is to have a robust and firm disciplinary process so where infractions are found, people are actually penalized on the basis of the infractions and that serves as a lesson to people who might be tempted to infract. And if you have those two sets, then there is hope for the society or for the profession and it is very important that this be done and it is important that this should be sorted out at the NBA level so that the NBA itself will be in a position to take that message on to the larger profession because it is also important that the larger profession, don’t forget that it is from that same pool that you have judicial officers for example, so it is important that that NBA pool is sanitized always so that those people who would get in to this other pool of the profession would be the right sets of people with the right value with the right understanding of what needs to be done and then they would do it. But I always believe that the process of making sure that those things are done right, starts with making sure you put in place the process that identify the right sets of people to man the key position. Once you have also done that, then that is more or less half the battle won and let them also be people who are willing to exert that time and energy making sure that those things are in place. So, I remain quite optimistic and hopeful that if we can do that and we should do it and I can also add something it perhaps also start with having to look at the way the young lawyers forum is organized because now that is so to speak that is the association of young lawyers and you look at what their objectives are, what are they doing, can it be refined so that it achieves a more noble objectives and what are the changes that are required if there are certain things that needs to be changed then you change them and that helps also in setting the tone. And also you encourage those ones, you see the tendency also is good people also don’t like to go and join perhaps in taking those positions or taking those responsibilities because they believe they are outnumbered but the more of the good ones that you look for and you source and make sure that they take those responsibilities the better for the profession as a whole and for society. So those are my very immediate thought on that particular issue.
DNL L&S: Any parting word for your supporters in the race?
Paul: We are going to restructure the NBA and build an institution that would add value to the Nigerian lawyer.
DNL L&S: Thank you so much sir for your time
Paul: My Pleasure
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