It is no news that there is violence and corruption within the Nigerian Bar Association. But the real question is WHY?
In every association there is bound to be disagreements and differences of opinions however, should these differences lead to violent outbursts or violent behavior amongst learned gentlemen? Most of these violent behavior rears its ugly head during elections, makes you wonder why there is so much fuss from candidates and their followers who engage in name calling, insults and violent behavior over positions within the NBA that come with sacrifice and no remuneration of any sort (or does it?). So why do lawyers fight for positions within the NBA? Why are they so violent and resort to all manner of theatrics to win elections within the NBA?
This article is going to explore the corruption within the Nigerian Bar Association that causes lawyers to loose themselves in violent behavior and do anything to control the affairs of the NBA at both the local Branches and the National levels.
THE NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBERS
NBA at the branch level is made up of at least 50 lawyers practicing law within a given judicial division of a State within the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The sum total of all the branches of the NBA make up the highest decision making body of the NBA called the National Executive Committee (NEC) which is made up of Chairmen of all NBA Branches, the Secretaries and a NEC Representatives. Other NEC members are coopted by the President of NBA (please take note). National officers, past Presidents and Past General Secretaries are also members of NEC.
All NEC meetings are sponsored, thus the 3 members from each branch are accommodated and fed for this quarterly meetings, held 4 times in a year at different locations within the country at no personal cost to the attendees. (Some branches are not so financially buoyant enough as to sponsor their representatives but they need only raise transport money to attend a NEC meeting)
The Corruption at NEC
The host branch/ state for a NEC meeting usually will source for funds through their local organizing committee. They need not go far because what most NBA Presidents will do in conjunction with the hosting state is to simply approach the governor of that State and the whole expense MAYBE bankrolled.
The Judiciary and the Legislative arm of government in the hosting state also play a major role by footing the bill for some of the expenses and the feeding of the NEC Reps. The host Branches on their own may also raise money through selling out exhibition stands and other conference marketing strategy to get funds. Now the other branches usually just use their branch resources to travel to these NEC meetings either by road or by air and will allocate to themselves an “out of station” allowance from their branch purse if there is enough funds in their account to accommodate same. A review of the branches accounts for NEC meetings will reveal these truths, but members do not really securitize and ask the questions why so much is spent on a meeting that NOTHING IS ACHIEVED AT THE END OF THE DAY EXCEPT TO GO AND SAY THE WORDS “APPROVED”
NEC is a powerful body to belong to if you know your way around. You are invited to join committees through NEC, you can easily be elected into the executives of the NBA sections through NEC and you get to meet a lot of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria, the Attorney Generals of various states and many influential lawyers at NEC. So at the Branch level, being the Chairman is very very lucrative and attractive. If you play your cards right at NEC, you can get more sponsorship for your branch and perhaps win bids to host a NEC meeting or even an Annual General Conference.
STATUTORY POSITIONS FOR NBA
At the State level, the NBA is considered a STAKEHOLDER in nearly every sphere of society and governance structure so you can be rest assured of being invited by the government, private sectors and NGOs/Civil Society for every event that has to do with law, governance and justice.
The Executive arm of government has committees set up that have seats for representatives of the NBA, so does the Judiciary and sometimes the Legislative arm. Being part of these committees come with its pecks and advantages. Some in monetary compensation (sitting allowances), honorariums for attending 2 to 3 day retreats in a fancy hotel, while some come with just being exposed to powerful politicians and civil servants (Networking advantages)
It is the Chairman of a Branch that decides who to nominate to these external government committees. So if you are a branch GODFATHER or a committed follower, you may be rewarded in this way. While those in your branch who are skilled and can provide more knowledge in those committees are sidelined because they have no political affiliation within the NBA, the NBA politicians have the field; lining their pockets and professional careers that is why they viciously ensure that their own stooges win elections in NBA Branches.
NOMINATIONS OF JUDGES, SENIOR ADVOCATES OF NIGERIA AND LETTERS OF GOOD STANDING
Another powerful responsibility of a Branch Chairman that has become heavily monetized and corrupted is in the recommendation a Chairman must make in the appointment of Judges and SANs. If you have a Branch Chairman that is corrupt or who has Godfathers, you can be sure to be asked for a “gift” if you want a good recommendation from him/her if you want to be appointed a judge or become an SAN.
A letter of Good Standing is randomly required by certain organizations, educational institutions (both home and abroad) so approaching a branch chairman for this letter can cost you a pretty penny or you may have to do some “favours” for the Branch chairman in return for this letter.
A letter of good standing is also required for the purposes of contesting for NBA national office, so being a Branch Chairman is very important because without it you can’t even become the president of NBA.
NBA NATIONAL ELECTIONS, ANNUAL GENERAL CONFERENCES AND NBA NATIONAL COMMITTEES
Being a Branch chairman is important during national elections because most candidates will deal directly with you and try to woo you to their corner. The process; of course involves the contestant for national office to make contributions to your branch programs and sometimes just making contributions to your personal purse. It is then you will see contributions towards branch law weeks (in cash and in kind), contestants will offer to pay AGC registration fees for selected branch members, pay for their accommodation and even for their feeding during NBA national events.
The Branch Chairmen also have a lot to say about who is appointed into National Committees where the NBA also foots the bill for travel, accommodation and feeding.
There is so much our NBA at the Branch level is used for that brings shame to us all. A look at the Aims and Objects of our NBA will give us an idea of how far we have strayed from the path that was set before us. I can go on and on to expose more of the corruption that is within the NBA but I take note to stop here and start to think more of what we need; to CHANGE the current narration.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO CURBING THE CORRUPTION WITHIN THE NBA
The Corruption within the NBA has no doubt had adverse effects on our justice delivery and good governance outputs. So lawyers must start thinking in line of the following:
1. Lawyers must start caring about the NBA as a whole
2. They must actively engage in asking their leaders pertinent questions about their vision for the BAR
3. They must speak out when their leaders are erring and commend them, support them and encourage them when they are doing what is right
4. Lawyers must insist that their branch leaders undertake at least one community initiative program a year
5. Each branch must consider having state-wide law weeks as against each branch having its own law week every year which gulps millions of Naira that can be used to empower young lawyers by giving them loans etc or even to promote pro bono work
6. There must be some form of uniform accounting mechanism and one audit company per state that will audit branch accounts
7. Funds received from the government must be properly accounted for and must be used to equip lawyers to help the society
There are very many issues on ground and many areas I haven’t covered mostly because of the sensitivity of the topic but many lawyers are aware of the decaying and falling standards of the NBA but they lack the political will to engage it head-on.
The Body of Benchers, Body of Senior Advocates and the Bench are in the best positions to put a stop to the excesses of the “POLITICAL” NBA but sadly these bodies are a product of the NBA itself. We need to wake up, be bold and to tackle ethics in our profession otherwise we run the risk of becoming totally irrelevant.
COMING SOON…….CORRUPTION AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL OF NBA
Written By: Bayo Akinlade, Esq. National Convener; FIACIJ