The NEC meeting was the first meeting of the Paul Usoro, SAN administration after being sworn in, on 31st August, 2018. At the meeting, issues for deliberation centered on the finances of the Association, the state of the Bar and the state of the nation.
At the end of her deliberations, the NEC meeting resolved as follows:
1. Public Safety and Security: NEC sadly notes that in recent times, members of the Bench and Bar have been the target of violent crimes and security breaches. These include the invasion and raiding of courts premises by criminals and arsonists in Orlu, Imo State, kidnaps/abductions and assassinations of lawyers and a judicial officer, robbery etc. NEC notes that between September and November 2018 – a period of 3 months – 4 lawyers, one of them a judicial officer, had been killed in violent attacks by criminals. The wife of another of our members was killed when the car that was driven by her husband was attacked by criminals; the husband was kidnapped and was only released upon the payment of ransom. NEC notes that these attacks are symptomatic of the pervasive state of insecurity nationwide which seems to have overwhelmed law enforcement and security agencies. NEC calls on governments to revamp the law enforcement and security agencies for effectiveness and speedily bring to book the murderers of all our colleagues and our colleague’s wife, namely Emeka Agundu, the late Chairman of our Obollo-Afor Branch who was violently assassinated on 02 September 2018, Adeola Adebayo, the late Secretary of our Ikole-Ekiti Branch whose decomposed body was found in the forest on 30 November 2018 after being kidnapped on 17 November 2018, Remigus Ogu (Jnr), a serving magistrate in Orlu Judicial Division of Imo State whose lifeless body was dumped by his abductors on the highway in Amucha Community of Imo State, Adeshina Okeya, a fresh lawyer who was violently attacked in the outskirts of Abuja in the evening of the day he was called to Bar, 29 November 2018, leading to his death the following day, Friday, 30 November 2018 and Joan Atemoagbo, the wife of our colleague, A A Atemoagbo, past Chairman of Auchi Branch, who was violently killed when criminals rained bullet shots at their car, along Auchi- Benin Road, near Ehor, in Edo State, in an attempt to stop them. The car was indeed stopped, and Joan’s husband was, A A Atemoagbo, was kidnapped, leaving the lifeless body of Joan behind with the wrecked car. The Inspector General of Police is called upon to direct his task force to thoroughly investigate these and other related crimes in order to bring the criminals to book.
2. NEC further condemns the incessant killings of Nigerian Citizens by armed militia and calls on the Federal and State Governments to speedily do all within their powers to bring this carnage. The current perception that the country may be drifting into a state of anarchy must not be allowed to take root. Governments at all levels need to tackle the nemesis of insecurity to and of lives and property.
3. NEC expresses grave concern over the brutality of lawyers by law enforcement and security agents, notably the police and prison officials. These incessant attacks is greatly deplored by NEC and NEC calls on the heads of these institutions, notably, the Inspector General of Police and the Comptroller-General of Prisons to, as a matter of urgency call their men to order and stop this ugly trend forthwith.
4. The issue of the Nigerian Military uncharacteristically wading into issues of internal security, as reportedly happened recently in Port Harcourt, is of concern to NEC. NEC advises the Nigerian Military to continue to retain its neutrality in partisan politics and to concern itself with its primary function of securing the territorial integrity of the nation. NEC encourages the Military to stoutly resist any attempt to lure it into involvement in civil and political matters.
5. NEC decries the spate of human rights abuses in the country. Of particular concern to NEC is the sexual harassment of young teenage girls, a recent case being the young girl, in Makurdi, Miss Ochanya who was reportedly molested by her guardian and his son. To this end, the NBA pledges to collaborate with relevant local and international human rights organizations/agencies such as the Human Rights Commission on the issue of protecting human lives and stemming human rights abuses.
6. Criminalization of lawyers’ fees: NEC frowns at the attempted criminalization of lawyers’ fees by the EFCC and notes that the fees that are paid by a Client to his lawyer is not only a matter of privilege but is also contractual in nature. NEC points out that non-parties to a contract, including the contract on lawyers’ fees, are complete strangers thereto and lack the locus standi to question such fees. NEC further maintains that the EFCC is not an auditor or regulator of legal fees and the legal profession is an independent one.
7. Free and fair election: NEC ratified the constitution of the Ad-Hoc Election Monitoring Team that was set up by the NBA National Officers for the monitoring of the Osun Gubernatorial Elections. NEC further ratified the report of the Monitoring Team on the said election which was published and received rave local and international commendations. NEC points out that the Osun State Gubernatorial Election Monitoring Team Report should serve as the signpost and lamp-post for the 2019 National Elections and admonished all stakeholders, including security agencies, to ensure that the elections are free, fair and credible and that the will of the people is not subverted howsoever.
8. Conferences by prosecutorial agencies for judges: NEC expresses concern over the training programs and conferences that are organized for judges by prosecutorial agencies and notes that such interactions with prosecutorial agencies that are not at arm’s length could blur the perception of an independent judiciary in the eyes of the Nigerian public. NEC notes that these training programs and conferences are of particular concern to lawyers given the penal sanctions that attach to prosecutions by these agencies in contradistinction with civil claims and liabilities that are usually the subject matter of agencies like the Nigerian Communications Commission, Shippers Council, etc. who also routinely organize skill development workshops and seminars for judges.
9. Appointment of Judicial Officers. NEC expresses concern over the practice that seems to suggest that the responsibility of the National Judicial Council for the appointment of federal judicial officers may unwittingly be taken over by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. NEC notes that the practice of the Executive Branch rejecting the appointment as federal judicial officers of NJC-nominated candidates on grounds of undisclosed security reports may inadvertently be gaining grounds and in the process not only erode the independence of the judiciary but create opacity in the processes for appointment of judges resulting in possible arbitrariness, abuse and breakdown of discipline in the Judiciary.
10. NEC further requests of the NJC that the NBA should be involved in the nomination of candidates for judicial appointments to the various court hierarchies. NEC believes that the NBA involvement would enrich the process and the diversity of nominees and the subsequent result would ennoble the appointment processes.
11. NBA Financial Management. NEC ratifies the appointment of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) by the Usoro-led administration for the preparation of the 31 August 2018 Financial Statement and the Finance Function Diagnostic Report for a combined fee of N7,000,000.00 (Seven Million Naira only). Both the 31 August 2018 Financial Statement and the Finance Function Diagnostic Report had been circulated to members earlier and was being presented to NEC at this meeting. NEC adopts tboth documents and urges the National Officers to implement the recommendations therein contained,
12. NEC further ratifies the engagement of PwC for the interim preparation of the NBA quarterly financial statements pending the hiring of experienced and knowledgeable in- house personnel to man the Association’s finance functions. The Usoro-led administration had negotiated a fee of N600,000.00 per quarter for this assignment and that amount was ratified by NEC.
13. NEC adopts the 2018/2019 Q1 Financial Statement that was presented by the Usoro-led administration and commends the administration for laying emphasis on transparency and accountability in the management of the Association’s finances.
14. NEC emphasizes the need for financial transparency, accountability and prudence in the management of the Association’s finances and commends the Usoro-led administration for its stringent and prudent spending and financial management policy. It emphasized the need for financial efficiency and discipline in the management of the Association’s affairs as a way of institutionalizing corporate governance in the NBA body polity.
15. Other General Issues. NEC expresses serious concern over the current practice of lawyers undercharging for drafting conveyancing documents and urged the current NBA administration to come up with a policy to address the issue of undercharging by lawyers generally in matters to which the Scale of Professional Fees apply.
16. NEC urges members of the Bar to be always professional in their relationship with colleagues and other persons generally and avoid such actions that may suggest sexual harassment on their part.
17. NEC resolves that the names of lawyers who have been disbarred and whose names have been struck off the list of legal practitioners in Nigeria should be publicized and published in national newspapers to prevent them from fraudulently transferring and continuing their practice in different and new jurisdictions thereby conning unsuspecting members of the public.
18. NEC expresses discontent and dissatisfaction with the planning and organization of the last Annual General Conference and urges the present NBA leadership to ensure that going forward, Annual General Conferences of the Association are better planned and organized. To facilitate this, the Usoro-led administration was mandated to constitute the Planning Committee for the 2019 Annual General Conference immediately and obtain ratification at the next NEC meeting.
19. At the request of the President, NEC agrees to step down discussions on the Report of the Transition Committee that was constituted to, amongst others, carry out preparatory transition assignments that would aid and facilitate the smooth take-off of the Usoro-led administration. This was to allow the persons who had complained of not having been heard by the Committee to be so heard. NEC further agrees that the Report would be presented to and discussed at the next NEC meeting.
20. NEC deplores the indiscriminate use of NBA stickers by non-lawyers and touts and directs the Usoro-led administration to look into ways of curbing this unseemly practice.
21. NEC recognizes the need for special attention to be given to young lawyers and commends the President on his zeal to speedily constitute the Young Lawyers Forum (YLF). Approval is given by NEC for the constitution of the YLF National Executive as soon as possible and this would be ratified at the next NEC meeting.