Following the move by the A.B Mahmoud led Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Executive to amend the 2015 NBA Constitution during the Annual General Meeting which is scheduled to hold on Thursday, August 30, 2018, the NBA Ikeja Branch have warned the NBA Executives not to tamper with the extant 2015 Constitution of the Bar at the twilight of their administration as doing so will be counterproductive and a meaningless ill wind that will not blow the Bar any good.
In a letter addressed to the General Secretary of NBA, the branch unequivocally rejected the proposed amendment saying same is unnecessary and uncalled for.
Excerpt of the letter:
- NOTICE OF AMENDMENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION’S 2015 CONSTITUTION
Following the receipt of your letter dated 25th July 2018 in respect of the above captioned subject, the Executive Committee of the NBA Ikeja branch (The Excellent Branch) circulated the proposal for the amendment to the financial members of the Branch so as to enable them study the proposal and have a first hand knowledge of the contents in order to foster informed opinion on the rationale for the amendments as explained by the Proposer Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud OON, SAN, FCIArb.
Sequel to this at the monthly General meeting of the Branch held on August 6th 2018, a Committee comprising 3 (Nos.) Senior Advocates of Nigeria and 2 Senior members of the Branch was constituted with a mandate to critically review the proposed amendment and submit a report to the Branch within 10 days. The said Committee after a painstaking review of the proposal submitted its report to the Branch on 15th August 2018.
An emergency general meeting of the Branch was convened for 24th August 2018 whereat the Branch discussed, adopted and resolved by a unanimous resolution that the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the NBA 2015 as recommended by the Proposer are unnecessary and uncalled for.
In the course of the said emergency general meeting, whilst discussing the recommendation of the Committee set up to review the proposed amendment to the NBA Constitution 2015, the Branch observed the following fundamentals which informed the Branch’s position that the amendment is a wild goose chase.
- The stated rationale for the creation of the Governing board is not supported by the provisions of the proposed amendment;
- Whilst it is stated that the amendment is to enable compliance with International best practice what aspect of International best practice is being targeted is not stated. The phrase ‘International Best Practice’ and stated objective are therefore at best nebulous and imprecise. We note however that whilst International best practice may require the creation of the office of an Executive Director and a Director of Finance, for effective corporate governance, to oversee the affairs of the Association and Head the Secretariat as well as the proper management of the finance of the Association, it does not require the creation of a Governing or National Board as envisaged and proposed in the proposed amendment.
- ESTABLISHMENT OF THE GOVERNING (OR NATIONAL) BOARD
Whilst the composition of the proposed Governing Board was noted, a thorough dissection of the provision reveals the following:
- The NBA is a professional body and not a political organisation and issues of zoning with a view to achieve equality of States in respect to representation on the Governing Board negates the principle of inclusiveness and universal suffrage under the extant Constitution.
- The functions prescribed for the Governing Board are the same as currently being carried out by NEC under the extant Constitution and also ascribed to the NEC under the proposed amendment to the Constitution.
- There are no indications in the proposed amendment to show which clauses of the extant Constitution are to be amended, struck off or retained.
- Whilst the extant Constitution provides that policies of the Association are to be formulated by the NEC and not National Officers, in the proposed amendment, policy formulation is to be the preserve of the Board (same as the National Officers/Excos).
- Part of the stated rationale for the amendment is the need to discontinue some so-called “obsolete offices”. The Branch notes however that there was no specific mention of which offices are considered obsolete by the Proposer, but a reading of the entire proposal reveals that the offices not stated as National offices are by implication those considered obsolete by the proposal. No reason was stated for supposed obsolescence of these offices. To underscore the somewhat lack of clarity on the obsolescence of the scrapped National offices, the proposed amendment goes ahead to create Committees of the Governing/National Board to undertake the responsibilities of the supposedly obsolete offices. This we find most strange. It is noted also that the offices not listed and supposedly obsolete are those being used to groom younger members of the Profession for higher leadership and responsibility positions in the Association.
- Whilst it is also stated that part of the rationale for the amendment is the need to “promote a policy of diversity and inclusion across the Nigerian legal profession”. The proposed amendment in our view would only serve the purpose of accentuating and highlighting the divisive factors amongst members of the Bar and has a great potential to create disharmony rather than ‘Unity in diversity, harmony and national integration’.
- The tenor of two years for the members of the Board which is presided over by the President does not serve the purpose of ensuring continuity and is not different from the current position under the extant Constitution by which National officers have a 2-year tenor.
The Branch further found that the functions of the proposed National Board and the National Exco as presently constituted is the same and as such apart from the change in nomenclature which is not supported by a change in function or a total scrapping of NEC the National Board is just a burdensome addition to the organs of the Association and a clear source of a possible conflict between the Board and the NEC.
- PROPOSED PROVISIONS ON NEC
- The Branch noted that though the composition of the NEC under the 2015 Constitution has been stated by some members of the Association to have become unwieldy and there is a need to reduce the membership of NEC particularly the number of co-opted members, the proposed composition would not serve the overall purpose and interest of the Association.
- It is agreed that limiting the numbers of co-opted members to 30 is apposite in view of the increasing numerical strength of the branches and the entire membership of the Association. The Committee however recommends that it is more laudable to revert to the pre- 2015 Constitutional amendment NEC membership structure of a Chairman, Secretary and one (1) NEC representative per branch. The configuration of the co-opted members should remain as it is in the extant Constitution and the NBA should not in any way allow the introduction of religious or faith-based qualification for membership of NEC as presently proposed under the special interest groups category of co-opted members in view of the clear provisions of Section 10 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which provides that Nigeria is a secular State. Religion is a very touchy issue which should not be introduced as a qualification for membership of NEC. The Branch’s position is fortified by the fact that there are in existence multifaceted lawyer groups within the major religious organizations and there are no criteria for determining which grouping will represent specific religion in the NEC of the NBA. For example, The Redeemed Christian Church of God has an association of Lawyers within its membership, there is CLASFON for all Christian Lawyers, The Catholic Lawyers Association, Pentecostal Lawyers Association and others which are in their formative stages all within Christianity; MULAN, NASFAT etc. also exist among Muslim Lawyers.
- It is the duty of the NBA/Lawyers to emphasize things that bind us together as a Nation and promote inclusion and not exclusion or division on the basis of religion most especially.
- MEETINGS OF NEC
The Branch having found the establishment of the Governing Board absolutely unnecessary and being in favour of maintaining the National Excos as presently constituted, also want the NEC meetings to be left as it is currently operational and suggests however that the meetings should be made more resourceful and purposeful.
- PROPOSED COMMITTEES OF THE BOARD
The branch observed that the proposed Committees of the Governing Board as stated earlier are meant to take over the functions of the supposed obsolete National Offices such as the Welfare, Financial Secretary and Publicity Officers. If the offices are obsolete, it presupposes that there is no need for the functions of those offices. Ikeja branch is therefore of the view that these Committees are meant to serve a purpose which is not stated and, therefore advocates the maintenance or sustenance of the existing structures for those functions under the extant 2015 Constitution.
It is laughable that the amendment sought seeks to obliterate at least 4 National offices to which the Leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association has just conducted an election which was contested for by members at huge costs to themselves and in respect of which certificates of returns had been handed over to the winners of the election to those offices.
- SUCCESSION OF GOVERNING BOARD MEMBERS
The NBA Ikeja Branch is of the view that the Succession plan proposed under this head is patterned after what operates in some other professional Bodies or Associations. It however fails to take into consideration the peculiar nature of the Nigerian Bar Association and the overriding principles and objectives that informed the structure and zoning of the National offices as contained in the extant Constitution of the NBA. Arrangement under the current Constitution should be maintained as it is inclusive. We are advocates of Rule of Law and should uphold same and continue to advocate for it. There is nothing wrong with elections at the moment and nothing wrong with the National Excos as presently constituted. If there is a need to review some aspects of our election system, it is recommended that a small committee should be set up and saddled with that responsibility rather than a wholesale amendment of the Constitution in the manner proposed.
- NATIONAL SECRETARIAT
The proposal in respect of the creation of the office of Executive Director and Director Finance under the National Secretariat to take charge of the administration and running of the Secretariat as well as the Finance of the Association is welcomed. The Executive Director, however, does not need to be a lawyer but should be someone possessed of the requisite skills required to run and manage the affairs of a large organisation as the Secretariat of the NBA. This however should be left to the incoming administration to deal with.
- STATE COUNCIL
There is absolutely no basis nor justification for the creation of State Councils in each State of the Federation. This provision is absolutely unnecessary. The Branches should not be made mere figurative organs, appendages or subservient to any State Council. Presently, there are practicable avenues for branches within a State to collaborate on issues that are of common interest to them and these are being utilised as may be needed. All the stated functions to be performed by State Councils are effectively being performed by the existing Branch structures in each State.
- BAR STANDARDS OFFICE
It was noted that the creation of a Bar Standards Office is a proposal under the proposed amendment to the Legal Practitioners Act (LPA) which is yet to be passed by the National Assembly. To the extent therefore, that the creation of this Office is dependent on the successful amendment of the LPA, the proposed amendment of the extant Constitution to provide for the Office is premature and should be jettisoned till such a time as the LPA is duly amended by the national Assembly.
By reason of the foregoing, the Nigerian bar Association Ikeja Branch which on record is the 2nd largest branch of the NBA in Country hereby conveys to you its total rejection of the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the NBA 2015, in its entirety, and the same is hereby rejected.
Whilst we commend the outgoing Executives of the NBA for their commitment to the Bar in the last 2 years, we as a body strongly recommend that they should not tamper with the extant 2015 Constitution of the Bar at the twilight of their administration as doing so will be counterproductive and a meaningless ill wind that will not blow the Bar any good.
Please accept the highest assurance of our kind regards as we bid you and the entirety of the outgoing Executive farewell from office.