The President of the Nigerian Bar Association Mr. A.B Mahmoud SAN has said an organization that does not reinvent itself face the odious fate of decay or even extinction.
The NBA President was speaking during his welcome remarks at the NBA Bar Leaders Consultative Forum on the Reform of the Bar held in Abuja on February 26, 2018. While appreciating the participating Bar Leaders for honouring his invitation at a very short notice.
The President spoke on burning issues which the legal profession is grappling with, while wishing the panelists a fruitful deliberation.
His full speech below:
“At some point in the history of every organization, it must face the challenge of reinventing itself or face the odious fate of decay or even extinction. I doubt there is any of us here who is satisfied with the state of the legal profession in Nigeria today.”
“Perhaps we are at that juncture in history when we must reinvent the legal profession. We need to reform our profession and raise its standards. We must strengthen our disciplinary processes, raise ethical standards and create more opportunities for its members whilst building confidence of the ordinary consumers of legal services in the country.”
“We need a legal profession that will be a veritable tool for national development. A legal profession that will spearhead our national renaissance by upholding the rule of law ensuring that governments at all levels are held to the highest standards of responsibility and accountability. We must work to rebuild confidence of Nigerians in the State and its ability to protect citizens wherever they choose to live and work. We need a legal profession that will inspire confidence in the Nigerian legal system such that entrepreneurship will thrive and foreigners will feel confident to invest in our country thereby generating prosperity for our people.”
Unfortunately, the Nigerian Bar Association as presently structured and managed cannot provide that leadership expected to produce these outcomes. Our profession is not well regulated. Entry into the profession has become a free for all affair. Those who fail to make it to other professions find their way into the legal profession where they perceive that prospects of riches abound. Standards have thus plummeted. Ethical standards are not well maintained. Complaints against our members are not promptly and expeditiously dealt with. The younger members of the profession feel abandoned by the elders. Whilst the young members do not feel bound by the hallowed traditions of the bar. Every day we see our profession and its leaders being denigrated in the new media: the social media. In short, no conduct is beneath some of us.
A few months ago, I read in the pages of newspapers the story of two senior counsel slugging it out physically in a magistrate court and bloodied their faces in the presence of the helpless magistrate and other onlookers! Only a few weeks ago a young lawyer took to the social media to accuse me and the NBA of stealing his ‘art work’ and presenting it without his consent to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I am told the post has been ‘trending’.
The concern about the challenges facing the profession and the implications for its future is not limited to us here in Nigeria alone. At the last IBA Conference in October 2017 at Sydney, the IBA Council received the interim report of the IBA President’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Services. The Task Force is chaired by the Secretary General of the IBA James M. Klotz. I have asked the Chair of the Section of Business Law Mr. Olumide Akpata who also sits on the IBA Council to come to this meeting to speak to the Executive Summary presented at the meeting in Sydney by Prof. Maria J. Estaban of Esade Law School. I think it will be beneficial to this meeting to have an idea of the issues legal professions around the world are grappling with. Perhaps that may put things in better perspectives for us here in Nigeria.
Distinguished colleagues, in the course of the last 18 months we have lunched a number of initiatives in our efforts to improve the legal profession as well as the governance of the NBA. These initiatives are primarily in three broad areas:
- The Regulation of the Profession
- The Structure and internal governance of our professional body the NBA and
iii. The Financial management and reporting process of the NBA.
In December 2016, I constituted the Legal Profession Regulation Review Committee (Anthony Idigbe Panel) to undertake a review of the regulatory architecture of the legal profession in Nigeria. The key objective was to determine how to address the major challenges facing the legal profession, how we can better regulate the profession, instil greater discipline, improve continuing professional development and prepare us for a changing global environment. The Committee worked very hard over a period of 6 months or so and came up with a report. That report has been widely circulated both in electronic and hard copies. It has also been uploaded on the NBA Website.
Following this Report, we engaged in wide consultations with our members and other stakeholders including the Body of Benchers, Body of Senior Advocates, the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Vice President etc. Over the course of the last few months, we broadened our engagement to international level with a view exposing our reform initiatives to wider global thought leaders. In October last year, I led an NBA delegation to the International Conference of Legal Regulators in Singapore. This comprises various legal regulators around the globe. We felt putting the NBA on this network will expose it to current issues and thoughts on the increasingly complex nature of legal regulation. Later, in December 2017, I led a team of about 30 Nigerian Lawyers to the United Kingdom on a 4-day Legal Services Mission. The Mission was jointly organized with the British Nigeria Law Forum (BNLF). I want to place on record the immense help rendered by the BNLF not only to the work of the Idigbe Committee but also the assistance they rendered which led to the resounding success of our the four-day engagement in the UK. During the mission we met and held extensive deliberations with all the legal regulators in the UK. Both the reports of the Idigbe Committee and the UK Legal Services Mission will be presented in the course today’s meeting.
In August 2017, we engaged the services of the KPMG Advisory Services to undertake a Diagnostic Review of the Financial Management and Reporting Process of the NBA. The key objective was to see how we could entrench sound corporate governance practices in the Association, which would entail strengthening our financial management and reporting process and institute greater financial transparency. In January 2018, the KPMG submitted its report with a number of key recommendations some of which will entail far-reaching changes in the governance and constitutive documents of the Association including our Constitution. We are confident that the recommendations, if implemented will reposition the NBA and bring it into parity in its structure and management practices with what is obtainable in mature bar associations.
Many of you are also aware that we have been going through series of contestations and disputes in many of our branches. Several court actions including legal challenges to our constitution are pending in various courts. The challenge to the 2016 General Elections, which brought me to office, is now at trial State at the FCT High Court with witnesses still testifying. At the last AGM following my recommendations, after consultation with bar leaders, including our Trustees, we constituted a Review Committee for the NBA Constitution under the leadership of Mal Yusuf Ali SAN. The task of the Committee is to identify areas needing reform taking into account suggestions by our members but also the reform ideas generated by the other initiatives.
Now arising from all these initiatives, I will like to highlight some areas, which may require some careful consideration:
- What should be regulatory objectives for the Legal Profession in Nigeria?
- Should the NBA continue to perform both representative role and the regulatory role? If so what will be the best structure?
- Can the Body of Benchers as presently constituted continue to carry out its regulatory functions or should limit more ceremonial and responsibilities similar to the roles of the Inns of Court in the UK?
- How do we improve quality of legal education; entry requirements and standards; should we introduce pupilage?
- Leadership Succession and Continuity within the NBA. It is clear that the current process of electing our leaders has become too divisive and contentious. The election has now become more akin to political party campaigns than that of a respected professional body. Should we not therefore have a more orderly succession system that also has inbuilt continuity mechanisms as is the case in other Bars?
- Should we replace the current National Officers with an elected NBA Governing Board that will oversee and superintend the management of the National Secretariat headed by a competent Chief Executive Officer and Senior Management staff?
- Should the role of such officers as Treasurer, Financial Secretary and Legal Adviser not be functions that are clearly situated within the National Secretariat with qualified professionals handling them? Why should an elected young lawyer with no financial training or skills perform treasury functions in a large and increasingly complex organization?
- Do we need 125 disparate branches across the country many with little or no resources and hardly able to carry out meaningful functions or should we streamline and create state structures?
- How do we create an efficient and effective disciplinary process that ensures cases of indiscipline are speedily and effectively dealt with?
- Should we have a consumer complaint process as in other jurisdictions?
- Should law firms be licensed?
- Should we introduce indemnity insurance as is done in most other jurisdictions?
Distinguished leaders of the Bar, these and several other important issues arise from the various reports that will be presented today. The objective is for us to have an open conversation, perhaps identify and agree on general direction of these reforms and also agree on an implementation road map for the ideas that we consider achievable.
I hope that we will have an open, reflective conversation and we will share in the wisdom and experience of the distinguished personalities gathered here. We on our part, whilst it is clear that the current situation is not acceptable nor indeed viable, we have no fixed views on the various suggestions. But I do hope at the end of the day, all of us will become strong advocates and drivers of the much-needed reforms that our profession direly needs.
I wish us successful deliberations.
God Bless the Legal Profession
God Bless the NBA
God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria
I thank you for your attention.
B. Mahmoud OON, SAN
President, Nigerian Bar Association