My intervention on the theme of this session (“Practicing law in a regulated environment- what we need to know”) is focused on the foundational issues. When you have termites’ infestation in your compound, do you just kill the termites on the surface of the ground or do you dig down to move the entire city?
The lead speakers identified as problems our outdated laws and regulations such as the Legal Practitioners Act 1975 and the Rules of Professional Conduct 2007. I say that we have had an incompetent Bar Association and disinterested membership.
For over 14 years we identified the same issues we are discussing today and yet we have done little or nothing to implement meaningful change. Rather we have assembled members in conferences year after year just as we have done now to repeatedly entertain ourselves in what I describe as talk show jamborees.
In 2004 I was Chairman of the NBA Law Reform Committee. We produced a new Legal Practitioners Act 2004 and the draft law was circulated among members and NBA branches and that was the end. In 2007 I wrote another one, the Legal Practitioners Amendment Act and the Bar sent it to the National and sponsored by Senator Ndoma Egba, Senator Ekweremadu and 3 other Senators. The bill died in the Senate but 12 years later in March 2018, the National Assembly conducted a public hearing on the outdated bill. This was being done while 3 other bills I drafted for another Committee of the Bar in 2011 were still pending in the National Assembly- that is, the Legal Practitioners Bill 2012, the Legal Education Bill 2012 and the Legal Services Commission Bill 2012. In addition, in January 2017 the Bar set up another Committee and a new law was submitted to NBA NEC at Lokoja on 1st June 2017. The bill is the Legal Profession Regulation Act. As we speak today 8 months since being submitted, none of the 125 Branches of the NBA has discussed the bill just as no Section or Forum of the Bar. We are simply disinterested in the future of the Bar
I drafted the 2007 Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners based on an old draft of late Justice Dr Orojo. In 2011 under the auspices of another Committee of the Bar, Yemi Candide-Johnson SAN drafted a new Rules of Professional Conduct. The then President of the bar, Okey Wali asked me to conduct a validation workshop for that draft. The Academic Form conducted a session on that draft in 2013 at the Annual Bar Conference at Calabar, and submitted an updated draft Rules. That was the last action on that draft Rules of Professional Conduct and we are in 2018.
The foundation for the reform of the legal profession lies in a foundational reform of our legal education. If we do not reform what and how we teach our LLB students and Law School trainees, any change we bring in the profession will be like taking out termites on the surface of the ground. No real change will ever take root in the legal profession unless we deal with our legal education where we have over 5000 lawyers produced annually to join the profession. The standard of our LLB is very poor. Legal education in the Law School is at present a stadium education where we have over 1600 students seated in one theatre to learn professional skills and values. Ethics is not a course in 99% of our LLB programmes and yet we want to have ethical lawyers. The Nigerian Bar Association is one of the most disinterested professional organizations in World on how its members are trained to join or remain in the profession. Our legal education both at the academic and vocational levels lack adequate independent oversight and only the Bar can provide such oversight just as its counterpart American Bar Association does in the USA. But the NBA does no such oversight. It has not even written and policy document on how lawyers should be trained. The NBA does not have a single programme that connects the trainees at the university and the law school to the profession. NBA does not have any transitional programme for new barristers and solicitors that step out of the law school such as canopies, incubator programmes, capstones and career counseling. It is a disinterested bar.
In spite of the critical state of the legal profession in Nigeria, we are witnesses to today’s bar strangers and corrupt senior lawyers that some of us are applauding for showing interest to lead the bar, yet are busy bribing members with millions and millions of Naira for members’ votes. There is no serious change that we will have as long as we allow these corrupt senior lawyers without any leadership experience who are busy corrupting our young lawyers with money and practice fee bribes to lead the bar and lead the change. No such change will ever come.
The Legal profession is at a crossroad. The Nigerian Bar Association is inflicted with cancer that has spread all over the organs and the body. There are only two options- let the body die or carry out a stem cell transplant. Our problem is not our regulations and our laws. Our problems are lawyers.
Excerpts of Prof Ernest Ojukwu’s Presentation as Discussant at The ANNUAL NBA SECTION ON LEGAL PRACTICE CONFERENCE Port Harcourt 2018 on the theme: “Re-thinking and Re-tooling Legal Practice For the Challenges of our Time”