NBA Lacks the Power to Set Up an Online Portal for Payment of Practicing Fees -Steve Sun

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Mr. Steve Sun

A lawyer Mr. Steve Nwankwo (popularly known as Steve Sun) has faulted the move by the Paul Usoro SAN led NBA administration to set up an online portal for payment of bar practicing fee. In a statement shared with the public, Mr. Nwankwo noted that it is the duty of the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court to set up such online payment portal noting that NBA would be acting ultra vires its powers if they continue in that regard.

He advised that the best that NBA can do in the circumstance is to lobby the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court to set up the online portal.

Below is his original statement:

NBA LACKS THE POWER TO SET UP AN ONLINE PORTAL FOR PAYMENT OF BAR PRACTICING FEES (BPF)

Elementary Administrative or Company Law tells us that any act which is ultra vires no matter how well-intentioned, is null and void and of no effect and is bound to be quashed by the court upon being challenged. Please see the case of Engineer Samuel Diden Yalaju-Amaye v. Associate Registered Engineering Contractors Ltd. [1990] SC 157; and a host of other authorities.

In the instant case, Section 8(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act(LPA) LFN 2004, clearly provides that:

No Legal Practitioner (other than such a person as is mentioned in subsection [3] of Section 2 of this Act #ie. Law Officers#) shall be accorded the right of audience in any court in Nigeria in any year, unless he has paid to the Registrar (ie. the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court) in respect of that year, a practising fee as is from time to time prescribed by the Attorney-General of the Federation after consultation with the Association (ie. NBA).

The above provision has several legal implications, amongst which is the elevation of the BPF to the status of Public Documents, vis-à-vis the definition ascribed to the term in Section 102 of the Evidence Act 2011.

In the old days when we were using Guarantee Trust Bank (GTB), you would see SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA boldly written on the deposit slip/teller. Same currently applies to Access Bank. The said inscription is not for fancy. It clearly has its roots in the afore cited Section 8(2) of the LPA; indicating that the payment is actually being made to the Supreme Court and not to the NBA.

The online portal innovation, which virtually all the Presidential candidates in the rigged NBA National election touted, is quite laudable but as earlier mentioned, any act which is ultra vires, no matter how well-intentioned, goes to no issue.

The most the NBA can do in the circumstances is to lobby the appropriate/statutory authority, ie. the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, to set up the said portal for online payments of BPF by its members.
The most they can also do in the present circumstances is to limit the said portal to payments for stamps and seals, verification, AGC fees, etc.

The Supreme Court already operates a synergized Legal Mail service for e-filing and service of processes; and so I would assume/expect that setting up the portal, would not be too difficult for them.

Recently when Mr. President illegally suspended the CJN, the Senate approached the Supreme Court to interpret the legality or otherwise of such suspension; I’m sure their attention was later drawn to the fact that they can only activate the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court if and only if both chambers of the NASS were to pass resolutions in that regard, and then they would have to commence the action in the name of “The National Assembly” and not in the name of either chamber.
My good friend Sylvester Udemezue Esq. of the Nigerian Law School also wrote a good op-ed on the subject.
The move by the Senate was obviously well-intentioned, but lacked the requisite vires.

I hope that the NBA will review this decision without any delay, before any regrettable and as is often the case, irreparable inconvenience is occasioned the unsuspecting legal practitioner.

Thanks.

Steve Sun.

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