NBA Uniform Bye Law – The Tragedy of Unfair Disenfranchisement

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A professional association which is formed basically for the purpose of regulating and maintaining the standards of the profession should at all times seek ways of creating value for its members. One of the critical goals of such association is to ensure that its members are given a sense of belonging devoid of intimidation and unnecessary coercion.

Generally, attendance at meetings and participating in an association’s activities by its members should be encouraged, even cajoled. With the aid of technology, there are numerous ways by which this can be achieved taking into account the conflicting busy schedules of members of the association. Should attendance of its members to meetings become very crucial in today’s world, with the aid of even social media, such meetings can be streamed live for the members of the association who are unavoidably absent.

Indeed, the world has moved to the stage where everything is achievable with the aid of technology. It is only when the attendance to meetings become very crucial and the privileges offered by technology fully utilized, that associations such as the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) may begin to “punish” “erring members” who failed to place premium on monthly meeting of its local branches over whatever professional engagement they may have to discharge.

The NBA as a professional body of lawyers must not be seen to have created any form of atmosphere which has the semblance of injustice and unfair practices. As a matter of fact, the NBA should be a reference association to other professional association on issues of fair leadership and protection of rights and privileges. It is therefore disheartening to note that today in NBA branches issues of massive disenfranchisement remains recurrent in the face of steady resistance by members.

Disenfranchising financial members of an association for reasons of not being in attendance to its meeting for a specific number of time is one that is not only unfair, but most unjust. The least opportunity that an association should give to all its financially committed members should be that of participating in selecting its leaders.

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By Section 16 of the Uniform Bye Law of the NBA, to be eligible to vote, a member must not only be financially up to date but must have attended a minimum of five (5) monthly general meetings of the Branch within the twelve (12) months preceding the date of such elections. The NBA as a professional body of lawyers should at all times ensure that equity and fairness is its hallmark, ensuring that the rights of its members are preserved. What appears to be the unfortunate reality is that the Uniform Bye Law has systematically disenfranchised a greater number of members of the bar at the branch level from participating in the process of electing their leaders.

At the NBA Lagos Branch, more than 90% of its financial members would be  disenfranchised in the branch election which is scheduled to hold on Friday, 28th June, 2019. The branch with over eight thousand (8000) members would elect members of its executives with a little above 800 members going by the list of eligible voters published by the Electoral Committee. This basically means that only 10% of the members of the Branch would decide the leaders. This, should be a source of worry to the leadership of any association.

There may not be any plausible reason for inserting the meeting attendance criteria in Section 16(1) of the Uniform Bye Law other than to encourage members’ attendance to monthly meeting. The nagging question then is; has this been able to induce members’ attendance to the monthly general meeting? Certainly No!

Analysing Lagos Branch further, of the about 800 eligible voters, about 60% only attend monthly meeting for the purpose of writing their names on the attendance sheet. They more often than not dash out immediately. Here is a meeting where attendance is marked at the entrance to the meeting venue, with no restriction howsoever placed on leaving before a certain time of the meeting. It is a meeting held by an association who has majority of its members as employees in firms where they do not have control over where and what they do. The other majority are in-house counsel working in corporate establishments where the excuse of attending a monthly meeting of the NBA Branch at a critical moment where there are deadlines may not be tenable. What should one then make out of an association that places emphasis on marking attendance more than on providing value for its members.

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Why would an association of lawyers disenfranchise its members for not attending meetings? Why not effectively use technology to ensure participation of larger members at the meeting through live streaming, skype, teleconference, satellite broadcast and many others? What happened to fines for lateness and nonattendance as an inducement for participation in the meeting? What about restricting attendance rule to those who intend to contest for leadership position as in Section 15 of the same Uniform Bye Law? Why extend it to members?  Why would the NBA not be bothered that despite the restrictions on voting, the attendance to monthly meeting remained discouraging? And, having noticed that this is the case, why has this brazen disenfranchisement persisted? Does this continued retention serve the interest of the majority? If not, why have the 800 consistent attendees at Lagos NBA Branch kept quiet? These are all questions begging for answers.

It is important to emphasize again that the fact that many have stayed away despite being disenfranchised after paying their dues should worry stakeholders. The fact that the majority is being unjustly prevented from participating in the process of electing the kinds of leaders who may be disposed to addressing whatever situation that may have led them to stay away from the association should be of great concern. This only goes to show that the confidence level of majority of members has gotten to its all times low.

Rather than disenfranchising its members, the NBA should as a matter of urgency device alternative means of providing tenable solution to the blase attitude of its members towards the branch activities.

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Voting at all NBA Branches should be automatic for all financial members just like the National. NBA Branches should find means of attracting the attendance of its members to their monthly meetings. While at it, sanctions rather than disenfranchisement should be placed on attendance at monthly meetings.

It is sincerely hoped that this should be one of the many issues that the constitutional review committee set up by the NBA President would consider. There is need to remove the requirement of attendance as a criterion for voting as same defies all reasonable logic.

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