In a letter dated 1st October, 2020 and addressed to all lawyers in Nigeria, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Mr. Olumide Akpata has highlighted his administrations activities in the past one month.
The activities covers his various interactions across some branches, setting up of committees, interface with government on contemporary issues, lawyers’ welfare and attendance to lawyers events.
The letter reads in part:
“One of the promises that I made to you during the recent electioneering season was to regularly engage with you and to provide monthly updates from my desk on our activities in each preceding month. It has been one month since I was sworn in as the 30th President of the NBA and I am writing to you to commence the fulfilment of that promise.
My first month in office was as tough as it was busy. Expectedly, it came with challenges like any other leadership role. But we are tackling these challenges while also setting the stage for more achievements in the following months. A quick highlight of some of our administration’s activities in September 2020 are as follows:
- Electoral Audit and Reforms Committee: We established an Electoral Audit and Reforms Committee, comprising distinguished practitioners of the highest calibre to audit the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections and recommend reforms for future electoral systems and processes. This is important to restore the confidence of our members and the society in our electoral system. The committee was inaugurated yesterday.
- Parley with Northern Leaders: I held a crucial meeting with the Chairmen of about 40 branches of the NBA in the Northern Geopolitical Zone and some leaders of the Bar in the North. That meeting was to reassure every one of my interest in uniting the Bar and running a truly egalitarian association in which each member’s rights will be respected. All 40 Chairmen and leaders reaffirmed their support for, and commitment to, the NBA.
- Death Sentence Appeal: You may recall that a certain Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was sentenced to death by the Kano State Upper Sharia Court for alleged blasphemy and was denied access to lawyers for his appeal. As a mark of our commitment to human rights and rule of law, the NBA intervened to provide him with access to justice. I also visited the Kano State Grand Khadi and, on that visit, commended the affirmation of Yahaya Aminu’s constitutional right of appeal.
- The Chief Judge of Cross River State (“CRS”): The office of the Chief Judge (“CJ”) of CRS has remained vacant for about a month following: (i) the refusal, by the State House of Assembly to confirm Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme as substantive CJ; and (ii) the expiration of the 3-month tenure of Hon. Justice Maurice Odey Eneji, who took office in acting capacity. The NBA has since intervened by stressing that Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme be appointed in line with the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (“NJC”) and the judicial tradition of appointing the most senior judicial officer as Chief Judge. In addition, I visited the Chief Justice of Nigeria (in his capacity as Chairman of the NJC), alongside the Attorney-General of Cross River State to seek the CJN’s intervention in the matter. Our intervention in this matter, at all levels, is ongoing and we are determined to ensure that the Judiciary in CRS, and indeed access to justice in the State, is not hampered in any way.
- Rules of Professional Conduct 2007 (“RPC”): In this month, the RPC was purportedly amended by the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation (“HAGF”). We are exploring all options to ensure that appropriate actions are taken with respect to the supposed amendment. I have met with the HAGF and have also written to him. I have made it abundantly clear to him that the purported amendments cannot stand having been made contrary to extant law. Based on the assurances that I received from him, I am hopeful that the said amendments will be reversed. While I believe that the RPC and the Legal Practitioners Act are due for amendment, these amendments must be comprehensive and reflective of the 21st century realities of the Nigerian lawyer and must follow due process.
- Lawyers with special needs: I met with the Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria to discuss and understand their peculiar challenges within the Bar. On your behalf, I pledged that the NBA will be more sensitive to the needs of not just lawyers with disabilities but also every senior citizen in the NBA. We are currently exploring ways of dealing with some of the challenges that were identified.
- An inclusive Bar: I had a meeting with the leadership of the Law Officers Association of Nigeria at which I got a better appreciation of the salient issues affecting law officers in Nigeria and assured them of my commitment to running an inclusive Bar. We are currently setting up a Task Force to look into these issues and make appropriate recommendations.
- “Ease” of Doing Business at the CAC: Prior to my election into office, there were numerous complaints about the delay in service delivery at the CAC. Given the central role that the CAC plays in the professional lives of our members, I set up a Presidential Task Force to look into the complaints, identify the issues and engage the Registrar-General of the CAC with a view to finding workable solutions. The Task Force has now commenced work.
- Eligibility for SAN rank: The Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (“LPPC”) recently published the names of potential awardees of the prestigious rank of SAN for 2020. To assist with the process of selecting the most suitable awardees for the rank, we empaneled the General Purposes Committee (one of the standing committees under the NBA Constitution) which is charged with screening prospective candidates for the award of the rank of SAN in accordance with the provisions of the Legal Practitioners Act. The committee has commenced work.
- A Kidnapped Lawyer: A lawyer, Mr. Uyi Frank Obayagbona, of NBA Abuja Branch was kidnapped around Edo State in the month of September. Working closely with the Commissioner of Police Edo in State, we were able secure his release from the kidnappers.
- Branch visits: In keeping with the campaign promise of visiting as many branches as possible during my term, I commenced my visit to our 125 branches this September with a view to creating synergy between the branches and the national body, understanding the peculiar challenges of each branch and working with their leadership to proffer solutions. So far, I have visited and had interactive sessions with legal practitioners in Lafia, Keffi, Ungongo, Kano, Warri, Effurun and Asaba. In my visits to Nasarawa and Kano States, I urged the Governors (both of whom I met with) to pay more attention to the Judiciary in the areas of financial autonomy, infrastructure of courts and Judges’ welfare.
- Ikeja Branch Crisis: There is a brewing crisis threatening to engulf the Ikeja Branch of the NBA as a result of the forthcoming elections of the branch. This crisis has resulted into at least two separate lawsuits. To forestall a full-blown and intractable crisis, I convened a meeting of stakeholders of the branch to deliberate and brainstorm on the way forward. At the end of the meeting, I directed a postponement of the elections (originally fixed for 29 September 2020) till further notice in order to allow for a proper resolution. I have also set up a caretaker committee to manage the branch following the expiration of the term of the caretaker committee appointed by my predecessor.
- Supporting the Welfare of Judges: In the month under review, I travelled to Port Harcourt to participate in the commissioning of JCA Quarters donated to the Court of Appeal by the Rivers State Government and the Chinwe Aguma Judges Quarters built and furnished by the Rivers States Government for serving Judges of the State High Court on an owner/occupier basis. I decided to participate at both events because the welfare of judicial officers is crucial and directly affects the ability of lawyers to practice their profession proficiently and profitably.
- Welcome to our New Members: On 14 September 2020, I attended a meeting of the Body of Benchers which was a prelude to the Call to Bar Ceremony. The next day, I joined the Benchers in welcoming 1,758 “new wigs” into the profession and into our noble association.
- A heart full of sorrow: A number of lawyers and judicial officers in Nigeria either passed on, or were buried, during my first month in office. Mr. Alfred Eghobiamien, SAN, Justice Jude Okeke, Justice Shehu Atiku and many others who contributed in several ways towards the advancement of the legal profession in Nigeria left to the other side of eternity.
While praying for the repose of their souls, I made out time to attend the funeral of some of them. The most recent was the funeral of Late Justice Karibi-Whyte, JSC (rtd) in his hometown in Abonema, Rivers State. His Lordship left an indelible mark in the profession and it was an honour to pay my last respects to him on your behalf.
The other was the funeral of Mr. Sunday Nnabuike Onah, a young man and member of the Enugu branch, whom I did not have the privilege of meeting or speaking with during his lifetime. Just before his funeral, I requested the NBA Secretariat to promptly process the death benefits due to his family from the NBA. On a related note, I will soon commence negotiations with our insurance providers to increase the life assurance and permanent disability pay-outs by 100%.
I consider this an important component of the welfare scheme of the NBA for its members. I thank you for your attention. Please be assured that I remain committed to delivering on your mandate and bequeathing a Bar that you will be most proud of.