Recently, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) approved Port Harcourt, River State as the venue for the 2020 NBA Annual General Conference (NBA-AGC). The body also proposed conference fees for participants based on their years of call. My attention is particularly drawn to the proposed amount to be paid by new wigs. Young wigs (lawyers) are to pay N20,000 for early birds, N45,000 as regular fee and N90,000 for late registration.
For the privileged few, these amount means nothing. But for majority of the new wigs; the category which I unfortunately belong to, this fees are simply a systemic exclusion of many of us from attending the conference. There is an old cliché that says, if you are not at the table dining, then you are on the menu. Of a profession that offers young wigs peanuts and servile positions, one would simply conclude that even though the NBA is supposed to be for all lawyers, it is truly, not so in the real sense. I once read a piece where one of the past planning committee chairman, boldly alluded to the fact that the conference is for bar men. As a young wig, I ask myself, who are the bar men? When will I get to the status of a bar man? What do I need to do to get to the status of a bar man? These and many more bug my mind each time I reflect on the fact that I have a duty and obligation to pay annual dues to reactivate my membership of an association that does not see the need to reciprocate with its own obligation. Perhaps it is time for some of these systemic exclusions to be considered.
The registration fee is perhaps one of the many hurdles that new wigs need to overcome to be part of the yearly gathering of lawyers. There are other more important factors. If you manage to save up from your meagre monthly stipend to attend the conference, how do you get yourself to the venue? Where do you stay for the duration of the conference and how do you feed to sustain yourself during the conference. I am referring specifically to transportation, accommodation and feeding. Again, for the very few privileged young wigs, these can never be a challenge. But for those of us who are still looking for what will qualify us as bar men, these are big obstacles. We would like to be accommodated in the scheme of things. When we complain about poor remuneration, the older ones would be quick to advise us to work and wait patiently. Should be also assume that attending the conference of NBA which is meant for all lawyers require that we wait patiently to become bar men or men of means?
I call on the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN and the members of the National Executive Committee of the NAB to consider the plight of young lawyers and in the interest of hosting an all-inclusive NBA Conference reduce the fees payable by young lawyers. For the good image of NBA, for the purposes of teaching the young ones the act of all-inclusiveness, to reciprocate the obligations which we have performed of paying our practice fee, I urge on behalf of new wigs that the fee for the conference be reduced.
I particularly make this appeal on the premise that this year’s conference would be a landmark and historic one. Being the 60th AGC. Any trade or profession that does not strongly put into consideration the well-being of its young members has embark on a summary retrogressive journey. This is a pathway that NBA should not follow. Posterity would be kind to the President and the National Executives.
Victor Opatola, Esq is an Abuja-based Legal Practitioner.