Being the leader of the largest branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) would undoubtedly not be a walk in the park. However, Mr. Ikechukwu Uwanna, the current chairman of the NBA Lagos Branch, seems to have found a way around getting the job done without hassles.
In this interview with DNL Legal & Style, Mr. Uwanna, a Notary Public of Nigeria and Partner/co-founder of Tsedaqah Attorneys, highlighted the numerous achievements recorded by the branch under his leadership.
DNL L&S: In 2021 you were elected the Chairman of the largest NBA Branch in Nigeria, how has the task of leadership been since your election?
Mr. Uwanna: It is absolutely a privilege to be chosen to lead over ten thousand smart and leading Nigerian lawyers. It is superficially a daunting task, and can truly be daunting, but I have a team of very focused and dedicated executive committee members that are making the task interesting and almost seamless. Together, we have been addressing our tasks one day at a time and giving them our best. I have also been very lucky to have very industrious committee members that have been putting in a lot of hard work to ensure that the yearnings of our members are met.
DNL L&S: What are some of the highlights of your administration?
Mr. Uwanna : During my campaign for this office, I promised our colleagues that I would focus on certain areas that I felt needed attention. Permit me to speak briefly on each of my promises, and what has been happening.
Welfare of Lawyers
Beyond the usual welfare programmes, we have introduced sign language interpretation at our meetings, hosting our lawyers’ book and organising apparel fairs. We also host health checks, including mental health talks counseling session among others. Our Welfare Committee led by Mrs. Jean Chiazor Anichere SAN has been doing a fantastic job by ensuring that the welfare needs of our members is priority.
Akin to welfare, is sports. A healthy lawyer is a wealthy lawyer. We have prioritized sports. Our mantra has been one lawyer engages in at least one sport. We now have a cycling team, male and female football teams, chess, and scrabble teams as well. Monthly aerobics and skipping sessions have also been introduced and we hope to host a badminton masterclass next year. We are grateful to First Insurance Limited and VFD Microfinance Bank Limited that have supported our sporting initiative.
Remuneration and Employment of Lawyers
We have also prioritized the earning capacity of our members. To achieve this, we first got the Branch to adopt a “competence framework for lawyers”. Essentially, this framework is to standardise positions, competencies and expectation. In our November 2022 General meeting, we adopted for implementation, a new remuneration policy for lawyers. With the new policy, from the 1st of January 2023, a young lawyer in full employment is expected to earn a minimum of one hundred and twenty thousand naira. It is also expected that the lawyers will have health insurance policy and pension. A taskforce has been approved by the Branch to enforce this new remuneration regime.
Our primary asset as lawyers is our knowledge. We have prioritized it. In the past year or so, we have forged relationship with the Business and Insolvency Practitioners Association of Nigeria which has led to the training of about 150 of our members. The Institute of Mediators and Conciliators has trained about 50 members. The Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators has trained about 35 members on fast-track membership and over 50 members on the students track. We believe that by these capacity building, our members will be placed to render services to their clients on more complex issues. The Continuing Legal Education Committee led by Mr. Mayowa Owolabi has been hands on to ensure that these trainings, engagements, and our knowledge sharing sessions are cutting edge.
NBA Lagos Secretariat
I am happy that the Branch, under my leadership, has paid daily attention to the building project, and it has come out of the ground, and we are now on the first floor. We will keep pushing the contractors to ensure that the quality of the work is first class and that they deliver within time. In the interim, our offices, set up by this administration at the Law School, Lapal House in Igbosere and the new robing room at the Osborn High Court are all functional.
Issues around human right have been in the front burner and in the past year, the Human Rights Committee, led by Mrs. Abiye Tam George, has conducted an audit of inmates in Ikoyi Correctional Center. Over 200 inmates were interviewed, and the matters litigated in various courts.
The NBA Lagos Branch has also developed and adopted a Human Rights Scheme (the first of its kind by any Branch of the NBA). The essence of the scheme is to enable the Branch to address the human rights challenges we are faced with daily.
To commemorate the International Human Rights Day in 2022, the Branch engaged principal stakeholders in the administration of justice, through a platform called Stakeholders’ Engagement Dialogue Series and also held a world-class summit on the 13th of December 2022 to create awareness on human rights issues.
Data management of members had been a troubling issue for the Branch. NBA Lagos, aside from being the premier branch, expectedly has the highest number of lawyers. I am happy that we have made remarkable progress with the collation and management of our membership data. With a click now, we can access the data of our members, and this has helped us with planning.
The Law Reform Committee of the Branch has been working closely with the Lagos State Ministry of Justice to birth a new Administration of Civil Justice Law in Lagos State. The Bill is being worked on to ensure that all the conceivable impediments militating against efficient dispute resolution is resolved.
As a professional organisation, the law profession is based on ethics. As a Branch, we take ethical issues seriously. At every opportunity we have, we remind our members of the need to respect the ethics of our profession. We have held a knowledge Sharing Session on the Economics of Ethics. Mrs. Titi Akinlanwo SAN and other members of the Ethics and Dispute Resolution Committee has been working very hard to ensure that issues around Ethics are delt with.
Our Taskforce on Illegal Practice of the Law has been working hard to ensure that we don’t have impostors practice law in our jurisdiction. The Committee led by Chief Lotanna Okoli SAN has held several radio events and raids. The committee supports the Nigerian Police in the prosecution of fake lawyers.
Inhouse Counsel and Government Counsel
We set a forum to deal with the peculiar needs of these set of our members and I am happy with the activities of the committee. The committee has held sector-specific webinars, workshops and End of year Parties, where opportunities are utilized to cross-pollinate ideas. The feedback I get is that our colleagues who work inhouse no longer feel left out of the activities of the Branch anymore.
Mentoring of the next generation
We have held several mentorship events either by the Mentoring Committee led by Mrs. Abimbola Akeredolu SAN or by our very active Young Lawyers Forum. This will continue so we have well primed lawyers who will take over the reign of affairs soon.
As we look forward to the 2023 elections, we have been doing our bit in ensuring that our members are ready for the elections. Consequently, we held a virtual seminar themed “2023 Elections, the Bar and the Bench as Democratic Drivers”. There will be a lot of engagement in January as we prepare for the elections.
Engagement with Providus Bank
We have an arrangement with Providus Bank which will allow our members to use the bank’s facilities around the country for their meetings. They will also pay dues and practicing fees for our members who meet the criteria. The bank also issues customised NBA bank cards to our members.
Engagement with Interswitch
To ensure that payment experience is seamless. We have entered into an arrangement with Interswitch to make seamless electronic payment of dues a reality. From January 2023, branch dues will be paid using USSD code, on bank app amongst others.
Engagement with Jobberman
We have also forged a partnership with Jobberman, to ensure that our members are trained in soft skills. Over 400 of our members have been trained so far. They also supporting our members with regards to securing jobs for them.
Engagement with Law Pavilion
We have our Lagos Bar Journal now on Law Pavilion platform. We hope that more persons will have access to our E-Lagos Bar Journal and enrich our body of jurisprudence.
DNL L&S: There is just one area of the above highlights that will interest lawyers in paid employment, the aspect of Remuneration of lawyers in full employment. How does the Branch intend to enforce compliance with the Remuneration Policies against Employers
Mr. Uwanna: Like I had stated, we have set up, with the approval of the Branch at its General Meeting, a Taskforce that will collate a list of defaulting employers and ensure that they are prosecuted for professional misconduct. Also, with the approval of the General Meeting, it is agreed that we will not issue a letter of good standing or recommendation to principals or partners of defaulting law firms.
DNL L&S: Looking at your manifesto and the things you have done, would you say you have been able to live up to your campaign promises?
Mr. Uwanna: While I will prefer to leave for history and members of the NBA Lagos to do the assessment, one thing that my Exco and I are committed to, is put in our very best until our last day in office. Our mantra has been; “Nil satis nisi optimum” which means nothing but the best is good enough.
DNL L&S: NBA Lagos under your leadership recently held its annual dinner themed “Arabian Nights”, what informed the choice of the theme?
Mr. Uwanna: The NBA Lagos Branch is a global brand. Last year, our theme was “Proudly Nigerian”, and we pulled it off gallantly. This year, the Dinner committee, led by Mrs. Oyinkansola Badejo Okusanya, came up with the theme “Arabian Night” and the Branch approved it. The idea is to acknowledge one of the world’s oldest cultures in an elegant way. The dinner also afforded us the opportunity to celebrate the democratic gains in Kenya and that was why we had Kenya’s Law Society President-Eric Theuri- as the dinner Speaker.
DNL L&S: The entire digitization of the filing system in the Lagos High Court has rather than reduce filing time as every automated system, occasioned more delays. Has NBA Lagos made any intervention in this regard?
Mr. Uwanna: We have constantly interfaced with the Judiciary in Lagos State. The Chief Judge of Lagos State, Hon. Justice K. O. Alogba has been gracious in listening to our plight. We held several meetings with my Lord and a lot of the issues around the Judiciary information system (JIS), enforcement of judgments amongst others were discussed at length. The JIS has improved although it is not yet perfect. The Judiciary Relations Committee headed by Dr. Babatunde Ajibade SAN will continue in the new year to engage the Judiciary to ensure that we are to start and finish the filing of cases from the comfort of our offices as the CJ had earlier promised..
DNL L&S: 20th of December is your birthday, what are you grateful for?
Mr. Uwanna: I am grateful to God for life, family, and the Bar. Being alive after COVID-19 is a miracle. Looking back, I seek the grace and mercy of God all around me and I am just grateful to God for life to celebrate his mercies.