Exclusive Interview with Jonathan Gunu Taidi on His Presidential Ambition

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At DNL Legal & Style, we believe that NBA General Election should be contested and won on the basis of the value proposition by the candidates. Manifestoes are important but sometimes cosmetics. We gave the candidates an opportunity to speak to Lawyers from their heart and we present to you our interview with Mr. Jonathan Gunu Taidi.

J. G. Taidi, as he is fondly called is contesting alongside two other candidates for the office of the President of the largest Bar Association in Africa; the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). The immediate past General Secretary of the NBA, Mr. Taidi is a consummate bar man who has served in various capacities at both the local branch and national level.

In this interview he spoke passionately about how he would address the little issues in the professions, how NBA under his leadership will speak truth to power and ensure that practical steps are taken to implement the report of the Welfare Committee on Remuneration of lawyers in Nigeria.

DNL L&S: Why did you decide to run for the office of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association?

J. G. Taidi: Thank you very much for the question. It was a decision borne out of my passion to serve the bar. It is on records that I have served the bar in various capacities, the last being the General Secretary, a position I held between 2018 to 2020. One of the outstanding achievements of the Secretariat during that tenure was the paperless NEC. Before I assumed office, NBA spent between N50m to N70m on preparing and printing the NEC bundles. We successfully changed that, and NEC is now 100% paperless. You can imagine the huge savings accruing to the NBA from that singular sacrifice that we made.

Secondly, for me, there are quite a lot of issues that bedeviled our Bar. We have conveniently become comfortable with making those issues campaign issues, year in year out. We are only interested in dealing with the big issues. We have never bordered to look back at the smaller issues that affects the daily practice of law and legal practitioners generally. And there are so many of these smaller issues but I will give you just one example; right from when I was called to bar, the small issue that is as simple as ensuring that the bar and the bench work together towards ensuring that lawyers only attend court when the court would sit. We continue to pay lip service to these issues and despite the fact that the telephone contacts and email addresses of all counsel are with the court, we still have to get to court to be told that court will not sit. Most times we wait until 11am, 12 noon to be informed that the court will not sit. The frustration, time wasting and valuable opportunities that have been lost by both litigants and counsel in this process over time may be played down because there are no yardsticks to immediately measure them.

Like I said earlier, this is just an example, there are so many other dimensions of the seemly little problems that we need to look at while always taking up the bigger ones.

So, while you are thinking of building capacity of members in line with the trends, creating opportunities for our members, we should also not forget to deal with these smaller issues. These are the things I want to confront head long simultaneously. That is what is behind my desire to serve the bar.

DNL L&S: Do you think you have the requisite capacity and experience to run the office of the NBA President?

J. G. Taidi: As it stands today, I stand out with very outstanding credentials of experience. Let me start by letting you know that I have been a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Nigerian Bar Association since 2008 and this is unbroken. So, that is to say, I have participated in all NEC meetings from 2008 to the last one. what that tells you is that the institutional memory which is the reservoir of experience itself is at my disposal. All NEC deliberations and resolutions between 2008 till date including those that have not been implemented, I have them at my fingertips. So, having served also as General Secretary, it is a very outstanding experience that I do have, ready in all ramifications to occupy the office of the Bar President.

DNL L&S: What are the cardinal things members of the bar should look out for should you be elected as the President?

J. G. Taidi: When, by the Grace of God, I assume office as the President of the Bar, one very cardinal thing that the members should look out for is the ability of the Bar to speak truth to power. I am happy to say that Olumide Akpata came and turned on the volume so the voice of the bar is being heard. We are going to loud that volume, because the Bar Association is the conscience of the society. For instance, you can see what happened during the recent primary elections for instance, the Bar ought to have gone on top of its voice to condemn the monetization of that process especially coming from the background that those who fought for democracy with their blood have suddenly turned it to a commercial venture. These are practices that we should condemn in all ramifications.

Good enough, the NBA is still leading by example, all aspirants never paid one naira for the nomination forms. You simply download. So, that is what we should recommend and in fact insist should play out in our political system. That is one outstanding thing that members of the bar should look out for under my Presidency, by the grace of God. A louder Bar where we continue to be the conscience of the society and the mouth piece of the people.

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DNL L&S: On the welfare of lawyers, what are the innovations you would introduce as the NBA President?

J. G. Taidi: Welfare of lawyers for me is in multiple dimensions. I look at it more from various angles. I would give priority attention to the sort of welfare which enhances the income of our members. For instance, the recently approved Remuneration Committee Report, there is no reason why it should not have been fully implemented. We need to hit the ground running to implement it, so that every income that is accruable to our members, that our members are entitled to is earned. That is on the one hand.

We also need to enhance job opportunities for our members. we need to go back to CAMA very quickly and push for amendments so that the jobs hitherto performed by legal practitioners are restored without further delay. These may look little and inconsequential, but they are not. I also think very seriously that we have to move very fast to legislate, for instance a compulsory requirement for every company that has a certain amount of turnover to compulsorily have a Legal Practitioner in their organization and not just on the incorporation document but serving the day to day need of the company and earning appropriate remuneration. Every year, on the average, about 10,000 new colleagues of ours are called to the bar. So, while we are dealing with those that are already here, we also have to make provisions for those that are coming to join. We would give that welfare direction to improve the earning capacity of our members across board. That is the greatest welfare package you can give to every legal practitioner, because your ability to earn should be your priority and then all other schemes that are in place will be fine-tuned to complement the welfare routine of our members.

DNL L&S: Implementation seem to always be the challenge around here. Do you think implementation of these steps towards ensuring better welfare are sustainable or how can we sustain them when they are implemented?

J. G. Taidi: You recall I just referred to the Remuneration Committee Report which was adopted at the last NEC which held in Ilorin. There are specifics in the report that was accepted. For instance, if for land transactions, this is the minimum that must be earned by our colleagues. We don’t have to waste time to implement that and make sure that it is 100% given effect. That is, it will be across the country, it is not going to be in selective areas. The problem that we have always had in Nigeria which I intend to correct is this aspect of making laws and just dumping them. If there are laws made for a particular issue, let the law take its full course. Let machineries be put in place to ensure that they begin to work immediately. If this is the case in Nigeria as a country, let the Bar Association begin to lead by example by ensuring implementation of every laws, decisions and agreement across board.

DNL L&S: What should lawyers look out for in the Justice Sector during your tenure?

J. G. Taidi: Fortunately, I was a participant at the Justice Sector Summit which held sometime in March 2022. The recommendations in that Summit are underway, ready for implementation. It was a very robust outcome and if you see the Communique, there cannot be a better starting point than to hit the ground running with those notable reforms that were identified from the scratch, some of which includes, what I had earlier on alluded to; the attitudes of our courts. And I will take it to the level where we all begin to adjust to ensuring that justice is not delayed. Let us look at a very interesting aspect of this. We all have not wondered why our colleagues are conducting election petition very diligently and achieving justice in record time. Nobody comes with an application for extension of time, because there is no room for application for extension of time in election petition matters. It is either you are in, or you are out. Now, this same Practitioners, when we go to the regular matters that we conduct in court, file all sorts of applications, stalling proceedings and generally just believing that well, “after all it is just penalty, let me just pay penalty and in the affidavit, you depose to facts as to why you were unable to file your processes within time.” Now, what if we abolish outrightly the procedure by which you come to court late and then you fill the court with lots of application for extension of time? Upon service, you have XYZ number of days to file your statement of defence, counter affidavit or written address as the case may be and you deliberately avoid those unnecessary clogs that we have, such as not filing our processes within time. And we will try it when we have expediential disposal of our cases.

The other area, which is really critical is the number of years cases spend at the Supreme Court. On the average, it takes between 6 to 10 years to dispose of a civil appeal in our Supreme Court. This is a very huge problem. A situation where the litigants even pass on before they get justice. Yet, there are robust plans and suggestions which would greatly reduce in the interim the court’s docket and make hearing of the appeals faster. Long term solution that would include dealing with the root cause of the congested dockets would also be set in motion. There is no better platform to start these projects than that provided by the leadership of the Bar. We are stakeholders in the whole scheme and should lead these reforms.

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DNL L&S: On insecurity and loss of lives and properties, do you think the NBA is doing enough in terms of addressing the ills in the society and engaging the relevant stakeholders?

J. G. Taidi: We are all victims of insecurity in this country. In fact, it has penetrated every facet of our existence. The NBA, so far so good, is doing relatively well but there can be improvement. NBA needs to insist that a state of emergency be declared in the security sector. We cannot continue to have the same approach to our security challenges and expect different results. The Bar should champion the call for this state of emergency so that we can really get down to addressing these issues as a matter of priority. Solving a problem starts with identifying the real cause of it. When we all agree that security has become an emergency, only then would all stakeholders begin to really work towards identifying how best to tackle the challenges of insecurity.

DNL L&S: There has been complaints in some quarters that NBA is only good at issuing statements, do you agree with this? what do you think should be done differently?

J. G. Taidi: It is good that NBA issue statements concerning societal issues. I only think that we should take it to the level where we follow up these statements with actions. So, is it okay that NBA issues statement on all issues that arise? Definitely yes. What I would now do as the next NBA President would be to have a thought-out plan on how to ensure that every statement issued is subsequently followed with actions. We need to adequately take the lead in drawing attention to the issues that are contained in those statements and follow up, so that we are able to get  quick resolution of those issues. So, it is very good to issue statements, but we must also go beyond that and follow up on the resolution that are reached. And do I have what it takes to ensure that statements are marched with the requisite actions? My antecedents at the leadership of my local branch Minna would bear me out. We would speak truth to power. We would challenge relevant government parastatals and stakeholders to sit up and we would lead the frontiers of ensuring that these issues are dealt with to the later.

DNL L&S: How would you rate the performance of the Olumide Akpata’s administration?

J. G. Taidi: Olumide Akpata’s administration has done excellently well within the time space available to the administration. On all fronts, they have fired from all cylinders at the same time and that is very commendable. The Bar has been opened if you ask me. So many things that were hitherto shrouded in secrecy has suddenly been opened up and you now see for the first time a lot more members are interested in the affairs of the NBA than you had in the past. This is because members now benefit directly. For instance, the issuance of particular number of free stamps is a very commendable approach to the complaint of many especially the upcoming lawyers.  Reactivating the Life Insurance scheme with Leadway Insurance and with a better bargain for the NBA. The various steps taken to ensure that the welfare of lawyers is put on the front burner. So far so good, the administration has done very well but as always, there is room for consolidation on all that has been done and taking up new challenges.

DNL L&S: Talking about consolidating on what is already in existence, is there a specific area you have in mind to focus on particularly?

J. G. Taidi: I would say that all the areas are work in progress. What I would do by the grace of God when I am elected is to ensure that we give priority attention to consolidating all the works that have already being done and make sure that we are consistently improving on them. There is nothing that is going to be left unattended.

My personal philosophy is, if I have ten items on my agenda, I push them at the same time. I do not believe that we take them one at a time. I am sure that is the kind of leader that NBA deserves at this point in time. A President who has the capacity to drive all the issues at the same time and not necessarily having to take them one at a time. The tenure is two years and that is a short period to begin to pick and choose the area to focus on if you must make positive impact on the members. What is important is to have the cooperation of your executives and ensure that they are all taken on board and non is left out. An all-inclusive NBA where everyone is a stakeholder will further advance the cause of its members within the shortest period of time. So, we would consolidate on all the good works that have been done and take on even more to the benefit of all lawyers in Nigeria.

DNL L&S: What are your plans for young lawyers with respect to encouraging their young practice either through better remuneration, incentives and packages?

J. G. Taidi: When I become the President of the Bar, we are going to have a stakeholders’ summit for young lawyers. The reason for the stakeholders’ summit would be to really sit down in one room and look at the various areas that we can improve and open up opportunities for our younger colleagues. See, we cannot limit the young lawyers to areas of practice that are already saturated.  It would not work. They would continue to be left out and feel they do not belong. So, we need to deliberately address the issues of the young lawyers. This would go back to even our training institutions. What is the kind of legal education that these young lawyers are receiving? Would it position them well to be 21st century compliant?

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We come back to the law school, good enough, law school has improved a great deal. The curriculum has been improved but we need to now synchronize all these from training to actual practice. What that Summit will achieve is to address the practical challenges of these young ones. Chart a time frame that is practicable and then begin to give ourselves timeline on where we would be within a couple of months, within a year, within a couple of years and on and on like that. When we must have done that, we hit the ground running and then look at relevant areas that needs quick reforms. Areas we need to work on and achieve immediate results. And we start from there. We need to create deliberate opportunities for our young lawyers in diverse areas. we need to follow up and see how we can expand the scope of practice. This is an emergency in itself that we need to deal with. If we can achieve this and be able to accommodate that huge numbers that are coming into the profession every year, we would have solved the issue of welfare of lawyers from the scratch.

DNL L&S: What is your present assessment of the ECNBA?

J. G. Taidi: ECNBA hasn’t done so much at this point for us to begin to offer an assessment of their performance. In terms of following the timelines, as provided for in the NBA constitution, they have so far so good been accurate with the timelines.  I am not in a position to say now, because they are still in the process of setting up the technical for the election. We are yet to get to that point where we now see how ready they are to deliver the credible election. So, I look forward to the next interactive session where we will be able to ask them specific questions in terms of how ready they are for the elections.

DNL L&S: Are you worried about them not conducting a free and fair election?

J. G. Taidi: You know, we have read in every line; free, fair, credible election. That is what we read but it is one thing to have a statement, and another thing to have the real practical implementation. Now, one of the things we are waiting for to be able to access the ability to deliver is the process of putting in place the technical knowhow, which of course I expect to be subjected to interrogation. I expect that they allow various contestants to bring in their IT experts on board to interrogate the apparatus of the election so that at least we have that comfort and in the event that there is no satisfactory assurance, the avenue be created to also make those views known. It is only after all these are satisfactorily taken care of that you can use; free, transparent, credible and all the words that we like to attribute to elections to avoid rancor after the election.

DNL L&S: Who do you consider your strongest contender and if you can give us reason, why?

J. G. Taidi: I do not want to go into speculations. I know that I am a candidate with very outstanding performance track record. I am a candidate to beat because I have the capacity, I have the experience, I do not think any other candidate has got what I have to offer the Bar.

I see myself as a candidate that is very focused on the issues that bedevil the Bar and I am yet to see a match in any of the candidates in terms of the program they intend to put on the table for our members.

DNL L&S: Should you decide to abandon your ambition today of becoming the NBA President, who would you urge your supporters to vote for?

J. G. Taidi: Let me reframe your question, “Mr. Taidi would you as a candidate withdraw from the race?”  I answer the question, No sir.

DNL L&S: What do you have to say to your supporters and the electorates?

J. G. Taidi: I urge our supporters and even those that are yet to come on board to remain very vigilant. The issues that bedevil our society and particularly the legal profession, it is our collective responsibility to deal with them and it starts with the process of electing those that you think have the capacity and the interest of the Bar to deliver, not leaders that are armchair leaders, that want to come and answer the name. Because, before you can serve, we must scrutinize your antecedent; In what capacity have you served? I want our members to interrogate those issues very critically and also massively turn out to vote because voter apathy has been a problem with the previous elections. A situation where you have 40,000 or 60,000 eligible voters and at the polls you are managing to count 15,000, it is not good enough. Now we have well over 60, 000 eligible voters, we look forward to that mass participation, so that it will be adjudged that election where members were keenly interested in participating.

DNL L&S: We wish you all the best sir.

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