By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa SAN
Things are gradually settling down for the new Executive Council of the Nigerian Bar Association,
as we are all very optimistic that it will not be business as usual. There is no room to relax and all eyes are on the NBA Exco to hit the ground running, as it recently did with facilitating travel access to lawyers attending this year’s IBA Conference. NBA is a professional body and the tenure of office of its leaders is sure and certain, in the absence of any unforeseen circumstance, so there should be no excuse as those who are currently in the saddle knew what they were going into before the election that produced them. Quite apart from attending to the professional needs of its members, the success or failure of the NBA Exco will be judged mainly by its constant and decisive interventions in matters affecting the masses of our people. Lawyers must constantly interrogate the state of the Nigerian nation. That indeed is our main calling and this should not be lost on the Exco, least of all the President, who has promised to lead a dynamic Bar, which cannot function effectively in a failed or failing nation. Lawyers are trained to talk and act and we must be seen to be doing that through our common association, constantly.
This is an issue that should command the priority attention of the Exco. Yes it is true that the economy is very challenging at this time but we have to develop ways and means of some positive interventions in the situation of our colleagues who are struggling to find their feet. My suggestion is for every senior lawyer to be a Welfare Officer, for others. I have personally made some findings on the welfare packages of some law firms. The starting point is that no lawyer should owe his employees, for whatever reason. I once met a very senior colleague that I take as a role model and she told me point blank that any lawyer who cannot guarantee six months salary for his staff in advance has no business running a law firm. It is an investment that must be made, no matter the consequences. In the days when we were growing our firm, my wife and I would practically starve to ensure that no month passes by without the salary of members of staff settled.
No principal counsel should ever consider his personal comfort whilst he leaves the employees to starve, such as embarking on holidays abroad with the family without first paying the salaries of those who work with him. In this regard, some of the things we hear cannot be put in writing to the general public. Although all law firms are not equal, where the salary is so poor as to pauperize junior counsel, there must be some intervention from the NBA. And this is the very reason why the NBA must be involved in the state of the nation and the leadership of our country, because it is only when the larger economy prospers that lawyers can smile to the bank. I will therefore humbly recommend that the new Exco should develop a blueprint for the National Executive Council on creating a general minimum template for the remuneration of lawyers, starting with the Senior Advocates, who should lead this noble cause. Underlying this suggestion of course is the need for our junior colleagues to embrace sacrifice and a deeper sense of commitment to the legal profession and to realize that it takes time. As they say, Rome was not built in a day. We took ourselves as lawyers married to the profession when we worked with our seniors, totally forgetting self and even personal matters; we just wanted to research and develop the law. There has to be a corresponding zeal for excellence, a sense of loyalty and dedication to the employer.
Mentorship for lawyers
We were told then and I believe it even now that no lawyer who is hard working, honest, faithful to the client and who has the fear of God will ever suffer. It is only a matter of time, if he/she persists and perseveres. This then leads to the need for constant mentoring sessions for young lawyers in such a way that they can learn from the experiences of those who have walked successfully through the same path that they currently tread. Though the economy may be tough and rough, there is virtually nothing new happening now that didn’t happen in worse dimensions in the past. The path to success in legal practice depends mainly on the lawyer himself, his capacity to endure, his passion, his crave for excellence, his integrity and a never-say-die spirit and of course, the God factor.
Codification and publication of statutes
A major challenge facing all lawyers in Nigeria presently is how to access Laws and Acts that have been enacted. It has become a huge embarrassment to legal practitioners across the nation that there is no uniform system of codification of our laws. The last effort made by the Law Reform Commission led to the publication of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, which is being updated periodically, in bits and pieces. The States have not fared any better, as the Laws of Lagos State were last published in 2015. What this has resulted into, is that nobody can say with certainty, what constitutes the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, up to 2021. Lawyers buy photocopies of Acts and Laws from street vendors and it is what they produce that we all take as the laws of Nigeria. It is that bad, that someone could just sit down in his house and come up with any law and pass it off as laws of Nigeria. This should be a major concern for the NBA, as it is the foundation of law and legal practice itself.
According to the famous legal expert, Glanville Williams, the best lawyer is the one who knows where to find the law, when confronted with very challenging situations. The NBA should meet with the National Assembly, the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and of the States and the Law Reform Commission, in order to work out a formula for periodic publication of all existing laws, across the land. At least every two years, it should be compulsory for the Federal Government and the States to update their laws and publish the same in hard copies and online versions. The fate of citizens depends on these laws and it is most worrisome that we may get to a situation where desperate persons would print out their own versions of fake laws, to suit their specific situations.
The AGF and NBA
It is time to interrogate the relationship between the office of the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and the NBA. The Akpata administration had a running battle with the HAGF based mainly on issues of principle on certain steps taken by the HAGF on the amendment of the Rules of Professional Conduct by the General Council of the Bar, leading to a court action for which judgment was delivered in favour of the NBA. Now, there is nothing wrong in amending the RPC, as many of its provisions are patently archaic and not in tandem with modern realities. I mean, how do you ask lawyers not to advertise when virtually every law firm has a website, lawyers are on Facebook, Linkedin, etc? However, the abolition of stamp and seal would have been a major setback for the practice of law, especially in curbing the incidence of fake lawyers, now that many other professions have since embraced the practice of stamp and seal for their members. However, I fully support the eradication of issuance of an annual practicing licence to lawyers, if the concomitant effect would be that without it, one would not be entitled to practice. The licence to practice is earned permanently upon being called to the Bar by the Body of Benchers and the enrolment at the Supreme Court.
Generally, I see a brighter future for the Bar, if the present Exco is able to sustain its current enthusiasm, unite the various tendencies within the Bar and refrain totally from adopting divisive tactics that may end up weakening the very fabric of the Exco itself. It is only a two-year journey, which must be navigated with fairness to all, utmost transparency and a solid commitment for the common good, no matter the provocations. The experiences and doggedness of members of the new Exco should count in their favour to help achieve much for the NBA, so that we can all have the Bar of our dreams, truly all-inclusive, for young lawyers, for senior lawyers, for judges and indeed for the people of Nigeria.