By Sylvester Udemezue
Dear Nigerian lawyer, please don’t be misled; the undisputed Leader of the Nigerian Bar is the NBA President. NBA is the umbrella body of all lawyers in Nigeria. There is no other association in Nigeria that has all Lawyers as members, other than the NBA.
Please Note these:
- All lawyers in (i) private practice, (ii) public practice (aka Official Bar), (iii) public service, (iv). No service or practice at all, belong to the NBA, and are therefore under the NBA President’s leadership.
- The BOB Chairman, CLE Chairman, AGF, NALT President, BOSAN Chairman, LOAN President, YLF Chairman, LPPC Chairman, LPDC Chairman, NLS DG, Dean’s of all law faculties, GCB Chairman, etc are all members of the NBA and are therefore under the leadership of the NBA President.
- Some, and in some cases many, members of the BOB, LPPC, GCB, CLE, YLF, etc are nominated by the NBA leadership.
- Head of the FIRST HALF of the Disciplinary Arm for lawyers: BOB Chairman (see section 11, LPA). Please note that the BOB is not the only disciplinary authority in the Legal Profession in Nigeria. See section 13 LPA, cap L11, LFN 2004.
- The Head of the SECOND HALF of the disciplinary arm for lawyers is the CJN (see section 13, LPA).
- The Head of the official Bar (comprising Lawyers in public practice) is the Hon Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF). Please note that I didn’t say “lawyers in public service”. The AGF is not the head of all lawyers in public service in Nigeria. Example, his headship doesn’t extend to lawyers who are public university Lecturers.
- The Head of Legal Education in Nigeria is the Chairman of the Council of Legal Education (CLE). See section 1(1)&(2), Legal Education (Consolidation, etc), Act (LECA): “There shall be a body to be known as the Council Establishment and of Legal Education (hereafter in this Act referred to as functions of “the Council”) which shall be a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal.(2)The Council shall have responsibility for the legal education of persons seeking to become members of the legal profession”. Section 2(5), LECA: “The Council shall have power to do such things as it considers expedient for the purpose of performing its functions, but no remuneration shall be paid to any member of the Council in respect of his office”. See also section 3, LECA, which gives the CLE exclusive powers with respect to continuing legal education.
- The Head of the Nigerian Bench is the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). See Section 230(1), and 235 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), 1999.
- The Head of the Nigerian Law School. (NLS) is the Director-General of the Nigerian Law School. See section 2(1)(g) & 6(2), LECA.
- Head of the Disciplinary Arm for all Judges and justices in Nigeria is the Chairman of Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC). See section 153(1)(i) the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and Items 20(a) and 21 (b)&(d) of Part I of the 3rd Schedule to the Constitution.
- The Leader of all Law Teachers in Nigeria is the President of the National Association of Law Teachers (NALT). See: https://www.nalt.org.ng/executive-committee/
- The Leader of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) is the Chairman of Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN).
MORE POINTS TO NOTE:
There is a huge difference between LEADERSHIP OF THE BAR” and “PRECEDENCE AT THE BAR”. While the NBA President is THE indisputable leader of the Nigerian Bar, the Hon Attorney-General of the Federation (HAGF) is at the head of order of precedence at the Bar. But, remember that the greatest, the highest and the most powerful outing of the Bar in Nigeria is the NBA-AGM (NBA Annual General Meeting) presided over by the NBA President, not the Hon AGF. Further, the Nigerian Bar has four segments in all —
(1). The official Bar (lawyers in public practice);
(2). The Private Bar (lawyers in private practice);
(3). Lawyers in Public Service (non legal officers. Eg, PRO of EFCC, Lecturer at ABU, OAU UI, etc); and
(4). Non-practicing lawyers (Lawyer whose names are on the Roll, but who are not engaged in active law practice) — Eg, the lady that had taken to frying yam and dodo in Ibadan, a lawyer who has gone into business and left law practice, a lawyer who works as a carpenter/mechanic/trader, etc instead of in active law practice.
While the NBA President’s Leadership extends to all four categories, the AGF leads only one; the official Bar (headed by the Hon AGF) is a only one segment of the Nigerian Bar. The BOB heads none!
NOTE: Although the Body Of Benchers (BOB) (just as the SC and the CJN, see section 13, Legal Practitioners Act: LPA) has a hand in the disciplining of all members of the four segments of the Bar, the BOB is not a leader of any of the four segments. See sections 11, 12 and 13 of the LPA. Accordingly, the NBA President is the INDISPUTABLE LEADER OF THE NIGERIAN BAR (Private, official, Active, Non Active).
There’s a huge difference between A LEADER and THE LEADER. While the NBA President is THE LEADER of the Nigerian Bar, any of the BOB Chairman, the AGF, the NLS DG, CLE Chairman, NALT President, YLF Chairman, LPPC Chairman, LPDC Chairman, GCB Chairman, BOSAN Chairman, NBA Branch, sectional (SBL, SLP, SPIDEL)or committee Chairmen, etc, is A LEADER (and not “the leader”) of the Bar.
For further insights on the far-reaching powers of the NBA in the legal profession, I encourage us to read
“AN EXPOSITORY INQUISITION INTO THE HALLOWED PLACE OF NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION AS THE MOST FAR-REACHING REGULATOR IN NIGERIA`S LEGAL PROFESSION,” by Sylvester Udemezue (
Published on 30 August 2020: https://barristerng.com/an-expository-inquisition-into-the-hallowed-place-of-nigerian-bar-association-as-the-most-far-reaching-regulator-in-nigerias-legal-profession-by-sylvester-udemezue/).
OTHER ISSUES ARISING
1. Does the General Council of the Bar Manage The NBA?
Although under section 1 of the Legal Practitioners Act, CAP L11, LFN, 2004, (before the 1994 amendment, that is , Decree 21 of 1994), the General Council of The Bar (GCB) (to be hereinafter called “the Bar Council”) has the power for “general management of the affairs of the Nigerian Bar Association” (NBA), powers of the Bar Council over the NBA are made subject to such “limitations for the time being imposed by the Constitution of the Association.” So says the same section 1 of Cap L11. Note that the powers given to the Bar Council under section 1 of the LPA were later transferred to the Body of Benchers vide section 2 of the Legal Practitioners Act, (Decree 21) of 1994.The Bar Council is out of the way, by virtue of Decree 21 of 1994, as far as management of the affairs of the NBA is concerned. But one question then arises: Does Body of Benchers (BOB) now manage the affairs of the NBA? In my humble opinion, the answer is NO! Let us check out the current position of the law, to see that the BOB doesn’t manage the affairs of the NBA.
2. Does the Body of Benchers Manage NBA?
In my humble opinion, the answer is NO! In reality, attempts by the Body of Benchers to manage the affairs of the NBA have always been met with stiff resistance because section 1 of the same LPA, CAP L11 expressly provides that any decision of Bar Council (now the BOB) under that provision “may be revoked or modified by the Annual General Conference or any general meeting of the Association. ”Such modifications are found in section 6(a) of the NBA Constitution, as amended, which clearly has almost taken all such powers away from the GCB/BOB. Please note that in this respect, and by virtue of section 1, of Cap L11, LFN, 2004, the provisions of the NBA Constitution SUPERSEDE any powers of the GCB/BOB under section 1 of LPA, Cap L11. This means that the powers given to the GCB/BOB are meaningless since they cannot be exercised except/unless with the NBA`s permission, and to the extent that the NBA permits. This buttresses the fact that NBA is on its own the highest regulatory organ (Regulator) in the Legal Profession. From the aforesaid, it is also obvious that the Legal Practitioners Act (LPA), Cap L11, has clothed the NBA with statutory powers to VETO decisions of GCB or BOB in respect of the affairs of the NBA, thus testifying to the far-reaching nature of NBA’s status as topmost Regulator in the legal industry
3. Is NBA a Voluntary Organisation?
The answer is yes, It’s voluntary because one voluntarily applies to be called to the BAR. No one is compelled to get called. Yet, immediately upon call to the Bar, you become a member of the NBA/Bar. Note that (a) whether or not, you pay practicing fee or NBA Branch dues; and (b) whether you attend NBA meetings or Conference or not, once called to the Bar, you’re a member of the NBA/Bar, forever
Still in support of my position that NBA President is the indispensable leader of the Bar, and a lawyer becomes an NBA member automatically upon call to the Bar, please see: “NBA MEMBERSHIP & QUOD APPROBO NON REPROBO….” By Sylvester Udemezue (published on 30 August 2020: https://thenigerialawyer.com/nba-membership-quod-approbo-non-reprobo-a-lawyer-files-his-process-in-court-with-nba-seals-then-turns-around-to-claim-to-not-belong-to-the-nba/)
4. Can a Lawyer Withdraw His Membership of the NBA/BAR While His Name Remains on the Roll?
The NBA remains the Umbrella Association for all Nigerian Lawyers…The Bar is the body. We all are members of the Bar by virtue of which we all are members of the NBA, just as all Christians are said to be members and partakers in the body of Christ, the Lord and Savior. Please see these NOTABLE COURT VERDICTS ON AUTOMATIC MEMBERSHIP OF THE NBA (as an association) UPON CALL-TO-BAR:
(a). Membership of the NBA is Automatic Upon Call To Bar: In N.B.A. v. KEHINDE (2017) 11 NWLR (PT 1576) 225 AT 250 -251 paras H- A, His lordship NIMPAR, JCA, stated as follows: “The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) was established for the purpose of regulating the affairs and conduct of all legal practitioners in Nigeria and upon being called to the Nigerian Bar, there is automatic membership to the NBA on a lawyer. See Chinwo v. Owhonada (2008)3 NWLR (Pt.1074)341. Hence, as long as one has elected to join and remain within the noble profession, he is a member and ought to comply with the directive of the Association”
(b). On the Implications of subscription to membership of association, the Court or Appeal held in CHINWO v OWHONDA (2008) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1074) 341, at 361, as follows:
”The appellant was not compelled to take up the profession of law and its attendant compulsory membership of the Nigerian Bar Association. However, once he made the choice to study and practice law and thereby placing his name on the roll of honour of belonging to the profession, he stands bound by the internal rules and regulations of the Association. There would therefore be no issue of a breach of the Constitution of the country if the rules demand of him, UNDIVIDED LOYALTY”
(c). NBA as a foremost Regulatory Authority for the Legal Profession and its members, in Nigeria:
The Court of Appeal (per TUKUR, JCA) in N.B.A. v. KEHINDE (2017) 11 NWLR (PT 1576) 225 at page 246 stared: *“I agree with the arguments of appellant’s counsel to the extent that the NBA is statutorily recognised by the Legal Practitioners Act. This was why my Lord Hon.Justice Obaseki,(JSC) in the case of Chief Gani Fawehinmi v. Nigerian Bar Association & Ors (No.2) (1989) LPELR-1259( SC)PP. 92-93,paras. C-E, (1989)2 NWLR (pt.105) 558 at p.628, paras. G-H while commenting on the status of the Nigerian Bar Association stated thus: ‘The Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Assocition is not a statutory instrument. It is not a subsidiary legislation to the Legal Practitioners Act….It was accorded its due superior position by the Legal Practitioners Act, 1975 in the conduct of the affairs of the Nigerian Bar Association by the General Council of the Bar’”.
Please find time to read this commentary: “LIKE SIAMESE TWINS, NIGERIAN LAWYERS ARE LEGALLY INSEPARABLE FROM THE NBA” by Sylvester Udemezue (published on 9 August 2020: https://dnllegalandstyle.com/2020/like-siamese-twins-nigerian-lawyers-are-legally-inseparable-from-the-nba-udemezue/). In that piece, I observed, inter alia, as follows:
“I have just read an interview granted a respected Learned silk, and published under the title, “NBA Is A Voluntary Association, Emergence Of Other Associations Of Lawyers Is Not Illegal.” In the report, the respected learned senior advocate was quoted as having said that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) “is a free association of lawyers called to the Bar in Nigeria but none can be compelled to be a member. Secondly, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, guarantees freedom of lawful association and freedom of assembly.” There are many law associations in Britain, there are many such associations in the United States of America and even in Canada, to mention but a few. Also back home here in Nigeria, membership of chartered accountants in Nigeria is not limited to the respected body, ICAN. We also have ANANS, another recognised body of chartered accountants and I understand that the registered bodies of architects are up to four. So, it is not strange if somewhere along the line, there emerges many more associations of Nigerian lawyers outside the NBA.” With due respect to the revered silk, we’re in Nigeria, not in England. Nigerian laws (legislation and case law) aren’t the same as those of the UK. Take for an example, in the UK, one qualifies either as a Barrister or as a Solicitor, and not as both. On the other hand, in Nigeria, one qualifies as both a Barrister and a Solicitor. Whatever is the case in England is the business of English people. The law in Nigeria is that one cannot be a lawyer without being a member of the NBA. When one elects to get called to the Nigerian Bar, that one has automatically elected to be inducted into the NBA as a full member. I agree that membership of the NBA is voluntary; that is why no one compels anyone to chose to study law, to go to the NLS, and to be called to the — all being conditions precedent to becoming an NBA member. It is entirely a matter of choice. Those who choose to get called to the bar have voluntarily chosen to belong to the NBA’
I pause here.
Sylvester Udemezue (Udems)
(August 01, 2022)