HomeOpinionsNBA, CAC, Law Society and the New Court Order

NBA, CAC, Law Society and the New Court Order


By Abdulrasheed Ibrahim

On 15th December 2023, a Federal High Court in Abuja in a judgment gave orders directing the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to approve for the registration and thereafter register any proposed names submitted to it on behalf of the Plaintiffs, being: “Nigerian Law Society” or “Nigerian Bar Society” and “Society of Nigeria Lawyers”, “Nigerian Lawyers’ Society” or Association of Legal Practitioners of Nigeria” and issue a certificate of registration to that effect”. The Plaintiffs in the suit against the CAC are lawyers including two Senior Advocates of Nigeria with Chief Bolaji Ayorinde SAN as the head of the Plaintiffs. The rate at which the enrolled order dated 12th January 2024 containing the directive was spreading among lawyers and the general public was overwhelming .It was like a wildfire that has opened further debate and war of words among some lawyers on the survival of NBA’s monopoly which has been on for over six decades.

One thing that seems yet unclear to me is whether the Law Society ordered to be registered by the CAC for Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN)’s camp is the same as the one being led by Mr. Kunle Ogunba SAN which has earned Hon. Nimi Walson-Jack a suspension from the NBA’s National Executive Council (NBA-NEC) on the allegation of promoting another Bar Association to rival the NBA. If you are well familiar with the NBA’s history and politics, you will remember that there was already in existence a Law Society of Nigeria (LSN) registered with the CAC with certificate No. 8206 as far back as 28th December 1994 of which Prince (Dr.) Richard Oma Ahonaruogho SAN was involved and still in possession of the LSN’s certificate of incorporation. In a communique released by the NBA at the end of its NEC meeting of 15th December 2022 , the NBA while lambasting some senior lawyers for seeking to split the NBA, also revealed the step it was taken to prevent the CAC from registering another Bar Association as according to the NBA leadership the NBA was the only Bar Association recognised under the Nigerian Law. Although NBA was not a party to the suit between Chief Ayorinde’s proposed Law Society and Corporate Affairs Commission that led to the new order of court, but whether the NBA will appeal against the judgment as an interested party is a question to be answered by the NBA leadership.

The latest court order has generated mixed reactions and crossfire among lawyers. While some lawyers have contended that the new order directing the CAC to register Chief Ayorinde’s Law Society is a bad news and a great defeat to the NBA’s monopoly that will end up opening the floodgate for the emergence of more Bar Associations with different colourations and characters in Nigeria, other argued that the emergence of more Bar Associations will not in any way have negative or meaningful impact on the existence of NBA as those new Bar Associations coming on board will in no way be different from the NBA they are coming up to rival. Mr. Bayo Akinlade, a former Chairman of the NBA Ikorodu branch and who has moved to the side of the Nigerian Law Society has thrown up this contention:

“Why does another bar association have to cause any problem?…We use words like rival , what’s the rivalry in an association…Is there money or clients to be gained there ? Isn’t there rivalry within the profession already as professionals struggling for clients and briefs? We talk about unity , what are we united in within the NBA sef, we work at cross purposes within the leadership…Branch Chairmen and President of the NBA are lords unto themselves…Other exco members are usually just window dressing and we talk of unity? Within the states we have 5 to 8 NBA branches all doing their own thing…There is no unity of purpose in tackling issues within the respective states. In Lagos for instance …5 NBA Branches host 5 law weeks, 5 YLF conferences, 5 dinners all going to the executive ,judiciary and legislature for financial support for their respective programs…5 branches paying courtesy visits to the same bunch of people every 2 years etc…..”

The above contention by Akinlade was not without response from a lawyer on the other side of the divides (NBA) as follows:

“Hopeless propositions. These are absolute-irrelevant submissions. The only relevant question is, how is your NLS going to reverse the trend? You know the answer is ‘In no way’. If you want to propose a balkanization of the NBA by floating a rival body, your argument can only make any sense if you tell your audience how your rival body can solve the problems of the bar .If you are not focusing on this, but discussing what you think are the problems of the NBA, you’are merely joking , and also supporting suggestions that your group has no hope but is a huge joke just as its predecessor, the LSN.”

The above clearly illustrates what you have when there is a power struggle within an association that does not allow all its members to freely and democratically express their desires to run in the race for positions in such association .What is presently being witnessed in the NBA is the result of its politics of discrimination that has been on for decades. I once likened the NBA politics to the kind that played out in the George Orwell’s Animal Farm where all animals are equally but some animals are more equal than the others. I have not changed my position on this theory. The conventional politics to some extent seems to be more liberal than the NBA politics but one of the things they have in common is greed for power and relevance. For instance, can you see what is going on in the Rivers State?

What is happening in Rivers State is the failure of the contemporary politicians to learn from history. But can those not interested in reading learn anything from history? Political Godfathers particularly the likes of Mr. Wike will do well to learn from the Dr. Olusola Saraki, the late strongman of Kwara politics during his life times on how to deal with their vagabond Godsons rather than making their States ungovernable. When Saraki installed Lawal as the Governor of Kwara State and thereafter was a clash between them, Saraki rather than making the state ungovernable told Lawal that his second term in office was inside his (Saraki) pocket. Lawal later lost re-election for the second term in office as earlier asserted by Saraki . During the second republic in 1983, Saraki did the same thing to Adamu Attah of NPN when he directed all his followers to vote for Cornelius Adebayo of the UPN and by that pulled off the rug from Attah’s feet. If Wike believes he is still strong in the Rivers State politics, why can’t he adopt the late Saraki’s style? This is not to say I am endorsing the politics of Godfatherism. No , I detest it.

Can Chief Ayorinde’s Law Society or any other new Bar Association coming up to rival NBA make any difference on arrival? My honest answer to this question is in the negative because of the fact that those coming up with the new Bar Associations are the same lawyers that have pulled out of the NBA who were at one time or the other being the beneficiaries of the NBA. They used to be part and parcel of the NBA system they are now revolting against. The new Association will just be an old wine in a new bottle. There will surely be no any change from the old system. Until there is general change of attitude, the rot in the system will continue. Remember that the APC sacked the PDP on the slogan of change and if we are to be honest, has anything really changed since the coming on board of the APC at the Aso Rock? There is no problem with Nigeria as a country as what the country is naturally blessed with are still intact but the main problem is with the leaders and the led who are the Nigerians . The same thing is applicable to the NBA and its members. What we really need is discipline and change of attitudes. As they will say in Singapore “keep the system clean”.

With the subsisting order of Federal High Court of Abuja , the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) has no choice but to comply except it want to appeal against the judgment which to me may be an exercise in futility even if it decides to bow to the pressure of those who may want it to proceed to the Court of Appeal as we live in a nation where those that do not want to accept defeat or throw in the towel always resort to the appellate machinery to postpone the day of reckoning. The case of Faruq Lawan , a former member of House of Representative who was sent to jail on allegation of accepting bribe from Femi Otedola is a classic example. Faruq fought his legal battle from the High Court to the Supreme Court but at the end of the day he is now faced with the reality of serving his jail term in prison. What a great lesson! By the assertion of the NBA as contained in its NEC’s communique of 15th December 2022:

“NEC receives with dismay the report of the attempt to register a parallel body of lawyers as an alternative to the Nigerian Bar Association and frown at the involvement of some senior members of the Bar and past leaders of our dear Association in the registration process of the alternative body….NEC categorically resolves that the Law Society of Nigeria (LSN), a body so registered, is unknown to members of the Bar and mandates the NBA President to commence processes for the delisting of the LSN by the Corporate Affairs Commission…NEC further resolves to sanction all members of the Bar seeking to promote or register a new lawyers’ association , whether using a new name or an old name registered, Law Society of Nigeria (LSN)….”

Can the above assertion still fly in the face of the new order of the court? Can NBA further stop the registration of Chief Ayorinde’s Law Society as directed by the Federal High Court? These are interesting questions to be answered by the passage of time. Another lesson here in that there is always a limit to what you can influence or use your power to stop or achieve. If the NBA leadership had previous succeeded in influencing the former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) as once alleged not to register another Bar Association , then here comes an order of a Federal High Court directing the CAC to register another Bar Association as against the position of the NBA.

Among the declaratory reliefs sought by Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN)’s camp and ordered as prayed by the court was : “ A declaration of this Honourable court that proposed names: “Nigerian Law Society”; or Nigerian Bar Society” and Society of Nigerian Lawyers”; Nigerian Lawyers’ Society; or Association of Legal Practitioners of Nigeria” submitted on behalf of the Plaintiffs for approval and subsequent registration by the Defendant are not similar and/or closely similar to the “Nigerian Bar Association” such that it could mislead the general public ;and the names herein as submitted for approval and registration, by the plaintiffs, do not fall within either the limits of restrictions or prohibition contemplated under Section 852 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act ,2020 (CAMA 2020) and the extant CAC Operations Checklists 2022”

With the mixed reactions and crossfire still going on among some lawyers on this latest judgment of the Federal High Court in favour of Chief Ayorinde’s camp, one hopes lawyers will exercise great restraint in the use of words to express their minds and feelings on this new development. Remember lawyers still remain learned friends and colleagues called to the same Nigerian Bar irrespective of which side of the divides you belong.

NOTE: Anyone is at liberty to disagree with my above submissions as I will surely appreciate a balanced, fair and objective rebuttal.
08055476823, 08164683735:abdulrasheedibrahim362@gmail.com
28th January 2024
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