I thank your good self and the National Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for appointing me as an Alternate Chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the NBA. Regrettably, I am unable to take up the appointment due to the reasons which will become clear anon.
Permit me to join the NEC in supporting your suggestion that the on-going review of the Nigerian Constitution by the National Assembly be subjected to a referendum so as to have the input and imprimatur of the Nigerian people. Your timely suggestion cannot be faulted as it accords with Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees the “participation of the people in their government”.
Having received several complaints from concerned members of the NBA on the politics of exclusion that has been entrenched in recent time I am compelled to raise the following issues with you:
EXCLUSION OF MEMBERS FROM NBA ACTIVITIES.
However, the NBA leadership which is campaigning for popular participation in the politics of the country has been accused of hypocrisy for excluding very many lawyers from attending the meetings of the NEC of the NBA as observers or from participating in the Annual General Conference on account of inability to pay prohibitive registration fees.
APPOINTMENT OF LAWYERS INTO STATUTORY BODIES.
The NBA leadership has also been accused of appointing the same set of lawyers into all statutory bodies in which the NBA is represented. For instance, positions in the National Judicial Council, Council of Legal Education, Federal Judicial Service Commission, Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee and Body of Benchers are reserved for serving NBA President, past NBA Presidents and a selected Senior Advocates of Nigeria. In fact, the few slots reserved for the NBA in the Body of Benchers have been shared among lawyers who have since become life members. It is interesting to note that some of the life benchers are in their early 50s in an association of over 70,000 members.
In recent time, the NBA lost its voice on some crucial national issues due to apparent conflict of interest by the NBA leaders in the National Judicial Council. An example was the silence of the NBA over the discriminatory treatment meted out to the Honourable Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Offor of the Court of Appeal by the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Chairman of NJC, the Honourable Justice Aloma Mariam Mukthar
CONSTITUTION OF NBA COMMITTEES
Virtually, every Committee of the NBA is headed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria even though there are hundreds of more capable colleagues in the outer Bar who can add value to the activities and programmes of the NBA. Some of the Committees recently constituted by your Executive have Senior Advocates of Nigeria as Chairmen and Alternate Chairmen. There is also the issue of multiple appointments given to a few lawyers with the result that they are holding 4 or 5 appointments in NBA. Since the NBA belongs to all lawyers it is not right or fair to be recycling the same set of lawyers for the NBA appointments to the exclusion of other active Bar men and women.
I have confirmed that the newly reconstituted Body of Benchers Disciplinary Committee is now headed by the immediate past president of the NBA who, as you are well aware, had referred a number of complaints/ petitions to the Disciplinary Committee for determination. By the said appointment the Chairman who in his capacity as the NBA Chairman recommended the prosecution of certain lawyers, nominated the prosecutors, will now preside over the trial of such lawyers. You will no doubt agree with me that the appointment did not take cognizance of the principles of fair hearing as laid down in the case of Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee v. Gani Fawehinmi (1985) 2 NWLR (PT 7) 300.
Also, you are no doubt aware the prosecutor appointed by the NBA at the Body of Benchers Disciplinary Committee was recently indicted in a multi billion bank fraud. My request for his removal as prosecutor on moral and legal grounds was ignored by the immediate past president of the NBA who is now the Chairman of the BOB Disciplinary Committee. It took a court action by Prof S.A Adesanya, SAN before the said prosecutor withdrew his further appearance at the Panel. Now the said Prof Adesanya is being victimized for his principled stand and the NBA is supporting the persecution!
However, I must not fail to acknowledge and commend the decision of the NBA NEC in ratifying your nomination of Mr. J.S. Okutepa SAN and seven other colleagues to present cases before the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee pursuant to Order 5 Rule(1) and Order 6 of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee Rules, 2006.
COMMERCIALISATION OF NBA ELECTIONS
It is now accepted on all hands that the increasing commercialization of the NBA elections has done incalculable damage to the independence of the Bar. The Electoral Committee under the leadership of Lanke Odogiyan Esq. which conducted the last NBA election made the following observation:
‘The way our campaigns are conducted and the role of money in our electioneering process must be urgently discussed and addressed. The situation is intolerable, embarrassing and unacceptable. Elections into key offices in the NBA have become highly monetized and scandalously expensive. The truth must be told and we must face it. We cannot continue this way. We must courageously address the problems and find solutions to them.’
It is sad to observe that of all the 18 Committees you recently constituted at Asaba NEC, none is concerned with the fundamental issue of electoral reforms within the NBA even when it formed part of your inaugural speech in August 2012 wherein you stated:
“Expectedly your (Odogiyan’s) report to the pre-conference National Executive Committee meeting of the 26th of August, 2012 made mention of areas that need improvement in our electoral process. We will look at them and in due course, we will set up a committee to review the constitution of Nigerian Bar Association and make recommendations to the National Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association, as some of the issues raised in your report will need amendment of the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association and our electoral guidelines.”
It is no longer a hidden fact that the commercialization of NBA elections has led to a situation whereby elected officers are compelled to chase briefs and largesse from the powers that be in a bid to recoup their investments. Our autonomy as a watch dog of the Society has also been compromised through the sponsorship of most of our programmes and activities by governments.
NON PUBICATION OF LIST OF CO-OPTED NEC MEMBERS
One of the thorny issues that cropped up in the aftermath of the last NBA election was the last minute inclusion of some lawyers’ names as co-opted NEC members. It was alleged by one of the candidates who took part in the election that it was designed to influence the outcome of the last election in favour of some preferred candidates. Such manipulation was made possible by the refusal of the NBA Secretariat to publish the names of the 120 co-opted members approved at the first NEC meeting in Gombe.
In the past, the practice has been that after the names of co-opted members had been read out by the President and approved by the 1st NEC meeting; the list was subsequently published in at least 3 national newspapers and also incorporated in the minutes of the subsequent NEC meeting. Having read out the names of NEC members at the last NEC meeting at Asaba, Delta State, I request you to publish and circulate the list at the next NEC meeting. Kindly note if the list of NEC members remains shrouded in secrecy I will not hesitate to take legal steps to compel necessary disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
DISOBEDIENCE OF COURT ORDERS
In utter disdain for the rule of law court orders are being disobeyed by government officials and agencies. The latest is the refusal of Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) to obey an order of court vacating an earlier order granted in its favour against an oil and gas company. The NBA till date has not reacted to this latest assault on rule of law. I recall that the NBA once directed lawyers to embark on boycott of courts throughout the country to protest the disobedience of a single order of a high court. That was under a military dictatorship! Apart from making available a register in the NBA secretariat for the compilation of court orders that are being disobeyed by the government, the NBA has shown inexplicable indifference to the growing culture of impunity in the land. You need to pay attention urgently to this worrisome development.
CORRUPTION IN THE JUDICIARY
The NBA has continued to express concern over the intolerable rate of corruption in the judiciary. While the National Judicial Council has a machinery for dealing with bad eggs in the judiciary the NBA has not put any measure in place for exposing and shaming its own corrupt members including those who serve as conduit pipes for corrupt judicial officers. Since many of the corrupt lawyers are said to be senior colleagues it is hoped that the newly constituted Anti-Corruption Committee headed by Yusuf Olaolu Ali, SAN will be empowered to cleanse the augean stable in the legal profession.
In the light of the foregoing, I urge you to reconstitute the membership of the NBA Committees and the statutory bodies with a view to reflecting the divergent interests in the Bar. We cannot continue to recycle the same set of persons just because they are past Presidents or Senior Advocates. Under your able leadership the NBA should be repositioned to fight disobedience of court orders no matter whose ox is gored. Having regard to your personal experience you ought to ensure that the electoral rules of the NBA are reviewed to eliminate the commercialization of election of the officers of the NBA.
FEMI FALANA, SAN