This year’s elections into the national offices of the Nigerian Bar Association is not only a first of its kind in the history of the Association. Lawyers for the first time will vote electronically from any part of the world. The election also promises to be different in many aspects. As Mr. A.B. Mahmoud SAN and Chief J.K Gadzama SAN, two legal titans crisscross the country canvassing the votes of Nigerian lawyers, May Agbamuche Mbu, Jude Igbanoi and Tobi Soniyi asked each of them what they have to offer the Association and its over 80,000 members in their two year tenure.
Nigerian lawyers are now faced with the difficult task of deciding who will lead the Nigerian Bar Association for the next two years. You are in the race with an equally formidable contender. What are your plans for Nigerian lawyers if you become NBA President?
I envisage an effective, efficient and purposeful NBA committed to the protection and promotion of the rule of law and maintenance of the best traditions of the Bar.
My mission in this race is to serve with integrity and run an inclusive NBA dedicated to the advancement of the interests of its members and protection of societal norms and values. I have also developed a number of welfare support programmes for members of the Bar if I am elected. Some of these programmes include the provision of loans to members of the Bar, through partnering banks for setting up law firms and partnerships. Special health-care programmes will also be introduced for aged and incapacitated members of the Bar. Also germane is the issue of discipline in the profession which I will holistically address if elected.
The welfare and capacity development of young lawyers will also be paramount if I am elected and in this vein, I will champion the establishment of a minimum wage baseline for the engagement of young lawyers bearing in mind the location of the practice and business environment. The practice of paying young lawyers paltry sums as salary must be discouraged in all ramifications. I have also marshalled out plans to empower lawyers and build their capacity by exposing them to emerging vistas of law which currently remain largely untapped. Some of these areas are sports law, competition law (anti-trust), entertainment law, medical law e.t.c. This I will achieve by ensuring training, capacity building, organising relevant workshops, conferences and seminars and by networking with development partners, as well as more developed Bar Associations internationally.
Another area of interest which I will address is initiating a Health Insurance Policy in collaboration with the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) for all interested lawyers and their family members to guarantee easy access to quality healthcare and benefits. This will go a long way in addressing the health needs of lawyers and their family members.
Under my leadership, the NBA stamp and seal policy will be enhanced by tackling all attendant delays in its production by ensuring that the stamps are produced and made available to lawyers promptly upon application. The NBA car stickers is also another area of concern and I intend to put machinery in place to ensure that the car stickers are serialised and customised for lawyers to avoid its abuse by non-lawyers as is presently the case. If I am elected, I will run the NBA in a transparent manner by ensuring accountability and openness in all dealings and affairs of the Association.
Generally, I will run an all inclusive NBA by ensuring equal opportunities and participation by Branches, promote the rights of members, reposition the NBA as a frontline professional Association committed to holding government accountable and consolidate on the achievements of the present leadership of the NBA in the overall interest of the Association.
Most NBA presidential aspirants have grandiose manifestos and seemingly populist programmes, but these are hardly followed through on assumption of office. What will be your main areas of focus if you are elected NBA President and how will you implement them during your two-year tenure?
Two years is actually a reasonable time for any focused leader to make an impact. My programmes and vision for the Bar are well thought-out and very practicable. I also have a feasible blue-print for the implementation of my programmes. In drawing up my manifesto, I made wide consultations to identify the needs and yearnings of the Bar and all these are encapsulated in my manifesto which I have undertaken to implement to the fullest if elected. If I am elected as the 28th President of the Nigerian Bar Association, my main focus will be on the empowerment of members, promotion of professional development and continuing legal education.
Members will be economically empowered by exposing them to business opportunities, training and capacity building in diverse areas of law, as well as capacity building to enhance skills and increase productivity in line with modern realities of legal practice. This I intend to achieve through capacity building workshops, networking programmes, seminars, courses and conferences amongst others. I am of the view that the current Rules of Professional Conduct 2007 (RPC) is due for a comprehensive review to bring it in tandem with current trends and reflect modern realities.
This year, the NBA’s electoral process is quite innovative; it is a radical departure from the old system. For the first time, voting will be conducted electronically. There will also be universal suffrage which will give every lawyer in Nigeria an opportunity to vote. What are your views on this system?
The adoption of universal suffrage is no doubt a departure from the usual modus operandi of elections in the NBA. I think it is a welcome development. Technology has become the order of the day and I think the NBA should move with the global trend. I also see it as a sign of advancement and I am optimistic that if professionally handled, it will turn out to be an effective system of voting. Also, this is going to be the first time that it will be used for NBA national elections and I do not expect that it will be without hitches. It will also interest you to know that the electronic voting system was successfully used for the NBA Abuja branch elections in 2014 and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (Nigeria Branch) elections a few years ago. It is actually a more convenient and accessible way of voting and in that regard, it is a better option compared to the former voting system.
No doubt, the most welcome innovation is universal suffrage which has guaranteed every eligible member the right to vote and in so doing, participate in determining the kind of leadership they want.
The welfare of young lawyers features prominently in your manifesto. How do you intend to actualise this welfare package if you win the election?
The welfare of young lawyers is very dear to my heart and that explains why it features prominently in my manifesto as you rightly said. As I earlier stated, I will champion the establishment of a wage baseline for young lawyers considering the location of practice and business environment, if I am elected. I intend to accomplish this by engaging and consulting the management of law firms across the country and working in concert with the various branches of the NBA. There has to be a forum where all and sundry will actively participate and majority will reach a consensus on a wage baseline for young lawyers. All concerned parties, that is the senior lawyers, management of law firms, various NBA branches and the young lawyers themselves will participate in this process and I am optimistic that it will yield a positive result.
I have come to realise that finance is one of the challenges that young lawyers face in this profession. To this end, I intend to set up a loans’ board that will be saddled with the responsibility of disbursing soft loans to deserving lawyers, especially the young ones in order to assist them in setting up law firms and partnerships. This will be done in conjunction with partnering banks. The NBA under my leadership will ensure that these facilities are easily accessible to lawyers by making the process less cumbersome.
The Health Insurance Policy is also one of the programmes that I have designed in terms of welfare of lawyers. I believe that young lawyers will greatly benefit from this programme which I will implement if I am elected. I intend to achieve this through effective collaboration with the National Health Insurance Scheme to guarantee easy access to quality healthcare and benefits at a subsidised cost.
I believe that the welfare of young lawyers will be greatly improved by enhancing their skills and developing their capacities. To this end, I will replicate on a larger scale for the NBA, what my firm; J-K Gadzama LLP has been doing over the years. That is to develop a mentorship programme for young lawyers with a resource base drawn from senior lawyers and judges of superior courts (both serving and retired) and also establish a Cross-Border Mentorship Programme for them. Our young lawyers must be equipped with the requisite skills and abilities to address contemporary legal challenges and access enhanced benefits. This can only be achieved by training and re-training.
The NBA under my leadership will be an all inclusive one. All members will be carried along, given a sense of belonging and treated fairly. I will ensure that qualified young lawyers are incorporated in various committees, boards and given key positions and tasks in the Bar to expose, empower and improve their skills.
The issue of adoption of candidates by ethnic and regional fora is one which at best can be described as a double edged sword. In the past it worked well to produce consensus candidates, but this year, it appears that even your region, the North was unable to agree on a candidate. As things stand right now, the Arewa Lawyers’ Forum is sharply divided over who to adopt. This same scenario played out in the last elections when the South West’s Egbe Amofin could not agree on a candidate. How would this affect this year’s election?
It is not correct to say that the Arewa Lawyers’ Forum is sharply divided over who to adopt. I can tell you that there is no division in the Forum. An Internal Electoral Screening Committee of the Forum was initially set up to recommend the adoption of a Presidential candidate for the Forum. We also submitted an addendum giving reasons why we should be adopted as the candidate of the Forum. We were appraised based on seniority at the Inner Bar, contributions towards the progress of the Bar, general acceptance, popularity, attendance at meetings, among several others. The Committee fully and exhaustively deliberated upon the issue and recommended me as its sole candidate but my opponent protested which eventually stalled the process. A meeting was however held on Thursday, 9th June, 2016 at which I was formally adopted as the sole Presidential candidate of the Forum in the forthcoming NBA National officers’ elections. This is a welcome development and it also goes to show that the ALF is one strong and united forum. This development is also an indication that I have the overwhelming support of a majority of the Arewa lawyers. My adoption by the ALF has been formally communicated in a letter signed by the Vice Chairman; Garba Pwul, SAN and the Assistant Secretary; T.T. Hyundu, Esq to the President of the NBA, as well as the respective Chairmen of the following fora; South-West Lawyers’ Forum, Egbe-Amofin, Eastern Bar Forum (EBF), South West Bar Forum and Mid West Bar Forum.
In this year’s election, campaigns posters were banned, donations to branches were banned; newspaper and television adverts were banned. How has this affected your campaign so far? How have you been able to successfully reach out to the over 160,000 Nigerian lawyers?
The banning of campaign posters and media adverts is actually a welcome development. To an extent, it has reduced the cost of electioneering. It has also engendered some degree of sanity in the process. It has not in any way affected my campaign negatively. I have been able to successfully reach out to lawyers in almost all branches of the NBA in all the States of the Federation. It has been my tradition over the years and long before this election to honour invitations from various NBA Branches, participate in their activities, consult elders of the Bar, pay courtesy calls and visit various branches of the NBA. In so doing, I have been able to reach out to the majority of lawyers before and in the course of my campaigns. My inter-personal relationship with lawyers across board over time, the networks that I have built throughout my practice years have proved a worthwhile investment and some measure of connection to lawyers in almost every part of Nigeria. We have been drawing from these investments.
What are your thoughts on the Stamp & Seal policy introduced by the out-going administration which has thrown up over 2,000 fake lawyers within one year?
The policy which has fought impersonation and quackery to a standstill is very commendable and must be sustained. If I am elected, I will put machinery in place to enhance the policy by ensuring that all stamps are produced and promptly delivered to the respective branches/members in good time upon application. Some members have also complained about the issue of the expiry date on the stamp and to this end, I will address this issue holistically considering the Relevant Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) and the general concerns of members. Quite a number of lawyers have also complained about the cost of procuring these stamps and in this regard, I will consider reviewing the cost in line with current economic realities and in the overall interest of members, especially young lawyers. Another issue of concern is the delay in the production and delivery of the stamps. As I earlier stated, I will drastically reduce, if not totally eliminate all delays and bottlenecks in the production of the stamps in order to ensure that the stamps are delivered promptly upon application.
Despite the remarkable achievements of the outgoing administration, the NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law is still somewhat inactive. The Section on Legal Practice is just coming back from a hiatus. What are your plans for the Sections of the NBA and how do you intend to make them viable?
The Sections are very key to the Nigerian Bar Association and must be strengthened. Being the Pioneer Chairman of the NBA Section on Public Interest Law (SPIDEL) and Pioneer Vice Chairman of the NBA Section on Legal Practice (NBA), I know that the role and importance of the Sections cannot be overemphasised. Under my leadership, I will create an enabling environment for the various Sections to thrive and institutionalise the process of selecting their successive leadership following democratic tenets and due process. This will engender confidence building and commitment from their respective memberships. The NBA under my leadership will also give all the needed support and assistance to the various Sections to enable them function effectively for increased productivity.
There has been a general outcry over the current state of indiscipline and poor ethics of lawyers. How do you intend to improve the professional ethics of lawyers?
The dignity of the profession has recently been undermined through some perceived unprofessional acts of some members. This situation underscores the need for the Bar to have a determined leader who can firmly address issues of discipline amongst its members and ensure timely action to preserve the integrity of the profession. Under my leadership, the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee will be supported to deliver its mandate more effectively. One consideration is to have disciplinary proceedings conducted in a transparent manner that is open to public scrutiny. This is akin to what obtains in the United Kingdom where members of the public even participate in some stages of the disciplinary proceedings. The current Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 (RPC) also appears to be outdated. I will put machinery in place to make sure that the RPC is amended to meet the current realities of legal practice especially as it affects discipline and the ethics of legal practice. Strict adherence to the RPC will be propagated and the NBA will collaborate with other relevant bodies and authorities to put in place measures that will ensure the highest levels of discipline in the profession.
The level of computer literacy of Nigerian lawyers is noticeably low. If you win the NBA elections how would you improve this?
I am not entirely sure that this is accurate especially with the younger generation of lawyers who demographically are the significant majority. Having said that, I do acknowledge the deficit which though reflective of a regional problem can and should be addressed. The world is going digital now and Nigerian Lawyers cannot afford to be left behind. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 3.2 billion people, about half of the world’s population are online. However, only 34% of households in developing countries have access to internet. If elected, the use of ICT will be introduced as part of the continuing education programme. Lawyers will be given incentives to attend and participate in workshops on how to use the computer and other modern technological equipments. The young lawyers will also be given increased access to ICT facilities and services available at the National Secretariat at subsidised rates to enhance their ICT competencies. The NBA under my leadership will also work in concert with the various courts on the introduction of electronic filing of court processes, sensitisation and creation of awareness of relevant software and ICT applications among members.
The Bar-Bench Forum was introduced to foster a good working relationship between the Bar and the Bench. It was very interactive in many branches, but has gradually become inactive. How can it be revived?
This can be revived by creating more awareness of the forum and enhancing the relationship with the Bench. Many members of the Bar are not aware of the existence of the forum and this is a major impediment to its success. Some lawyers have also said that the timing of the Bar-Bench interactions are usually not convenient. These and other factors militating against the success of the Bar – Bench forum will adequately be addressed. All members must also be given a sense of belonging in this process and the NBA leadership under my watch will ensure that resolutions reached at the forum are fully implemented.
The out-going Alegeh led administration despite the commendations it has received from several quarters cannot be said to be perfect. What short-comings did you observe in the out-going administration and how do you intend to improve on them?
An Assessment of the present administration is actually a relative one. What is not in doubt is that Augustine Alegeh, SAN will be leaving the NBA better than he met it. His administration has performed well though there is always room for improvement. It is said that the room for improvement is the biggest room in the world and we cannot rest on our oars.
The myriad political and legal issues facing African countries require collaboration between the various regional Bar Associations. If you become NBA President how will your administration facilitate this?
Collaboration between the various regional Bar Associations is very germane and will be sustained under my leadership if I am elected. In this regard, I will consolidate on the achievements of the present NBA leadership. It will also be recalled that the NBA in collaboration with other Bar Associations and Law Societies in Africa hosted the pioneer African Bar Leaders Conference which held on Sunday, 10th April, 2016 in Lagos, Nigeria. Another point of reference is the 2015 Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) Annual Conference which was held in Abuja from the 22nd to 24th day of September, 2015 which I actively participated in. I will bring the wealth of my experience garnered over the years by my active participation and interaction in these bodies to impact on the fortunes of the NBA.
I will ensure that more avenues are created and that the NBA is properly represented in order to brainstorm, dialogue and cross-fertilise ideas with representatives of other regional Bar Associations across Africa and beyond all in a bid to continuously offer practical solutions to political and legal issues facing African countries.
Also, the NBA under my leadership will ensure beneficial, well-informed, timely and coherent contributions to the debates on regional issues and promotion of democratic ethos and institutions in the African region.