The new President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) who comes to office with over 30 years post call experience and is acknowledged as a highly experienced litigator and Nigeria’s foremost communications law expert, is the founder and senior partner of Paul Usoro & Co. He took a Bachelors of Law degree from the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife in 1981, was called to Nigerian Bar in 1982.
Usoro has advised a wide range of blue chip Nigerian and foreign companies in the areas of project finance and development, equity raising, infrastructure development and management buy-outs. He has served as the Chief Legal Consultant for Nigeria’s first ever spectrum auction since 2001. He has also worked with the National Assembly in producing the Nigeria Communication Act, 2003.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the Learned Silk is coming to office at a time of growing division in the legal profession and deep quest for the salvaging of ethics among lawyers. For him, the tasks are onerous but during his campaign, he promised to tackle them frontally.
Having emerged through an election that was dogged by multiple controversies, it is expected that he would hit the ground running by embarking on a holistic unification and peace-building processes. With the controversy generated by the two online elections, the incoming administration should take the matter back to National Executive Council (NEC), or call a broad-based stakeholders’ meeting to look at the issue again. When the delegate system was in force, there was never a time an election was adjudged to be rigged. But the two last online elections have attracted so much condemnation.
As a matter of fact, the election that produced Mahmoud, who just bowed out is still being challenged in court by Chief Joe Gadzama (SAN), and the matter is at address level, while the election he is seeking to nullify has been served out by Mahmoud.
The other contestants in the just-concluded election are also spoiling for war. Though Professor Ernest Ojukwu, who has insisted that the election was rigged had promised not to go to court, Chief Arthur Obi Okafor has called for an audit of the election result and may head to court if he is not satisfied with the outcome.
The fact that Usoro emerged victorious, albeit mounting insinuations that the process was skewed in his favour, is enough ground to spur him to pursue a vigorous reform initiative that would ensure a credible, free and fair election system for the NBA in subsequent years.
This is why many members of the Bar are calling for a review of the online voting system, so that whoever emerges in the association’s election does not have to carry the burden of a disputed poll.
The NBA had served as the voice of the people, especially taking on the government and its obnoxious and oppressive policies on behalf of the people. An example of this was the recent
statement credited to President Muhammadu Buhari while addressing the opening ceremony of the Annual General Conference of the association in Abuja saying that the security of the country could not be sacrificed on the altar of the rule of law, where national interest was threatened.
Though the President’s comments drew criticisms from a cross-section of lawyers and eminent Nigerians, observers believe that it is not enough. They want NBA to urgently intervene before the country is taken back to military era. They believe that the association must pick up its role of being the voice of the common man, by helping to hold government accountable to the people and ensuring that arbitrariness of government and its agencies at all levels is totally curtailed.
The role of NBA in rejecting fuel subsidy, challenging draconian laws and government policies that dehumanised the masses, cannot be forgotten in a hurry. But in recent times, it appeared that the NBA had gone to sleep. Usoro must re-awaken NBA to the days of Alao Aka-Bashorun leadership, when the association was able to confront and challenge executive excesses and lawlessness. It is highly imperative for the new NBA President to revive the traditional values, outspokenness and legal activism that the association was hitherto known for. The deafening-silence of the NBA in recent years to national issues is not only regrettable, but represents a dent on the integrity of the body as the foremost promoter of the rule of law in Nigeria.
Also, the legal profession has its challenges, ranging from poor pay for young lawyers, corruption in the bar, harsh operating environment, abuse of court processes, unethical behaviour among some lawyers. These are at the core of the challenges facing the NBA. Usoro must ensure that this unhealthy practice is stopped and young lawyers are paid well.
Usoro may need to get the approval of the NEC for the de-baring of any lawyer caught bribing a judge, in order to restore the much needed confidence in the profession. A situation where senior lawyers are prosecuted for bribing a judge does not portray the profession in good light. Lawyers involved in compromising judicial officers must be de-barred.
Also, a situation where the ordinary citizen believes that a judge could be paid money to give a particular judgment, is not only dangerous for the society, but diminishes the esteem of the profession, hence the new president of the NBA must take steps to challenge the perception by doing something concrete about it.
Usoro and the executive council of the NBA must take more than a passive interest in the economic policies of government. The NBA under Usoro should be able to dissect government economic policies and raise the alarm when they have the capacity to create more problems for the society.
Though government and heads of the various courts have embarked on reforms through rules of practice to ensure that the issues of abuse of court processes and unethical behaviour among some lawyers are addressed, the Usoro administration must help by ensuring that his members, who often engage in these practices are dealt with. The bar should lead the way in ensuring that the conduct of lawyers don’t constitute a clog in the wheel of justice.
There is no doubt that the new NBA President is set for a turbulent two-year tenure that could make or mar the reputation of the umbrella body of legal practitioners. While some critics, both within and outside the Bar, believe that Usoro is wired to fail going by how he emerged, the onus rests on him to carve a niche for himself on the bright side of history, by discharging the mandate of his new office without fear or favour.