For the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Presidency, next week, three candidates have scaled through the hurdles to run in the election, Dele Adesina, SAN, Dr Babatunde Ajibade, SAN and Olumide Akpata. These three candidates have since engaged Nigerian Lawyers, canvassing for votes through the social and main-stream media, espousing their manifestos and their plans on how to administer the NBA for the next two years. While the trio are eminently qualified, Nigerian Lawyers are offered a choice between the three – who is the most trusted, most qualified, most experienced, with the pedigree to run the Association at this critical time, when Lawyers are craving for a reformed, rejigged and revived NBA. THISDAY LAWYER presents two of the three candidates, Dele Adesina, SAN and Dr Babatunde Ajibade, SAN in this interview, and their plans for taking the NBA to the ‘next level’, if and when they are elected into office
‘I Possess the Requisite Capacity’ – Dele Adesina, SAN
You are amongst the three candidates that the Election Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) has cleared to run for the office of President of the NBA. For a professional body that prides itself as Africa’s largest, why do you think Nigerian Lawyers should entrust and place in your hands, the running of the NBA for the next two years? What sets you apart from the others?
Thank you very much. I am asking Nigerian Lawyers to entrust and place in my hands the affairs of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for the next two years, because I see myself as a leader driven by vision, selflessness and determination to make a positive difference. I possess the requisite capacity, competence, courage of conviction and sound leadership experience to address the problems confronting our Association and our Profession. I believe I am also capable to reposition the Association and make it the conscience of the Nation in practical, pro-active and pragmatic terms.
I recognise that Lawyers are nation-builders, and that Lawyers must exist for the advancement of their society. In this connection, the Association has a responsibility to defend, protect and promote the Rule of Law, which for me, is the basis for sustainable Constitutional Democracy. I believe it is also the responsibility of the NBA, to preserve and protect the independence of the Judiciary in particular and the Profession in general, through the protection, security and independence of Lawyers and Judges in the practice of their Profession. These are some of what I consider to be the corporate responsibility of our Association, in addition to being the voice of the voiceless and the conscience of the Nation. I believe, and Nigerian Lawyers know that I can reposition the NBA to live up to these expectations.
What sets me apart from the other contestants, is very glaring. First, I have the experience none of the other two has. I have the working knowledge of the Association, far more than the other two. Also, over and above the other two, I have been connected with the activities of the Association for over 30 years and I have served in different capacities, including several specialised committees. I have been Secretary and Chairman of NBA Ikeja, I have been the General Secretary and Life Member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Association, I am also a Life Member of the Distinguished Body of Benchers, the highest regulatory body of the Profession. Leadership is acquired and nurtured. I have over this period, acquired and nurtured leadership that I can bring to the table to address the problems of the Association. Education is good and skill is good but none of these can equal experience. Experience they say is the best teacher.
What is the focal point of your manifesto? Other candidates talk about the welfare of Lawyers, and this has been the mantra of every Presidential candidate in at least the past eight election cycles, yet none seems to be specific about how to actualise this. How do you intend to achieve this?
There is what we call individuality of persons, I am different from any other person. I believe there is a basis, for Nigerian Lawyers to trust me. I was once the General Secretary of the Association as I stated earlier. Whatever items of welfare, such as remuneration for young Lawyers, Group Life Insurance Policy and Mandatory Continuing Legal Education you see on ground today, were put in place by the Executive of 2002- 2004 when I was the General Secretary of the Bar, until the sitting President set-up the NBA Welfare Committee under the leadership of Dr. Wale Babalakin, SAN, being a direct response to the demands of Covid-19 pandemic and the provision of the Law Pavilion Digital law Report for Young Lawyers, two institutional welfare programmes that I will continue with.
I recognise that the economic situation compounded by the Coronavirus pandemic and security challenges, have increased the Lawyers’ anxiety for safety, progress and development. The primary objectives of my welfare programmes shall be firstly, the promotion of the welfare, security and economic advancement of members of the Profession; and, secondly the development, delivery and sustenance of quality services to members, in order to maintain improved living conditions and professionalism. Some of the programmes I will give priority attention to are:
a. Establishment of a Professional Practice Support Trust Fund (P.P.S.F): In a determined effort to create opportunities for junior Lawyers to set-up own practice, particularly on basis of partnerships leading to specialisation, junior Lawyers between 1 – 7 years post call shall be entitled to draw funds from the P.P.S.F. subject to repayment within five years. Detailed terms and conditions shall be worked out by the National Executive Committee (NEC);
b. I will continue from where we stopped in 2004, the policy to enhance the remuneration/reward system for services rendered by young Lawyers and review the Legal Practitioner’s Remuneration Fees for preparation of legal documents and instruments;
c. I will put in place a pragmatic and functional policy of mentorship, through a National Strategic Mentorship Scheme;
d. We shall have strategic engagement with the Nigerian Police, in order to stop incidences of Police brutalisation of young Lawyers and other forms of abuses of Legal Practitioners in the pursuit of their Profession, and take calculated and proactive steps to stop the encroachment of legal services by non-Legal Practitioners, in order to create more jobs and put more money in the hands of our members;
e. In order to create jobs and employment opportunities for young Lawyers, NBA under my leadership will pursue the implementation of the provision of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) stopping the prosecution of cases by non-lawyers in Magistrate Courts; pursue the appointment of Legal Research Assistants for all Judges and Justices of Courts of Record; and seek for the reinvigoration and funding of the Legal Aid Council, to enable it discharge its statutory duties with direct consequences of better patronage of junior Lawyers;
f. We shall explore Legal Practice opportunities with ECOWAS institutions, Ministries of Justice and Bar Associations, to expand the frontiers of law practice in ECOWAS sub-region taking advantage of the ECOWAS multi-lateral treaties which permit free trade of goods and services;
g. We shall re-strategize the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Programme, provide comprehensive Group Life Insurance Policy and Health Insurance Policy for Nigerian Lawyers. The policy of the Professional Practice Stamp and Seal, shall be implemented in accordance with its original conception. The Seal shall be paid for, while Stamp shall be given for free without further payment upon payment of Bar Practicing Fees and Branch Dues.
There appears to be discontent amongst Lawyers, about the relevance of the NBA to them as professionals. Also, the public is fast losing confidence in Lawyers and the justice delivery process in Nigeria. Many now resort to self-help, or simply rely on the Police and other law enforcement agencies to resolve their conflicts. How do you hope to resolve this, if voted into office?
Once the NBA discharges its corporate responsibility to the society well, the trust and confidence of the people will be restored and there will be no need for resorting to self-help which is a highway to anarchy. For me, all we simply need to do, is to critically examine the present position of our justice system and the institutions of State that have to do with administration of justice, highlight the problems and challenges, and pro-actively find solutions to them. In this connection, the NBA under my leadership will drive a Justice Reform Summit of all stakeholders in the justice sector, to critically appraise our justice administration. The Summit will focus on issues such as:
a. Delay and Congestion and the workload of Appellate Courts,
b. Inadequate budgetary allocation to the Judiciary,
c. Allegations of judicial corruption,
d. Technological automation of judicial process,
e. Appointment of judicial officers,
f. Adequacy of remuneration, emoluments and the general condition of service of judicial officers,
g. The restoration of credibility and integrity of our judicial system,
h. Generally making the judicial system responsive to the expectations of the society.
A recommendation from that Summit, can form the basis for how to achieve impactful justice delivery in our society.
Talking about the relevance of NBA to its members, again, all that we need to do, is for the Association to be alive to the welfare needs of its members, and to take steps for the protection and security of the members. What I stated under welfare above, will be more than enough to remove that disconnect decisively.
It is on the lips of every Nigerian Lawyer that the NBA has lost its glory, and its role as the voice of the masses. To what extent is this assertion true, and what, in your view, can be done to change this narrative?
My answer to this question, can be found in some of the answers I have given to your earlier questions. In 1992, NBA stood against military dictatorship and arbitrariness when Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Falana, Dr. BekoRansome-Kuti and two others were detained under the draconian Decree 2. NBA leaders went to court, obtained orders, enforced these orders, and got them out of Kuje prison. In 2002, an NBA Branch Chairman and his wife were brutally murdered in one of the States. NBA rose up like a roaring lion to say, never again. In 2011, NBA came up with a strong position on the side of the masses to say NO! to fuel price increase. These are just a few examples of the past. All I can say is that, NBA has the capacity and will to regain its voice for the voiceless, and speak truth to power on the issues of State, in collaboration with the authorities in the onerous task of nation building. It will once again take on its responsibility to speak against impunity, arbitrariness, highhandedness, misuse and abuse of power and all forms of injustice in the society. It will defend and promote the Rule of Law, and the supremacy of our Constitution.
How prepared is the average Nigerian Lawyer for the future, with regard to international trends in the practice of the profession? What role can the NBA play, to ensure that Nigerian Lawyers catch up with their peers globally?
Professionally, I will say that we are prepared. Technologically, I will say we are not, but we are presently faced with realities because of the Coronavirus pandemic. The days of manual recording of proceedings, are numbered. The days of solo practice are numbered, in preference to partnership. So also, are the days of general practice. Specialisation is fast becoming the order of the day. None of these should be difficult for the Lawyer to attain, with commitment to practice and determination to succeed.
Globalisation in Legal Practice, has intensified transnational Legal Practice. In ensuring that the legal profession in Nigeria benefits from this development, we must take steps to safeguard the practice environment for Nigerian Legal Practitioners by avoiding a one-sided traffic of foreign legal practitioners to Nigeria, without reciprocal access to legal practice beyond our shores. I think this is where the NBA has to come in, to evolve a policy that will advance Nigerian Lawyers’ professional interest.
How clean have you run your campaign, bearing in mind the rules set out in the 2015 NBA Constitution and the 2020 ECNBA Guidelines?
Thank you very much for this question. I will say without any hesitation whatsoever and howsoever, that I have carried out clean consultations in accordance with the NBA Constitution and the Guidelines of ECNBA 2020. For me, leadership is responsibility.
Responsibility demands that we show ourselves worthy of leadership, by living by the rules. I have had course to wonder whether some of the candidates realise that this is a professional election to elect officers of a professional association to serve the Association and the Profession, and not a partisan politics. Some have disobeyed the Guidelines with impunity. Others have abandoned issues and resorted to mundane issues, assaults and blackmail in a Profession that is noble, learned and honourable.
I once contested an election into the Office of the General Secretary of the Association in 2002, and I remember the decorum, the courtesy and the respectability with which the campaign was conducted. I still recall the way the issues identified by the candidates, were articulated at NBA Branch meetings. I was the Electoral Officer of the NBA in 2008; I knew how the election was conducted. We need to understand that leadership is not about wielding authority or acquiring status, it is about service, and in this instance, service to our Association, our Profession and the society, and if we bear this in mind, there would be no contest by force. Nemo dat quod non habet.
“FOR ME, LEADERSHIP IS RESPONSIBILITY. RESPONSIBILITY DEMANDS THAT WE SHOW OURSELVES WORTHY OF LEADERSHIP, BY LIVING BY THE RULES”