‘2022 AGC Will be an Unforgettable Experience for Lawyers’

Africa’s largest professional body, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is set to host its 62nd Annual General Conference (AGC) in Eko Atlantic City, Victoria Island, Lagos from 19th to 26th of August, 2022. With over 30,000 Conferees expected to attend both physically and virtually, this year’s Conference promises to surpass the previous ones. In a chat with Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi, the 2022 Conference Planning Committee Chairman, Tobenna Erojikwe explains why this year’s Conference is a must attend for Nigerian Lawyers. He went further to explain the choice of world acclaimed award-winning Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie as Keynote Speaker, the highlights of the Conference including the entertainment lined up for Lawyers to relax, and why the NBA is partnering with Meta (owners of Facebook) to power the Conference

The Nigerian Bar Association is holding its 62nd Annual General Conference in Eko Atlantic City, Lagos from 19th to 26th of August, 2022. Lagos at this time of the year is known to be a logistics nightmare, given the incessant rains occasioning impossible traffic to the Victoria Island axis. As Chairman of the Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP), what are your plans to tackle these challenges? Do you plan to provide viewing centres outside of VI, like Ikeja, Surulere, Epe, Ikorodu and Badagry?

The 62nd Annual General Conference (AGC) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), is a legacy conference for the Olumide Akpata administration of the NBA. The administration has paid great attention to social mobility amongst its members, and has promoted inclusiveness. With this in mind, we have designed the Conference to interest all members of the profession, regardless of their location or jurisdiction. It is thus, not surprising that we have seen an unprecedented number of persons registering for the Conference. 

Regarding logistics, let me quickly say that notwithstanding the challenges you allude to, Lagos remains one of the most friendly places to host an event of such magnitude, that can cater to the desires of members of the legal profession. We have also made efforts to address some of the logistical issues that Conference delegates may otherwise have to contend with. For instance, we have partnered with a logistics company to identify and assist Conference delegates with booking hotels that are in close proximity to the Conference venue, at hugely discounted rates. We are also making arrangements for transportation of delegates to ease movement to and from the Conference venue.

You must also note that we are hosting the Conference in a Centre that is being specifically designed for the Conference, and we would like all Conference delegates who have indicated interest in attending the Conference, in person, to enjoy the optimum experience that we are curating for them at the Eko Atlantic City. 

That said, for persons who for one reason or the other will not be able to make it to the Eko Atlantic City, we have also carefully invested in creating a wholesome virtual experience such that anyone unable to physically attend the Conference can experience the it from the comfort of their homes or offices. In this regard, we have partnered with notable technology companies including Meta (owners of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) to deliver a digital experience that competes with physically attending the Conference. This obviates the need to set up viewing centres in other parts of Lagos, or indeed, any other parts of the country. All that needs to be done is to register for virtual attendance, and log in when the Conference commences. Virtual participation is also available to all delegates who are registered for the Conference, and we have made provisions for 30,000 delegates to participate virtually.

Kindly, speak to the theme of this year’s Conference, ‘Bold Transitions’. What does it mean? What is the message? Does the theme have any connection with Meta, with whom NBA is partnering with for the Conference? What is the correlation?

Agreeing a theme for the Conference was the first task that members of the TCCP had to deal with, and we decided on ‘Bold Transitions’ after a very robust conversation amongst ourselves. In our view, the AGC must speak to the current realities of our time and seek to find solutions to the challenges that we encounter, as we navigate through the various issues that confront us daily as Lawyers in Nigeria. The theme recognises the fact that we are confronted by phenomenal change every day, as a result of amazing creativity and innovation across the globe which affect us every day. As you know, we are confronted by many positively disruptive situations that we are compelled to adapt to, or go extinct. We are in a world that is confronted by various transitions, from energy transitions to technology transitions, as well as transitions in the Nigerian political and democratic space. 

Most importantly, the theme recognises the various ground-breaking achievements of the Olumide Akpata administration of the NBA which has seen the NBA repositioned, with an emphasis on ensuring that its members are equipped with the right mentality and training to confront the future that they will of necessity have to deal with. The theme celebrates innovative schemes like the creation of an NBA Stabilisation Fund, the Access to Finance Scheme, the introduction of an affordable health insurance scheme, the various free trainings and career development initiatives driven by the Institute of Continuing Legal Education, amongst others. The theme recognises the fact that this would be the last Conference of the Akpata administration, and that there would be a change of guard at the NBA immediately after the Conference. It is a call on members of the NBA to confront the challenges that they face, boldly, and to lead on those inevitable realities that confront us daily. It is a call on the NBA and its members to be at the forefront of creating the change that they want to see. Everything else about the Conference flows from the theme: the choice of keynote speaker, the collaborations, the location and the topics to be discussed.

The theme for the Conference does not directly have anything to do with Meta, but it appears to resonate with the Meta team and must be one of the reasons why they are working with us on the technology discussions at the Conference. Without a doubt, technology is critical to driving bold transitions, because technology helps to connect people, and we have seen this in motion in different countries, including here in Nigeria in the recent past, when we had the #EndSARS protest. At its core, the protests showed us that technology can be used to drive social change by connecting people. This is similar to our theme, Bold Transitions, and I believe this aligns with the Meta vision statement.

The world acclaimed Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Adichie, is the Keynote Speaker at the Conference. What informed the decision to pick a non-Lawyer to speak to Lawyers at the Association’s flagship event? Who are some of the other Speakers lined up and the topics? What are some of the breakout sessions? What are the highlights of the Conference? 

The AGC is perhaps, the most important event in the annual calendar of the NBA, and is an event of significant interest nationally and internationally. Historically, we have had non-Lawyers as keynote speakers at our Conference, including last year when we had Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah as speaker. As you may know, Ms Adichie’s views on contemporary issues are well regarded across the globe, and she has delivered very well received speeches at many notable Law Schools including, Harvard University and Yale University. Most importantly, the call on our profession to make Bold Transitions, suggests that we may have been shy on taking initiative previously. From Ghandi to Mandela, Clinton to Blair and Obama, Lawyers have always been major drivers of change globally. It is our view that in order to set the tone for this call to action, an honest interrogation of the state of play and expectations of us by society would be a great way to kickstart a stimulating series of conversations. 

As far as Conference structure is concerned, our aim is to ensure that value is created throughout the Conference. The Sessions are divided into three – Day 1 is  termed ‘Nigeria in Transition’ – Day 2 is – ‘The Legal Profession in Transition’ and Day 3 is – ‘Focus on NBA Sections, Fora and Institutes’.  

Day 1 topics recognise the role of law in society and deals with issues that are fundamental to our existence as citizens of Nigeria, and specifically, as Lawyers in the polity. There will be two plenary sessions every day on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and eight breakout sessions. 

For the first plenary, we have invited the leading Presidential candidates for the forthcoming presidential elections in Nigeria, including Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and Peter Obi to speak on Democratic transitions. The second plenary will focus on Energy Transitions and its potential effect on the Nigerian Federation. We have invited the Governors of Lagos State, Anambra State and Nasarawa State, and also expect Ibe Kachikwu and Adesua Dozie to be on that panel. We are excited about the schedule of events for Day 2 of the Conference. Day 2 presents the legal profession with a unique opportunity to look at its objectives and have a conversation regarding the state of play with issues like regulation of the profession, review of the rules of professional conduct, ethics, financing and finances of the Association, Justice delivery, security agencies brutality against Lawyers, amongst others. Our view is that the Conference must focus on real issues, especially as there is no platform where Nigerian Lawyers have an opportunity to discuss matters that affect them. 

The first plenary session on Day 2 is tagged ‘A Conversation with the Presidents’ and will have the current President, Mr Olumide Akpata, incoming President, Mr YC Maikyau, SAN, past President, Mr Paul Usoro, SAN and past President, Mr AB Mahmoud, SAN on the panel. The past Presidents on the panel were selected in order of succession, and it is expected that their experience will bring some perspective to the conversation and help the incoming President put things in perspective.

In addition to the enlightening discussions expected at the plenary sessions, the breakout sessions will drill down on key thematic issues that concern the profession and the Nigerian society at large. One of the sessions on Day 1 will be anchored by Meta and will explore the different ways in which technology is shaping the future and how lawyers can adapt to the changing times. Another session will examine the changes to international trade as a result of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and how Nigerian lawyers can build capacity to service a globalised economy. Also on Day1, we will have one breakout session that explores the emerging issues in the adoption of financial technology in a developing nation like Nigeria while another breakout session will x-ray the security issues facing the Nigerian federation.

There will be four breakout sessions on Day 2, all of which have been designed to revolve around the development of individual legal practitioners and collective growth of the legal profession in Nigeria. One of the breakout sessions will look into the options we have in building a respectable Bar and touch on some of the recent issues we have had to contend with when it comes to regulating the legal profession in Nigeria. A second breakout session will drill further down to the process of making a fit-for-purpose lawyer by causing us to reflect on the state of legal education in Nigeria. Relatedly, a third breakout session will focus on Legal Ethics and Etiquettes as we seek to restore the dignity of the legal profession in Nigeria.

One key issue that we will also deal with during one of the breakout sessions is the issue of lawyers’ welfare, remuneration and earning capacity. It has dominated discussions in many fora in recent times especially during the recently concluded NBA elections and we believe that the AGC provides a great platform for us to further examine the report of the NBA Remuneration Committee and the White Paper Committee set up to evaluate the recommendations of the Remuneration Committee.

Yet another breakout session that conference delegates should look forward to is one on Technology and the Law: Creating a Digital NBA. This session will look at some of the initiatives of the current NBA administration in accelerating the use of technology within the legal profession and how we can further build on current efforts. 

For persons who want to know what the NBA has been doing to address brutality and harassment of lawyers by security agencies, they may want to pay attention to the breakout session we have designed specifically for that purpose and it promises to be a frank discussion. We will have representatives of the security agencies and lawyers who have been in the forefront of challenging the menace of abuse of office to shed light on the issue.

The last breakout session on Day 2 will help all lawyers to better understand how to take advantage of the NBA Access to Finance Scheme. The scheme is one of the most important initiatives of the Olumide Akpata-led NBA and the purpose of establishing the scheme can only be achieved when lawyers understand the rationale for the initiative and how to access funding under the scheme. So, I urge everyone attending the conference to pay close attention to that particular session.

In addition to the plenary and breakout sessions I have talked about above, the different Sections, Fora and Institutes of the NBA will also get the opportunity to anchor sessions that deal with various issues confronting the legal profession and the country, on Day 3 of the Conference. Some of those issues to be addressed include gender parity, building sustainable regulatory institutions, ensuring consistency in judicial pronouncements, as well as health and well being. Thus, in all, I am confident that everyone attending the Conference will greatly benefit from the topics and speakers that we have lined up to feature on the different days of the Conference. 

What concessions are available for Young Lawyers to make the Conference expenses more affordable for them? For one, Hotels on the Island are priced out of the reach of young Lawyers who basically form the greater percentage of Conferees. For those who might be taking up cheaper and more affordable accommodation on the mainland, what transport arrangements are in place for them and at what cost?

The cost of running the AGC has become a very big issue. Being mindful of the current economic climate and the hardship faced by Nigerians, the TCCP took the view that it would not increase the fees paid for the AGC and maintained the fees that were charged in 2019, despite inflation and the rapid depreciation of the Naira. We know young Lawyers constitute the greater percentage of Conference attendees, as you mention, and will therefore, be the biggest beneficiaries of the concession we have made by retaining the Conference fees that were charged in 2019. We have also gone a step further, to reduce the fees for virtual attendance. Thus, many young Lawyers who may not be able to attend the Conference physically, will pay even less to have access to an optimal digital Conference experience that we are making available this year. Let me stress that we are enhancing the virtual conference experience this year, and those who attend the Conference virtually will have almost the same experience as those attending the Conference physically. 

On accommodation, we have a partnership with a logistics company through which we are providing premium accommodation at subsidised rates for Conference attendees, including young Lawyers. So, young Lawyers attending the Conference are enjoined to take advantage of the initiative.

Additionally, and as I have mentioned before, we are making arrangements for transportation to aid the movement of Conference delegates from the Conference venue to their hotels. The details of the arrangement will be circulated in due course.

All work and no play, makes Jack a dull Lawyer. What package is in place for fun and entertainment? Music, live shows, sight seeing, tourism, etc? How will your Committee project the true spirit of ‘Eko for Show’? Especially events that could involve non-Lawyer spouses?

We have designed the entire Conference experience to be a unique one, for all who attend the Conference. In essence, we are creating a Conference village and there will be so much to savour right from the opening of the AGC Friendship Centre on Sunday, in the course of which we will be having auditions for various talents, for which we have engaged notable musician, Illbliss as the Creative Director. Mind you, this is the first time we will be having such auditions as part of the NBA Conference, and the idea behind it is to create a highly interactive and vibrant social experience, right from the opening of the Friendship Centre till the closing party on Wednesday. The areas we are looking at for the talent show include music, comedy, dance and poetry. We expect the auditions to throw up delightful talents who will go on to showcase their talents at the Conference, which will add to the entertainment at the Conference, whilst also putting the participants in the limelight; and there is no telling how far they can go from there.

In addition, there are already plans in place to have a production that showcases Lagos, and this is in tune with what you have described as the true spirit of ‘Eko for Show’. More so, Conference delegates will also get the opportunity to tour the Eko Atlantic City, in addition to benefiting from the sights and sounds of the recreational area. Without a doubt, these events are open to Lawyers and their spouses who are registered to attend the Conference. 

In addition to the things I have mentioned above, let me also point out that the Conference venue will have a multi-faith area for prayers, a sporting arena and a creche for babies. These are just some of the things we are putting in place, to create a wholesome Conference experience for everyone who is attending.

Speak to us about security. These are not easy times in terms of security. To what extent are security agencies involved in this Conference?

We are quite conscious of the security implications of hosting over 13,000 people in one location, and have made adequate arrangements to ensure the safety of everyone attending the Conference. We are working closely with all the security agencies and the Lagos State Government, to ensure that we have an adequate number of security operatives drawn from multiple agencies to secure the Conference venue. 

For physical attendees, what plans do you have for Conference materials, which has always been a huge challenge over the years? Many Lawyers end up not getting their Conference materials for many weeks and even months after Conference?

Last year, we adopted a system that ensured that Conference delegates received their Conference materials in good time, and we are looking to improve upon that experience this year. We are working on reducing the time spent between arrival at the Conference venue and collection of the Conference materials to less than 10 minutes. Everyone who has registered for the Conference will be adequately and promptly attended to, as far as the collection of Conference materials is concerned.

What Continuous Legal Education Points are accruable to Conferees from the AGC? This is important to most Lawyers.

There will be a total of 24 NBA Institute of Continuing Legal Education points allotted to every Conference delegate, relative to the number of sessions attended.

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