By Innocent Anaba
MRS. Funke Adekoya, SAN, is former Vice-President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA. She is chairman of NBA Committee on Branch Capacity Building and the International Legal Practice Committee of NBA Section on Legal Practice, SLP. In this interview, she spoke on the programmes of her committee, the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, globalisation of legal services and sundry national issues. Excerpts:
CHIEF Mike Ozekhome, SAN, was recently released from captivity by his abductors, what is your reaction to this and how do we overcome the challenge of insecurity of lives and property in the country?
We all welcomed his release from captivity. But for the grace of God it could have been any one of us. The security situation in the country is deteriorating by the day and it seems that our leaders are helpless in protecting us. Society is structured on the coming together of individuals who agree to give up to selected or elected leaders certain rights and freedoms, in exchange for obligations which the leaders will fulfil.
As an example at a very basic level, I give up my right to defend myself and my property by beating, torturing or killing any intruder in exchange for the government’s commitment to protect me from robbers and kidnappers. I give up part of my earned income to government by way of various taxes in exchange for their obligation to provide social services such as roads, light, etc.
I give up my freedom to remain uneducated, or to learn whatever subjects that interest me and in whatever manner I think fit, in exchange for the government providing me with quality education. Presently, the government is not keeping its part of the bargain and society is falling apart. The insecurity in the country is the direct result.
New Senior Advocates of Nigeria were inaugurated last week by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, what is your advice for the new SANs?
I congratulate the new Senior Advocates and welcome them into the fold. I urge them to remember that the privileges attached to the rank have corresponding responsibilities which I urge them to live up to. They must be role models to our colleagues in the Outer Bar by way of legal scholarship, mode of legal practice, comportment and most especially, by way of ethical behaviour. The rank should not just be seen as a means of enhancing one’s income by charging exorbitant fees. I advise the new entrants not to become involved in any unethical behaviour.
What is the agenda of the Branch Capacity Building Committee of the NBA in the next one year?
One of the committee’s terms of reference is to organise capacity building training for branches on the basis of the six geo-political zones in the country. Between November and December we will focus on holding these training workshops for the branches in the six geopolitical zones. The first two workshops will take place in the South West and South South zones in November. The topics will focus on branch administrative issues, fund raising and investment strategies and providing membership benefits at the branch level.
The NBA recently held its annual general conference in Calabar with the theme: Law, leadership and Challenges of Nationhood in the 21st century Nigeria. What did we take home from that conference and what were the contributions of the Branch Capacity Building Committee to that conference?
The keynote address delivered by Professor Elaigwu during the Opening Session provided food for thought on the challenges of nationhood for nearly all the delegates and I believe it was one of the highlights of the conference. He highlighted the fact that nation-building is a process, which attempts to extend sub-national loyalties to coincide with State boundaries, and ultimately to ensure that such loyalties were subsumed within a greater commitment to the State. He however noted the degree of attachment in Nigeria to sub-national loyalties, which may threaten the creation of a Nigerian nation.
My take away from the conference is that if we really want a Nigerian nation, we have to actively create it and work for its continued existence.
As for the Branch Capacity Building Committee, we provided training on fund raising to Branch Chairmen during the Chairmen’s Forum at the pre-conference NEC. It was the consensus of those present that the training be repeated to a larger group, and so it will feature again at the zonal level. We will also continue to provide such capacity training to Branch chairmen at this Forum which now precedes each NEC meeting.
The NBA President, Okey Wali, SAN recently inaugurated the Stamp and Seal Committee, what do Nigerian lawyers stand to gain from the committee?
Nigerian lawyers stand to gain a lot if the use of stamps and seals by lawyers will finally be implemented. Since the project was launched in 2004, it has not taken off. The use of stamps and seal by lawyers will enable non-lawyers identify members of the profession. I do not understand what is holding it back. The Digital Bar Initiative (under which all lawyers were to‘re-register’ with the NBA) should have assisted the issuance of the seals embossed with Call to Bar numbers, which was proposed as an amendment to the programme. I do not know why it has taken more than eight years to implement, however I am glad it is finally coming to pass. It is the surest way of eradicating fake lawyers from the profession and ensuring that non-lawyers do not provide legal services. I campaigned for the use of stamps and seals by lawyers when I ran for Vice President in 2002 and implemented it during my tenure.
The International Bar Association, IBA, conference kicks off in Boston, USA this week, what is your advice to Nigerian lawyers attending the conference?
The IBA is one of the best networking events for lawyers in the world. Nigerian lawyers should endeavour to not only attend sessions, but also mix and network with lawyers from other countries at the social events. When we attend international conferences, we move around together as the ‘Nigerian contingent’ and do not mix. Then when we return from the conference we should try and maintain contacts with the new friends we make in Boston. That is how to expand our practices internationally.
How do you think we can take advantage of globalisation to improve the quality of service delivery in the country?
Globalisation is riding on the back of technology. It is the internet that has broken communication barriers between countries, and made the world a smaller place. The Nigerian legal profession needs to become technologically proficient as the use of ICT in our practices will enhance practice delivery by making turnaround time faster. We must establish a presence on the web, and use mobile technology for practice delivery.