Mrs Funke Adekoya SAN, is the only female presidential aspirant in the forthcoming Nigerian Bar Association elections. She was a former 1st vice president (2002-2004) of the NBA and current chairman of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (Nigeria Branch). In this interview, she spoke on the role of the media in the coming NBA election, the gender perspective and how money is now playing a major role in the contest. Excerpts:
By DAYO BENSON and WAHAB ABDULLAHI
How would you access the role of the media in a democratic dispensation?
The media, whether print or electronic media, are known as the Fourth Estate of the Realm for a particular purpose. The other three Estates of the Realm include the Parliament, the Legislature, and the Judiciary. You have a duty to inform, you have a duty to educate, and by informing and educating, you mould public opinion.
Therefore to a large extent, the future, not just of this country, but also, the future of Nigeria and Nigerians, is firmly in the hands of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. Your obligation to inform, communicate and educate applies. That is why the media have a huge role to play in anything that affects this country.
One of the things that I have been told many times by my foreign clients is that before we invest in any country, we read newspapers of the country, because irrespective of what the embassy tells us about where we are going, it is the newspapers that will tell us the exact situation on ground. So your role is very important.
How do you think the media can assist to bring about an Independent Bar?
The only way we can have an independent Bar is for the media to play their role in ensuring that candidates who are coming forward for NBA election have no baggage and are independent. That is the only way we can tell the truth to whoever cares to listen. The job of a lawyer is to represent the people, not a political party. If I want to represent a political party, I will join the party.
I am hoping that when the campaign for election into the national leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) properly opens, the media should interview candidates aspiring for different posts. Obviously, you may have your preferred candidates. People have relationships that have been built up over the years. But if your job is to inform, educate and communicate, then you will believe me that you will see it as a level playing field.
Would you want to throw more light on this your challenge to the media?
Interview candidates on their plans, backgrounds, whether they are fit and proper persons aspiring to the positions that they seek and not just to listen to them and the promises they make. That is the problem associated with the Nigerian politicians. They come and make promises and the media do not interrogate them. I was privileged to have been part of the panel that interviewed potential governors and deputy governors at a time in Lagos State.
Obviously, the incumbent Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) defeated others hands down not because he is a lawyer, but because he was prepared. He had the records of having done it four years in his file. We asked a candidate who said ‘I am going to build 5,000 housing units at Ikota.’
How much is it going to cost? He couldn’t answer because he did not know it as a result of lack of preparation. How many people are you going to house in the 5,000 housing units? How are you going to fund it? He had no answers to all these questions. He didn’t know what he promised to do. These are the things that came up. We interviewed deputy governor candidates about what they think their relationship as deputy governor should be. We were surprised that many of them did not give it a thought.
I think this is part of the things that the media should do. It is not enough for candidates to say when I become NBA president I’m going to do this. Ask them how they are going to do it. We have too many instances of people making these promises in the past, but failed to fulfil them. I don’t understand why we should make promises to our colleagues and fail to fulfil them after we’ve got what we wanted. These are what politicians do. We should be different and live in accordance with our professional ethics
As the only female NBA presidential aspirant, do you see the contest within the prism of Gender issue ?
Different people from different parts of the country may hold different view on gender issue in the NBA politics. Some believe you cannot break gender wall, no matter how good you may be , how well your plans and programme may be, you are a woman, Nigeria is not ripe enough for a woman as president of the Bar, so it is a gender issue. I don’t see it that way.
I see it from the point of view that if there is a glass ceiling, it is there to be broken and so I don’t think gender should be an issue, especially in a profession that has refused to recognise that women exist. They say there are no ladies at the Bar, so why should gender suddenly become an issue? To me it is not a determinant factor for leadership of the Bar.
It is only an issue to those who think they can use it to sideline a candidate or to say well that candidate may not be a front runner or not be a candidate most expected because in every aspect of the profession, they say gender is not an issue. It is very common among us to say “there are no ladies at the Bar, we are all men.”
Candidates for NBA presidential elections are now being sponsored by federal and state government who fund their campaigns, what is your position on this?
This is a very important issue. I think this is an area where the Fourth Estate of the Realm has a major role to play. How can leaders of the profession point accusing fingers at politicians if they are doing exactly what they accuse them (politicians) of doing. We have an obligation as lawyers to educate the electorate, to say vote for candidates based on their track records on the issues they present and the solutions they propose.
Don’t vote for the person who gives N2,000 and a loaf of bread. Don’t mortgage the future of your children and so on. If we as lawyers say that to the electorate, we should also say to ourselves that election should not be monetised.
Unfortunately, something of sort happened brazenly at the last election of the Bar. People should vote for a change, a better Bar.
One of the problems we have at the Bar is the allegation that governments both at the federal and states are funding campaigns, and the result is that we cannot speak out when we should. I don’t think NBA should be a government or an opposition party. Our position should be external counsel to Federal Attorney-General or state Attorney-Generals.
We can advise them on what they do, reminding them they should expect people’s reaction to what they do rightly or wrongly. That’s a relation between an external counsel and the government counsel. But if we are funded by government to contest election, it will turn out to be who pays the piper, calls the tune.
So when money is being lavishly spent on campaign, I think the media have a duty to ask why and where is the money coming from; and why is it being spent? Why should it be a do-or-die thing? I must be NBA president and spend any amount to get there. Who is funding it? It is certain that whoever is funding it must have an agenda.
What should be the relationship between the Nigerian Bar Association and its members?
The Nigerian Bar Association expects me to pay annual practising fees, which serve to fund the Association and which entitles me to practice law during the year of its payment. What should I expect to receive in return for this payment? It is my humble opinion that this is an area where the Nigerian Bar Association owes us as its members a duty to assist our professional delopment by doing more than the present level of providing CLE programmes, where attendance at the Annual or Section conferences is a form of CLE for which CPD credits are awarded.
CLE connotes the concept of expanding our knowledge in areas in which we already practice, and keeping us up-to-date with new developments in those areas. We need to expand our CLE offerings into providing training in new areas of law.
Mr Ross Ray QC, a President of the Law Council of Australia, speaking on the role of bar associations at the 3rd Annual IBA Bar Leaders Conference in Amsterdam, in 2008 stated that: “There can be no greater role for a bar association than to strive to equip lawyers, to in turn equip society, with the laws, tools and institutions to promote and defend the principles of the rule of law, principles upon which a just and equitable society is based.” I emphasize the words ‘to equip lawyers, to in turn equip society, with the laws, tools and institutions to promote and defend the principles of the rule of law.’
The late Steve Jobs made a fortune out of creating the IPod, the IPhone and then the Ipad and persuading the market that they could not exist without them. It is generally acknowledged that his products changed the way in which people communicate today. The Nigerian Bar Association ought to be teaching us new ways of practising law, and new types of law to practice, and then persuading the communities in which we live that they cannot function without us.
So, how can the Nigerian Bar Association remain relevant to its members?
If the Nigerian Bar Association becomes irrelevant to us its members, it will eventually become irrelevant to the greater society. The Nigerian Bar Association must anticipate and react to change and help its members do the same through the provision of educational and support services which will help us become better informed and more efficient. Some suggested areas where the NBA can assist are: technology training; online and expanded CLE programmes; programs to enhance lawyer/client relationships; training in new areas of legal practice, and expanded mentoring for newly qualified lawyers.
We are aware of the services that other Bar Associations provide to support their members in their legal careers. If the Nigerian Bar Association is to remain to its responsibilities and relevant to its members, apart from its obligations to maintain the Rule of Law, it has to provide services that will enhance the status of its members, and enable all lawyers, whether we work in the city, the towns or the villages, to earn a living wage.
Setting a minimum wage for lawyers is not the answer. If the Nigerian Bar Association can assist the senior lawyer to earn more money, by providing support and advice in both exploring new areas of legal practice and using modern technologies to provide legal services in a cost efficient way, the senior lawyer will have more disposable income to pay higher wages to newly qualified lawyers.
If I am not benefitting from my Branch membership, where I have competing demands on my time, why should I remain involved in Branch activities? If the national body is not supporting the growth of my legal career, why should I remain committed to it?