By Dayo Benson
A senior advocate of Nigeria and member, Body of Benchers, BOB, Chief Emeka Ngige has tasked the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, on certain provisions of the association’s Constitution, saying the exercise has become “urgent” to restore the glory of the lawyers’ union.
Chief Ngige who contested against the incumbent NBA President, Chief Okey Wali, SAN, at the last general election in a memorandum to the Committee on NBA Constitution Review, stated that while the proposals are not exhaustive, it represents critical areas of the association’s constitution that require urgent reform.
According to him, the NBA Elections had continued to generate concerns among members and the public.Ngige observed that “these worries were further escalated during the last NBA Elections, thus threatening the moral standing of the Association in fostering the rule of law within the Nigerian socio-political space.” Ngige narrowly lost the elections to the incumbent NBA President Okey Wali (SAN), alleging electoral infractions. He then proposed measures to check the disruptive tendencies of such hiccups.
In the memorandum jointly submitted to the Constitution Review Committee by Ngige and Barr. Emeka Nwadioke, the duo noted that most of the controversies that trail NBA Elections “are rooted in the independence of the Election Committee.”
They warned that “the Election Committee must not only be independent, but must be seen to be so,” adding that members of the committee should henceforth be nominated by the NBA Trustees and approved by the NBA NEC.
According to them, the committee must be entirely independent of NBA national officers both in form and substance. Their words: “Every effort must be made to insulate the Election Committee from the influence, authority, direction or control of the National Secretariat or the National Officers. Under no circumstance should the Election
Committee take directives or instruction from a National Officer or the National Secretariat.” They also canvassed financial autonomy for the committee, adding that “its funding should constitute a first-line charge on the finances of the Association.”
The memorandum stated further that the Election Committee must not later than 30 days to the election publish the list of eligible voters on the NBA website and ensure that branches receive copies of the list within the same period. The list should also be issued to all candidates for the election not later than 30 days to the elections.
To be eligible to vote at any NBA election whether at national or branch level, it suggested that each member must have paid his/her practicing fees and branch dues for the 3 years preceding the elections, save for those called to the Bar less than 3 years before the election, in which case receipt for one full year will be acceptable.
The memorandum also noted that an Election Appeals Committee (EAC) has become imperative, which he said should be mandated to handle pre- and post-election grievances as they relate to disqualification of aspirants and the conduct of the elections.
Practising fees and branch dues
They added that: “This will save the NBA needless public odium. Members of the committee would be nominated by the NBA Trustees and approved by the NBA NEC.”
They also argued for the adoption of universal suffrage in NBA elections, noting that all lawyers who have paid their practicing fees and branch dues for the 3 years preceding the elections should be eligible to vote.
They suggested that a “Code of Conduct for NBA Officers” should be fashioned out to promote professionalism and good behavior among NBA national officers, adding that “infringement of certain provisions of the code shall constitute an impeachable offence.” Crucially, the duo suggested that “under no circumstance should officers of the NBA at
national and branch levels accept Federal or State Government appointment whether honorary or otherwise and whether with or without remuneration, except committee appointments reserved for NBA.”
To promote transparency and accountability, the memorandum suggested the establishment of an Internal Audit Unit and a Tenders Board/Procurement Unit, with the latter empowered to advertise all contracts above N1 million on the NBA website and communicate same to branches prior to the award of such contracts.
Also, the National Treasurer must be a mandatory signatory to all cheques payable by the Association for capital expenditure, while the accounts of the Association should be posted to the NBA website on a quarterly basis.
On the controversial co-option of members into NEC, they suggested that the list of co-opted members should be posted on the NBA website and published in at least 3 national newspapers immediately after the list is approved by the NEC. Also, NEC meetings should be held in the open and “should be accessible to any lawyer who desires to observe same, provided that the said lawyer should within 2 weeks before the meeting indicate in writing his desire to observe the meeting.”
The memorandum also contained proposals on the duties of NBA national officers, increase in the number of standing committees, procedure for creation of branches, powers of NBA trustees, establishment of liaison offices in the six geo-political zones, and the need to promote the rule of law and justice sector reforms by, among others, sanctioning lawyers who argue trite and unarguable points to delay cases to frustrate opposing counsel and litigants.