By Dayo Benson
Ahead of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, election scheduled to hold in July, candidates have intensified their efforts to win votes as Mrs Funke Adekoya SAN and Mr. Austin Alegeh SAN stormed the monthly meeting of Otu Oka-Iwu Lagos to seek support for their bids. Out Oka-Iwu is a union of lawyers of Igbo extraction.
Speaking at the events, Adekoya started by condoling the union on the demise of one of its elders, Chief Theodore Ezeobi (SAN) and Chief Ralph Uwechue, the brother to another elder of the union, Chief George Uwechue (SAN). She noted that Ezeobi was a courageous lawyer who spoke truth to power, adding that he was a “ready ally” in raising critical issues that touched on the integrity and independence of the Bar.
Adekoya informed the union of her intention to contest the NBA presidency, adding: “If we are to tell ourselves the truth, the association is declining. The things that our Bar Association should be doing for us are so many and so simple; but we are not doing it. And I think they are not doing it because those who seek office have not given it sufficient thought.”
She said that many NBA members are unhappy with the hike in practicing fees and Annual General Conference fees, adding: “Many members are disenchanted. Everyone is asking, what are they doing with our money?
Even me, I don’t know. What I do know is that my leadership will take immediate steps to review downwards these fees which I personally consider as very high. We will also institute a Group Life and Accident Insurance Policy at no extra cost to members by deploying a portion of the practicing fees as premium.”
She promised to reverse the ban on non-attendance at NEC meetings by observers, saying the decision is “very unpopular.” Adekoya said her administration would prosecute estate agents and sundry practitioners who encroach on work reserved for lawyers, since the conduct infringes the Legal Practitioners Act which bars the practice of law without licence.
The former NBA National Treasurer and 1st Vice President said that an NBA under her leadership would, like the Law Society of UK among others, advertise legal services to expand the volume of work available to lawyers. She would also engage the Nigeria Police and the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) “to ensure that they see reason why it is in their best interest to hire lawyers” for their activities, while the leadership will make a strong representation to the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to ensure that it does not circumscribe work available to lawyers.
On his part, Alegeh told the union that NBA needs “somebody new and fresh with new ideas. I believe that there are changes we need to make in the association and we need a new person to make those changes. I offer myself as that agent of change for the association.”He said he believed that NBA activities should be “branch driven,” adding that “the idea of four, five people upstairs forming policies, implementing the policies and when there is change at the helm, these policies are jettisoned is not good for the NBA. We need an NBA that starts from the branches, that gives powers to the branches that all policies formulated by the NBA originate from the branches.”
He expressed concern that work reserved for lawyers are “being done by third parties and NBA does nothing about it. We have foreign law firms today who take 80 per cent of our arbitration work. We have the Legal Practitioners Act that provides that all legal services should be done by lawyers. How then do we sit down as NBA and allow funds from public corporations to be paid to foreign lawyers in flagrant breach of our laws?”
He promised to refocus the Continuing Legal Education programme to equip lawyers with requisite skills, noting that there are rights that already exist which lawyers are not sufficiently equipped to pursue.
Like Adekoya, Alegeh is also worried that the national body is not speaking when it ought to. “The whole world is agog with Chibok,” he observes.
“But can anybody here tell me where NBA stands on Chibok? Nobody can say where we stand. Do we support Boko Haram or do we support Federal Government? We don’t know where NBA stands.” He said the NBA should be the “leader of all civil society in Nigeria,” adding that “when anything happens in the country, the voice of NBA should be the loudest; currently, the voice of NBA is muffled.”
Alegeh promised to “refocus” on the welfare of members, saying he is being called a “stranger” by the so-called Bar-men “because I do not join in the chop-chop. To be a ‘Bar-man,’ you have to chop.”
Expressing his concern with the current state of affairs in the NBA, Alegeh said: “We fail to tap the enormous potentials that we have. I do not see why in this day and age of branding and advertising, of giving tax breaks to companies, NBA still has to pay by itself for bags, biros, jotters and all of that. If I go to SEC and say SEC, I want bags; you can brand them as you want. We don’t want money, it will be done. But we are running NBA as though we are in the Dark Ages. And because they make money from giving out contract awards to make biros and bags.”