By Bunmi Olugbade
The Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, held its annual general conference from August 24 to 29 in Owerri, Imo State. In my humble opinion, the greatest task before the NBA and the new leadership is the restoration of the integrity and independence of the Association. Many have posited that these are not the best of times for the NBA as was expressed by all the Presidential candidates in the last election.
One of the primary aims and objectives of the Association is the “maintenance and defence of the integrity and independence of the Bar and the Judiciary in Nigeria, as well as the promotion and protection of the principles of the rule of law and respect for and enforcement of fundamental rights, human rights, human rights and the people’s rights”. See clause 4 (a) and (k) of the NBA Constitution.
Close observers of the Bar in the last five years both lawyers and non-lawyers will confirm that the existential objectives and fundamental principles of the Association have been so shamelessly compromised and eroded.
Indeed, it is arguable if the NBA has not lost its relevance to its members and the Nation at large. No wonder, all the five candidates who contested the office of the President of the Association in the July 2014 election openly canvassed a change of direction for the Association. The truth is that what the NBA needs today is not just a cosmetic change but a fundamental transformation from its present alienated position from its members and its timid, docile and sometimes escapist approach to critical national issues.
Independence is a state or quality of not being subjected to the control or influence of another. Not being controlled or influenced by other people or things. The Oxford Advance Learners Dictionary defines independence to mean among other things, “being financially supported by private rather than government money”. In my humble opinion, if anything has compromised the independence and integrity of the Bar or silenced the voice of the Bar in recent times, it is money.
The new executive must restore, secure the integrity and independence of the Bar by putting a definite stop to soliciting for and receiving money in form of grants, donations or gifts from governments both at the State and Federal levels.
From observation, collecting funds from state governments became a habitual act under the outgoing administration to the embarrassment of members of the Bar. At times, we heard of the President and Local Organising Committees fighting and quarrelling over monies approved for National Executive Committee Meetings by State Governors because it was a habitual practice to seek for and obtain money from State Governments to host the quarterly NBA (NEC) meetings.
This must stop , a dependence on fat envelopes from politically exposed persons and government patronage is not the best for the Association, he who pays the piper dictates the tune. NBA has become a piper that stands face to face with external interferences and possible dictations. The consequences of course is the painful loss of the voice and dynamism of the Bar as witnessed in recent times.
It is the responsibility of the NBA under its constitution to host its quarterly meetings. Therefore, soliciting for and getting government funds to hold NBA NEC Meetings was not the practice of the Bar it is indeed a recent innovation the has eroded the integrity of the Bar, hence this my humble submission that the practice of soliciting for and collecting money from governments to host NEC meetings amounts to corrupt practice on the part of the NBA leadership.