By INNOCENT ANABA
Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama, SAN, is a frontline candidate in the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, election slated for July this year. In this interview, he expressed the hope that the signing of the budget into law by President Muhammadu Buhari will reduce poverty and the economic tension in the nation. He berated those attacking the judiciary for the country’s woes, noting that they were ignorant of the principles of separation of power and have no respect for the concept of the rule of law.
On the key areas he will pursue if he becomes the next NBA president, he said “I plan to increase job opportunities for lawyers through strategic partnerships in different spheres of the society,” among others. He also spoke on other national issues. Excepts:
President Muhammadu Buhari has just signed the 2016 Budget. What are your expectations from the budget?
I expect to see 100 percent implementation of the budget. I expect to see the much awaited ‘change’ which the President promised Nigerians, to begin to manifest.
I expect to see completion of ongoing or abandoned projects, revamping of decayed infrastructure, the economy re-jigged, jobs created, enhanced food security, poverty reduced and the economic tension permeating the nation, doused.
You will remember that the President had at various times called on Nigerians to be patient and to make sacrifices while going through tough times.
Having been patient and having made and continued to make sacrifices, I expect the peoples’ patience and sacrifices to pay off this time so that we can all say ‘the juice was worth the squeeze’.
The judiciary has been under attack for some time now and has in some cases been blamed for the woes of the country, what is your reaction to this?
To attack the judiciary or to even blame it for the woes of the society are the misguided and regrettable acts of overzealous elements who are ignorant of the principles of separation of power and have no respect for the concept of the rule of law. Hierarchically speaking, I think the judiciary is by virtue of its role to the society the only ‘big brother’ with the capacity to determine disputes between the other arms of government, the different tiers of government, government and individuals and between individuals – themselves. How then, can the big brother be the cause of the problem?
For an individual or group of individuals to attack the judiciary, is to destroy public confidence in the institution. If the public has no confidence in the judiciary, no one will submit to the jurisdiction of the court to determine disputes and if that occurs, people will resort to self-help in resolving disputes. I do not think this is what any right thinking member of the society wants. Unfortunately, that is what happens when we continue to attack the judiciary and blame it for the woes of the nation.
Conversely, the National Judicial Council, NJC, is responsible for the discipline of judicial officers. Although the NJC has performed well, there is still a lot more that needs to be done. And attacking the judiciary and blaming it for the woes of the nation is not one of those things that need to be done. It is merely a form of distraction and the NJC can do without the distraction.
Therefore, if one has any grouse against a judicial officer, the appropriate thing to do is to resolve same through the NJC and not through electronic or print media.
You are one of the leading candidates for the position of NBA President , why do you want to lead the Bar?
My aspiration to lead the Bar is driven by three major forces: sustenance or continuity, consolidation and new frontiers. The outgoing administration of Mr. Austine Alegeh, SAN, has achieved so much within his two years’ administration on issues such as the NBA Stamp and Seal policy which weeded out fake lawyers and increased business opportunities for lawyers;
NBA insurance policy which goes to a deceased lawyer’s family; different welfare packages especially for young lawyers; NBA Affinity Card which entitles lawyers to a wide variety of discounts; universal suffrage; e-voting; among others. I intend to sustain and consolidate on these achievements as leader of the Bar.
I also plan to introduce new frontiers in my administration. For example, I plan to increase job opportunities for lawyers through strategic partnerships in different spheres of the society. On members’ welfare, I intend to champion the establishment of a minimum wage baseline for the engagement of young lawyers, while taking various factors into account.
I plan to introduce welfare programme for the aged, physically challenged and incapacitated members of the Bar. I plan to re-establish the place of discipline among members in other to renew public confidence in the NBA and her members. On continuing education, I plan to rejuvenate Continuing Legal Education (CLE) for member of the NBA. This will be achieved through Development of the CLE Curriculum; Introducing Moot Court Competitions and Mentoring Programmes for Young Lawyers and the introduction of Student Wing of the NBA.
In the last 10 years, you have been organising annual lecture series for lawyers, why do you do this?
The Annual Public Lectures our Law Firm organises is a part of the corporate social responsibility we owe to the society. Usually, the Annual Public Lectures centers on contemporary issues of public interest where we educate, enlighten and proffer solutions (where applicable) to the theme of the Lectures.
In doing so, we usually invite resource persons from within and outside the country to serve as Guest Speakers. To God’s glory, the turnouts at these events have been overwhelming and the feedback we get from the attendees i.e. members of the Bar, private sector and general members of the public has been quite encouraging. Some keynote speakers at our past Annual Public Lectures include: Oba Nsugbe QC, SAN; Prof. Gerald Tanyi; Chief Afe Babalola, SAN; Prof. Jerry Gana; Alun Jones, QC.; Mr. Frank Nweke (Jr) and Justice C. C. Nweze, JSC.
Why do you consider continuing legal education a vital experience for lawyers?
It is common truth that the only constant thing in life is change. The same truth applies to the Legal Profession. In fact, one of the characteristics of law is that it is dynamic. It changes from time to time with the changing times. If that is true for the profession, how then will the drivers of the profession stay on key current development without continuing legal education?
It is when we go for continuing legal education that we learn about emerging markets, new trends in legal practice, what obtains in other jurisdictions and generally how we can improve on our legal practice. Continuing Legal Education is not only desirable but is a necessary programme which should be embarked upon by every lawyer who aspires to do better in practice.
Our firm for instance, habitually sponsors our lawyers to attend Continuing Legal Education courses organided by the NBA and other platforms such as the International Bar Association and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. I encourage other law firms who are not doing this to start doing so. Why? When your increase your learning, you increase your earning.
While commissioning your law office, J-K Gadzama Court in Abuja, the CJN encouraged other law firms to emulate your mentoring programme for young lawyers, what is this programme all about?
The Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, JSC, (retd) Professional Training and Mentoring Programme was introduced by our firm to bring the mentor together with the mentee in order for the later to become better in a particular or some areas of legal practice. The mentor will do this by deploying his time, energy, experiences, and a belief in the innate capacity of the mentee, to help him become better.
As a firm, we acknowledge that the absence of formal and/or sufficient pupilage in Nigeria has created a lacuna that urgently needs to be filled. Most lawyers graduate from the law school with little or no idea of the realities in the legal field. Clearly, there is a huge gap that needs to be filled and this scheme is created for that purpose. And so far, it is yielding positive fruits.
Who and who are qualified to benefit from the programme?
To qualify to benefit from the Mentorship Programme, we target lawyers who are from one to 10 (1-10) years post Call to the Bar. However, we sometimes consider lawyers above this level.
As you move around NBA branches in the country canvassing for votes to become the next NBA President, what has the experience been like?
The experience has been eventful, insightful and interesting. It has given me the rare privilege of drawing closer to members of the NBA at different branches and it has also given me the opportunity to feel their heartbeat on matters that pertains to their well being.
In the past few months, you have presented key note addresses in almost every branch of the NBA across the country, how do you you cope with your practice and these travellings?
It is not in as many branches of the NBA as you make it sound.
In any event, it has been my privilege to be invited to speak at those functions. I feel humbled to be selected among equals to deliver those keynote addresses. Usually, it is presumed that one knows it all but you know, that no one man knows it all.
Also, travelling across the country to present these keynote addresses has honestly not been easy in view of the competing demands for my time by both family and professional commitments. However, I have come to learn that these are the kind of sacrifices that our past heroes made and I am delighted to make mine.
Your question reminds me of the next two keynote addresses I will be delivering later this month at Aguata, organised by NBA Aguata Branch and at Ado-Ekiti at the ‘6th Aare Afe Babalola Annual Public Lecture’, organised by NBA Ado-Ekiti Branch, both are scheduled for Wednesday, May 25, 2016 and Monday, May 30, 2016, respectively.
The incumbent President of the NBA, Mr. Augustine Alegeh SAN has achieved a lot for the Bar, how do you expect to fit into his big shoes?
Easy. You see, I am not coming to start up a new government for the NBA; I am simply coming to continue from where he stops, consolidate on his achievements and gradually, introduce my new programmes. I believe very strongly that government is a continous programme and that is exactly what I am going to do. I am only coming to add my own block to the building.