Mr. Afam Osigwe is the immediate past general secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA. In this encounter, he spoke on his vision for NBA, the legal profession and related issues. Excerpts:
By Dayo Benson
ON NBA: I am interested in the legal profession and its role and impact in our nation. I do not support the idea of seating back and criticising but to step up and be part of the solution. I care about how we move the legal profession forward, to impact the society and meet up to the expectation of lawyers. From my interaction with many lawyers, I am aware that lawyers are disenchanted with the NBA. They feel that the NBA is not doing much for them or their practice, in other words the NBA must pay more attention to members’ welfare above all else.
During my tenure as general secretary; we tried to do this through the insurance scheme, Affinity Card (discount card), sponsorship of prizes at the law school level and the completion of the NBA house at Abuja. The general belief of members is that we collect their dues and just spend them anyhow but that is not the case. The completion of the NBA house is evidence of how our dues were spent and managed during my time as general secretary.
We also reduced the conference fees so that more lawyers could attend while sourcing funds externally given the fact that NBA is a brand name that can be used to generate income for itself. The introduction of the stamp with personalised name and call number of members at the cost we had it manufactured and implemented was also to the benefit of all members whose income has now improved because of its implementation.
However, I believe there is room for improvement in the management and production of the stamps, the insurance scheme which the lawyer does not directly benefit from and other issues. It is completely understandable that we would want the NBA to do more. The NBA should be able to put in place some sort of insurance scheme that the lawyer can enjoy in his lifetime. I look at law pavilion and other law service providers and ask why can’t payment of my Bar practicing fee grant me access to these online resources? Must I buy these resources myself? The NBA should have a positive impact in improving my practice by providing some access to these resources.
We should also renegotiate the insurance scheme to see how we can increase the premium. This is important because when members see that the NBA cares about them, their families, that is ready to invest in their practice; their confidence in the Association will subsequently improve. I want to be part of an NBA that is inward looking and focuses on members who are the centrepiece of its programmes.
On Legal Education: The NBA needs to go beyond the Law School to affect the lives of the Law students at the university level. Leadership training or discipline at the law school level is not sufficient. We also need to fund lecturers to do research that will help the development of the Justice sector and constitutionalism in Nigeria. We need to involve the academia in the running of the NBA needs to make law students understand that there is an Association that will embrace them when they qualify to be lawyers. It is my belief the NBA invests in setting up an endowment fund to promote legal education and mentorship programs for law students and young lawyers.
NBA must run with a business mindset, not by making money from its members but using its brand, investing its income for the purposes of saving for the future. Our budget should not be for travelling, conferences, seminars, etc. only. We need to spend on legal missions, enabling and preparing young lawyers for the future through foreign legal exchange programmes and programmes that promote the rule of law and benefits the nation. We can do this through partnerships with donor organisations. In essence we must broaden our perspective and our practice in a world that has become a global village. NBA must ensure that our legal market is expanded to improve the earning capacity of lawyers.
On Stamp and Seal: On the issue of Stamp administration, it is my belief that the current process of applying and reapplying for stamps is complicated and unnecessary. In this age of technological advancement a member should be able to apply for and order for stamps online without any further stress of going through his NBA branch or physically entering a bank. The same thing must apply to payment of Bar Practice Fee; we must do away with tellers and have electronic receipts sent directly to your email address.
NBA must be able to speak up at critical times, engage positively in our nation and rise up to the expectations of the citizens of this nation.
Revenue generating platform
On the issue of the newly introduced stamps by the Lagos State Judiciary, I am concerned that justice is not viewed as a revenue generating platform. We should not make it more difficult for people to access the courts because of court fees.
If the main reason for this new innovation is to weed out touts then we should investigate and find out how and who is making it easy for touts to operate in our Judiciary and prevent it from happening not by introducing measure that will cost the court users more money. The Branches in Lagos must join together to engage the Lagos State Judiciary on this issue before it is adopted by other Judiciaries nationwide
On E-Voting and Universal Suffrage: On e-voting and universal suffrage adopted by the NBA, I am sure the current administration will address the lapses of the last elections which saw many lawyers not being able to register or be accredited. We also saw a situation where the process was not entirely open as candidates could not access in real time how votes where coming in. we need to enhance lawyers confidence in the process so that they have no doubts that the leaders that have emerged reflect the wishes of the electorate.
On NBA Section: On the Sections of the NBA that are no longer functional; NBA needs to change its approach in the appointment of Sectional leaders.
You are appointed a Sectional leader as a reward for your role in ensuring the victory of those currently serving as NBA Executives. This in my view does not help the Sections. We have to allow people to volunteer themselves to be part of Sections and committees. We must democratise these sections and committees by allowing members to elect their own leaders, this will ensure their sustainability and effectiveness.
On the issue of IPOB; we do not need to separate as a nation but the Government must look at a merit based system rather than looking at where you come from. However; we need each other in this country.
The Igbo man draws strength from being part of a larger territory so asking to be pushed to an enclave called Biafra is not in the best interest of the Igbo man and to all Nigerians as a whole.