By Henry Ojelu
Some lawyers have set agenda for the new Nigeria Bar Association, NBA President-elect, Olumide Akpata following his victory at the association’s general election held last week.
Akpata polled 9,891 votes to defeat Dr Babatunde Ajibade (SAN) and Mr Dele Adesina (SAN) who scored 4,328 and 3,982 votes respectively in the election which was conducted electronically.
Lawyers who spoke to Vanguard expressed their views on what the Akpata led administration should do to refocus the association.
The bar must be united ― Adegboruwa, SAN
On his expectation from the new executives, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN emphasised that Akpata’s administration must strive to unite the association.
He said: “The NBA Exco has to set to work to unite the Bar across all sectors of the legal profession, between advocates, transactional lawyers, professionals in government departments, solicitors and also bridge the gap between senior and junior lawyers.
“This should then be followed with cooperation with the government in the fight against corruption, especially within the judiciary. The issue of proper ethics should then be looked into as a means of instilling discipline in the practice of law.
“Above all, the voice of NBA must be heard on all occasions against all forms of injustice, arbitrariness, impunity and executive lawlessness.”
Raise bar’s influence in resisting tyranny, abuse ― Otteh
Executive Director, Access to Justice, Joseph Otteh said Mr Akpata has daunting challenges before him including raising the bar’s influence in resisting tyranny, abuse and other forms of injustice.
He said, “It is our hope that he will refurbish and rejuvenate the Bar’s role in shaping how justice is delivered in Nigeria as well as rebuild confidence in Nigeria’s justice institutions. Today, public confidence in justice institutions is possibly at an all-time low and references to the stature of Nigeria’s justice institutions is unflattering internationally.
“Mr Akpata must ensure that the Bar is not anymore a bit-part player in the scheme of things, but an important lever in shaping policy – both national and judicial – in things affecting the administration of justice and the rule of law.
“He must raise the bar of the Bar’s influence in resisting tyranny and abuse, safeguarding human rights, and resisting a government’s oft push towards authoritarianism and despotism. Had the Nigerian Bar pulled its weight well in the recent past, it would have served our country better, and stood in the gap for our country people who were simply bewildered by the impunity of government.
“Akpata should lead the Bar to seek constitutional reforms that put the Nigerian people, their dignity and welfare, – and not simply our politicians – at the centre of governance, strengthen the fiscal independence of the judiciary and ensure that Nigeria’s judiciary and legal professionals are accountable for the delivery of efficient and effective judicial and legal services.”
Standard of legal education must be improved ― Ojo
Senior lecturer, Faculty of Law, Lagos State University, Gbenga Ojo said NBA must work closely with the Council of Legal Education on how to improve the standard of legal education or training of lawyers.
“NBA under the new leadership must engage the police authorities and the state on how to punish any officer involved in a violation of human rights particularly where the courts award damages for the violation.
He must ensure that all branches of NBA have functional committees on human rights to render services in that regard on pro bono basis. He should also set up a yearly award for the best branch with highest records of human right cases. In this regard, he should work with Nigeria Human Right Commission. On legal education, NBA must work closely with the Council of Legal Education on how to improve the standard of legal education or training of lawyers.
“We still have instances where some young lawyers can not undertake simplest unsupervise legal research. At times, it is difficult to relate their grades with their abilities. Law is both liberal arts and vocational. This is where the trainers come in. Courses like Evidence, Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation and Conveyancing must be taught by trainers with practical experience in those areas.
“Also, for the trainers, specialisation must be strictly adhered to. An expert duly certificated in property laws should not teach jurisprudence for instance and vice versa. It is necessary to have a policy statement on this with input from NBA, CLE working with NUC.
“This is one of the ways to improve legal to education by having square peg in square hole. It might be necessary to look into and harmonise the academic systems in both law school and the University. At the University, we run semester systems following the pattern in United States of America. At the law school, it is yearly program. Students are examined at the end of the year. It is important to agree on uniform system at both university and Law school. If it is semester system in the University, it must be semester system in the University, it must be the same system at the law school.
“Finally, they must look into the welfare of young lawyers. This has been an issue on the table for a long time. He should work with young lawyers association on this. In summary, the President elect must tackle issues on human rights, legal education and welfare of young lawyers.”
Bar must pursue due process, rule of law ― Ufeli
Executive Director, Cadrell Advocacy Centre, Evans Ufeli said the new Bar must insists that due process and rule of law is upheld in the country.
According to him, “I will like the NBA leadership to look graphically into due process and the rule of law in Nigeria with a view to upholding the sacred totem of judicial processes that have been abused and unwittingly truncated by the Buhari’s administration.
“Again, the NBA leadership should ensure that the fundamental and socio-economic rights of Nigerians are preserved, we can achieve this by enforcing with strong advocacy, the aforementioned rights, interrogating the system with tacit judicial precedence and litigation.
“The NBA should also look into the administration of the association which recently has left too many undesirable precedents of ineffectiveness and unproductive attempts to cater for lawyer’s welfare by introducing a disorganized insurance policy for lawyers, failed palliatives measures and a weak check to weed off fake lawyers from the system.”
Tackle corruption, rot in NBA ― Akingbolu
A member of Ekiti State Judicial Service Commission, Kabir Akingbolu stated that the new exco must first tackle the corruption and rot in the NBA.
He said, “The emergence of Akpata as the NBA president is not only accidental but also a shift in paradigm and complete change of the norm, status quo or if you like, call it change in the culture of oppressive imposition of leaders by the few minority, the SANs.
“Thus, by his emergency emergence, he needs to tackle corruption head on, first from the NBA itself and by extension, in the conducts of legal practitioners as a whole, because there are a lot of rots in the body, NBA.
“His emergence may have brought an end to the unrestricted control of the Bar by the few that call themselves the king makers. Unknown to this few, they failed to realize that the status quo remained for that long because even though the junior lawyers who are non SANs are in the majority, none of them has challenged the status quo as a non SAN by contesting for the post with SANs who though are in the minority but held sway for decades.
“The new president should reposition the Bar to a lofty heights befitting for noble men of the honourable profession. He should endeavor to ensure that lawyers are more professional than ever before so much so that all sort of unprofessional conducts linking lawyers with criminality and underhand dealings should stop.
He should be ready to bring the desired or needed change in the Bar. Many troubles are bedevilling legal practitioners but the younger ones are suffering untold hardships and ill treatment in the hands of seniors. Many use their juniors like slaves without care for years and if they later want to leave, some of the so called bosses will be harassing them, collecting their cars and withholding their salaries, I think there should be some standard of welfare and treatment for junior lawyers.
“More importantly, the NBA we have today is like a toothless bulldog in that, they condone a lot of inadequacies among the rank and file of the profession, they condone indiscipline and unprofessionalism of lawyers.
“There is also a serious fall in the standard of legal practitioners in Nigeria today and this need to be addressed for improvement. He should tell the truth to the powers that be and above all, he should not use the platform of the NBA to enrich himself, witch-hunt people or seek political office for relevance or prosperity.”
NBA must raise voice against tyranny, injustice ― Takon
Constitutional lawyer, Destiny Takon said with the new leadership, NBA must be a voice for the oppressed and voiceless against tyranny, injustice and disrespect for the rule of law.
He said, “The NBA must of absolute necessity, become proactive against tiranny, by speaking up and acting against acts of persons, agencies and institutions that exercise constitutional or legal authority in Nigeria.
“A committee should be set up to monitor and take up appropriate legal action against all such acts in any part of Nigeria where they occur or are threatening to do so. The NBA must fill in the missing gap for a constitutional Watchdog against illegal, oppressive and unconstitutional actions by government.”
“A potent NBA would have fought for the soul of the rule of law and the traditions and soul of the judiciary, when Buhari brutally and brazenly removed Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, to plant his own stooge. The NBA would have taken affirmative action against Buhari, for appointing only core Muslim Northerners into all sensitive security and revenue generating agencies in Nigeria, against the detects of the Fundamental Directives and Objective Principles of State Policy, contained in Chapter II of the constitution and for several other acts of autocracy that we have seen with the Buhari administration.
“The NBA must step up in our country where the Judiciary and the Legislature have been cowed into becoming appendages of the Executive, to safeguard the supremacy of the rule of law.