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Opinion | Mr Olumide Akpata the 30TH president of the NBA: A most expected ‘epoch’ in the lawyers’ welfare! 

By Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq

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The Nigerian Bar Association-herein after referred to as the NBA- is an association of lawyers that is a non-profit making, non-political and non-governmental organization. The Association was registered under the Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act as incorporated trustees. The Association’s aims and objectives are as contained in Section 3 of its Constitution. With due respect, many lawyers (including my humble self) in the NBA as members have suffered greatly in term of bad welfare for lawyers. Young lawyers have been the most vulnerable members of the Association. A number of lawyers are produced yearly by the joint efforts of the Council of Legal Education and the Body of Benchers established under the Legal Practitioners’ Act, LFN, 2004, but in my humble view, the poor welfare packages for lawyers (or the young lawyers) has been one of the reasons for the thought that a newly called to bar lawyer must undertake another mandatory two (2) years pupilage! This in my humble view, is a terrible embarrassment on the face of those proponents, with due respect to them! Young lawyers are also human beings and I do not view that they are to devote the entirety of their life-time to studying law and the practice with no means of livelihood! Having studied for at least 4 years in the nursery and the Kindergarten schools, at least 6 years at the primary schools, at least 6 years from J.S.S. 1 to S.S.S. 3, at least 5 years at the university/tertiary institution level and at least one year at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), which means that for one to become a lawyer in Nigeria, he must have studied for at least 22 years, yet, what those proponents of the 2 years’ mandatory pupilage are saying is that those 22 years are not enough! Is that logical?! Indeed, it is oppressive of young lawyers, in my humble view, with due respect! This life should not be turned to a battlefield for young lawyers- survival of the fittest! There are other solutions in my humble view, to consider but definitely not the mandatory additional 2 years as pupilage! The newly sworn-in NBA President- Mr Olumide Akpata, has however in his inaugural speech recently delivered at the virtual NBA conference, 2020, promised to change the welfare of lawyers from its poor conditions to a new dawn of improved welfare packages and this in my humble view, is an epoch, which I am of the expectations, joy and prayers that he would be able to achieve during his tenure and where he is able to change the poor welfare mantra, then, his tenure would have become a real epoch much more long expected and belated, hence this paper!

On the welfare plans of Mr Akpata, he had stated in his inaugural speech as follows:
The Task Ahead:
Welfare of Lawyers.

The improved welfare for our members was a cardinal part of my campaign. I assure you today that those were not mere rhetoric. I hereby restate my promise to ensure that we improve on the welfare of our members along the lines that I promised in my manifesto.
I also stated that it is at the core of my mandate to expand and deepen the market for legal services in Nigeria and consequentially improve the financial standing of our members. In the coming weeks I shall constitute an NBA Task Force to determine the scope of legal work that is statutorily prescribed to be the exclusive preserve of Nigerian lawyers and to work out modalities for ensuring that only members of our Association get to do such work. In recent times we have witnessed the brazen encroachments into our turf by other professions and private organisations like banks, consulting firms, property firms, amongst others. I will personally engage the leadership of these organisations and prevail on them to refrain from the practice of encroaching into areas that are the exclusive preserve of lawyers. In cases where this is not heeded, we shall not hesitate to challenge such encroachments in court. It is no longer business as usual.

One hallmark of my administration shall be the constructive engagement with the heads of the major regulatory agencies to ensure better synergy with the NBA in the interest of our members. In this regard, one of my first tasks as President of our Association shall be to engage with the Registrar General of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to resolve some of the outstanding issues that led to the recent protests by members of our Association and to find a lasting solution to them. Criticisms from some quarters have also trailed the passage of Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020. We shall constructively engage with the CAC in this regard to allay the fears of our members and indeed the general populace. In this regard I must immediately commend the NBA Section on Business Law for their illuminating and timely Webinar on the CAMA 2020. More of such events will be promoted under my administration. Where however, there are provisions of the Act that cannot stand the test of time, the NBA shall not hesitate to advocate their urgent amendment so that they do not constitute a clog in the wheel of progress. This shall be the template to engage other regulatory agencies throughout my administration.

On the vexed issue of the poor remuneration which has made the legal profession in Nigeria a laughingstock, I said during the campaign that the NBA can no longer afford to fold its hands in the face of this most unfortunate state of affairs. I hereby restate that the NBA under my leadership will devise measures to tackle this issue. I will in the coming weeks, establish an NBA Remuneration Committee to recommend feasible ways to improve the poor remuneration of legal practitioners.

One of my major tasks as President of the NBA will be to table before the Legal Practitioners Remuneration Committee a request for the review of the Legal Practitioners (Remuneration for Legal Documentation and Other Land Matters) Order to reflect current economic realities. It is my strong belief that the standardisation of the fees charged by legal practitioners holds the key to the resolution to the poor payment of legal practitioners.
On the NBA Stamp and Seal, I pledged in my Manifesto that the NBA under my administration shall issue at no costs, one pack of 24 Stamps to legal practitioners between 1-5 years of call, upon payment of practising fees. After due consultations, we have decided to extend the gesture by issuing two packs of 48 Stamps for free to all verified legal practitioners who pay their Bar Practising Fees not later than 31 March 2021. Those who require additional copies of the NBA Stamp and Seal would then free to request additional pages at extra costs to them. I also restate my promise to ensure further improvement on the Stamp and Seal application, collection process and the digitization of the stamp and seal.

I also pledge to ensure the continuation of the NBA Members’ Life Assurance scheme. Considering our numerical strength, I will negotiate a more favourable deal with our current insurance policy provider for an upward review of benefits to members. We shall also institute a comprehensive health insurance scheme and establish a medical health fund to help deserving members subscribe to the scheme. In addition to the above, my administration will, working with the leadership of the various branches of the NBA, establish working relationship with good hospitals across Nigeria to agree discounts on bills for members of our Association.

One major promise I made to Nigerian lawyers is to tackle the menace of harassment and brutality of lawyers by the security agencies. As I have said in the past, while it is part of the aims and objects of the NBA to promote and protect the fundamental rights of citizens, which we take very seriously, charity must necessarily begin at home and the NBA must take steps to forestall the breach of the fundamental rights of lawyers. For the past few years, there is hardly a month that passes without an incident of harassment of lawyers by men of the security agencies. This is completely unacceptable. While we are still on the case of Emperor Ogbonna a lawyer from Abia State who has been in custody despite being granted bail twice by the courts, we also heard just last week, of the case of a senior member of the Bar, Mr Paul Igwe, who was detained and brutalised by the Divisional Police Officer of Eastern Ngwa Police Division of the Nigerian Police also in Abia State. To say that lawyers have become endangered species is putting it mildly. This dangerous trend and we must immediately address.

The NBA that I now lead will strengthen the NBA Human Rights Institute and also engage the heads of the various security agencies proactively and constructively from the outset, to set the tone for a collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship between their respective agencies and our Association. The engagements would secure assurances that any officer of the security agencies found to have abused a lawyer would be sanctioned and such sanction made public. Where these engagements fail, we shall not hesitate to bring our full weight as an Association to bear to challenge any instance of abuse and harassment of lawyers. It is also for that reason that I announce the setting up of a special Lawyers’ Defence Fund to cater for the free representation of lawyers who are financial members of the association and are victims of human rights violation by the securities agencies.’.
Meanwhile, the NBA’s Publicity Secretary- Dr. Rapulu Ernest- had summarized these welfare epoch in his published ‘Ten Cardinal Points From NBA Presidential Inaugural Speech’ as follows:

‘Furthermore, he noted that the NBA President is putting measures in place to improve the welfare of Lawyers in Nigeria.

“3. Improved welfare for lawyers
a. Expansion and further deepening of the market for legal services in Nigeria in order to improve the financial standing of our members.
b. Establishment of a NBA Remuneration Committee to recommend feasible ways to improve the poor remuneration of legal practitioners.
c. Constitution of a NBA Task Force to determine the scope of legal work that is statutorily prescribed to be the exclusive preserve of Nigerian lawyers and to work out modalities for ensuring that only members of our Association get to do such work.
d. Taking steps to engage the leadership of these organisations that encroach into the exclusive preserve of lawyers, and to prevail on them to refrain from the practice of encroaching into areas that are the exclusive preserve of lawyers.
e. Instituting actions in Court to stop such encroachments in court, where such engagements are not heeded to.
f. Ensuring the continuation of the NBA Members’ Life Assurance scheme. Negotiating a more favourable deal with our current insurance policy provider for an upward review of benefits to members.
g. Instituting a comprehensive health insurance scheme and establishing a medical health fund to help deserving members subscribe to the scheme.
h. Synergizing with the leadership of the various branches of the NBA in establishing working relationship with good hospitals across Nigeria in order to fashion out discounts on bills for members of our Association.” He said.
Besides, he noted that the NBA President is set to give 48 stamps to all Lawyers who have paid their BFP as at 31st March.
“Stamp and Seal
a. Free two packs of 48 Stamps for all verified legal practitioners who pay their Bar Practising Fee on or before the 31st of March.
b. Further improvement on the Stamp and Seal application, collection process and the digitization of the stamp and seal.”

Meanwhile, he further noted that the NBA President is set to take steps to ensure that Lawyers are protected from harassment.

“Protection of lawyers from harassment by security agencies
Taking steps to tackle menace of harassment and brutality of lawyers by the security agencies.
Strengthening the NBA Human Rights Institute.
c. Engaging the heads of the various security agencies in order to set the tone for a collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship between their respective agencies and our Association.
d. Securing the assurances of the head of these security agencies to the effect that any officer of the security agencies found to have abused a lawyer would be sanctioned and such sanction made public
e. Bringing the full weight of the NBA to bear in challenging any instance of abuse and harassment of lawyers, where the engagements (as in 5d) fail.
f. Setting up of a special Lawyers’ Defence Fund to help provide free representation of lawyers who are financial members of the association and are victims of human rights violation by the securities agencies.’.
Finally, I wish Mr Akpata successful endeavors in his stewardship as the President of the NBA most especially in his actualization of his epoch!
Long live the NBA! Long live the legal profession! Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Email: hameed_ajibola@yahoo.com

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