The philosophy underpinning my aspiration to lead the Nigerian Bar Association is built on the need to unite the profession. I am convinced that we will find it difficult to address the various problems confronting our profession, if we fail to unite.
This being the case, I have made it a point of duty to identify the various constituencies that exist within our profession, to engage with them and to understand in what way the NBA has failed or is failing to meet their aspirations.
The Law Officers Association of Nigeria (LOAN) is one of such constituencies and in my interaction with its members, two issues have stood out. The first is the NBA’s resistance to the Association’s efforts to be registered as an entity with legal personality by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the second is the limitation contained in section 8(3)(b) of the NBA Constitution, which restricts eligibility to contest for a national office within the NBA to legal practitioners in private legal practice.
With regard to the first concern, I commit to LOAN that I will do whatever is within my power to see that the NBA drops its opposition to its registration with the CAC. I have previous history to back up this committment. I was the pioneer Secretary, then Vice-Chairman and subsequently Chairman of the Capital Market Solicitors Association (CMSA). In that capacity, I had first hand experience of the NBA’s resistance to the creation of parallel bodies of legal practitioners. However, we overcame this by assuring the NBA that the CMSA Constitution recognised its supremacy as the only body recognised to represent the interest of ALL lawyers registered to practice in Nigeria and that eligibility for membership of the CMSA was conditional on good standing with the NBA. This addressed the NBA’s concerns and I’m glad to note that the CMSA is now expressly recognised and listed in the 9th Schedule to the NBA Constitution as a Specialised Affiliated Law Forum.
The question as to the restriction on eligibility to run for national office in the NBA is a bit more tricky. I disagree with any provision that discriminates without justification and I find it difficult to imagine what justification there might be for restricting eligibility to run for ANY national office to legal practitioners in private practice only. This does not only discriminate against members of LOAN, but also against all the other groups and categories of legal practitioners that are members of the NBA.
Some may argue that legal practitioners in private practice are most likely the group with the highest number in the NBA, and there is justification for reserving the leadership of the NBA to this group. Some may also argue that allowing the most senior officers in the Ministries of Justice (e.g. the Attorneys-General and the Solicitors-General) to occupy the highest offices in the NBA may compromise the independence of the Bar.
The question is, do these considerations and concerns justify the blanket restriction preventing all lawyers other than those in private practice from running for national office? I don’t think so.
I believe that lawyers other than those in private practice should be eligible to run for national offices provided that the independence of the Bar is maintained at all times. This is consistent with my underlying philosophy and the need to build a UNITED BAR in which every lawyer feels that his/her interest is represented.
Amendments to the NBA Constitution are not the sole preserve of the President. Thus, my commitment to LOAN is that I will use my best efforts to achieve the changes described above.
Dr. Babatunde Ajibade, SAN, FCIArb