Your Excellency, Simon Lalong Esq, Executive Governor of Plateau State; Your Excellency, M.A Abubakar Esq, Executive Governor of Bauchi State; Your Excellency, the Deputy Governor of Plateau State; My Lords, Justices of the Court of Appeal here present; My Lord, Hon. Justice Pius Damulak, Chief Judge of Plateau State; My Lords, Judges of the High Court of Plateau State here present; The State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice; National Officers of the Bar; Past Presidents and General Secretaries of the Bar here present; Senior Advocates of Nigeria and Honourable Benchers here present, Eminent Bar Leaders, Distinguished members of NBA-NEC, NEC observers, members of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen.
May I on behalf of the National Officers welcome you all to another NEC meeting in the beautiful and serene city of Jos, Plateau State. We are privileged to once again be hosted by another learned colleague and brother, H.E Simon Lalong, Executive Governor of Plateau State.
May I seize this opportunity to thank His Excellency and the good people of Plateau State for their uncommon hospitality and warm reception since our arrival in Jos, Plateau State. We are very grateful to His Excellency for his support in hosting this NEC meeting which from all available markers would be a successful and exciting NEC meeting.
We thank My Lord, the Chief Judge of Plateau State, the Honourable Justice Pius Damulak for the splendid cocktail yesterday. We had the privilege of tasting the delicious and rich cuisine of Plateau State at the CJ’s cocktail last night. The Bar is very grateful to you My Lord and thank you for your unwavering support and interest in the programmes and activities of the Bar.
I want to also express our deep appreciation and gratitude to the Attorney General and Honourable Commissioner for Justice of Plateau State for his tireless efforts towards ensuring a hitch free NEC Meeting.
Most importantly, I want to thank the Chairman, Executive Officers of Jos Branch and the Local Organising Committee led by my brother Solomon Umoh, SAN for their dedication and diligence in organizing this NEC meeting.
I must equally express profound appreciation to NEC members and NEC observers whose presence here today is testimony to the fact that they remain ever committed to the development and success of our noble Association the NBA. I want to assure you all that your efforts are not in vain.
Finally, permit me to thank the almighty God who made it possible for us all to arrive in Jos safely and who guards and guides those whom we left behind at our various homes. It is to the almighty God we commit all our deliberations at this meeting and trust in our safe return to our various branches and homes.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
Our Stamp policy has continued to improve the standard of our practice. We have been able to curb the menace of quacks since its introduction and this has improved the authenticity of documents filed in our Courts and has also increased the revenue stream of lawyers across the country.
We encourage our members to continue to support the strict implementation of the NBA Stamp policy and the vision of uplifting the standard of legal practice in Nigeria to meet global best practices.
However, I must state that the fight is not over as the quacks and their associates continue to file cases in Court seeking for an avenue practice Law in Nigeria. We remain resolute in defending these matters and have the firm belief that the Law remains on our side.
The NBA Practice Licence
We wish to remind our members that payment of Annual Bar Practicing fees has begun and members are advised to pay within time and to ensure that they collect their Practice Licences for the year 2016.
NBA Insurance Policy
The NBA Insurance Scheme is fully operational and several applications and claims have been successfully processed since the introduction of this Insurance Policy on 15th April, 2015. Please note that only lawyers who are duly verified and have paid their Bar Practising fees are covered under this scheme.
We encourage members to update and submit their Insurance Forms to their Branches as soon as possible to enable them reap the benefits of this Scheme.
NBA Identity Cards
The NBA Identity cards powered by VISA and produced by our Official Banker – Access Bank is also fully operational and several Cards have been issued to lawyers across the Country. We urge all members to obtain theirs immediately. We are currently in the process of concluding arrangements with Arik Air and Hilton hotels for the NBA card to be used in activating the discounts already agreed with them. This would be extended to other support partners shortly.
NBA PROGRAMMES AND EVENTS NBA Human Rights Workshop
The NBA, on Monday, 30th November, 2015 organized a One-day workshop on Human Rights in times of conflict in Maiduguri, Bornu State. This workshop was held in collaboration with the Nigerian Army and was designed to draw particular attention to issues of human rights violations in the course of the war against terrorism in the North Eastern region of Nigeria. The event was a huge success and the recommendations made at the workshop are currently been implemented by the Nigerian Army.
A direct benefit of the workshop, is the inauguration of the Nigerian Army Human
Rights Complaints Desk which will take place in Abuja today, Thursday, 18th February,
We have also inaugurated the NBA Human Rights Monitoring Teams in all our branches in the North Eastern States. These Monitoring teams are working assiduously and will issue periodic monthly reports on the human rights situation in their respective areas of operation. We shall at this NEC meeting receive the Report of the Committee led by Emeka Obegolu, NBA Past General Secretary.
Dinner in Honour of Justices of the Supreme Court
As has become our practice and in keeping with the fine traditions of the Bar and the Bench, the NBA has successfully organized two Dinners in honour of retiring Justices of the Supreme Court.
On 26th November, 2015 and 11th February, 2016 respectively, the NBA hosted the crème de la crème of the Bar, the Bench, diplomats and public servants to dinners in honour of the Honourable Justices Fabiyi JSC (Rtd.) and M.S. Muntaka-Coomassie JSC (Rtd.)
The NBA Anti-Corruption Commission organised a Media Briefing to mark the International Anti-Corruption day on 9th December, 2015. At the Media Briefing, the Anti-Corruption Commission decried the spate of corruption prevalent in Nigeria and outlined the steps so far taken by the NBA to fight corruption both within and outside the Bar.
The NBA Anti-Corruption Commission at the Media Briefing spoke extensively on the “KYC” (Know Your Client) Guidelines of the NBA designed to create an obligation on lawyers to refrain from engaging in unsavoury corrupt practices with their Clients.
Human Rights Day
On 10th December, 2015, the NBA in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission organized a Workshop at NICON Luxury Hotel to mark the International Human Rights Day.
The event had in attendance the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation, the Comrade Governor of Edo State, H.E Adams Aliyu Oshiomole who delivered the keynote and several other stakeholders.
At the event, the NBA restated its total support and resolve to advocate for the observance and respect for the Rule of law and Human Rights at all levels. We also made a commitment to remain steadfast in our duty to sensitize and enlighten the public on issues of Human Rights enforcement.
Fact-Finding Trip to Zaria, Kaduna State
Following the recent violent clash between the Nigerian Army and Members of the Shiite Muslim Sect, the NBA on 18th January, 2016 led a high powered delegation on a fact-finding trip to the scene of the clash in Zaria, Kaduna State to investigate allegations of Human Rights violations against the Nigerian Army in the course of the clash which led to the death of several members of the Shiite Muslim sect.
The trip was quite insightful and the NBA will present a holistic report on the incident soon.
UPCOMING EVENTS AND PROGRAMMES
Legal Study Visit to the International Criminal Court, Hague
I will lead a team of Lawyers from the various Branches of the NBA to the ICC at The
Hague for a Legal Study Visit from 22nd to 25th of February, 2016.
The aim of this visit is to familiarize Nigerian Lawyers with the workings of the ICC and to establish a working relationship with the ICC as the working and operation of the ICC are extending daily and are becoming increasingly relevant in Our Country.
We would also take advantage of our being in Netherlands to have meetings with their Bar Association with a view to developing collaboration between both Bar Associations.
African Bar Leaders’ Summit
The NBA has concluded plans to host an African Bar Leaders’ Summit in Lagos, from
10th – 13th April, 2016.
The summit will provide an opportunity for African Bar leaders to discuss their common problems and challenges and also fashion our likely solutions to these common problems. Additionally, it would assist in forging a synergy between Bar Associations across the African continent.
Workshop on Review of the Performance of Election Petitions Tribunals
The NBA would in April organize a two day workshop to review the performance of Election Petition Tribunals at all levels; Trial Tribunals, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
The Workshop would be organized in collaboration with the Judiciary and it is aimed not at criticizing any persons but at reviewing the performance of lawyers and judicial officers with a view to ensuring better performance, going forward.
This would be the 2nd time we the NBA is organizing this Workshop. The 1st Workshop was held by the JB Daudu led National Executive in Benin-City, Edo State and was acclaimed to be successful.
One-Day Workshop on Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)
The NBA is working with key Petroleum Industry actors to have a workshop on the PIB. This Workshop would be held in Abuja in March, 2016.
This conference has become inevitable as efforts to pass the PIB have resumed at the NASS. We take the view that the NBA can collate the position of various actors in the Industry and compare same with the version presented by FGN [NASS]. Thereafter NBA having the benefit of the views of all concerned parties can then fashion out a PIB based on international best practices and standards.
The Legal Education Summit and the State of the Nation Roundtable are also planned for April, 2016.
STATE OF THE NATION Boko Haram Insurgency
The efforts of FGN and the Nigerian Security forces are beginning to yield positive
results. The Boko Haram Insurgency is fast waning but the battle is not yet over. We commend the efforts so far and urge Government not to relent.
The economy of our country seems to be in dire straits. The exchange rate mechanism appears to have collapsed. The current exchange rate of the Dollar changes every minute. At the last check, it was N365 to $1. In our import based Country this is extremely dangerous. At the current collapse rate of the Naira, a regime of N1000 to
$1 is looming ever so close. We call on H.E President Muhammadu Buhari to act fast to address this problem.
The war against corruption is raging on several fronts. The NBA restates its zero tolerance for Corruption policy as well as its commitment to work with FGN and all willing FGN Agencies to contribute its quota in the battle to kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria.
We must also stress that the war against corruption must be fought within the ambit of the law and rule of law must at all times be given primacy. The war against corruption can be won within the ambit of the law. There is no need to resort to any other means other than legal means to win the war against corruption.
There appears to be the need to draw attention to the essential elements of a proper trial in accordance with Law. There must be a Prosecution and a Defence. If one i s absent there cannot be a fair trial. The duty of the Prosecution is to Prosecute not persecute. The prosecution has a duty to the temple of justice to bring all facts before the Court even if some may aid the defence. Where the prosecution is found to have withheld any such evidence, any conviction obtained is liable to be set aside. The duty of the defence is to present the defence of the Defendant AND NOT to make up a defence for the defendant. Where this happens, counsel risks disciplinary sanction, if reported.
I have labored to draw attention to this position in view of the erroneous view being wrongly peddled by some persons that lawyers in defending persons accused of corruption are aiding corruption. Far from it. Counsel have a duty and are trained to prosecute or defend. Whichever position they may take they are carrying out legitimate duties and cannot be wrongly classified as persecuting or aiding corruption. It is laughable that an agency of Government would retain Counsel to prosecute persons accused of corruption but frown at Counsel representing such persons. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander.
Finally, the constitutional guarantee of innocent until proven guilty remains alive and well. A person accused of corruption MUST be presumed INNOCENT until a conviction is secured. This fine constitutional point appears lost to few persons who seem to believe that persons that are accused are already convicted. If it is appreciated that persons accused are constitutionally presumed innocent then their dignity and their human rights must be guarded jealously.
We continue to collaborate as it is apparent that there is work to be done on all fronts in the fight against corruption.
Election Petition Verdicts
The Election Petitions Tribunals and Appeal Panels have almost completed their work. We commend the judiciary for their efforts in resolving election matters timeously. We believe that the judiciary applied its best efforts but must concede that things could have been a lot better. There were critical failures that could have been avoided. There were conflicting judgments that could have been avoided. There were issues of failure to follow laid down precedents that could have been easily avoided.
Our position is that all those who were responsible for these obviously avoided blemishes on the judiciary and the entire legal industry should be sanctioned. Failure to sanction earlier infractions resulted in the present infractions. We must not allow a few individuals to harm the fabric of the legal industry.
Appointment of New Justices to the Supreme Court
The NBA commends the Chief Justice of Nigeria for amending the Supreme Court appointment guidelines to include appointments of deserving Senior Advocates of Nigeria to the Supreme Court.
In the light of the amendments to the Rules for Appointment of judicial officers we made nominations in respect of the appointments to the Supreme Court. We were extremely hopeful that our candidates would be successful. The candidates we put forward were men of integrity, personality and deep knowledge of the Law.
However, it appears that what was offered with one hand was taken away with the other hand. The final decision was based on number of judgments WRITTEN. But when the rules were amended it was known to all that Lawyers don’t write judgments. So we begin to wonder if there is any need to make further recommendations in future when we all know that the rules are tilted against Lawyers.
We urge My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria to initiate a holistic review of the appointment guidelines to accommodate lawyers as doing so will inject new ideas and improve efficiency of the Supreme Court.
Attack on Lawyers
The NBA notes with displeasure the steps taken by certain overzealous operatives of Government who hide under the guise of fighting corruption and criminality to resort to unsavory techniques to harass, intimidate and browbeat lawyers in the course pf their legitimate work. This practice is unacceptable and morally reprehensible.
The NBA does not condone or support corruption and we urge all our members to abide by the NBA KYC Guidelines and to refrain from collecting bulky cash payments from Clients in contravention of the KYC Guidelines.
The NBA will stand in support and defend any member who is being vilified for carrying out his legitimate duty in accordance with law. However, we will be the first to discipline any such lawyer who thinks that the NBA can be used as a cover to engage in unscrupulous acts of corruption.
STATE OF THE BAR
NBA House Project
The roofing of the ultramodern NBA National Secretariat Complex located within the Central Business District of Abuja has been completed and finishing works are underway to meet the proposed commissioning date of next month, March, 2016.
The NBA National Secretariat Building Committee would present a Report to this NEC meeting. We are indeed grateful to them and impressed with the level of work achieved so far.
Effects of the NBA Constitution
We wish to state that the new NBA Constitution has come into effect and its provisions are sacrosanct.
We are aware that the provisions relating to dates for elections and tenure limitation have generated a lot of controversy. We shall ensure that these issues are fully debated on the floor of NEC and resolved with finality.
Discipline at the Bar
The NBA restates its resolve to deal with all cases of professional infractions and misconduct with dispatch and without favour.
Lawyers are hereby warned to desist from making disparaging comments against the Court simply because the Judgments were not in their favour or because they do not like the Judge.
Lawyers must imbibe the practice of decorum and civility while commenting on a judicial pronouncement. It is quite disheartening to see very senior and respected lawyers who ordinarily should set examples for their juniors to be the ones who engage in this unprofessional conduct. We must look inwards and tackle issues of professional misconduct before we can make meaningful progress in tackling societal issues.
We have taken giant strides in making good our promise to introduce electronic voting to the NBA elections.
We have held several of meetings with the service provider and have run series of tests to ascertain their preparedness for what lies ahead. We can state without equivocation
that ballot-voting in NBA elections now belongs to the relics of the past and that electronic voting has come to stay.
The next NBA elections will be done online and lawyers irrespective of their location at the material time will be afforded the chance to vote for candidates of their choice.
Election of 2nd Vice-President of the NBA
Following the elevation of the Past 2nd Vice-President of the NBA to the Federal High Court Bench, there is an urgent need to fill the vacuum therein created by electing a substantive 2nd Vice President.
In electing a 2nd Vice President, we should ensure we comply with the provisions of our new NBA Constitution which provides that we should have 3 Vice Presidents – 1 from the North; 1 from the West and 1 from the East to reflect equity and fairness. Consequently, our Constitution has created an obligation on us to choose our next Vice-President from the North.
Demise of Members
The NBA has, within the past few months, recorded huge losses occasioned by the unfortunate demise of some of its resourceful members. These include Past General Secretary and Life Bencher Segun Onakoya Esq.; Chief Chude Charles Mafua – Life Bencher; Ogochukwu Okeke – Former Chairman Nnewi & NEC Member; Ms. Felicia Eimunjeze – Former Director of Administration, Nigerian Law School, Yenagoa campus who died last weekend in a motor accident. We pray for the repose of their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed. Amen. (1 min silence)
Distinguished NEC Members and Learned colleagues, we thank you once more for your immense support especially for our new policies and programmes.
We assure you that we shall remain focused in our bid to improve the welfare of lawyers and raise the standard of legal practice in Nigeria. We urge you not to relent but to further support and assist us at all times to enable us achieve our solemn mandate to reposition the Bar.
I wish all of us fruitful deliberations and a successful NEC meeting. Thank you for your audience and God bless you.
Augustine Alegeh SAN, FCIArb.[UK] President, Nigerian Bar Association