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  • ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (NBA), ABUBAKAR BALARABE MAHMOUD, OON, SAN, FCIARB (UK), SFNLI AT THE NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE (NEC) MEETING

ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (NBA), ABUBAKAR BALARABE MAHMOUD, OON, SAN, FCIARB (UK), SFNLI AT THE NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE (NEC) MEETING

 
PROTOCOLS
Your Excellency, the Executive Governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, the Hon. Chief Judge of Abia State, Hon. Justice Theresa U. Ezokwe, Judges of the Abia State High Court and Judges of the Customary Court of Appeal, the Honourable Attorney General of Abia State and Commissioner for Justice, members of the Abia State Executive Council, National Officers of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), Eminent Bar Leaders, Distinguished members of NBA-National Executive Committee (NEC), Ladies and Gentlemen.

PREFACE
Excellencies, My Lords, Distinguished Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, It is my pleasure to welcome you to the meeting of NBA National Executive Committee (NEC) of our Association, the Nigerian Bar Association. We have after much debate decided to continue to rotate our NEC meetings to various cities across the country despite sometimes daunting logistical challenges and security considerations. The practice of holding our meetings in various parts of the country has remained an essential means by which the NBA connects to the Nigerian people and continues to exert its influence in the promotion of the rule of law, good governance and accountability in our country. I urge our members to continue to make these sacrifices and endure the inconveniences we sometimes occasion as a result.

Your Excellency we are very delighted to be back here in Aba the commercial capital and nerve centre of Abia State. Since our arrival, we have been well received by our colleagues and indeed the Government and people of Abia State. Last night we were hosted to a very warm welcome reception hosted by the Hon. Chief Judge. Your Excellency, let me on behalf of myself and my colleagues thank you very much for your warm hospitality.

We are particularly delighted to be here because the people of this city are well known for their creativity and innovation. Aba has made its impact as a centre of manufacturing, small and medium scale enterprises. For us therefore the City of Aba is one that clearly demonstrates the potential for a Nigeria Renaissance. It is a symbol of hope for a New Nigeria. The business and commercial activities that take place in this great city give us confidence that with the right leadership and economic policies and programs ,Nigeria can develop on basis of creativity innovation and productive enterprise and not on the basis of consumerist culture that our country has for generations been known for.

But Historically Aba has other reputation as well. It is the history of resistance. In 1929, thousands of women led what has become known as the famous Aba Womens Riot or more appropriate terminology the Aba Womens War. This was one of the earliest and most famous resistance struggle to British Colonial Rule in Nigeria. That heritage of resistance has remained a marked feature of people and society in this part of the country. Sometimes, especially amongst youths and other marginal groups this has assumed criminal dimensions such as in kidnapping, robberies etc for which at various times this city has also been somewhat notorious for. The challenge for governance therefore is how to harness the creative energy, restiveness and resourcefulness of the people, especially of the youth and channel them into productive endeavours.

Your Excellency, I will like to join His Excellency the Acting President, Prof Yomi Osinbajo SAN to congratulate you on what the Acting President called your style of Smart Governance. We can see the rapid transformation especially in the area of infrastructural development, cleanness of the city and in the reduction of crime. The Nigerian Bar Association congratulates you on these achievements. We will continue to pay attention to the events here in Abia and we are confident that you will continue to provide progressive and accountable leadership to this State which is without doubt promises to be the hub of Nigerias economic renaissance. We expect our branches here in Abia and indeed the leaders of the profession to keep us abreast of developments and events in the state. You can be rest assured that if there is any area of concern to the Nigerian Bar Association, we will speak up as the watchdog of the Nigerian people. Speaking about areas of concern, after consultation with our colleagues here in Abia, I must make the special plea to your Excellency of the need to undertake urgent improvements in judicial infrastructure. Our courts in the State need urgent upgrade. Many of the High Court rooms I am informed lack the requisite facilities. I am also informed that some magistrates sit in rotation due to inadequate court rooms. I urge Your Excellency to look into these matters. I want to assure Your Excellency that these issues in no way diminish the giant strides that have been made by your administration. But we must emphasise that investment in judicial infrastructure and indeed building justice sector institutions is an integral part of building a good investment climate for the state. Finally your Excellency on this, I want to urge the State Government to support our branches of the NBA in Abia State. We have five branches in all. Some were newly established. We will welcome any support the administration can offer. Investment in the branches of the Bar Association will be money well spent. Activities of the branches go along way in supporting the administration of justice generally and enhancing access to justice to the ordinary people. Our bar centres for instance usually house legal aid clinics that offer pro bono services to indigent persons. Such can also serve as small claims dispute resolution centres that will offer legal services to small businesses thereby promoting economic growth and wealth creation.

Your Excellency, meetings of the National Executive Committee of the NBA hold every quarter. This is the second since I assumed leadership of the association in August 2016. The NEC is the highest decision making body aside from the Annual General Meeting. We use the occasion of the NEC to review our affairs and brief our members on various activities in the preceding quarter. We also review the State of the Nation and issue public statements on current burning issues affecting the country. This meeting in Aba will be no different. Permit me therefore to highlight some key issues on the State of the Nation.

STATE OF THE NATION
Let me begin with the welcoming news of the Confirmation of a substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen(.CFR) This has put to rest many weeks of uncertainty in the nations apex court. We are certainly delighted at this development and we wish the new appointed Chief Justice a very successful tenure. The NBA is committed to partnering with the Judiciary to enhance the standards of administration of justice in Nigeria. No doubt Justice Onnonghen is assuming the leadership of the Judiciary at very difficult times, but we are confident that his wealth of experience will be brought to bear in the tasks ahead.
Away from the Judiciary for a moment, our country appears to still be in turbulent waters. The economy which went to recession last year remains in poor shape. Our currency, except for the welcome news of the last few days, continued to decline against major world currencies. Youth unemployment is high and our infrastructure is worrisome. Lack of stable energy supply has made economic recovery difficult. Added to these are the problems of crimes, intolerance, bigotry, which have torn many communities across the country. Under these circumstances, human rights violations thrive.

National Safety and Security
Distinguished NEC members, Nigeria must prioritise National human Safety and Security. We call on the governments to do more to provide safe and secure environment for our people. Environment free from violence, crime and human rights violations. We must invest more in promoting conflict prevention and resolution and not wait until matters get to a head and lead to needless loss of lives.

The NBA calls upon the Federal Government of Nigeria to invest more in training and equipping security and law enforcement Agencies to enable them discharge their constitutional duties creditably. Despite efforts in recent years in the reform of the Nigerian Police Force, the performance of its officers and men remains dismal in the face of current challenges. The behaviour of the men of the Nigeria Police remains in many cases a national disgrace. Policemen across the country have perfected the art of begging or extorting money from citizens. This must stop. The leadership of the Force must be held responsible. We also wish to condemn the current practice of appropriation of national policing resources by a few elite. Whilst most communities remain under policed, many big men and women have misappropriated policing resources to themselves. It is not unusual to see a high profile suspect standing trial being driven to court with Siren and heavy armed policemen in convey of private armoured SUVs. This is unacceptable and we urge the police authorities to stop these misuse of our policing resources.

The NBA has remained an advocate of sustained reforms in the nations criminal justice system. We commend the on-going initiatives af the Federal level and indeed in some states to enhance the efficacy of the criminal justice institutions. We have committed to partnering with a number of international development agencies on the reform of the criminal justice administration. We have recently sent a proposal to the MacArthur Foundation to partner on the training of lawyers and judges in the implementation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015. We are also going to advocate for the domestication of the Act across all the 36 States in country. We are now working with the Foundation to role out a program for monitoring and reporting of corruption, abuse of power in criminal trials in 6 states using technology platform. Only last week we conducted a training program in Abuja for lawyers drawn these states. The pilot scheme will start shortly in one of the states. The program will essentially be domiciled in our branches under the supervision of the NBA National Secretariat.

Still on the theme of safety and security, we wish to commend the efforts of Federal and State Governments on fresh initiatives to curb the menace of kidnapping across the country. The Police is reported to be putting forward a plan to recreate two of its elite units at the States and Zonal Commands to deal with kidnapping. These are the Technical Intelligence Unit and Anti-Kidnapping Unit both of which are based in Force Headquarters, Abuja.

Also recently the Inspector General of Police announced a new collaboration between the Police and Office of the Attorney General of the Federation on the effective prosecution of kidnapping cases nationwide. The IGP was quoted as saying that suspected kidnappers shall henceforth be prosecuted under the provisions of the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011and Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment)Act 2013. The problem of kidnapping has become a national embarrassment. We urge various governments to step up measure to contain this situation.

Independence of the Judiciary and Judicial Corruption.
Your Excellency, the NBA is by its constitution and by tradition of the bar, the defender of the independence of the judiciary. We continue to draw attention to the imperatives of an independent judiciary as an autonomous branch of government. To secure the independence of the judiciary, the constitution grants it financial autonomy. This means the funds of the judiciary must be released to it as soon as the same is approved in the budgets of the Federal and State governments. Heads of Courts are not expected to be treated as if they are units of the executive branch and going cap-in hand for funds to run the judiciary. We therefore wish to draw attention to this not only at the Federal level but at the state level as well. The Nigerian Bar Association will take all necessary steps to assist our judiciary at all levels to ensure that this constitutional arrangement is respected.

Recently, the judiciary has come under much scrutiny on allegations of corruption. Indeed the National Judicial Policy published in April 2016 recognises the systemic nature of corruption in our nations judiciary. The NBA through its representatives at the NJC has continued to be strong advocates of judiciary and the fight against judicial corruption. We have advocated stonger role for in the Bar in the NJC and I am happy to reported that all parties now accept this necessary and impretive. We have recently set up an NBA Task Force on Judicial discipline under the Chairmanship of Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, OON, SAN. This Task Force has submitted its report and we will shortly be forwarding it to the Hon Chief Justice of Nigeria consideration.

Distinguished colleagues, as we are all aware some justices of superior courts are currently being tried on various allegations of corruption or abuse of office. The NBA has constituted panels made of very senior lawyers to hold watching brief in these trials to ensure the credibility of the processes and obtain first hand information on the trials. We shall keep our members updated of further developments.

State of the Economy:
The NBA remains very concerned about the state of the economy. As I observed earlier, the economy has been in recession since early 2016. This presents possibly the most challenging economic situation since our independence in 1960. The cost of living is sky high and keeps climbing. Companies are closing down whilst the rate of unemployment is soaring. This sorry state of our economy has affected every aspect of our nation's life. The percentage of Nigerians living below poverty line has increased.

At the Consultative Forum on Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, the Acting President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN stated that the nation was in a very serious economic situation, but assured that the government remained committed to putting the economy on the path to economic growth. The Federal Government has since launched an Economic Recovery and Growth Plan. The Government has also unveiled 59 strategies for implementing the plan. The Acting President has also stated that the Economic Recovery Plan is expected to lead to the Nation's economic growth by seven percent between 2017 to 2020.

Although many have questioned the capacity of the Plan to help Nigeria come out of this recession, the NBA remains optimistic that we are on the right track and we hope that the on-going efforts will soon begin to yield results. We however, urge the administration to redouble its efforts in the management of the nations economy. The NBA remains a strong patner and will make its expertize available whenever needed. We are available for instance to support reforms aimed at improving the ease of doing business in the country. We will lend our support to institutional reform and development. Indeed, our Conference for 2017 will be focusing on this theme and will be bring national and global thinkers to deliberate on this. I have already received the concept note presented by the Chairman of the Conference Planning Committee Prof. Koyinsola Ajayi SAN. I will be announcing the composition of the full committee before the end this meeting.

Budgeting and the 2017 Appropriation Bill
President Muhammadu Buhari submitted the 2017 Appropriation proposal to the joint sitting of the two branches of the National Assembly in December 2016. We have since been monitoring the budgeting process with keen interest. We will recall that the process has been previously marred in controversy with allegations of budget padding and so on. The NBA calls on both the Executive and National Assembly to work assiduously to bring more credibility to the budgeting process. The Appropriation law is one of the financial responsibility of the legislature. It is sacred constitutional duty. Allegations of corruption mars this process at the moment. We urge the legislature to demonstrate commitment to good and accountable governance by bringing more transparency to the process of passing the budget.

Electoral Reform and the Review of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Nigerian Bar Association supports the current electoral reforms and review of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the National Assembly. It is the position of the Bar that the constitution more than anything else needs an amendment of some important aspects in the interest of consolidating our democracy and governance structure.

The NBA has identified two crucial principles of Constitutional amendment. They are timing and approach. Under timing, we suggest that Constitutional amendment should be an on-going exercise. As soon as an issue identified as germane for constitutional amendment arises, the process of a new amendment ought to be initiated at the National Assembly through a Bill.

On approach which has great linkage with timing, the NBA believes that piecemeal amendment is preferred to a wholesale amendment in which an existing Constitution is totally jettisoned for a new one. The oldest federation, the United State of America, has had same Constitution for over 200 years and has made only 27 amendments to it. India has made 94 amendments to its Constitution in 60 years. However, Brazil has had seven Constitutions since independence, Mexico six and Venezuela 26. While some federations have maintained constitutional continuity, others have had breaks because of revolutions and military regimes, Colonial disengagement and military interruptions may be our excuses for having had 1960, 1963, 1979, 1989 (still born), 1995 (Still born) and 1999 constitutions.

What we need now is to continue to add to it in pursuit of our Federal and democratic objectives.
The central issue therefore, is not only whether there is a constitution but also whether or not the constitution is a Peoples constitution. The pertinent questions are:
Does the constitution reflect the wishes of the people?
How was it made? Were the processes involved in its making open and transparent? Were the processes inclusive?
We shall articulate NBAs Position on electoral and constitutional reform for presentation to the Executive and Legislative arms of government.

STATE OF THE BAR.
Distinguished NEC members, as you are aware, this is the second NEC meeting of this Administration. The Statutory NEC members would recall that the first NEC meeting of this administration was held in Minna, Niger State on November 24, 2016. It was at the said meeting in Minna that the names of the co-opted members of this National Executive Committee were announced. I am sure that the co-opted members of this NEC are here for this meeting. To our members who have been co-opted into this NEC I say congratulations and welcome. I will be counting and relying on your wise counsel and sound judgement in leading this noble Association forward in the coming months.

With regard to Bar activities since our last NEC meeting, you shall be duly briefed in the various reports that will be presented at this meeting. However, I shall crave your indulgence to address some salient NBA related issues.

Account of our Stewardship since the Last NEC Meeting in Minna, Niger State
As the Chief spokesperson of the NBA, I have not only been speaking out on issues concerning the legal profession, but I have also been addressing public interest issues, and issuing press statements. As I have always stated, the NBA will continue to speak candidly, openly and courageously on all matters of national interest. We will commend the government when the right steps and measures are taken; but with equal measure will we condemn wrong and unlawful steps by the government . I will like to assure our colleagues that the Bar under my leadership will not shy away from taking tough decisions and positions in promoting the rule of law and in defence of fundamental rights.

Our mantra of #ABraveNewBar is one which this administration intends to demonstrate not only in words but in action. Our four point agenda of Regulation, Representation, Re-Engineering, and Public Interest (3Rs-P) can only be implemented with bravery. This is because they can only be achieved through reforms - constitutional, legislative, and administrative reforms.

Regulation. LegalProfession Regulation Review Committee (LPRRC)
On the reform of the regulatory framework on the Legal Profession in Nigeria, we have set up the NBA Legal Profession Regulation Review Committee (LPRRC) under the Chairmanship of Dr. Anthony Idigbe, SAN. The names of the other members of the Committee, their terms of reference, and their preliminary report shall be presented to NEC members in the course of this meeting for ratification.

After the formal inauguration of the Committee I led a delegation of the Committee members on a courtesy visit to the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to brief him and ask for support and partnership in respect of the proposed legal and regulatory reforms in the legal profession.

Representation, Re-engineering and Public Interest
With regard to the Representation, Re-Engineering and Public Interest components of our 4-Pronged vision for #ABraveNewBar, we have developed the policies, programmes, frameworks, and plans that are relevant to implementing them.

With regard to the NBA public interest programming, we have developed the following programme thematic areas as our present and on-going priorities:
Administration of Justice,
Rule of Law and Access to Justice,
Conflict Resolution,
Anti-Corruption,
Justice Sector Reform,
Human Rights.

These are all encapsulated in the NBA Strategic Plan. Copies of the Strategic Plan have been circulated to members a few days ago.

The NBA Strategic Plan
In my speech to the NEC at our last meeting in Minna, I emphasised the importance of developing and working with a Strategic Plan. I informed the NEC that the NBA under my leadership proposed to develop a strategic plan for the NBA and that a draft strategic plan shall be presented to the next NEC meeting. I am happy to report that the NBA Strategic Plan is ready. It is important to note that it was prepared after extensive consultations with experts and our members, and a comprehensive literature review of strategic documents of past administrations.

The NBA National Officers Retreat
To strategise on and discuss the implementation of the Strategic Plan, we organised a two (2) days National Officers Retreat in Abuja at which eminent Bar Leaders, resource persons, members of the Policy and Strategic Planning Team of the Office of the President, and all Senior Secretariat Staff members were in attendance. The retreat, which held from February 10 - 12, 2017 was convened to discuss how to effectively and efficiently implement the NBA Strategic Plan. Resource persons made presentations and recommendations that are in line with international best practices and standards. The resource persons who made presentations are experts in Human Resources, Team Building Public Interest Programming, Strategic Planning, Information and Communication Technology, Bar Leadership, Financial Reporting, and Synergy amongst others.

We emerged from the retreat with a clear commitment and conviction to work towards the transformation of the NBA. We identified the necessary reforms in the management and operational structure of the association. We discussed the vision, mission statement, and core values of the association and the need to realign them with currents demands and challenges. We recognised the need to focus on business development opportunities and income generation for our members, and the necessity to deploy technology in running the NBA. I have since the retreat commissioned the KPMG, the internationally renowned consulting and audit firm to review our financial management and reporting procedures to enhance accountability and prudent management of resources. From this financial year, it is our objective the KPMG or other similar financial firm will be auditing and publishing our annual accounts. This we hope will enhance our credibility as an organisation and place us in better position to speak on national issues with greater and credibility. It will enhance the confidence of members and our international partners including international development agencies and other Bar Associations and Law Society. In addition the KPMG will also be undertaking a review of our ICT infrastructure with a view to assisting us to role out our development program that will completely digitalise our internal operations and membership services. Yesterday I received the proposal from KPMG on the first assignment.

Appointment of Lawyers from the Bar Directly to the Appellate Courts
You would recall that for years the NBA has been advocating for the appointment of Senior Lawyers directly from the Bar to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. I am happy to inform NEC that we received letters from the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria and President, Court of Appeal requesting the NBA to nominate Senior Lawyers for consideration for appointments to the Appellate Courts. Upon receiving the letters we published advertorials calling for expressions of interest from our members. Also we set up a high powered Committee that vetted the names of those who applied to be shortlisted. After a rigorous, fair, and transparent short listing process, final lists of nine (9) names were shortlisted and sent to the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria while Twelve (12) names were short listed and forwarded to the President of the Court of Appeal for their further necessary actions.

Permit me to also use this opportunity to thank their Lordships the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the President of the Court of Appeal for the confidence reposed in the Bar by inviting nominations from the Bar to the Appellate courts. I have no doubt that the shortlisted names if appointed shall bring their robust practice experience and fresh perspective to bear on their assignment on the Bench.

We have since issued a notice prohibiting our members from lobbying or engaging in any form of promotional activity on behalf of any of the shortlisted candidates. We stressed that any of such conduct will be treated as professional misconduct and dealt with as such.

In addition to the activities mentioned above, I led NBA delegations on courtesy visits to the Offices of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Speaker House of Representatives, and the Australian High Commission with a view to exploring synergy in relevant opportunities.

On NBA Intervention and Fact Finding Mission to Kaduna State in Respect of Southern Kaduna Crisis.
When the Southern Kaduna Crisis broke out again in January 2017, I issued a press statement on behalf of the NBA condemning these acts of violence. In addition to the press release, I led an NBA intervention initiative and a Fact Finding Mission to Kaduna State as part of NBA contribution to finding lasting peace in the State. This took place on the 16th and 17th of January, 2017.

The NBA delegation which I led, included the 1st Vice President, the General Secretary many senior lawyers from various branches and members of the four branches in Kaduna State. The purpose of the Mission and visit was to express NBA solidarity with the people of Kaduna State who have suffered high level of violence and engage with leaders, and Communities in Kaduna State with a view to understanding what is happening, and exploring avenues for ending the violence and bringing peace back to Kaduna State.

Before departing for Kaduna State, there was a pre-departure briefing in the National Secretariat where leading experts on Southern Kaduna Crisis were invited to brief the delegation about the Situation in Kaduna State. These experts briefed the delegation on the history, context, and nature of the cyclical violent communal conflicts in Southern Kaduna as well as the on-going initiatives to resolve the crisis. The invited experts included Prof. Abdul Raufu Mustapha of Oxford University, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu of Open Society Justice Initiatives, OSJI, Dr Jibrin Jibo of Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, Dr Kole Shettima of Macarthur Foundation, and Bashiru Olasupo of Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme.

On our arrival in Kaduna, we held a preparatory meeting between the NBA delegation and NBA Branches in Kaduna namely Barnawa, Kaduna and Zaria Branches. Thereafter the delegation visited the Governor of Kaduna State in Government House, where we had a meeting with the Governor in respect of the Crisis.
The NBA delegation also visited Kafanchan to interact with Communities that were affected by the violence. While in Kafanchan the delegation not only met with the Commissioner of Police and Mobile Police Squad, but also organised a town hall meeting with some interest groups like Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Southern Kaduna Peoples Organization, SOKAPO, and Federation of Indigenous Ethnic Associations, and other Civil Society Organisations . In addition to Kafanchan the NBA delegation visited other communities affected by the heinous acts of brigandage and violence and met with their various community leaders. The communities visited were: Goska, Dangoma, and Bakin Kogi.

The final comprehensive report of the NBA Intervention Initiatives and Fact Finding Mission to Kaduna State in respect of the Southern Kaduna Crisis has been reviewed and is now ready. The report, which will have NBA recommendations, will be made available to NEC members. We shall also send the report to all the relevant government security agencies including the Presidency and National Assembly.

The NBA shall continue to hold the government accountable not only with regard to ensuring, peace, law and order in Southern Kaduna, but also to fulfil the primary responsibility of government which is the protection of lives and property of citizens.

Perhaps it is worthy of mention that the NBA intervention in the Southern Kaduna Crisis is in line with the NBA Conflict Resolution and Peace Building Programme.
On the Death of Chief Bandele Aiku, SAN.

Permit me to formally inform NEC about the sad news of the demise of one of our eminent and dedicated Bar leaders, Chief Bandele Aiku, SAN. I visited his home Ibadan on a condolence visit. We also participated in series of activities including a special court session in Ibadan. The Nigerian Bar Association will shortly, after consultation with the family announce a program to immortalize Chief Bandele Aiku SAN

Professional Misconduct and Discipline of Lawyers
One of the most disturbing developments which I have noticed since assumption of office is the large volume of petitions against lawyers. Apart from the volume of petitions, another worrisome discovery is the internal lack of capacity of the NBA to handle petitions effectively and expeditiously. There is already a growing perception from the public that the NBA not only deliberately sits on petitions against lawyers but also handles petitions with a tinge of bias. While these perceptions may not be true, the best way to respond to such views is to correct such impressions with dispassionate performance, effectiveness and efficiency.
Another aspect of the challenge with our disciplinary process and handling of petitions is the internal governance structure. In particular the disciplinary mechanism has not helped in maintaining discipline neither has it served as adequate deterrence.

In view of these challenges, the need has arisen to deal with both the public perception and our internal disciplinary structure. We need to restructure the disciplinary department to a semi-autonomous arm of the National Secretariat. It seems that the best way to go will be the appointment of a Registrar for the NBA Professional Misconduct and Disciplinary Unit. This no doubt will create some level of autonomy for our disciplinary process; and ensure that confidence is once again restored in the legal profession and in our ability to discipline our members.

Lawyers in Public Offices and Professional Ethics
All over the world lawyers by their training aspire to lead and hold public office by participating in the politics of their countries. Nigeria is not an exception. There are many of our members who are either in the Executive or Legislative arm of government. The most recent development is the election of one of our Past Presidents, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu SAN as the Executive Governor of Ondo State. I want to use this medium on behalf of the NBA to congratulate him on his election and inauguration, and wish him a most successful tenure in office.

While we encourage our members to be involved in and present themselves for public office, I propose that the NBA must take interest in the conduct of lawyers in public office. We shall beam our professional ethics search light on them. Lawyers who commit either unethical acts or are found guilty of criminal conduct while in public office will be subjected to the NBA disciplinary process.

NBA Governance
Distinguished colleagues, I have been consultations with Bar leaders and other stakeholder on various ways to strengthen our association and make it more professional. In this regard two key problems I propose to deal with is NBA succession plan. I am deeply concerned that our Association is fast becoming a perpetual electioneering platform. No sooner than one is conducted that the jostle for the next round of electioneering starts. This is unacceptable. It does no good to the legal profession and its public image. Besides to two year leadership cycle appears inimical to long term planning and continuity and sustainability of our various programmes and engagements. It is not in consonance with practices of most Bar Associations, Law Societies and other professional associations. A situation where campaigns for the next NBA Presidential elections take centre stage even before a newly elected President is sworn in is not healthy for the Nigerian Legal Profession. It heats up the NBA polity and places high premium on politics over professionalism. It is also distracting, expensive and does not ensure continuity and sustainability of programmes and policies. I am consulting with Bar leaders on how we can deal with this problem. Part of what we are looking at is new system by which there a predictable line of succession and leaders are known years ahead. This is the practice in most Bar Associations and Law Societies across the world. In the meantime, I want to remind our colleagues that there is a total ban of political or electioneering campaigns under whatever guise. Any such disguised activities will be treated as professional misconduct. I will be counting on the cooperation of our colleagues in our quest to sanitize the situation and to avoid the unnecessary expensive NBA leadership contest.

Distinguished colleagues, during our last meeting at Minna, in line with our constitutional provisions, we approved the list of 130 members as co-opted members of the National Executive Committee. May I use this opportunity to welcome our co-opted members to the first Business session of NEC. I have no doubt that we shall benefit from their combined energy and wisdom in steering the affairs of our association. I encourage and expect frank and open discussions and contributions in the best traditions of the Bar for the benefit the legal profession and the Country as a whole.

enjoin you all to read the National Secretariat compendium of activity report, which will be presented by the General Secretary. Apart from providing comprehensive details of our activities, it sure makes an interesting reading.

CONCLUSION
Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, Excellencies, much is expected of the legal profession in this country. As we strive to fulfil this role, I will like to assure you that we will continue to be guided by the best interest of our Association and above all the national interest. We have no other interests or objectives besides these. I therefore urge all our members here in this hall and indeed in all our branches across the country to rally behind us as we strive to implement our programmes. We will be receiving detailed briefings in the course of the day I urge us all to contribute meaning to the deliberations. I wish you all not only fruitful deliberations and NEC meeting.

Finally, may I again, use this opportunity to thank most sincerely, the Governor of Abia State and through him the government and good people of Abia State and all the NBA branches in the state particularly the Aba Branch for accepting to host this momentous meeting of our great Association.
Thank you very much for your attention and God bless.

God Bless the Nigerian Bar Association!
God Bless Abia State!!
God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!!!

Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, OON, SAN, FCIArb (UK), SFNLI
President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)
March 2, 2017.



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