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THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (NBA) TOWN HALL MEETING CALLS FOR A STURDY REGULATION OF THE BAR AND LEGAL PRACTICE IN NIGRIA


INTRODUCTION:


The , NBA, through its Legal Profession Regulation Review Committee (LPRRC) held a Town Hall Meeting designed to examine THE STATE OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION IN NIGERIA on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 from 1pm to about 5.30pm. The one-day event which held at the Adetokunbo Ademola Hall of the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos, attracted notable Bar leaders, NBA members and young lawyers from several branches of the NBA across Nigeria, as well as other participants and critical stakeholders from Civil Society organisations (CSOs), the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) and the Media.

Amongst other things, the participants examined the state of the legal profession in Nigeria, identifying its challenges, the prospects and the roles of the Legal Regulatory Architecture and Authorities.

Having already received feedback as well as suggestions and strategies for repositioning the profession for greater efficiency and effectiveness within the Nigerian polity as well as rendering it more competitive in the global market place from several critical stakeholders before the Town Hall Meeting; the Committee and Participants incisively critiqued these suggestions and strategies as well as dialogued with the present attendees on germane issues about the legal profession with a view to finding practicable solutions to the challenges facing the Profession.

OPENING REMARKS:
Whilst delivering his remarks, President of the (NBA) Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, OON, SAN, harped on the urgent need to overhaul the legal profession in Nigeria and align it with global best practices. He told the Legal Profession Regulation Review Committee (LPRRC) organised Town Hall meeting that the loss of confidence in the judiciary was obvious and palpable because the architecture of the profession was out of date having been worked out over a century ago without much review in the preceding years. "It is clearly out of tune with the current realities of our situation," he stated; "I am a keen believer that Nigeria needs to build strong institutions, if really, we need to confront the next stage of our development; and, the starting point, in my view, must be a strong legal profession; and a strong legal profession cannot be built on the current framework that we have. Nigeria's legal profession is no longer competitive, no longer effective in regulating efficient service delivery, no longer effective in maintaining standards and it's no longer effective, really, in promoting the rule of law, which is our mandate as clearly articulated by our slogan”.

"Recall that at my inauguration on Friday, August 26, 2016, I stated that the regulatory architecture of the Nigerian legal profession is out of tune with today's realities and the complexities of the legal profession today. I also stated that, we must build a consensus on the direction to go and as such we need more vigorous standards and rebuilding confidence in the legal profession. In doing this, we must look at the current global trends and the African continent. We cannot assume leadership roles; regain our respect nationally, across the continent and indeed globally if we do not change the current perception of the profession. We'll review all current models of regulation and attempt to adopt new models. This, in my view, is what we must do in our overall best interest if the must retain its self regulatory status; adequate internal mechanism must be devised to ensure that regulatory responsibilities are carried out, efficiently and effectively, to meet global standards. It cannot be overemphasized that the major task of the Bar is to maintain high standard and meet world best practices”.

“The committee has been carefully selected. The members, I daresay, represent some of the best brains in the legal profession. Chief Anthony Idigbe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, demonstrates professional excellence and commands a depth of experience which he garnered from wide exposure. He was called to the Bar in Ontario, Canada. The committee's secretary, Dr. Aminu Gamawa, is a Harvard University trained doctorate degree holder in law; you also have Professor Konyinsola Ajayi, SAN and other brilliant brains in the legal profession”.

In concluding his remarks, he enjoined the participants to engage in robust, objective and open dialogue so as to ensure the success of the engagement.

TOWN HALL ENGAGEMENT: 
Delivering his opening speech, Chairman of the LPRRC, Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN, underscored the paramount importance of the day's business to the reform of the legal profession. He said: "The President of the NBA, Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN, deemed it fit to constitute this committee on December 28, 2016, and inaugurate it on January 24, 2017, to, among other things, review the current regulatory objectives and regulatory architecture of the legal profession. There is no doubt that the legal profession in Nigeria is facing a plethora of challenges. The values of legal practice appear to have weakened considerably over time and the quality of justice administered has dwindled. As emphasised by the President, we must therefore move quickly to address these challenges, if we are to maintain high standards and remain relevant in the increasingly globalised legal service industry”.

"After 57 years of independence, we cannot continue to depend on historical framework for the regulation of our profession. We are dispassionately examining the regulatory architecture with a view to recommending a review and a reform of the system in order to achieve the lofty ideals of our terms of reference. To achieve this end, the committee set up two sub committees, namely, ‘Current State sub-committee’ and ‘Future State sub-committee’. The Current State sub-committee is analysing the current state of the legal profession in order to identify areas of reform which include review of existing laws, review of pending bills and review of overall structure and institutional framework of the legal profession; while the future state sub-committee is working on what shoulder be the future regulatory and institutional framework of the profession”.

The committee has come up with some initiatives for the future state that should be considered in proposing any reforms. In carrying out its task, the committee considered stakeholders in the legal profession and the public which the profession serves. As part of the committee's stakeholders' engagement plan, we sent out call for memoranda from the public and key stakeholders in the profession. The committee has received various memoranda and feedback from the public. We are also engaging the judiciary and I should say that we have had a meeting with the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, SAN, as well. We are also engaging the Attorney General of the Federation, other state Attorney-Generals, the National Judicial Commission, the Leadership of the National Assembly and other stakeholders”.

"And, of course, today, we are engaging our primary constituency, which is you – the NBA members. And, that is why we are here today. The committee will also hold a retreat in Calabar, early April, to consider all the suggestions and ideas from various stakeholders which will be presented to the NBA President by April 30th, the deadline given for submission of our report”.

"Essentially, what we have done in this committee is to take a look at our own system, see the best practices around the world, and identify the gaps which should be plugged. In this respect, we thought of 32 initiatives that could move us from where we are today to where we want to be; that is the Future State. And that future state would be a profession that has clearly articulated regulatory objectives. The future we wish to have would be a profession that has a consistent and harmonized regulatory environment. We found that the regulatory environment, today, is fractured. It is located in different institutions and organisations such as the Body of Benchers, the Legal Practitioners Privileges’ Committee (LPPC), the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), the Supreme Court as well as the NBA itself; and we found that though they all play different roles in the regulation of the profession, the required harmony and cohesion is not present. But in the Future State, what we are looking for is one, clear, consistent, regulatory environment that will position our profession to be able to be globally competitive.

Other engagements focused on the need to make the LPRRC a standing committee of the NBA to ensure that the regulatory and review processes currently embarked on remain an on-going process as obtains in other climes; the fact that there needs to be an overhaul of the entire gamut of the legal education process from the university to the law school to ensure the right education, mentorship and assessment.

The Town Hall meeting whilst emphasising key issues including the structure of the leadership, professional discipline, mentorship for young lawyers, employment security and benefits for young lawyers, practical/vocational mentoring of lawyers to ensure a clinical assessment is duly carried out before they are allowed into legal practice, control of the registration and accreditation process into the universities to ensure adequate quality control, and legislative and judiciary watch issues, amongst others; also noted that it was imperative that the monitoring and enforcement of professional standards across board was a key ensure globally acceptable professional standards amongst lawyers.

The Town Hall meeting came to a close at about 5.00pm and participants noted that the LPRRC is indeed a welcome vehicle for the Bar today and the engine for the birthing of #ABraveNewBar.

Bukar Alhaji Waziri, Esq.
National Publicity Secretary
(NBA)
March 14, 2017

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