NBA Executive Council Takes Stand on Burning Issues

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The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has decried the action of the government of Gombe State in N/Eastern Nigeria in elongating the tenure of the Acting Chief Judge, Justice Pindiga, as well as trying to evade compliance with the recommendations of the National Judicial Council (NJC) on the inclusion of the name of Hon. Justice Beatrice Iliya for consideration as the substantive Chief Judge of the state.

This position was considered at the quarterly meeting of the Association’s National Executive Committee (NEC) last Thursday in Abuja.

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Describing situation in Gombe State as a ‘travesty’, the NBA urged the NJC to take a decisive action against this flagrant flouting of its directives to avoid being seen as being complicit in the Gombe State Governor’s disrespect for the rule of law.

The NEC also made its views known on the issue of non-payment of magistrates in Calabar, Cross River State, and expressed its displeasure at the fact that of the 28 months’ salary being owed some Magistrates there, only one month’s salary has been paid – and only after several interventions were made on the issue. The committee resolved that the Chairman of NBA Calabar must impress on the C/River State Chief Judge the need to intensify his efforts towards resolving the matter. The NBA President, on his part, must closely monitor the situation until it is resolved.

Also on the issue of executive recalcitrance at state level, as demonstrated during the protracted strike by judicial workers in the country, the NEC noted with displeasure the attitude of some state Governors in refusing to comply with the agreed conditions for ending the strike, and mandated the NBA President and his team to meet the Executives at the federal and state levels for a resolution. It also recommended a Bar-Bench meeting on the issue with a view to reaching a common ground prior to meeting with the state executives. NEC further urged the Bar leadership to take every step necessary to avoid the resumption of yet another JUSUN strike when the three-month suspension period lapses.

On the worsening state Insecurity challenge in the nation, the
NEC cautioned all NBA members to tread with caution on national issues and ensure they put aside personal interests in the face of the incessant killings of innocent citizens by herdsmen and other armed militia.

The committee expressed particular interest in public interest litigation, especially as concerned the case occasioned by the elongation of the tenure of the last Inspector-General of Police, and the case of the Ekiti police woman who was dismissed for being pregnant out of wedlock, among others. NEC enjoined its members to show solidarity for such pro bono cases, and those lawyers who take on them, as a way of meeting the ends of justice.

The recent ban on the social media platform, Twitter, by the federal government has continued to generate reactions from stakeholders from across the nation, and the NEC was no exception, as it
NEC condemned what it sees as a ban on free speech and other forms of suppression of the nation’s civic space. In adopting the recent the statement of the NBA President in this regard, the Committee further warned that any further steps taken by Government to constrict the civil space and hamper the rights of citizens to freedom of expression will be robustly resisted by the NBA, condemned the remarks credited to the Abubakar Malami, SAN, the federal attorney-general on the prosecution of Twitter users under what it described as ‘an unknown law.’

Politicians and other persons who do not respect the Rule of Law, the Committee also resolved, should not be invited to NBA programmes to avoid situations where the NBA will be seen hobnobbing with persons who disregard everything the profession stands for – and this include the lack of decorum towards the Bench, with actions such as the celebration of Judges’ birthdays by Governors and other members of the executive branch of government. The Bar must protect the Bench from ridicule, NEC resolved, and must adopt the due process of law in challenging judgments seen as questionable through appeals rather than by instituting spurious petitions against individual judges – even as it also agreed that there was nothing in petitioning against cases of gross misconduct such as bribery and extortion by members of the Bench, as such misbehavior cannot be redressed by an appeal.

On the current state of the Nigerian Bar, the body decried the continued encroachment of non-lawyers into the legal space and urged lawyers to report such activities by non-lawyers for the purpose of prosecution where necessary.

A number of states in Nigeria, the body noted, are bedeviled by an emerging trend of affidavits purportedly being used as conveyancing documents in place of documents of transfer of title. To combat this, the Committee charged all members to report any such actions to the relevant authorities for prosecution of offenders.

On the practice by many lawyers to comment on matters which are lis pendens in public forums, the body condemned it as a form of professional misconduct and warned lawyers to desist from it, vowing to deal decisively with lawyers who employ intemperate language – a practice which seems to have gone viral among members of the Bar.

The Bar is one and must always act in unity even at branch level. In view of this, NEC expressed its opposition to the decision of the Bar Executive to dissolve the Abuja branch (also known as the Unity Bar) into different branches, saying this move could create a dangerous precedent and embolden selfish individuals to foment trouble in future to ensure that branches would be created for their narrow interests. It however recognised the mandate given to the President to act as he deems necessary and directed him to present a report of the final resolution of the matter at the next NEC Meeting.

Newswire’s correspondent who monitored the NEC meeting reports that one of the highlights of the meeting was the decision of the Committee to postpone the 2021 Annual General Conference (AGC) of the NBA from August to October 2021. Subsequent to the proposal of the Technical Committee on Conference Planning, the body set the new dates at between the 22nd to the 29th of October. The event will be held in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. Regarding the AGC, the body also approved the adoption of the current scale of fees as obtained during the last Conference in 2019. Attendance at the Port Harcourt Conference will be both Virtual and Physical.

The Committee resolved that the forum for lawyers in the armed forces and paramilitary be resuscitated to stem the current tide of military disregard for the rule of law and disobedience of court orders. Lawyers in those organizations must be registered as members of this forum and the respective branches of the NBA to give them a sense of inclusion and ownership.

The increasing of harassment of lawyers is of particular concern to the NBA, as NEC pondered on the worrying trend of lawyers being constantly harassed while doing their jobs, and expressed outrage at the treatment meted out, in particular, to the chairman of the NBA Makurdi branch by EFCC operatives. NEC restated its determination to see that all EFCC officials involved in the incident are made to face the wrath of the Law as a deterrent to other like-minded EFCC operatives.

The meeting also saw the NEC approving a number of ratifications as follows: Creation of an NBA help desk at the Corporate Affairs Commission pending the CAC’s resolution of its current issues; the creation of 3 new forums: Persons Living with Disability Forum, Corporate Council Forum, and the Law Officers Forums.

Members of the respective forums were named at the NEC meeting. NEC also ratified the inclusion of 10 young lawyers as permanent observers at NEC meetings.

The body has mandated the NBA President to carry on more development work around the NBA secretariat to ensure the provision of ramps for the physically challenged, as well as the presence of sign language experts at NBA meetings to aid their participation in, and contributions to, meetings as part of the Association’s commitment towards greater inclusion.

NEC also instructed its remuneration committee to work with the leadership of the various branches towards standardizing the billings approach and scale of professional fees for members of the Bar, and to consider the imposition of penalties on lawyers who charged below the recommended rates. Responding to the need to take a greater interest in the welfare of young lawyers, NEC charged the NBA to work assiduously towards resolving the issue of poor remuneration of lawyers in the nation’s law firms.

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