The Nigerian State has A Lot to Learn from the NBA – Usoro Presents 2019 Conference Communiqué
When it comes to sound corporate governance – a set of principles which incorporates accountability, transparency and inclusiveness, under girded by the rule of law and adherence to due process and best practices – the Nigerian state must take a cue from the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
This assertion was made by the President of the Association, Paul Usoro, SAN, at a press briefing in Lagos in the aftermath of the 59th Annual General Meeting of the Association – an event which, by common consensus, was arguably the most successful in the over 60-year history of the body. The briefing, which was graced by other national officers of the Association, was convened to formally present the communiqué reached at the Conference, as well as the resolutions reached at the Annual General Meeting which traditionally follows a day after the close of the Conference.
In his opening remarks, the chairman of the Technical Committee on Conference Planning, Gbenga Oyebode, MFR, expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the Conference, and noted that the presence of the President of the International Bar Association, Horacio Bernardes Neto at the event (including his active participation at a number of plenary and breakout sessions for the duration of the Conference) truly underscored his stated mandate to make the Bar the centerpiece of his tenure as IBA head – and his recognition of the NBA as an important partner in that engagement. He praised the robust discussions that characterized these sessions and the far-reaching resolutions reached at the end of the discussions – all in an atmosphere devoid of major glitches. The challenge, going forward, he concluded, was to walk the talk and act on those commitments.
Usoro also noted that one of the highlights of the 2019 AGM was the appointment of a new Board of Trustees for the NBA for a renewable term of 6 years (following the expiration of the previous Board’s two terms). The out-gone Board comprised such eminent legal luminaries as former Attorney-General of the Federation Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim, CON, SAN; three former Presidents of the NBA, namely, Chief Onnomibo Okpoko, SAN; Chief (Mrs.) Priscilla Kuye, and Chief Wole Olanipekun, OFR, SAN; Anthony Nwofor and Alhaji Murtala Aminu, while the incoming Board is made up of the former NBA President Chief Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, along with two former NBA helmsmen such as Joseph B. Daudu, SAN and Augustine Alegeh, SAN. The trio of former Attorney-General of the Federation Chief Godwin Kanu Agabi, SAN, Obafemi Adewale and Hajia Fatima Kwaku complete the list of incoming Trustees.
Members of the Association also took a number of other decisions, among which were:
- A change in the time-frame of the NBA’s financial year (from August 1 of one year to July 31 of the following year) for the purpose of audit of the body’s financial accounts; the body also approved the appointment of the the firm of Deloitte & Touche as the NBA’s external auditors for the next financial year ending on July 31, 2020.
- Amendments to the NBA Constitution in respect of a number of issues, such as appointments into the body’s secretariat, or in replacement of an elected officer whose office shall be vacant, as well as their respective duties.
In presenting the Annual General Conference Communiqué – which he characterized as an important model for good governance, not just for the NBA but for the country as a whole – Usoro called for a more proactive response on the part of the political authorities to our national challenges such as the effort against corruption. It was important, he said, to constitute a system of deterrence first, before chasing those who defy the system for personal gain. Any other approach, he said, is akin to putting the proverbial cart before the horse. He reiterated the importance of the confab –which consisted of 42 sessions (both plenary and breakout, involving a total of 209 Nigerian and foreign speakers and resource persons) as a platform for the interrogation of topical national and global issues with a view to finding innovative solutions to them; a unique Continuing Legal Education opportunity, especially for young lawyers; an agenda-setting mechanism for action on the part of all stakeholders; a medium from which to assert, once again, the importance of the rule of law; and a setting for networking amongst lawyers.
The Communiqué crystallized the essence of the Conference – as expressed in its theme, ‘Facing the Future’ – and the important decisions and recommendations made during the week-long event, especially in such critical areas of national life as the status of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal; the independence of the judiciary; redressing the infrastructure funding gap for development projects; enhancing cross-border trade in legal services as it affects Nigerian law firms; the need for stronger regulation in aid of human rights and security in the Nigerian extractive industry; encouraging a more ethical and responsible use of social media; the quest to stamp out gender-based violence in our homes, communities and places of work; enhancing efforts to achieve the UN’s Millenial Sustainable Goal No. 5, namely, Gender Equality and Female Empowerment; developing holistic efforts to curb insecurity in the country; the need to make the NBA and other legal stakeholders partners in actualizing the goals of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement; and the imperative of reviewing the rules of professional conduct among lawyers with a view to promote discipline and ethical behavior and practices.
In the Q&A session that followed the NBA President’s presentation, newsmen and women raised concerns on a number of salient issues. Responding to a question, Usoro asserted that, rather than retreat from its mandate to challenge any derogation or infringement of the rights of Nigerians by those in power, the Association would amplify its voice in order to make sure that justice was done and seen to be done, and due process was followed. He also expressed the body’s commitment to the independence of the judiciary – but hastened to say that such an ideal situation was a mirage without financial autonomy, especially at the state level. He pledged that in future, the body would make its finances public – as presently obtains in its periodic reports to members – in order to maintain its image of prudence, and give it moral authority to intervene in wider matters of interest to the nation as a whole. On the recent $9bn award against Nigeria by a UK court, the nation’s Bar leader pledged that the NBA would take a stand on the matters as soon as it was properly briefed by the relevant authorities.
In conclusion, Paul Usoro, SAN pledged a closer interaction with the media in the NBA’s activities going forward, especially in light of the ongoing revival of the 3 sections of the association, namely, the Section on Legal Practice (SLP), the Section on Business Law (SBL) and the Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL), as well as its various fora such as the Young Lawyers’ Forum; Lawyers in the Legislature; Lawyers in the Military; Lawyers in the Media; the Women’s Forum; the Corporate Counsels’ Forum; the Police Lawyers’ Forum; and the Prisons’ Lawyers’ Forum.
In view of this, he concluded, the NBA would hold a press conference once every month to discuss and bring all stakeholders, including the media, up to speed on current and emerging issues.
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