By Abdulrasheed Ibrahim, Notary Public

The other day when I asked the question whether the monopoly of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) was under threat by the debut of the new association called Law Society Nigeria (LSN), the reactions I got were mixed and overwhelming. While some lawyers claimed that it was a wind of change that cannot be resisted , some others were of the views that pulling off the rug from the feet of the NBA will be very difficult and amount to an exercise in futility .Some senior lawyers have argued that many lawyers are misconceiving the position of the Court of Appeal in cases such as NBA Vs. KEHINDE (2017) 11 NWLR 225 (Pt. 1576) and CHINWO Vs. OWHONDA (2008) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1074) on the monopoly of the NBA that such cases cannot be interpreted to mean that another association cannot be formed to rival the NBA as that would negate the principle of constitutional right of any lawyer to belong to any association of his choice. That the purport of those cases is that if a lawyer has chosen to belong to the NBA then, he must abide and be bound by the law of the NBA.

The question I continue to ask and which I am yet to get a satisfactory answer to is that if truly some Nigerian lawyers believe that the NBA should not be in the business of monopoly, then why waiting for over six decades to fly the flag of a new association to rival the NBA? From my own little research, the statutory flavours being enjoyed by the NBA as far as our laws are concerned are too overwhelming that if a new association such as the Law Society of Nigerian (LSN) succeeds in being on the same pedestal with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), is there going to be power sharing formula between the NBA and LSN? Are those laws going to be amended to accommodate the LSN that seeks to rival the NBA to enjoy those statutory flavours? The present leadership of the NBA is not taking the threat of the LSN very lightly. In a communiqué issued at the end of its NBA-NEC meeting of 15th December 2022, it declared as follows:

“ (A) NEC frowns at the recent divisive efforts by certain members of the Association to undermine the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for ulterior motives, and firmly resolved ,that the NBA is the only recognized, indivisible umbrella Association of all lawyers called to the Bar in Nigeria and there is no other body so recognised or permitted as such. (B) NEC receives with dismay the report of the attempt to register a parallel body of lawyers as an alternative to the Nigerian Bar Association and frown at the involvement of some senior members of the Bar and past leaders of our dear Association in the registration process of the alternative body. (C) NEC categorically resolves that the Law Society of Nigeria (LSN), a body so registered, is unknown to members of the Bar and mandates the NBA President to commence processes for the delisting of the LSN by the Corporate Affairs Commission. (D) NEC further resolves to sanction all members of the Bar seeking to promote or register a new lawyers’ association, whether using a new name or an old registered, Law Society of Nigeria (LSN). (E) NEC particularly resolves that a Past NBA General Secretary, Mr. Nimi Walson-Jack who acted as a solicitor to the promoters of the new law society be stripped of his privileges as past General Secretary and consequently, be suspended from being a member of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Association…”

One of the things that surprise me in this communiqué was that it was signed by the NBA President and the Assistant General Secretary and not the General Secretary. Was the General Secretary not in attendance? Another thing is that when LSN was announcing its debut the other time, it claimed that Hon. Nimi Walson-Jack was the Protem Vice President of the new association. Is Hon. Nimi Walson –Jack playing both the role of the solicitor to the promoters of the LSN and as well as its Protem Vice President? In reaction to his suspension from the NBA-NEC, Walson-Jack is equally not taking his suspension very easy as he has declared that :

“The resolution to punish me for representing the promoters of the new law society is a return to the dark ages of socialism and communism when Governments sanctioned and jailed Lawyers for representing persons whose activities were considered contrary to those of the political leadership. This infamous resolution would win a gold medal in the coven of dictators, not in the assembly of Lawyers in defense of Democracy and the Rule of Law .It is an affront to the right of Lawyers to represent the diverse interests of their law-abiding clients…My suspension from the National Executive Council of the Nigerian Bar Association is an act of intimidation, and harassment, which hinders my ability to continue to provide legal services to citizen who incidentally are also Lawyers ..”

With this new line of cross fires, one prays reason and wisdom will prevail to avert another crisis in NBA as some lawyers are now grumbling on some aspects of the said NBA-NEC latest communiqué. Some lawyers have wondered why Hon. Nimi Walson-Jack gets worried or disturbed with his suspension from NBA since he has decided to pitch his tent with the LSN. Someone asked whether with the full force with which LSN came on board, is it still possible for him to be in both NBA and LSN at the same time? I am of the view that these are questions that can best be answered by Hon. Walson Jack himself. I have said it in the past that if the NBA is not run the way it should run, where every lawyer is given the high and true sense of belonging and participation, there would always be “rebels” who may want to rock the boat. Walson-Jack is complaining of not being given fair hearing before his suspension and that being a statutory member of the NEC, he cannot be suspended by the NBA-NEC without recourse to the AGM . Every lawyer should begin to pray fervently that we should not have the repeat of the NBA crisis of the 90s just like we should pray against another civil war in Nigeria as happened in the 60s as it has been said that no country can survive two civil wars.

If truly the reason behind the formation of the LSN was because the society’s preferred candidate lost an election , that would not be a sound reason for flying the flag of LSN. People have lost elections in the past and the heaven did not fall. Since Nigeria and NBA have been in existence for over six decades,I am of the view that calling for dismemberment should not be the appropriate thing but we should rather be praying and working towards having brilliant, competent, patriotic, selfless, upright and visionary leaders at the helms of affairs at all levels of governments in Nigeria as well as in the NBA. One of the things that have kept my hope and belief in this country is the fact that unlike in some African countries, the leaders that wanted to be dictators have not succeeded in having their ways in this country. Gowon that tried to elongate his tenure was swept out.IBB that embarked on fake and one chance transition program and eventually annulled the most free and fair election was forced to step aside. Abacha that wanted to succeed himself was taken away by God. Obasanjo that tried the 3rd term agenda was frustrated. What Nigeria and NBA need is the “reincarnation” of the likes of those good and visionary leaders that struggled and attained independence for this country and did very well within the very short time they were in power. NBA also needs the great and visionary leaders like the late Mr. Alao Aka-Basorun, the Mao of the Nigerian Bar who did wonderfully well during his tenure as the NBA President. According Professor Itsey Sagay in his autobiography titled ALL WILL BE WELL:

“Mr. Alao Aka-Basorun became the President of the Nigerian Bar Association at the annual NBA Conference held in Ibadan in 1987…Aka’s greatest legacy was his completion of the NBA headquarters building before handing over his office in 1989.This building had been abandoned uncompleted for about 25 years when Aka took office. He made the completion of the edifice his major priority .At the end of his two years tenure , he had put up a magnificent multi-storey edifice as headquarters of NBA. This building was so large that some well established companies rented space in it for their offices, thus bringing extra revenue to the NBA.”

The above is a true definition of a visionary and competent leadership. But unfortunately today, we still have in our midst lawyers that continue to argue that “NO MAGIC CAN HAPPEN WITHIN 8 TO 16 YEARS”. The questions I put to them in response were that were the likes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sir Ahmadu Bello were sleeping and snoring during those years they occupied the position premiership in their respective regions? Was Lateef Jakande also sleeping and snoring when he piloted the affairs of Lagos State as Governor for 4 years? If a leader cannot make a significant and positive impact within 6 months in office, does such leader has business been in government or leadership position? We ironically continue to live in country where people who do not know what good leadership is all about struggling to become leaders by all means. Leadership is not about self but about selfless service to the people.

The suspension and protest of Hon. Nimi Walson-Jack is a classical example and clear demonstration of the maxim: “Most people do not know the pain of injustice until they taste it”. I consider myself as one of the lawyers that have suffered great injustice in the hand of the NBA. In 2005, I was disallowed from running for the position of the Assistant Publicity Secretary in my NBA Lagos Branch on the ground that the position was unknown to the then Bye Law of the branch contrary to the clear provisions of the same Bye Law. I immediately forwarded a strong letter of complaint to the then NBA at the National level addressed to the General Secretary which was received. Hon. Nimi Walson-Jack was then the GS from whom I received no response. The Lagos Branch election was conducted and I was schemed out. Rather than going to court for the interpretation of the Bye law, I decided to lick my wound and throw in the towel. I waited till 2013 when I contested for the position of the Publicity Secretary and won unopposed. In 2018, I showed interest in contesting for the similar position at the National level but was disqualified courtesy of the discriminatory provisions contained in the NBA Constitution that if you were not a NBA-NEC member you cannot contest for a substantive positions at the National level. I subsequently through pen fought these discriminatory provisions and NBA bought the wisdom and removed them. An interested lawyer aspirant does not now need to be a NEC member to be eligible to contest at National level except for the positions of the President, 1st Vice President and the General Secretary.

Let us not create crisis but we should all embrace peace, dialogue and understanding for the benefit of all and Nigerians who look up to the lawyers as their political saviours! God bless NBA, God bless Nigeria!

NOTE: Anyone is at liberty to disagree with my above submissions as I will surely appreciate a balanced, fair and objective rebuttal.

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