Dear Olumide, with your historic election as 30th President of the Nigerian Bar Association, I say a very big congratulations! I however have mixed feelings, one of happiness and one of serious worry. The one of joy derives from the fact that at 47 years old, you deployed a properly crafted strategy to break a 30-year jinx and the won election from the outer bar. My worry is if you will follow your manifesto and live up to your promises and expectations of thousands of lawyers that voted for you and that of many other Nigerians that prayed and worked directly and indirectly for your victory.
As you are aware, Law is one of the most important instruments that can be used to create a sustainably growing and inclusive society or a stagnated and retrogressive one. Your actions or inactions in the 2 years that you have will significantly contribute to the direction our dear country will follow. No doubt, 2 years is very short, but you can make a huge difference with determination which many people believe that you have in abundance. Our dear country is at cross-roads and failing in almost all fronts with the failure primarily attributed to the absence of rule of law and good governance.
With “promoting rule of law as an instrument of social change in Nigeria” the mission of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), it means that the foremost professional association of over 120,000 lawyers you have been elected to lead have failed in their mission, vision and core values. By extension, you and your “learned colleagues” have failed Nigeria, our dear nation that you all swore to defend and support!
Encouragingly, you expressly stated this disappointing failure of NBA in your manifesto where you stated that you “believe that the NBA is currently punching below its weight. Indeed, there is a widespread sentiment within the profession that the NBA is grossly lacking in utilitarian value and that many lawyers have remained members of the Association simply out of compulsion”.
While I commend you for being forthright in acknowledging the failures of NBA, it is important to state that you understated the situation. NBA is not punching at all and can be better described as limbless and possibly paralysed especially with the outgoing leadership. The ambivalence or silence of NBA in key national issues particularly ones relating to rule of law and good governance is not only shocking but shameful. This is also the case with the utilitarian disposition expected of lawyers, the supposed members of “the noble profession”.
Not only is it grossly lacking as you stated, there seems to be an increasing proclivity amongst lawyers to work against the interest of a decent society and Nigeria. This is arguably even more with our inner bar, the Senior Advocates that seem to be more interested in protecting their elevated positions mainly for their own interests and promotions.
While I commend you for being forthright in acknowledging the failures of NBA, it is important to state that you understated the situation. NBA is not punching at all and can be better described as limbless and possibly paralysed especially with the outgoing leadership
With the hope that you want to make a difference, below are the expectations Nigerians have of you.
First, as charity begins at home, you should not use the NBA presidency primarily as a platform to negotiate or advance your elevation and admittance into the ruling class as some of your predecessors did. I implore you to focus unwaveringly in advancing the mission, vision, motto and core values of NBA with utmost sincerity and patriotism. A very important aspect that requires urgent review is the 2-year tenure of leadership. It is self-serving and counterproductive. To make any meaningful impact, it should be a minimum of four-year limit with option of re-election for a second term. With you not positioned to be the first beneficiary, pursuing such selfless reforms will endow you with more lasting, sustainable and impactful elevation.
Second, given the importance of lawyers and particularly the Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) in shaping societal development through law, a critical review of the criteria used in elevation of lawyers to the inner bar is pertinent and urgent. A situation where lawyers are promoted into the rank of Senior Advocates principally based on their intellectual understanding and usage of the law and its technicalities to win cases is inappropriate. As the name implies, elevation into the rank of Senior Advocates should be based on not only good understanding of the law but mainly on the comprehensive assessment of the lawyer’s ethical disposition, antecedents, actions and inactions, and deep inclination for a decent and sustainably inclusive Nigeria that is intrinsic.
Third, as you rightly said, the need for a review of the curriculum used in training lawyers cannot be overemphasised. In addition to technology law as you mentioned, it will be helpful to include important courses such as law and economics for development, law and sociology, law and finance for inclusive growth, ethics and leadership with some of them such as ethics made compulsory course from university to law school. With our present formal law limitedly understood, accepted, internalised and complied with due to its origin and adoption method, inclusion of the identified courses and more will help create a new culture and set of lawyers needed for 21st century Nigeria’s sustainable and inclusive growth.
Fourth, as the foremost professional association of lawyers in Nigeria, NBA under your leadership should not be seen to be ambivalent or disinterested in important national issues. Nigerians expect that under your leadership, NBA will be a robust proactive organisation with an unquestionable disposition for progressive and inclusive Nigeria. This point cannot be over-emphasised, but it is important to state as follows. The silence or uncertainty of NBA has contributed to many of our social problems such as the pervasive insecurity, corruption, nepotism and poor governance of Nigeria. It should be noted that the killings in Southern Kaduna, rampant kidnapping, Boko Haram, increasing poverty and unemployment cannot be disassociated from many years of poor leadership and failure of NBA among other factors.
As a lawyer, you should be conversant of the inherent challenges of governance in a plural society such as Nigeria especially when the formal legal system is adopted and different from the inherent and varied informal laws (norms and values) of ethnic groups that make up Nigeria. Under your leadership, Nigeria expect NBA to lead the advocacy for a restructured Nigeria starting with devolution of powers through the transfer of some items in the exclusive list to the concurrent and residual lists. While we do not suggest that you should be aggressive to the federal and state governments, we expect you to lead and engage with courage, good and objective criticism with the larger interest of lawyers and Nigerians paramount in your engagements and leadership.
I wish you the best and please be assured of our prayers and support!
Dr. Ngwu, is an Economist/Associate Professor of Strategy, Corporate Governance & Risk Management, Lagos Business School and a Member, Expert Network, World Economic Forum. E-mail- email@example.com