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‘My Contract with Nigerian Lawyers’


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Nigeria

IMAGE: Mr. Augustine Alegeh »

September.09.2014

On July 15, 2014 the Nigerian Bar Association elected its national officers at a delegates’ conference in Abuja. Mr. Augustine Alegeh SAN emerged as president and he was subsequently sworn in at the association’s annual general conference in Owerri on August 29. In his first interview as NBA President he told May Agbamuche-Mbu, Jude Igbanoi and Tobi Soniyi how he intends to fulfill his electoral promises. Amongst other issues, he spoke on recent national issues, including the security challenges nationwide

As you assume office as NBA President what do you set out to achieve in your two year tenure? 
The main issues that I intend to address are the issues set out and contained in my manifesto. My three clear cut objectives during my two year tenure are to refocus on welfare of all NBA members; to reform the secretariat,  organs and structure of the NBA and finally to reinvigorate the NBA as the leading proponent of the Rule of law and defender of human rights. These were the programs I articulated during my campaign that led to my eventual victory and I intend to pursue them doggedly.

How do you intend to fulfill your electoral promises to Nigerian lawyers who voted for you at the NBA elections in Abuja?
The electoral promises are already being fulfilled. We have already reduced Bar Practising fees and Annual conference fees subject to NEC approval. We have reached a very advanced stage in negotiations to provide Insurance for all lawyers who pay their practising fees as at when due. The deal on provision of a Bar Card for all lawyers to serve both as an Identification card and payment card is almost concluded.  We have also concluded deals to offer substantial discounts to lawyers who have the NBA Bar card.

A committee to review and amend our constitution to enable e-voting has been set up and its report is expected by the end of October. Thereafter, we would convene an Emergency General Meeting to determine the constitutional amendments.

We have also set up a Select Committee to ensure an equitable distribution of appointments into various Committees at the National level. You will agree that this approach is unprecedented in the history of the NBA as Branch Leaders and members have been empowered to nominate persons for such appointments.
You can therefore see clearly that the campaign promises are being implemented already.

Looking back at the elections which you won to emerge as President of the association, is the zoning arrangement still in place?
The zoning arrangement in the NBA is still in place. The Presidency of the NBA at the just concluded election was zoned to the Western Bar. All the five Presidential aspirants were from Branches within the Western Bar. Consequently, it is a given that the zoning arrangement was not compromised in any way to favour a particular candidate.

The election that ushered in your predecessor, Okey Wali SAN was faulted severally and he promised to reform the NBA electoral system. But much was not achieved during his two year tenure. Now, your own election has been faulted and you are on record to have promised to reform the electoral system to include electronic voting. Do you think this is feasible?
I am not aware that my election was faulted by any persons. On the contrary all the other candidates congratulated me and pledged to join hands with me in moving the Bar forward.
Some people were not happy that the candidate that they supported did not win and that is understandable but in the best traditions of the Bar they have accepted the outcome and are all on board.
I promised e-voting during the campaign and as I have earlier indicated I have set up a constitution review committee charged with amending our NBA constitution to incorporate e-voting and make such other amendments as may be required to make our elections rancour free. This shows clearly that I intend to push through with my promise of electoral reform. 

You were chairman of the NBA Data Base Committee which computerised the NBA. But it has been observed that only about 65,000 lawyers have been captured on the data base out of over 100,000. What would you do now that you are President to ensure that every lawyer is captured on the data base?
It appears your facts about our NBA database are not totally accurate. In truth, the NBA database captures all lawyers enrolled in the Supreme Court from enrolment till date. The database holds about 120,000 lawyers currently and increases with each call to Bar of new wigs.

There is a need for lawyers to verify their information captured in the database to ensure that the information so captured is correct and to update lawyers’ bio-data. The number of verified lawyers is far short of the total number of enrolled lawyers. Only about 30,000 lawyers have verified their information and the verification exercise is still ongoing, to enable lawyers who have not verified to have the opportunity to verify. I urge all those who have not verified to please take urgent steps to verify their information on the NBA database. It is only by verification that we can know the lawyers that are alive; their current marital status; their addresses and phone numbers and other information that may be required to serve members better. It is beneficial to every lawyer to verify their information on the NBA database.

Considering the general misconception about insurance schemes in Nigeria how will your administration make the NBA Insurance Scheme effective?
The NBA Insurance scheme which we are introducing is funded wholly from Bar Practising fees (BPF) and the bottlenecks associated with insurance schemes have been eliminated. Any lawyer who pays BPF would get the Policy. It is simple and straightforward. It is certainly workable and I assure you that by this time next year all lawyers who pay BPF as at when due would be enjoying the NBA Insurance Scheme coverage.

Your administration is proposing to introduce an NBA Identification card which would function as a payment card. When would this be formally introduced? How would this work with the Identity card being introduced by the Federal Government?
The NBA Identification card would be launched before the end of 2014. We are still finalising the add-ons and other operational modalities of the NBA Identification card.
The NBA Identification card is very different from the National Identification card. As the name indicates, the Card would exclusively be for lawyers unlike the National Identification card which is for the generality of Nigerians. It would distinguish lawyers from other professionals. We also need to know real lawyers and be able to distinguish real lawyers from quacks.

What plans does the NBA have to ensure that the pending bills at the National Assembly are passed?
We take seriously the issue of pending bills before the National Assembly. We intend to engage constructively with the NASS to ensure that these Bills are passed before this session of the National Assembly winds up. We want to know if there are problems militating against the passage of these Bills and offer solutions to all such problems.
We would apply our best efforts and leave no stone unturned to ensure that these Bills are passed without further delay.

The recent court decisions recognising the financial autonomy of the judiciary were described as a welcome development for the independence of the judiciary. How will the NBA ensure that these decisions are implemented by the executive?
The true mark of a democratic Government is respect for and obedience to Court orders. The NBA believes that all levels of Government should obey Court orders. The provisions of section 162[9] of the 1999 Constitution ought to be complied with by Governments without the necessity of a Court pronouncement.
I have raised this matter with the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and he has assured that the Federal Government is complying fully with the said provisions.

I will take steps to discuss this issue in details with State Attorneys General to ensure that there is full compliance. I am aware that some States are complying and Bayelsa State for example, has enacted a state law essentially domesticating the said provisions. We need to identify the States that are in breach and ensure that they comply with the constitutional provision which was pronounced upon in the judgments.

Your predecessor is leaving office with a huge project, the NBA National Secretariat in Abuja and he only managed to get to the 2nd floor. Given the fact that the NBA essentially derives its revenue from annual practising fees, how do you intend to complete this project which Okey Wali promised Nigerian lawyers would be completed in two years?
Firstly, I must commend my predecessor, Okey Wali, SAN for the vision and courage he had to commence the building of the NBA National Secretariat in Abuja. His efforts in resolving the myriad of problems in respect of the land deserve special praise.
The task that confronts me and which I am totally committed to dealing with effectively is how to raise the funds required for completing the project. I believe that the NBA enjoys sufficient goodwill that raising the required funds from donations would not be too difficult.

I am committed to continuing with the project and I believe that we would achieve success in respect of the NBA National Secretariat during our tenure.

Despite promises by past presidents to address the plight of young lawyers, nothing has been done to help them. In specific terms how do you hope to address these challenges?
I believe that the future of the entire legal profession is in the hands of the young lawyers and there is a critical need to pay attention to young lawyers.
I intend to pursue an aggressive Continuing Legal Education Programme to ensure that Young Lawyers are properly equipped with the knowledge of law required to excel in the profession.
Our programme of ensuring that research assistants are employed by the Judiciary for all judicial officers would provide pensionable employment for about 4000 young lawyers and will provide them with training and experience on judicial functioning.

Our vigorous fight to rid the legal profession of quacks would provide more work for young lawyers as well as provide additional revenue for senior lawyers who would then be in a position to pay their junior enhanced allowances.

We believe that a certain level of legal work would be left exclusively for young lawyers. We intend to collaborate with the Judiciary to ensure that all affidavits are prepared by lawyers only to ensure that they contain only true deposition of facts as any lawyer who prepares a false affidavit would expose himself to NBA disciplinary measures. This type of work should be reserved for young lawyers only and would be a massive revenue boost for young lawyers.

Within hours of being sworn in as president it was reported that you cancelled the council election of the NBA Section of Legal Practice and some see this as wielding a big stick and some other sections and fora are said to be jittery. What informed this action?
I did not wield any big stick. I am not unmindful of the sacrifice of several senior lawyers in sustaining SLP and nurturing that section till date. I have also not lost sight of the fact that they have in certain instances deployed their personal resources in aid of the Section. I respect them and I commend them. They have shown a deep sense of commitment to the Section and the NBA. Consequently, there was no need to wield any stick small or big in respect of SLP.

The fact is that there was a mix up that resulted in a failure to adhere to the provisions of their Bye Law in the hand over process. One critical step was omitted and having examined the matter dispassionately I decided to insist that due process must be strictly applied.
I am particularly close to the leadership of SLP and I believe the lesson from this is that I will do what is right at all times even when it involves my closest friends whom I hold in high esteem. 

Boko Haram has given Nigerians another cause for concern in their recent claim of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in Gwoza community. This week, the terror is spreading into Bama community, calling into question the readiness of the military in protecting Nigeria's territorial integrity. What does this spell for Nigeria's democracy?
It is not a thing of joy that the entire nation is suffering insecurity of unimaginable proportions. Our collective security and protection against external aggression and insurgency is the constitutional duty of our Armed Forces and we believe that they should perform their duties effectively.

Several lawyers have been affected by the Boko Haram insurgency in the north eastern part of ‎Nigeria and the past administration established the North East Special Relief Funds Initiative. Have you any plans to help them further?
At the risk of sounding immodest, I believe I played a pivotal role in setting up the North East Lawyers Relief Fund and my donation set the tone for the Relief Fund. Consequently, there should be no doubt that I will redouble efforts in this regard.
For starters all NBA branches would receive an additional 10% of BPF which should be used to establish a Welfare Trust Fund for each Branch. This would be the beginning. We would in the near future launch a national appeal to reflate the fund and ensure that our members who are adversely impacted by Boko Haram get a helping hand from the NBA.

With new cases of Ebola in Port Harcourt, the Federal Government has said there is a need for stricter laws on quarantine. What is your view on this and of course, cross-border relations in West African states?
Ebola is a serious matter and if the Medical Practitioners believe that stricter quarantine measures are required then there would be a need to have a legal regime to govern the process to prevent abuse and ensure that the fear expressed by the medical practitioners are adequately dealt with by the Law.

Some perceive the NBA to be an elitist group and one that has alienated a majority of its members. How do you think this perception can be reversed?
There is hardly any reason for such a perception to exist. NBA is ours and for all of us. The complaints against fees which lawyers consider high have been addressed. I have proposed slashing practising fees by 10% and Annual General Conference fees by about 40%. Of course this reduction is inapplicable to Senior Advocates, Judges, Magistrates and Political office holders.
If fees were the reason for this wrong and erroneous perception I hope these measures have helped to erase the said perception.

The NBA historically is the only group that monitors the government. Even in the days of military dictatorship the NBA had always been vocal and fearless in putting the government on its toes, like we saw in the days of Alao Aka-Bashorun. How do you intend to make the NBA more active in governance?
The NBA under my watch will speak up on all issues of national interest and importance. I believe in constructive criticism and whenever we criticise we must at the same time offer concrete alternative proposals. This will be my approach and I believe it will ensure that things are done in a better way.
We will at all times maintain an objective non-partisan position so that our views would never be construed as furthering the interest of any particular group or section of society.

A lot of Nigerians are calling for amendment of the section of Electoral Act that stipulates 180 days to conclude election petitions. What do you think about this, because some think it has occasioned a miscarriage of justice in some cases?
I believe that Election Petitions can effectively and with proper case management be concluded within 180 days. In the last election in Edo State, the Petition went up to the Supreme Court and the Tribunal was still able to deliver judgment within 180days. There is a need for Election Petitions to be determined timeously and rather than amend the section we should work on our case management system to ensure that Petitions are determined within the stipulated time frame.

Cases still drag on in the courts for a long time, how do you think this can be resolved, so that the confidence of foreign investors can be restored in our justice delivery system?
There has to be more investment in judicial infrastructure and deployment of modern technology in Our Courts. Our procedural rules need to reviewed to ensure that time wasting rules are eliminated.

The NBA would work on developing amended unified rules for the High Court incorporating such time saving measures. For Example, unopposed applications should be settled between Counsel. After, front loading, there should be agreed bundle of documents that are not being objected to by any party and all objections to documents should be dealt with before trials commence. Cases for hearing should continue from day to day until concluded. These are just some examples of measures that we can take to eliminate time wasting in our Courts.

Our judges need digital recording systems and the current practice of long hand writing should be discontinued as it contributes to delays in the judicial system.

Article Credit: Thisdaylive

Updated 4 Years ago
 

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Tags:     Nigerian Bar Association     Mr. Augustine Alegeh     NEC     Okey Wali     Data Base Committee

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