Saturday, 4 July, 2020

MARIJUANA: RETHINKING THE ‘WAR ON DRUGS’ IN NIGERIA

By Kayode Ajulo, PhD

In the recent times, there have been calls from different quarters on the need to legalize the use of Marijuana in Nigeria. This legal opinion considers the mischief behind the laws proscribing the production, possession, sale and use of Marijuana and thereafter considers the benefits of legalizing Marijuana in Nigeria.

Classified as an illicit drug in many countries, marijuana is outlawed by many governments. In Nigeria, it is often referred to as ‘Indian hemp’, in the country, Cannabis Sativa, which has enjoyed use as fibre, seed and seed oils, medicinal purposes, and as a recreational drug traces its origin to Central and South Asia. The drug also has many other aliases igbo, dope, ganja, sensi, kuma, morocco, eja, kpoli, weed, trees, etc. Though usually smoked, the plant can be soaked in alcoholic drinks dubbed ‘monkey-tail’, and consumed mostly in the south-south parts of the country. Some people cook food with it, some boil it to drink as tea, while others just chew the plant and seeds.

Physiologically, cannabis causes euphoria, relaxes the muscles and increases appetite. On the downside, the drug can impair motor skills, cause anxiety and paranoia and decrease short-term memory.

Deemed an illicit drug by the law, it had always been an offence in Nigeria to smoke marijuana, and it has largely been frowned upon by society. However, paradoxically, despite increased hounding of growers, sellers, and users, marijuana appears to be consumed in ever greater quantities.

The Agency saddled with the enforcement of drug laws in Nigeria is the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). The Agency has the job of curtailing the consumption of drugs in Nigeria. The general powers of the Agency is contained in section 3 of the NDLEA Act.

Under the NDLEA Act, which came about by the promulgation of Decree Number 48 of 1989, the possession or smoking of cannabis, or even allowing one’s premises to be used for dealing in cannabis, can result in a prison sentence from 15 years to life. Its precursor, the Indian Hemp Act, was even harsher, carrying a maximum sentence of death.

Statistics show that cultivation to transportation and to sales, the marijuana industry connects different cities throughout Nigeria. At many outdoor markets and public motor garages, it is not strange to see marijuana smokers puffing away.

The 2011 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report stated that cannabis use was prevalent among 14.3 per cent of 15 to 64 year olds in Nigeria. The same report in 2014 revealed that Nigeria had made the highest number of cannabis seizures of any African country. Following this report, the NDLEA launched a programme dubbed ‘Operation Weed Eaters’ that aimed to rid the country of cannabis.

While marijuana can be grown in all parts of the country, according to the NDLEA, the states that are notorious for cultivating the plant are Ondo, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti, Edo and Delta. In September, the NDLEA destroyed cannabis farms in Ute and Ose local government areas in Ondo State and arrested 30 suspects, seizing 31 kilograms of dried weed suspected to be marijuana in the Suleja area. Between January and June 2014, NDLEA arrested 4,511 suspected drug traffickers and seized 47,423 kilograms of drugs. Of that number, cannabis accounted for 45,875 kilograms. Though these seizure figures are high, large quantities of marijuana still find their way to the market baffling the law enforcement system.

Legalizing Marijuana in Nigeria
While it is important to note that many countries including Nigeria have enacted harsh laws against the cultivation, possession or sale of cannabis. In fact, dealing or using marijuana in countries such as Singapore, China, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia could land one from four years in jail to public beheadings.

But in recent years, some nations have adopted a different strategy of decriminalizing marijuana usage as a way of combating it. These societies have also often reduced the penalties for possession of small quantities of cannabis, so that it is punished by confiscation or a fine rather than by imprisonment. The idea has been to focus more resources on those who traffic the drug.

Uruguay made history by becoming the first country to legalise cultivation, trade and usage of marijuana in December 2013. In countries as varied as the Netherlands, Germany, Mexico, Peru, and Canada, the emphasis has shifted towards the decriminalization of marijuana. Jamaica, a country where marijuana smoking has long been popular, is set to decriminalize it too.

In 2018, Thailand’s military government unanimously approved medical marijuana use, which would make it the first country to legalize cannabis use in any form in Southeast Asia.

There are several laws in Nigeria which prohibit cultivating, possessing and using Marijuana.

Section of 11 of the NDLEA Act provides that:

Any person who, without lawful authority-
(a) imports, manufactures, produces, processes, plants or grows the drugs popularly known as cocaine, LSD, heroine or any other similar drugs shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for life; or

(b) exports, transports or otherwise traffics in the drugs popularly known as cocaine, LSD, heroine or any other similar drugs shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for life;

(c) sells, buys, exposes or offers for sale or otherwise deals in or with the drugs popularly known as cocaine, LSD, heroine or any other similar drugs shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for life; or

(d) knowingly possesses or uses the drugs popularly known as cocaine, LSD, heroine or any other similar drugs by smoking, inhaling or injecting the said drugs shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not less than fifteen years but not exceeding 25 years.

See also Okewu v FRN (2012) LPELR-7834(SC); Nwadiem v. FRN (2018) LPELR-9845 (CA)

Similarly, section 7 of the Indian Hemp Act prohibits the use of Indian hemp.

From the above provisions, the law proscribes the illegal cultivation, use, sell and possession of Narcotics. The poser from the above is “whether there could be instances of legal cultivation, use, sell and possession of Narcotics?”

A careful perusal of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act will reveal that there was no mention of legal use of Narcotics. What could appear to seem as a provision for legal use is provided for under section 3 of the NDLEA Act. The section provides that:
(1) Subject to this Act and in addition to any other functions expressly conferred on it by other provisions of this Act, the Agency shall have responsibility for-…

(h) the facilitation of rapid exchange of scientific and technical information and the conduct of research geared towards eradication of illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances;

It is on the heels of this provision that the NDLEA had given a letter of “No Objection” to Medis Oil Company Limited and two others to import seeds of industrial cannabis for research purposes.

Similarly, Under Article 3 paragraph 5 of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to which Nigeria is signatory to, it is envisaged that as a result of research, a drug may be deleted from schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention if researches reveal its therapeutic advantages. At the risk of repetition but for the sake of emphasis the Paragraph provides:

A Party shall, if in its opinion the prevailing conditions in its country render it the most appropriate means of protecting the public health and welfare, prohibit the production, manufacture, export and import of, trade in, possession or use of any such drug except for amounts which may be necessary for medical and scientific research only, including clinical trials therewith to be conducted under or subject to the direct supervision and control of the party.

A careful reading of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs reveal that Narcotics may be used by signatory states for research and medical purposes. Cannabis plant or its resin or extract with THC content lower than 1% is considered as CBD (medical) cannabis and not psychoactive.

Economic benefits of Marijuana: Thailand as Case Study

Despite the facts that the mischief which several stringent laws against Narcotics seek to prevent is the harm they do to human health, recent medical studies have also indicated that marijuana can also be beneficial to health.

Thailand’s military government unanimously approved medical marijuana use, which would make it the first country to legalize cannabis use in any form in Southeast Asia.

It is apropos to note that Thailand was once infamous for its harsh penalties on drug users, including the death penalty. Cannabis was also once extensively used in Thailand for medicinal purposes as well as clothing, where fibers from both marijuana and hemp plants were used in creating fabrics. Thailand’s cannabis is one of the country’s largest exports.

Globally, the medicinal cannabis industry is projected to be worth $55.8 billion dollars by 2025. Considering the High rate of employment in Nigeria, legalizing Marijuana will provide job opportunities for many Nigerian youths.

Health Benefits of Cannabis
One of the first big medical issue that cannabis was shown to effectively treat is Glaucoma. Ingesting cannabis helps lower the pressure in the eyeball, giving patients at least temporary relief. It can improve lung health. Some conditions like lung cancer and Emphysema have been shown to regress when cannabis is thrown to the mix.

Cannabis can also offer serious relief for arthritis, especially when using quality cannabis creams and balms. It’s helpful for those with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). It could help regulate metabolism: as it helps your body process and deal with food and obesity, it also helps maintain and regulate metabolism.

It also helps people with AIDS/HIV in the sense that cannabis helps those living with it cope by helping them maintain their diets and handle associated pains and aches. It proved effective for treating nausea: chemical compounds in cannabis react with brain receptors to regulate feelings of nausea. Cannabis could potentially treat headache naturally and won’t chew through your stomach lining or take its toll on ones body.

It has also been found to be at least somewhat effective in the treatment of a handful of sexually transmitted diseases, including Herpes and Chlamydia. It could help with speech problems: if anyone has an issue with stuttering, cannabis can help in the same way that it helps calm spasms and twitches. It can improve skin conditions and treat skin conditions like eczema vide cannabis topical.

Recreational Benefits of Marijuana

Apart from the argument for the legalization of cannabis for medical and medicinal purposes, there is the argument that its possession and use for recreational purposes should be decriminalized. As would be seen, some countries have passed legislation that decriminalizes possession up to certain amounts and allows recreational use and cultivation up to certain amounts too.

Notwithstanding, there remain ethical questions to its widespread use. At the core of this ethical debate is the question: Is it morally wrong to be high? I am certain that we will agree that we might not have a winner in that debate. If we are to go by the fact that it impairs cognitive abilities, then it might be morally wrong to ingest anything that impairs our sense of judgment in any way.

Conclusion
Taking clue from the Utilitarian theory that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness”, from the facts and benefits highlighted above, there is really a need to legalize the use of Marijuana in the country.

It is succinct to point out that war on drugs is often far costlier than the drugs themselves. Thus if the money pumped against the use of drugs could be redirected in cultivating Marijuana for economic use, there will be a great boast in the economy of the Country.

Finally, one of the greatest problems in policing the illegal use of cannabis is the enforcement of the laws governing its illegality. This in itself has been one of the big drivers for the calls for its legalization across many countries of the world. Most of the proponents of the legalization of its use for both medical and recreational purposes have stated that its criminalization has not stopped its increasingly widespread use but instead, has helped deny people of its ‘wonder working powers’, as a drug, especially in treating chronic pain as earlier mentioned.

Having considered the benefits accruable to the production, sale and use of Marijuana, it is hereby recommended that the National Assembly should be lobbied to amend the provisions of the NDLEA Act and other relevant laws in order to make room for the legal production, manufacturing, sale and use of Marijuana in Nigeria which in turn boast the economy of the Nation as a whole.

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency should also enforce the provisions of 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and allow the use of Marijuana for medicinal purposes.

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JURISTS STORM LAGOS JUNE 20 FOR LAW WEEK

Leading jurists are set to storm City Hall, Lagos from June 20, 2019 as the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lagos Branch holds its hugely popular Annual Law Week. The week-long event is scheduled to kick-off on Saturday, June 15, 2019 with a health work sponsored by telecom giant, MTN Nigeria Plc. The theme of this year’s Law Week is “Law and Development in an Emerging Economy.”

Aside from firebrand economist, Mr. Bismarck Rewane who will tackle the sub-theme, “The Nigerian economy: 2019 outlook and opportunities for lawyers,” eminent jurists that have confirmed attendance as part of the stellar faculty are Justice Habeeb Abiru of the Court of Appeal; NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN; former Lagos State Attorney-General & Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Supo Shasore SAN; Mr. Gbenga Oyebode MFR, Mr. Asue Ighodalo as well as leading environmental law expert and Lagos State University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Lanre Fagbohun SAN.

Other confirmed faculty members are Delta State Chief Judge, Justice Marshal Umukoro; Mr. Tunde Fagbohunlu SAN; former Lagos State Solicitor-General, Mr. Fola Arthur-Worrey, renowned activist and law teacher, Dr. Sam Amadi; Mr. Peter Derey; reputed international lawyer, Mr. Charles Adeogun-Phillip and Ms. Yimika Adesola of “Legally Engaged.”

Expected at the popular Young Lawyers’ Forum are billionaire blogger, Ms. Linda Ikeji; popular TV host and lawyer, Mr. Ebuka Obi-Uchendu, Prince Joel and Deji Olomojobi among others.

At a press conference to herald the Law Week, NBA Lagos Branch Chairman, Mr. Chukwuka Ikwuazom noted that the law week would be the last for his regime which has been adjudged by many lawyers as highly innovative and successful, adding that no effort would be spared to ensure that it leaves a lasting impression on the minds of participants.

On his part, Chairman of the 2019 Law Week Planning Committee, Mr. Tola Oshobi SAN assured prospective participants that the technical sessions in particular have been fashioned to add immense value to every lawyer’s practice. According to Oshobi, who is leading the committee for the second consecutive time, among the topics lined up for the sessions holding on June 20 and 21 at City Hall, Lagos are “Emerging trends in technology and innovation;” “Smart response of the legal profession to technological advancements;” “The 21st century workplace in context: law firm focus;” “Administration of justice and the courts: A dialogue between the Bench and the Bar;” “Rain making and management of client expectations;” “The young lawyers’ forum: Entertainment, sports and media,” and “Sustainable development and the environment.”

Other activities earmarked for the week are health check, visit to prisons and Pacelli School for the Blind, Elders’ Night to be hosted by leading commercial lawyer, Mr. George Etomi and a closing party on June 21.

Alternate Chairman for the Law Week Planning Committee, Mr. Andrew Malgwi noted that registration for the week has since commenced and can be done online at www.nbalagos.org or at the Branch Secretariat among other channels. Non-lawyers can also register to benefit from the intellectual feast, he noted.

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Copyright 2019 CITY LAWYER. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

AGC Registration is Scandal-free, Says TCCP

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP) has said that registration for this year’s Annual General Conference (AGC) has not witnessed any hitches so far.

Responding to a CITY LAWYER report that some lawyers may be attempting to circumvent the AGC payment system through proxy registration, several TCCP members decried the report as “misleading,” saying AGC registration is going on smoothly and has not witnessed any scandal.

Meanwhile, TCCP Co-Chairman, Mr. Olumide Akpata has said that the committee “will definitely be taking it (report) up.” An NBA official who telephoned CITY LAWYER earlier asked that the report should be pulled down. He also alleged ‘political bias’ against CITY LAWYER. This allegation against CITY LAWYER has been repeated by at least two other ranking TCCP officials.

Unleashing the first salvo of criticisms from TCCP members, Chairman of the AGC Media & Publicity Sub-Committee, Mr. Kunle Edun said in an online post: “Gentlemen, this publication is misleading and very unfair to members of the NBA and TCCP. We urge all bloggers particularly Citylawyermagazine of which Emeka Nwadioke Esq is the alter ego to always get their facts right before going to the press with sensational headlines.

“Registration is going on smoothly and there has been no interruptions (sic) so far. Certainly, there is no reported registration scam. It is just in the imagination of the publishers. Members are advised to ignore such publications.

“Contact numbers have been published and members are free to use the channel numbers to reach the TCCP for any information.”

In another post, Edun also claimed that the report was motivated by what he called “partisan interests,” adding: “Bad journalism and most unfortunate. We should not bring in partisan interests into a clearly professional matter.”

Some sources close to NBA House have occasionally criticized some legal bloggers as belonging to some camps or aligning especially to former NBA presidential candidates, alleging that such bloggers are yet to get over the recent NBA presidential elections.

On his part, Nigerian Law School teacher and TCCP member, Mr. Sylvester Udemezue said: “The news report is misleading and a propagation of falsehood. The headline doesn’t only shout, it shouts falsehood, capable of misleading unsuspecting members of the bar.

“I hope the news report isn’t a sponsored game to discredit the noble efforts of the TCCP for the 2019 NBA-AGC. We wouldn’t lie low and allow such jobless propagation of falsehood in place of truth. Responsible journalism requires that the reporter verifies every information (sic) received before going to town with the metal gong.”

Another TCCP member, Mr. Anthony Atata, said: “Brother, I have read this over and over again without sighting the scandal you are talking about. Kindly come down to my level and educate me accordingly.”

Responding in an online post, Akpata said: “This is simply irresponsible and unacceptable reporting and the TCCP will definitely be taking it up.” Akpata later telephoned CITY LAWYER and demanded a retraction and an apology relating to the report. He stated that a notice by the TCCP warning lawyers to abide by AGC registration guidelines does not amount to a “scandal.”

But a Bar Leader and ranking member of Ikeja Branch, Mr. Dan Okoye disagreed, saying: “I doubt if the substance can be described as false or misleading!! Can a lawyer called to bar 15 years ago use the tag of an unwilling junior who’s 3 years at bar? Is a registration transferable?”

He added: “Whatever happens, my humble advice to lawyers: you either register or ignore the Conference. Just plan to attend the AGM (courtesy NBA Ikeja Branch, 2012 AGC Protest) and other side attractions. Don’t gate crash, it’s demeaning.”

Another lawyer Nzeakor Atulomah posed several queries thus: “Is it not a greater scandal that the so-called TCCP imposes charges that regular members of the Bar find unaffordable and then try to circumvent? Is it not also such a great national shame that only two branches – Lagos and Abuja – can readily host NBA AGCs? Is that not telling of the state of our development as a nation?

“Why must there be AGC every year? To what purpose in particular? Why can it not hold once in two years? Is it not increasingly clear that the NBA is incrementally alienating itself from the lives of its most vulnerable members – the young counsel and distressed members? More questions than ever answers.”

The notice issued yesterday by Edun had stated as follows:
TCCP-2019 AGC NOTICE UPDATE

“We wish to advise intending conferees to register for the conference only with their correct personal and professional details: name and age at the bar are mandatory. The e-paymnt portal has inbuilt capacity that automatically detects wrong entries. We advise members to be very certain about their personal details when registering.

“Be further informed that TCCP has also made additional arrangement for a second security filter at the Conference venue for all Conferees. The devise shall be used at random by security officials assisted by TCCP officials for all Conferees before accessing the Conference venue. The purpose of this security arrangement are

a) to ensure that the entries in our data match with the details of the person presenting the access card.

b) as a cautionary additional security layer.

“It is therefore important that intending conferees enter their correct details when registering. REGISTRATION OR ATTENDANCE BY PROXY SHALL BE CONSIDERED AS A SERIOUS SECURITY AND A GROSS PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT.”

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Copyright 2018 CITY LAWYER. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

AGC: ‘WHY WE CAN’T RELEASE RATES NOW’

  • Prof. Ajayi is not a paid consultant

There are strong indications that the inability of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP) to agree on the rate for international delegates at its last meeting in Lagos is delaying official release of the fees for the 2019 Annual General Conference (AGC).

An impeccable source within the TCCP told CITY LAWYER at the weekend that the need to attract more international delegates to the conference has necessitated more brainstorming on the matter.

“We want to attract more African delegates to the conference,” he said. “Some stakeholders are of the view that the proposed $500 rate is rather high and may discourage international participants. So, we are still consulting on the appropriate rate. That is why we cannot release the AGC rates now.”

Given that $300 is now the advertised rate for international delegates, it was unclear at press time whether the debacle over the fee for this category of participants has now been resolved.

According to the ranking TCCP member, other rates have however been agreed upon by the committee. “The committee resolved to address the fears of lawyers,” he said. “This led to very lively brainstorming among committee members and made the meeting to be long drawn.” NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN had while inaugurating the committee assured delegates of a “pocket-friendly” conference.

CITY LAWYER had reported that there was anxiety among the legal community on a possible hike in AGC fees as the committee met last Thursday.

The TCCP member however told CITY LAWYER that the committee would retain the 2018 rates, even as 25% discount has been extended to 1-10 years post-call lawyers on early bird rates to allay fears of a prohibitive AGC fees regime. The advertised rates on the 2019 AGC website are as follows:
1-5 years – ₦20,000.00
6-10 Years – ₦30,000.00
11-15 Years – ₦40,000.00
16-20 Years – ₦60,000.00
Above 20 Years – ₦100,000.00
Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Honourable Attorneys General, Benchers – ₦200,000.00
Magistrates – ₦50,000.00
Honorable Justices, Honorable Judges, Grand Khadis, Khadis – ₦75,000.00
Senior Citizens (Lawyers age 75 years and above) – ₦50,000.00
Non-Lawyers – ₦100,000.00
International Delegates – $300.00

When discounted for the early bird window, lawyers of 1-5 years post-call will pay N15,000 while those with 6-10 years post-call will pay N22,500.

Asked whether the rates are commensurate with the AGC package, the committee member answered in the affirmative. He said that apart from the huge overhead cost in delivering a world-class conference, each delegate would be given a “convertible, all-purpose” conference bag containing flash drive, charger, calendar “and other freebies.” CITY LAWYER also gathered that the committee is negotiating with some manufacturers and outlets to avail delegates with shopping vouchers with which to purchase items at discounted rates. “We want the delegates to have a feel of this year’s conference,” he emphasized. “But I can tell you that tablets are gone for good.”

“This is the first TCCP that has two chairmen,” he added. “This is informed by the need to deliver a world-class conference and ensure that members do not have any complaints whatsoever.” It is recalled that former NBA Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) Chairman, Mr. Olumide Apata was recently co-opted into the committee. He was not in the original 42-member committee inaugurated by Usoro on January 18, 2019. The NBA-SBL has carved a reputation for organizing seamless conferences.

The TCCP member said that registration for the AGC would commence this month, even as he assured that the draft budget is ready and would be presented to the next NBA National Executive Committee (NBA-NEC) meeting in June for approval. This is notwithstanding the “anticipatory approval” given to the committee at the last NBA-NEC in March.

On the controversy surrounding the appointment of Eventful Nigeria Limited as the “event planner” for the conference, the committee member argued that no member raised eye brows when the matter was discussed by the committee, adding: “Even when we asked the lady (Eventful) to leave the meeting briefly, nobody raised any issue. If any member had issues with the appointment or had special skills that would have made such appointment unnecessary, he or she should have said so when the matter was debated. That would have even led to more cost efficiency. However, we are lawyers; we are not event planning experts.”

Also speaking on the concerns being raised on the appointment of former TCCP Chairman, Prof. Konyinsola Ajayi SAN as a “consultant” to the committee, the member said the controversy was unnecessary. “The fact is that no TCCP member is being paid,” he said. “In fact, we use our own money to fund the activities of the committee, paying for our flight tickets and lodging among others. This is not in the public domain.

“Prof. Ajayi is not a paid consultant. It was decided that due to his privileged status as a former TCCP Chairman, he should be given a special title as ‘consultant.’ That is all. How much can you pay such a person?”

It is recalled that Usoro had while inaugurating the committee said: “The composition of this year’s AGC TCCP comes with some innovations and exciting bonuses. First is the selflessness of all the Committee members. I spoke with each of the 42 members and they all committed to serve on the Committee at minimal, if any, cost to the National NBA purse as it relates in particular to their transport and accommodation for Committee meetings. That is exemplary, and I cannot thank them enough for this commitment and sacrifice.”

This year’s conference, the 59th edition, is scheduled to hold between 23rd and 29th August, 2019 at Eko Hotel & Suites as well as Harbour Point, Ikoyi. The theme is “Facing the Future.” A provisional AGC programme has been uploaded on the conference website. However, the accommodation details are still reflecting the schedule for the 2018 conference held at Abuja.

Copyright 2018 CITY LAWYER. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

AGC: FEAR GRIPS LAWYERS OVER FEES

  • AS TCCP MEETS TODAY

There is palpable anxiety within the legal circles as the Technical Committee for Conference Planning (TCCP) meets today to determine the fees for this year’s Annual General Conference (AGC).

The “proposed fees” which were presented to members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) National Executive Committee (NEC) at their meeting in March have been viewed by many lawyers as prohibitive. The TCCP also seems divided on the appointment of a Consultant and an Event Planner for the flagship conference.

CITY LAWYER gathered that till date, the committee has been working without a budget, even as it continues to make payments for some of the AGC activities.

According to a member of the committee who spoke on condition of anonymity, “I can tell you unequivocally that there is no budget yet at the TCCP. There is also no information on the package for which the AGC fees have been proposed. This issue was raised at the March NEC Meeting but till date, nothing has been done.”

The TCCP member said that “part payment” has been made for EKO Hotel & Suites which is the main venue for the AGC. Other venues being considered to host some AGC events are Nigerian Law School and the highbrow Harbour Point in Ikoyi.

Querying the appointment of a “Consultant” for the conference, the member said that the NBA “has never used a consultant to organize its AGC,” adding, “What is the fee for the consultant?” Prof Konyinsola Ajayi, SAN was appointed “Consultant” by NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN. The member stated that the Consultant has been sparsely attending TCCP meetings.

The TCCP member also carpeted the committee for hiring an “event planner” for the conference, saying that former NBA General Secretary, Chief Phillip Umeh kicked against the plan during the March 28, 2019 NEC Meeting in Abuja. “We have colleagues who can discharge these duties,” the member said. “But instead TCCP is using an event planner.” Eventful Nigeria Limited is the designated event planner for the conference. It has been alleged that such event planners are often used as conduits to siphon AGC funds. The allegations remain unproven.

The member stated that it was such alleged profligacy that led to the current NBA debt over-hang in excess of N50 million, with AGC arrears forming the bulk of the debt. It is also recalled that NBA is yet to redeem the 2018 AGC Raffle Car Prize won by Rabiu Ayuba, a lawyer.

Asked whether the appointment has been firmed up, the member said: “The event planner has been attending meetings, thereby siphoning NBA’s scarce resources. Everything is shrouded in secrecy.”

Reputed as the largest gathering of lawyers on the African continent, the AGC has often been beset by hiccups and occasional scandals. The NBA does not seem to have gotten a handle on the logistical nightmares posed by its flagship conference, with the result that every succeeding year has witnessed a litany of complaints by participants.

CITY LAWYER recalls that former NBA presidential candidate, Prof. Ernest Ojukwu (SAN) had in a May 14, 2018 letter to former NBA President Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN) called for a reduction in the 2018 AGC fees. He wrote: “At the NBA NEC meeting Kano, all the speakers (including me) spoke in support of a reduction of the conference fees and Mr. President graciously directed the TCCP not to impose fees more than that of 2017.

“Mr. President may need to guide the TCCP further on this especially on the amount to be paid by lawyers under 10 years for the early bird. There is need to review the rate of 2017 further down especially as members have rejected the use of tablets for the 2018 conference. While everything should be done to support a high standard conference, everything must also be done to reduce the burden on members. Our members are really seriously complaining.”

According to the proposed schedule of fees, lawyers who are 1- 5 years post-call are to pay a humongous N25,000 for early bird; N40,000 for regular fee and N60,000 for late fee. For 6-10 years, the fees are N35,000 for early bird; N50,000 for regular and N80,000 for late fee.

Lawyers who are 11-15 years post-call will pay N50,000 for early bird; N65,000 for regular and N90,000 for late fee. For 16-20 years post-call, the fees are N70,000 for early bird; N85,000 for regular and N100,000 for late fee, while for 20 years post-call, the fees are N100,000 for early bird; N150,000 for regular and N250,000 for late registration. For Senior Advocates, Attorneys-General and benchers, a flat N250,000 applies.

The inability of TCCP to generate a budget upon which expenditures are made seems to be a recurring decimal. Regarding the 2018 AGC, Ojukwu, a former Deputy Director-General of the Nigerian Law School, wrote: “Mr. President expressed surprise during his remarks at the NEC meeting that the TCCP did not submit a budget for the conference. It would be very necessary that this anomaly be rectified as an urgent action Sir to conform to Section 21(c) of our constitution and the principle of openness, transparency and accountability. In fact it is only by providing a budget shall we be able to assess the conference costs by determining what is necessary and reasonable cost we must incur at this time of members’ serious economic difficulties.”

Ojukwu had also queried the absence of the accounts for the 2017 AGC, saying: “At the Uyo NEC meeting of November 2017, the TCCP Report of the Annual General Conference was deferred to the next NEC meeting. See the Para 9.1 of the NBA NEC minutes of 28th Feb-2nd March 2018 at Ilorin.

“That 2017 account was not rendered at the Ilorin NEC or at the recent Kano NEC. It seems to me that this is a fundamental omission. I missed the matter earlier otherwise. I would have drawn your attention to it.”

A source told CITY LAWYER that there are no records at NBA House on the 2017 and 2018 AGC. But there are strong indications that the 2018 AGC Committee led by Mr. George Etomi presented accounts showing that N1.2 Billion was spent on the conference.

An attempt by Ajayi to present the 2017 AGC Report at Uyo NBA-NEC was truncated as NEC members demanded a more detailed breakdown. CITY LAWYER however learned that the accounts ran into troubled waters when Ajayi discovered that some National Officers who were also TCCP members allegedly incurred over N70 million hotel bill on “Bar Leaders,” claiming that was “the tradition.” The source said that while about N1.4 Billion was raised by the committee, the bulk of which was through Ajayi’s goodwill and hands-on marketing, the entire sum was allegedly frittered away. Ajayi was said to have sought a budget ceiling of N800 Million, with the remainder ploughed into NBA coffers. It was unclear at press time whether this has stalled the report. A member of the 2017 TCCP committee however told CITY LAWYER that members never made input into the draft committee report as it was not circulated to members.

The AGC fees were first jerked up in 2017 by almost 100%, with young lawyers who hitherto paid N8,000 compelled to pay N20,000 as “early bird” fee prior to a reduction by the NBA-NEC. Onsite registration was pegged at N25,000 for young lawyers. The hike was attributed to the introduction of tablets as a part of the AGC package. But some lawyers claimed that the tablets were of inferior quality. 2018 fees saw young lawyers in year 1-5 bracket cough out N20,000 each. Unlike 2017 when tablets were dangled as a bait, no such package was included. N25,000 has been proposed by TCCP for young lawyers for this year’s registration, even as the package remains unknown. However, the AGC portal http://nbaconference.com/loader/register_home.php records N20,000 as the early bird fee payable by young lawyers. But registration is yet to commence. 6-10 years post-call fee is N30,000 and 11-15 years post-call fee is N40,000. 16-20 years post-call is pegged at N60,000 while above 20 years post-call is set at N100,000. Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Honourable Attorneys, General Benchers are to pay an early bird fee of N200,000 while Magistrates pay N50,000. Honorable Justices, Honorable Judges, Grand Khadis, Khadis will pay N75,000 while another category tagged “Senior Citizens (Lawyers age 75 years and above)” is to pay N50,000. This category was introduced in 2017.

While inaugurating the 42-member AGC committee, Usoro had especially assured that the AGC fees would be “pocket-friendly.” His words: “In my discussions with the Committee, I have impressed on them the expectations of our members for the best and most memorable Conference in 2019, both in terms of content and in being pocket-friendly vis-à-vis the conferees and the Conference output. I have in that wise extracted the commitment of the Committee, through its Chairman, that the 2019 AGC will live up to those billings. As National Officers, we are mindful of the promises that we made to our members in my Inaugural Address and we shall strive to keep and live by those promises in the planning and hosting of the 2019 AGC.”

He also emphasized that the NBA-NEC must approve all the activities of the committee, saying: “The Committee would report directly to me and would, as required obtain specific approvals from NEC for its assignments.”

NBA Publicity Secretary Kunle Edun again echoed this commitment in a press release when he said: “At the last NEC meeting of the NBA held in Abuja in Abuja on 28/3/2019 the TCCP Chairman presented the Committee’s report to NEC. NEC approved the report and members will be advised soon on the conference fees, which would be pocket friendly.”

The TCCP is chaired by renowned lawyer, Mr. Gbenga Oyebode MFR. It remains to be seen whether the committee will retain the current regime of fees even in the absence of any significant package for conferees and in light of shrinking opportunities for lawyers.

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