‘MY FIRST MONTH AS NBA PRESIDENT WAS TOUGH,’ SAYS AKPATA

Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Olumide Akpata has written to lawyers chronicling his “achievements” in his first month in office.

Akpata was on August 28, 2020 sworn-in by the immediate past NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN following a hotly contested presidential election.

In the email sent to lawyers today and titled “FROM THE DESK OF THE PRESIDENT: MY FIRST MONTH IN OFFICE (SEPTEMBER 2020),” Akpata stated that the communication was in fulfilment of his electioneering campaign promise “to regularly engage with you and to provide monthly updates from my desk on our activities in each preceding month.”

Noting that “My first month in office was as tough as it was busy,” Akpata however stated that “we are tackling these challenges while also setting the stage for more achievements in the coming months.”

Below is the full text of the address.

FROM THE DESK OF THE PRESIDENT: MY FIRST MONTH IN OFFICE (SEPTEMBER 2020)

Dear Colleague,

I hope that my email meets you well.

One of the promises that I made to you during the recent electioneering season was to regularly engage with you and to provide monthly updates from my desk on our activities in each preceding month. It has been one month since I was sworn in as the 30th President of the NBA and I am writing to you to commence the fulfilment of that promise.

My first month in office was as tough as it was busy. Expectedly, it came with challenges like any other leadership role. But we are tackling these challenges while also setting the stage for more achievements in the coming months.

Details of some of our administration’s activities in September 2020 can be viewed by clicking HERE. A summary of the activities is as follows:
Electoral Audit and Reforms Committee: We established an Electoral Audit and Reforms Committee to audit the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections and recommend reforms for future elections. This is important to restore the confidence of our members and the society in our electoral system.

Parley with Northern Leaders: I held a crucial meeting with the Chairmen of about 40 branches of the NBA in the Northern Geopolitical Zone and some leaders of the Bar in the North to reassure every one of my interest in uniting the Bar and running a truly egalitarian association in which each member’s rights will be respected.

Death Sentence Appeal: As a mark of our commitment to human rights and rule of law, we intervened in the case of a certain Yahaya Sharif-Aminu who was sentenced to death by the Kano State Upper Sharia Court for alleged blasphemy but was denied access to lawyers for his appeal.

The Chief Judge of Cross River State (“CRS”): We have intervened in the crisis in CRS where there is currently no Chief Judge because the State House of Assembly has refused to confirm Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme as Chief Judge following the expiration of the tenure of the acting Chief Judge. Our intervention in this matter, at all levels, is ongoing and we are determined to ensure that the Judiciary in CRS, and indeed access to justice in the State, is not hampered in any way.

Rules of Professional Conduct 2007 (“RPC”): The RPC was purportedly amended by the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation (“HAGF”) in the month under review. We are exploring all options to ensure that appropriate actions are taken with respect to the supposed amendment. I have met with the HAGF and have also written to him. Based on the assurances that I received from him, I am hopeful that the said amendments will be reversed.

Lawyers with special needs: I met with the Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria to discuss and understand their peculiar challenges within the Bar. On your behalf, I pledged that the NBA will be more sensitive to their needs. We are currently exploring ways of dealing with some of the challenges that were identified.

An inclusive Bar: I had a meeting with the leadership of the Law Officers Association of Nigeria at which I got a better appreciation of the salient issues affecting law officers in Nigeria. We are currently setting up a Task Force to look into these issues and make appropriate recommendations.

“Ease” of Doing Business at the CAC: There are numerous complaints about the delay in service delivery at the CAC. Given the central role that the CAC plays in the professional lives of our members, I set up a Presidential Task Force to look into the complaints, identify the issues and engage the Registrar-General of the CAC with a view to finding workable solutions.

Eligibility for SAN rank: We have empaneled the General Purposes Committee (one of the standing committees under the NBA Constitution) to screen prospective candidates for the award of the rank of SAN. This is to assist the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee with the process of selecting the most suitable awardees for the rank in 2020.

A Kidnapped Lawyer: A lawyer, Mr. Uyi Frank Obayagbona was kidnapped around Edo State. Working closely with the Commissioner of Police Edo in State, we were able secure his release.

Branch visits: In keeping with the campaign promise of visiting as many branches as possible during my term, I commenced my visit to our 125 branches this September with a view to creating synergy between the branches and the national body. So far, I have visited and had interactive sessions with legal practitioners in Lafia, Keffi, Ungongo, Kano, Warri, Effurun and Asaba.

Ikeja Branch Crisis: There is a brewing crisis threatening to engulf the Ikeja Branch of the NBA. To forestall a full-blown and intractable crisis, I convened a meeting of stakeholders of the branch to deliberate and brainstorm on the way forward. I have also set up a caretaker committee to manage the branch following the expiration of the term of the caretaker committee appointed by my predecessor.

Supporting the Welfare of Judges: I was in Port Harcourt to participate in the commissioning of residential quarters donated by the Rivers State Government to the Court of Appeal and to serving Judges of the State High Court on an owner/occupier basis. I decided to participate at both events because the welfare of judicial officers is crucial and directly affects the ability of lawyers to practice proficiently and profitably.

Welcome to our New Members: On 15 September 2020, I joined the Body of Benchers in welcoming 1,758 “new wigs” into the profession and into our noble association.

A heart full of sorrow: A number of lawyers and judicial officers in Nigeria either passed on, or were buried, during my first month in office. Mr. Alfred Eghobiamien, SAN, Justice Jude Okeke, Justice Shehu Atiku and many others who contributed in several ways towards the advancement of the legal profession in Nigeria left to the other side of eternity.

While praying for the repose of their souls, I made out time to attend the funeral of some of them. The most recent was the funeral of Late Justice Karibi-Whyte, JSC (rtd) in his hometown in Abonema, Rivers State. His Lordship left an indelible mark in the profession and it was an honour to pay my last respects to him on your behalf.

The other was the funeral of Mr. Sunday Nnabuike Onah, a young man and member of the Enugu branch, whom I did not have the privilege of meeting or speaking with during his lifetime. Just before his funeral, I requested the NBA Secretariat to promptly process the death benefits due to his family from the NBA. On a related note, I will soon commence negotiations with our insurance providers to increase the life assurance and permanent disability pay-outs by 100%. I consider this an important component of the welfare scheme of the NBA for its members.

I thank you for your attention. Please be assured that I remain committed to delivering on your mandate and bequeathing a Bar that you will be most proud of.

Sincerely,

Olumide Akpata

President
Nigerian Bar Association

HOW YOUNG LAWYERS CAN SURVIVE AND THRIVE, BY UDEMEZUE

In this paper presented at the FAMA FIRM virtual conference on “Contemporary issues facing the welfare of young lawyers in Nigeria and possible solutions” by fiery Law Teacher, SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE, he strives to plot a roadmap for Nigeria’s young lawyers on how to surmount the myriad of challenges besetting them in the legal services industry.

NIGERIAN YOUNG LAWYERS, THEIR MANY CHALLENGES, AND THE WAY OUT OF THE DOLDRUMS

At the FAMA FIRM’s LAW WEBINAR where the problems and welfare of the Nigerian young lawyer took the Centre stage, I (as a one of the main speakers) tried to identify some of the problems facing the young lawyer in Nigeria, and I made efforts to also advance some recommendations on the way out of the doldrums, in the best interest of young lawyers and the law profession.

For the many challenges the young lawyer faces in Nigeria, I respectfully held the following people and organizations blameful/responsible (each to a certain degree):

1. The Young Lawyer himself/Herself— Lack of proper orientation on the things that really matter within and outside the profession; obsession with inane materialism; excessive greed; acute impatience; lack of proper commitment and self-preparation; low self-development efforts; poor reading culture; obsession with negative comparison; lack of objectiveness in decision-making during Bar elections which leads, sometimes, to enthronement of wrong leaders; failure or refusal to cooperate with, or support incumbent Bar leaderships at all levels; mentality of over-dependence on others (looking for apple instead of focusing on learning how to pluck the apples yourself); improper packaging (your packaging determines the level of treatment you get from others); improper focus on money instead of work which is what would eventually yield you greater dividends; excessive desperation; lack of humility; engagement in delinquent behaviors; distorted and disjointed attitude to life and value system, selfishness and egoism, etc.

2. The Society in which the young lawyer has found himself/herself — bad and corrupt governance, gullible and docile followership, degraded society, poor economy, social dislocation, low support infrastructure, etc.

3. Successive leadership of the Bar Association over the years — failure of NBA leaderships to work hard to stop/reduce incessant encroachment into the legal practice space by non-lawyers; failure to initiate necessary legal reforms that would ensure expansion of the employment base for legal practitioners in order to create more employment and make lawyers more relevant to society (most lawyers look for work only in law firms thereby creating more pressure and are subjected to undue exploitation, harassment, and poor treatment, etc: law firms would appreciate and pay lawyers more (to discourage them from leaving) if the firms see fewer lawyers to employ); NBA has not focused on the real needs of the young lawyer (trying to fix a minimum wage for privately-owned Law firms is mere pursuit of the impossible; come off it and focus on the realizable, more beneficial things); segregation and division within the various segments of the profession lead to acrimony and lack of proper focus; NBA and its members give very little support to legal education institutions in Nigeria; failure to secure a better deal for lawyers in the society, compared to members of other professions (medical profession has a better deal because their leadership had worked for it), NBA has not created proper avenues for robust engagement and deliberations on the challenges facing the young lawyer and the profession in general (except in few instances, the periods and sessions during NBA Annual Conferences are usually entirely dissipated/wasted on discussing matters that have little or NO relevance to the welfare and promotion of lawyers, the legal profession and the young lawyers in particular; we won’t know how to solve our problems if we don’t have proper avenues of identifying and and discussing them comprehensively); etc

4. Employers of (Law) Labour — sexual and other harassment by bosses due partly to desperation and improper conduct (dressing, etc) on the part of young lawyers, and also due to the randy nature of some employers; undue exploitation by employers; improper/inadequate remuneration and welfare packages for employees; unconducive work environment; lack of proper involvement, engagement, poor employer leadership examples, poor employee-motivation etc.

5. Our Learned Senior Colleagues — incessant intimidation and bullying of young lawyers which tend to put the young lawyers off, discourage them and sometimes frustrate them out of the profession; most of our seniors don’t lead by good example, most seniors don’t provide proper support and encouragement to juniors, selfishness by seniors, etc.

6. Educational Institutions—- starting from secondary schools and universities, we need to take education of our youth much more seriously; Council of Legal Education (CLE) should tighten the noose on Law Faculties to force them to re-double their efforts at training lawyers; Guidance and Counseling should be made a necessary part of the curriculum both at the secondary and university level, and indeed all levels, etc.

7. Regulatory Institutions within the legal profession— each regulator hardly lives up to its responsibilities and the expectations of lawyers generally , inefficiency and corruptions, nepotism, little or no partnership among core regulators, etc.

8. Individual Luck: Not everyone would be rich or well-to-do; if you try to be faster than your shadow, you may crash. Hard work is a condition precedent to success; but not everyone who works hard that must succeed. Accordingly, while you work hard to be the best, try and make allowance for some failure or ill-luck because you don’t know what the future holds in store for you. Hope and work for the best, but be prepared for the worst, sometimes; life might not be a bed of roses; challenges are a part of life. Our destinies aren’t the same. Learn how to approach failure and delays. Some were born great; some have greatness foisted upon them; but some must work very hard to achieve greatness. Yet, there are others who spent an entire lifetime working for greatness, but unsuccessfully; such is life. If you lose sight of this fact, you may miss your steps.

9. Parents and Guardians: not everyone is cut out to be a lawyer; some force their children or wards on the profession; let parents subject their children and wards for proper guidance and counseling before allowing them to study law. Don’t push your child to study law; let the decision be wholly voluntary, based on proper counseling. Some lawyers HAVE NO BUSINESS coming into the profession. They just can’t cope, however anyone tries to help them. They’re square pegs in round holes; Legal Missorts!

10. Poor Justice Administration System: corrupting, ineptitude and especially chronic delays in justice dispensation in Nigeria are a great source of frustration and discouragement for the young lawyers.
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I proffered a number of solutions, which are contained in my paper (to be shared shortly). I then concluded: the solution to the young lawyer’s problems must begin (but not end) with the young lawyer himself/herself: an altogether new mode of thinking; improved reading culture; hard work; more commitment to the profession and work; patience; selflessness; radical reorientation; eschew materialism and negative comparative analysis; the dependence-mentality; focus all your energy on work, not money, and money will come; proper self-packaging (you don’t need much money to properly package/market yourself; but you need proper packaging to get the money you need, and to make it in the profession); develop the attitude of selfless service (how you serve others determines how far you can go in the profession); personal development; networking; flee from all forms of evil because KARMA and RETRIBUTION are REAL; stay away from money politics during bar elections so you can get the right leadership,; support every incumbent NBA leadership (even if your candidate during elections lost/loses the election (it a civic responsibility), etc.

As I have said, I will make my paper available for public consumption and to continue the discussion.

Respectfully,
Sylvester Udemezue (udems)

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