BY AKOREDE HABEEB LAWAL
In this article, Nigerian Bar Association Assistant Publicity Secretary, AKOREDE HABEEB LAWAL traces the age-old challenge of developing a reliable database of lawyers in Nigeria, saying that the Paul Usoro Administration has admirably resolved the conundrum
It is 2020, another bar election year. At about this time in 2018, there was a unique request by members of the Bar. Contestants to various offices promised heaven and earth on how they intended to provide the unique request. For one unusual and ‘un-Nigerian’ reason, that request is not being made this year. Why? It has been done. The Paul Usoro administration has done it. Members can now pay their Bar Practising Fees (BPF) in the comfort of their homes using the NBA Portal. In fact, 30% of members who paid their BPF in 2020 did through the NBA website.
The NBA website has various unique features. At first glance, it welcomes you with a beautiful feel and an easy to navigate tool. The revamped NBA website compares favourably in content, context and connectivity with the best web portals around. It is a gateway to NBA activities and it is fast becoming a one-stop shop for Bar services.
Speaking of Bar services, aside the already utilized option of payment of BPF and download of the BPF receipts, the NBA website avails members their personalized membership portals. The process for the stamp and seal application will soon migrate online and the insurance certificate of all members will also be duly uploaded for downloads. In the coming days, member will be able to apply for letter of good standing and check his/her ICLE points on the exclusive membership portal, while everyone including non-lawyers may also use the “find a lawyer” feature to confirm the authenticity of anyone who claims to be a lawyer.
Some of the ills of the previous website were that it could not welcome huge traffic and it was not secured to host payment gateways. Therefore, the NBA had to build (of course with millions of Naira) a special purpose website every year for its annual general conference. Good news is that we are done with that awkward situation. Registration has now commenced for the 2020 Annual General Conference and everything about the conference is being done on our revamped NBA website.
A further vote of confidence was given to the NBA website by the decision of the Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA) to host the 2020 national officers election on the website. When this is done, it will arguably mark the first time since the introduction of electronic voting that Bar balloting is not hosted on a foreign platform.
A website is a house of data and there is no data in this context as important as the data of lawyers. In September 2018, at our first national officers meeting, the NBA President was clear that one of the things his administration would strive to achieve is the development of an up-to-date, clean and reliable database of all lawyers who have been enrolled at the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN hardly spares any opportunity to reiterate the fact that “without a reliable database that could be used for research purposes, proper planning and forecasting by the NBA is impossible.”
It stands to reason that in order to address an issue as sensitive and important as welfare of young lawyers, we must be able to ascertain in actual terms the number of young lawyers there really are. We are on track with this data classification and the one year free subscription of LawPavilion electronic legal resources for all young lawyers who had paid their BPF before 31st of March, 2020 was our first attempt to rely on this data gathering effort. Similar data classification has to be developed for female lawyers, colleagues with disabilities, our aged members and other
classes of members of the NBA.
“By the way, it is good to answer the question of cost. The Paul Usoro administration paid no dime for the new NBA website. We knew what we wanted in a website and we got a sponsor to pay for it.”
In our pursuit of this ‘clean and reliable’ data ideal, the administration embarked on a verification exercise. Verification entails from the front end the inputting of personal data by a member and most importantly the upload of call to bar certificate. At the backend, the uploaded bar certificate will be crosschecked with the details of the member on the roll of legal practitioners before the approval of the application for verification.
The verification process in the past attracted a N2000 processing fee, knowing the overall importance of this exercise, the NBA President, Paul Usoro, SAN directed that the process must and should be free of any charge. With this exercise, a number of misspelt names in the database have been corrected, change of maiden names by female lawyers are being effected, email addresses and phone numbers of thousand of members are now updated, many lawyers now know their enrolment numbers and gradually, we are closer than ever to our aim of delivering a clean and reliable database.
If we ever needed a reminder of the significance of a clean database, the appearance of “Opening Balance” on the list of voters sent by Branches and published by the ECNBA was a ready one. Aside the imaginary “Opening Balance”, there are real charlatans who are ‘well balanced’ in legal practice – taking up the space in our little legal market – that we must wield out. Therefore, verification becomes non-negotiable. It is because of verification that “Opening Balance” and non-lawyers with regular names will be unable to access the NBA Membership portal to vote or illegally enjoy other NBA online services. While the verification agenda was not primarily built for the 2020 national officers’ election, the accreditation purpose it now serves is indeed laudable.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our world and opened the vista of virtual interactions. Bar services and engagement within the NBA will have to move online and these have to be fast, quick, secured and effective. The Paul Usoro administration commenced the journey towards revamping the NBA website to provide all these services long before the Covid-19 pandemic. It is a huge foundational task that we have more than completed and it behoves on succeeding administrations to build on this cornerstone.
By the way, it is good to answer the question of cost. The Paul Usoro administration paid no dime for the new NBA website. We knew what we wanted in a website and we got a sponsor to pay for it. Thank you!
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