* Mixed reactions, as errors mar project
* ‘We are in the dark on website contract,’ say EXCO Members

There is palpable anxiety over the current state of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) database as uploaded on the NBA website. While some members have their data correctly inputted, prominent Bar Leaders such as former NBA President, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN); former NBA presidential candidate and Chairman of the Council of Legal Education (CLE), Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN) and Mrs. Funmi Falana, wife of fiery human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) are among those whose data have errors. The trio are listed as members of NBA Obollo-Afor Branch.

Former NBA presidential candidate, Mrs. Funke Adekoya (SAN) is listed as a “Miss,” while former Chairman of NBA Section on Business Law, Mr. Asue Ighodalo is listed under Ota Branch instead of Lagos Branch.

Meanwhile, there are strong indications that the new website is one of the best-kept secrets in NBA HOUSE, as all NBA Executive Committee members who spoke to CITY LAWYER said they are in the dark on the award of contract for the new website, the vendor and the fees to be paid the vendor.

Among the Bar Leaders who have no branch ascribed to their names are former NBA presidential candidate, Prof. Ernest Ojukwu (SAN); former Chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu; former NBA General Secretary, Mr. Olumuyiwa Akinboro (SAN), and Mrs. Adekoya among others.

Also hard hit are female lawyers whose efforts to alter their names after marriage were largely unsuccessful, as such were not reflected in the database.
However, several Bar Leaders have their branch data correctly recorded. These include Usoro, former NBA presidents Messrs Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN), O. C. J. Okocha (SAN), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Okey Wali (SAN), Augustine Alegeh (SAN) and Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN). Others are former NBA presidential candidate, Chief Arthur Obi Okafor (SAN); fiery NBA critic, Mr. Jibrin Okutepa (SAN); presidential aspirants, Messrs Dele Adesina (SAN), Babatunde Ajibade (SAN), Olumide Akpata and Adesina Ogunlana, and Chairman of the Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA), Mr. Tawo Eja Tawo (SAN).

While some members hailed the NBA leadership for attempting to put the lingering database problem to rest, others are worried that the level of errors in the database has seriously jeopardized the project. Commending the database project as one of the legacy programmes of the NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN, former Chairperson of NBA Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) and Chairperson of NBA Committee on African Continental Free Trade Area (“AfCFTA”), Mrs. Mfon Usoro said: “Thanks for publicizing this innovation of Mr. Usoro’s administration. Apart from showcasing it to lawyers, I think NBA should focus on the consumers of legal services. The public should know that there is a facility to conduct a quick check on a counsel prior to concluding the engagement process. Please NBA should use every medium to alert the public about this useful tool.” Adding his voice to Mrs. Usoro’s, vocal Bar-man, Mr. Ike Augustine said: “Well done to the NBA. This is the kind of innovations we want. We look forward to seeing more.”

But many members have nothing but harsh words for the errors that have bedeviled the project. Said Mrs. Joy Nzube-Uzeghelu, former NBA Lagos Branch Treasurer: “I did my verification as far back as 2011 attaching all required documents for change of name. All BPF paid; NBA national conferences attended; stamp issued; and past verified list of qualified voters had my married name. The question is how come it’s my maiden name that is on NBA websites?”

Bemoaning the fact that the database is being projected publicly as a gold standard to determine authentic lawyers in Nigeria, one Uche Ogwo said: “(The) Saddest part is that this link is moving around Nigeria and indeed outside the shores of Nigeria. It’s not right.”

It is recalled that the NBA had heaped the blame for the errors on the doorstep of the Supreme Court. In a statement by NBA Assistant National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Akorede Habeeb Lawal, the bar association said: “Recall that upon call to bar, all counsel entered their names by hand in the Roll of Legal Practitioners at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reduces these names into electronic format and always affords the NBA the electronic copy a month or two after each call to bar exercise. Hence, the names we have in our database are as received from the Supreme Court of Nigeria.” But some lawyers disagree, saying that the Supreme Court roll is unblemished.

Meanwhile, there are strong indications that the NBA Executive Committee may not have been carried along in hiring of the vendor to deliver the new NBA website. It was unclear at press time whether the vendor’s scope of work included a mandate to deliver an election portal for the forthcoming NBA Elections, given the notice issued by the ECNBA seeking proposals to recruit an “Information Technology Specialist.” Among the work to be done by the IT Specialist/ECNBA Partner is, “Analyzing the new NBA Election portal system and infrastructure.” The successful vendor is also required to train NBA staff “to use the new IT system.”

But several NBA Executive Committee members who spoke to CITY LAWYER said they were not privy to any discussions on the new website. “I can tell you authoritatively that it was never discussed at any EXCO meeting,” said a ranking national officer. “Nobody has seen the contract document. We do not know the beneficiary company or the agreed contract sum.” Speaking in the same vein, another national officer said: “You can only talk about discussing the contract if the EXCO meets. I can count on my fingers how many times the EXCO has meant, notwithstanding the constitutional provisions. We only receive emails.”

Though CITY LAWYER sought clarification from the NBA on the issues, no response was received as at press time. However, NBA had in the statement by Akorede requested aggrieved members to follow its advisory to redress their complaints on the database. It said: “A very few number of persons have complained that their names cannot be found on the NBA portal. While we maintain that names are as received from the Supreme Court, we encourage such person to do a complaint mail to The Call to Bar Certificate of the complainant should be attached to the email.”

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