Barring any last-minute change of mind, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) will in an unprecedented move soon drag the Attorney-General & Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN to court over his alleged unilateral and illegal amendment of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners (RPC). The Attorney-General is considered the Leader of the Bar.
A source who is familiar with the controversy told CITY LAWYER that the NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata has directed the Public Interest Litigation Committee led by Dr. Charles Mekwunye to draft the pleadings on the matter.
CITY LAWYER gathered that the NBA leadership may have been frustrated by the fact that efforts by the Bar association to amicably resolve the debacle have not yielded fruit. It is recalled that Akpata had visited Malami last September immediately rumours filtered into the public domain that “the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007 is amended by deleting the following rules, namely: 9(2), 10, 11, 12 and 13.” Rule 10 of the RPC deals with issuance of the NBA Stamp. The “Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Rules 2020” expunged the use of NBA stamp by lawyers and provisions requiring lawyers acting for government, ministries or corporations to pay annual bar practising fees.
According to Malami, the amendment was made in exercise of the powers conferred on him as Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice as well as President of General Council of the Bar by section 12 (4) of the Legal Practitioners Act.
Though the visit seemed to have doused the tension between the two camps, the debacle took a new twist when copies of the gazetted RPC hit the cyberspace recently. The gazette is listed as Government Notice No. 140 Vol. 107 of 7th September, 2020.
It is recalled that the NBA had in a statement promptly disowned the new Rules, saying that the Attorney-General lacked the power to unilaterally issue the Rules without calling a meeting of the Bar Council. It urged Malami to “rescind” the Rules, saying: “Pending such proposed holistic reforms to the RPC, I urge you to immediately rescind the Instrument in the interest of the rule of law, the unity of the Bar and the sanctity of the legal profession. The NBA has been subjected to needless controversy and ridicule on account of the Instrument, and this does not augur well for the sanctity of the profession, of which you are a key stakeholder.”
Said Akpata: “I have been duly informed, by NBA Representatives on the Bar Council and other members of the Bar Council who have reached out to me, that to the best of their knowledge, no meeting of the Bar Council was convened to discuss any amendment to the RPC or to approve the Instrument. It therefore appears that the Instrument was enacted without proper authority.”
Former NBA First Vice President, Mr. Monday Ubani had last October sued Malami over the controversial amendment. He later withdrew the suit apparently due to pressures from the NBA leadership, saying: “The leadership of the bar at the highest level have reached out to me to have the law suit withdrawn to avoid an ugly situation where the issue of the case in court will be used as an excuse to scuttle the much anticipated resolution of this unnecessary rumble within our revered body.”
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