Wednesday, May 21, 2014 9:07 am
On 15 May, the National Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), under the leadership of Mr. Okey Wali, SAN, lifted the ban on campaigns for its elections coming up in July. One of the presidential contestants, Dele Adesina, spoke to KUNLE OGUNSAKIN. Excerpts
There have been complaints that the NBA does not take the issue of the welfare of its members, particularly the younger ones, seriously. What in your opinion can be done to reverse this trend?
Welfare of lawyers in Nigeria, to me, simply means how well the lawyers are faring. With very profound respect, it thus appears to me that demonstrable attention has not been focused on our mutual welfare despite the stress of legal practice, made worse by the geometrical increase in the cost of living to maintain a standard life. The economic situation and security challenges have increased lawyers’ anxiety for safety, progress and development. All these seem to have reduced life span in general and also increased the risk of premature death in particular.
As late as 16 January 2014, a colleague in active service, Barrister Adeyeri, slumped and died right in the court room of the High Court of Ondo State, Owo Judicial Division. The burden of giving a befitting burial suddenly became a task for the branch members and the family. And I am sure there are many others that have happened elsewhere.
I believe NBA should develop a strategic welfare plan that will provide a comprehensive group life insurance policy for Nigerian lawyers, old or young, junior or senior. Servicing the scheme and payment of insurance premium shall be the sole responsibility of the association at no extra cost. From 2002 to 2004, I was privileged to be the General Secretary of this body and the head of the National Secretariat. That very virile, dynamic and purposeful administration established a functional insurance policy that guaranteed payment of N200,000:00 to the dependants of any colleague that may suffer sudden death and N20,000:00 for medical expenses. The Policy on Insurance Scheme for Nigerian lawyers should be implemented if I am elected into the office of the President.
The executive shall also put in place a Welfare Trust Intervention Fund at the national level to be duplicated at the branch level to assist the needy in the profession from time to time.
The population of lawyers in Nigeria is less than 100,000 in a country of about 160 million people. Yet, a majority of lawyers are below the poverty line. It is believed that only Senior Advocates, who are about 500, are flourishing. How can this trend be reversed?
I believe that there are several opportunities in the country that have not been explored. Besides, there are many jobs that ought to be done by lawyers that are being done by non-lawyers. NBA leadership should restrict non-lawyers from carrying out legal work, thereby increasing potential for briefs for young lawyers.
The pending Legal Practitioner Act (Amendment) Bill provides that only legal practitioners with valid practice licence can undertake legal documentation and legal advisory services. Increasingly lawyers in full-time employment and non-law professionals are undertaking such legal work as registration of companies, company secretarial services, mortgages, leases and tenements, notarisation of documents, legal deeds and associated legal documentation. This trend has eroded potential legal briefs for lawyers, especially the young ones.
The leadership should work assiduously through the NBA Legislators Forum for the passage of the Legal Practitioner Bill now pending before the National Assembly. Secondly, the enforcement of the law practice stamp and licensing of legal practitioners should be implemented. This will ensure that only lawyers with authorised stamp/seal can engross and register legal documentation.
If elected, I intent to engage with various institutions such as Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, Land Registries, Federal Capital Development Authorities, FCBA, Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, Trademark office etc. to secure administrative directives to restrict non-legal practitioners from undertaking the filing and preparation of legal documentations.
Many foreign companies, particularly in the oil and gas sector, do not engage the services of Nigerian lawyers. They prefer to engage foreign lawyers for works done in Nigeria. How can the NBA intervene to secure jobs for Nigerian lawyers?
It is true that a number of foreign companies operating in Nigeria engage services of foreign lawyers to carry out their legal work in Nigeria. We must not only seek the restriction of the use of expatriate legal practitioners in domestic transactions including public procurement and privatisation instructions, we must also demand, through institutional and judicial directives, that all foreign companies must engage legal practitioners enrolled into the Nigerian Bar, in manner consistent with Nigeria’s obligation under the World Trade Organisation treaties.
There are also other ways of expanding jobs for lawyers such as opening up the West African region for Nigerian lawyers to secure practice licences. The Revised Treaty of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and several multilateral agreements provide for free movement of goods and services within the sub-region. However, legal services across the region have not been implemented. With a burgeoning legal market in the sub-region, and increasing number of legal practitioners called to the Nigerian Bar, we should engage vigorously with the ECOWAS Institutions, Justice Ministries and Bar Associations of ECOWAS countries to exploit the possibility of allocation of practice licences to legal practitioners who are citizens of the region.
Moreover, we should open up the ECOWAS legal market for free movement of legal services and legal practice. As a result, it is expected that hundreds of Nigerian young lawyers can secure practice licences and set up legal practice in such common law jurisdictions as Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Ghana or other countries like Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritania, etc.
There are a lot of challenges facing Nigeria as a country today, particularly in terms of leadership and security. What is the way out?
I believe there is a consensus opinion that the issue of leadership constitutes the greatest challenge in Nigeria today. Talking about leadership, I mean leadership at all levels of authority. Somebody said that the character of the leader determines the character of the organisation he/she leads. For me this says it all. Like the President of NBA Okey Wali said, it is the belief of the Bar that once we get the leadership right in Nigeria every other component of good governance will follow suit. I believe that the greatest lesson for us as Nigerians is the need to resolve to turn a new leaf and begin to do things right. Round pegs must be put in round holes in order to get proper symbiotic relationship.
Over the years, public confidence in the Nigerian judiciary has gone down as the third tier of government is seen by the people as corrupt, and inept; serving the interest of only the rich and that the poor cannot get justice in our courts. What is the remedy?
I think there is need to reverse the perception of our judiciary as a corrupt institution in order to rekindle public confidence and trust in the judiciary and the legal profession. Public confidence and public trust in justice delivery is key to the integrity of the legal profession and of course economic wellbeing of members of the Bar. The Judiciary occupies a strategic position in the life of a nation, but unfortunately, it has remained the most criticized, harassed, intimidated, underfunded, and yet the most significant arm of government.
The judiciary as an institution in this country has, over the years and up till now, faced critical challenges both human and systemic and these have tended to arguably impair its efficiency, independence and even its autonomy. A critical appraisal of budgetary allocation to the judiciary for me, demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the significant role and indispensable position of the judiciary, particularly in a developing constitutional democracy such as ours. The downward budgetary system has got to stop.
The NBA must and shall spearhead the campaign for proper and adequate funding of the nation’s judiciary at both federal and state levels. Every year, we witness new court buildings, appointment of new judges and geometrical rise in the number of litigations in our courts, yet the funding of courts remain a challenge and this challenge has manifested itself in multi-dimensional ways such as delay in the administration of justice; congestion in our Courts and possible threat to the independence of the judiciary. Where independence of the judiciary is not guaranteed, corruption is inevitable.
The NBA under my leadership will mount a sustained campaign for the provision of adequate funding for the judiciary which funding must be constitutionally guaranteed as a first change on the consolidated revenue fund; computer automation of our judicial process and training of judges in computer appreciation; improved remuneration for both judicial and non-judicial officers, including solid campaign for post-retirement comfort for judicial officers throughout the country; and enhancement of salaries emolument and incentives of judicial officers in other to make the bench attractive to some of our best brains in both public and private legal practice.
It is after tackling the issues above that corruption could be addressed. We must recognise that a reputation for corruption is ordinarily enough to discredit a system. Reputation is what people think. Their perception and not necessarily what they can prove. In order to protect the sanctity of our judiciary and enhance its credibility and integrity, the Bar Association, under my leadership shall in a sustainable manner campaign against corruption and the very contagious perception of the nation’s judiciary as corrupt.
The Anti-Corruption Committee of the association shall be adequately strengthened to discharge its onerous responsibility. Its scope shall be widened to include that of monitoring justice delivery system. The monitoring team shall be a watchdog of both lawyers and Jjudges. Additionally, the association,shall campaign and pursue a process of speedy procedure in the discipline of erring Lawyers and Judges.
The judiciary also needs to carry out reforms, particularly in the areas of increasing the number of Supreme Court Justices. As at December 2013, the Supreme Court was still hearing 2009 appeals. This translates to the fact that the Supreme Court is heavily overloaded by work and unacceptably behind their schedule by five solid years. A comparative analysis of our Supreme Court and those of other countries will show in unmistakable terms that the Nigeria Supreme Court is the busiest in the world.
Moreover, there should be a Judicial Policy of terminating interlocutory appeals at the level of the Court of Appeal in order to reduce the weight and work load of the Supreme Court; a policy of creating further divisions of the Court of Appeal shall be pursued all in a bid to bring justice closer to the people, minimise cost of litigation and enhance speedy justice system on the part of the litigants.
The matter of reforms in the judiciary is important and urgent that within 60 days of my inauguration as president, there shall be a national workshop on judicial reform by all stakeholders in Nigeria.