New gazette hits NBA below belt, weakens association’s powers as membership no longer compulsory for all lawyers

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Mallam Abubakar Malami (SAN), Nigeria's Minister of Justice and Attorney-General (AGF).

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*How maltreatment of el-Rufai lands NBA in trouble

*Action not by consultation, due process, we may go to court – NBA

*AGF’s action good riddance to bad rubbish – Falana

*Malami consulted before act carried out – Akintola

 

“The NBA is a victim of impunity it nurtured to grow and develop. I have always opposed the stamp and seal because it was meant to restrict access to the temple of justice. Why must every court process be stamped by a lawyer when litigants have the constitutional rights to either appear for themselves or be defended by legal practitioners of their choice? In the Second Republic, the late Professor Ayodele Awojobi, a mechanical engineer, was the leading public litigator in the country. As a layman, he prepared and argued his own cases from the High Court up to the Supreme Court…Our colleagues must stop playing the ethnic card of the reactionary elite.”

 

A deeper look into the new gazette marked S.I No.15 of 2020 issued by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mallam Abubakar Malami (SAN), and dated September 3, 2020 shows that the powers enjoyed by the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) have been reduced.

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By this new development, stamps of the NBA are no longer required for any document or letter to be submitted to any court which, by implications, means that membership of the association is no longer compulsory for all lawyers.

Malami had amended the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007, removing the requirement for the NBA stamp and seal on court processes.

Before now, membership of the NBA was compulsory for all lawyers and the stamps and seals were sold at N4,000 for 72 pieces and were given upon payment of NBA dues.

Without the stamp, a lawyer could not submit any document or letter to the court and the sale of the stamp and seal was one of the major sources of NBA’s revenue.

However, with the amendment of the process by Malami, the use of the stamps is no longer necessary. This also implies that persons who are not members of the NBA, including non-lawyers, are allowed to submit court processes.

The development occurred less than a week after a splinter group known as the New NBA, wrote a petition to Malami asking to be recognised by the Federal Government.

The gazette – marked S.I N0.15 of 2020 issued by AGF and dated September 3, 2020 – reads in part, “In exercise of the powers conferred on me by section 12(4) of the Legal Practitioners Act Cap L11, LFN 2004 and of all other powers enabling me in that behalf, I, Abubakar Malami, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and President, General Council of the Bar, make the following rules:

“The Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007 is amended by deleting the following rules, namely: 9(2), 10, 11, 12 and 13.

“These rules may be cited as the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Rules, 2020.”

A media report says the NBA had become factionalised last month following the decision of the association to withdraw its invitation to Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, who had been billed to speak at its Annual General Conference.

Some elements with vested interest over Southern Kaduna crisis, mostly lawyers, had called on the NBA to rescind its invitation to el-Rufai, on what many believed to be a make-believe accusation that the governor was unable to address the killings in the area.

Without listening to the accused, NBA took a decision that many described as exclusive not representing all members of its National Executive Council (NEC) and went ahead to rescind its invitation to the governor.

This led sparked off the crisis as several Northern Nigeria branches of the NBA boycotted the conference and interpreted the act against el-Rufai as one based on religious and tribal considerations.

A group of lawyers led by Nuhu Ibrahim and Abdulbasit Suleiman subsequently set up the New NBA, otherwise known as the NNBA, and wrote a letter to the AGF asking the nation’s chief law officer to recognise it as a new association.

However, while some senior advocates and lawyers described Malami’s action as illegal, others disagreed.

The NBA spokesperson, Dr Rapulu Nduka, reportedly said that the development was surprising, adding that the association was not carried along.

“We were not carried along and we will definitely ensure that it is reversed. We just woke up to the news of the amendment like every other person. We are consulting with stakeholders and we will make a decision on the next step,” he said.

It however appears like Law of Kalma coming so fast on NBA leadership as, against its spokesman’s issue of not being carried along by the AGF, members of the association’s NEC had also complained against its leadership that it did not carry everybody along in its decision to remove the Kaduna governor from his list of speakers.

A human rights lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), said Malami ought to have consulted widely before making the move, which he said would greatly affect the revenues of the NBA.  He, however, said it was unlikely that the AGF had taken sides with the splinter NBA group.

Adegboruwa also said once the seal and stamp were no longer used, the development could lead to an increase in the number of fake lawyers in the country.

He said, “The issue of stamp and seal has helped in removing fake lawyers from our midst and I think it will serve as a setback if you go back to that regime when you cannot identify a lawyer through his processes. As we speak, other professionals like engineers, surveyors are embracing stamp and seal as a way of identifying their members.

“The stamp, which is a means of generating funds, helps in making the NBA self-sufficient so that it will not be running to politicians and non-lawyers to raise funds. Even though I agree that the AGF as the President of the General Council of the Bar has powers to make regulations, but he ought to consult with those who are affected, namely the NBA, the Body of Senior Advocates and even judges because we are all in the same profession.”

However, a human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), said although he agreed that the AGF’s action was illegal, “it is good riddance to bad rubbish.”

He said, “The NBA is a victim of impunity it nurtured to grow and develop. I have always opposed the stamp and seal because it was meant to restrict access to the temple of justice. Why must every court process be stamped by a lawyer when litigants have the constitutional rights to either appear for themselves or be defended by legal practitioners of their choice? In the Second Republic, the late Professor Ayodele Awojobi, a mechanical engineer, was the leading public litigator in the country. As a layman, he prepared and argued his own cases from the High Court up to the Supreme Court.

“However, I agree with some of my colleagues who have argued that the amendment is illegal as it was not enacted by the General Council of the Bar. With respect, the argument is rather contradictory because the NBA was very happy when the 2007 Rules of Professional Conduct were enacted by the then AGF on behalf of the General Council of the Bar without any meeting. That was how every lawyer was compelled to affix the stamp and seal to all processes signed by lawyers. It had nothing to do with enhancing the quality of justice but designed to enrich the NBA.”

Falana added that “our colleagues must stop playing the ethnic card of the reactionary elite.”

Also, Mr Jubrin Okutepa (SAN) said both the manner of introduction of the stamp and seal through the amendment of the Rules of  Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners by the then AGF in 2007 and the removal of the same provisions via another amendment by the incumbent AGF in 2020 followed the due process of law.

“If in 2007, the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation issued the Rules of Professional Conduct without passing through the General Council of the Bar, which is the body that is statutorily empowered to make rules, and lawyers opened their eyes wide and accepted it, because the rules benefitted the Nigerian Bar Association, because of the money that was to be paid for stamp and seal, how do they now wake up to condemn an amendment by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation removing the payment of money and say it is illegal?” he asked.

On his part, Chief Adeniyi Akintola (SAN) said there were consultations leading to the amendment carried out by the AGF.

He said, “There were consultations. I know that there were consultations. But whether the consultations were wide enough is what I don’t know.

“He (the AGF) is the Chairman of the General Council of the Bar and I am a member. If you are a member and you don’t attend meetings, can you blame the other members who take decisions? You can consult members of the General Council of the Bar.

“It (removal of stamp and seal) was a good intention but it was making too much money available to the national and branch officers. Because of the money, some lawyers have stopped going to court. If there is anything that will stem this tide, at least it should be welcomed.”

Meanwhile, Malami’s spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, had yet to respond to an inquiry from this newspaper as of press time.

The Nigerian Bar Association said on Saturday that the removal of the stamp-and-seal from the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners by the Attorney-General of the Federation did not follow due process.  Other senior lawyers however do not agree with NBA on this.  They say both amendment of 2007 and 200 by the Office of the AGF went through due process and based on consultations.


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