Why those responsible for blemishes on judiciary should be sanctioned, By NBA President Augustine Alegeh

Posted by News Express | 23 February 2016 | 3,021 times

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The journey so far

 NBA Stamp: Our stamp policy has continued to improve the standard of our practice. We have been able to curb the menace of quacks since its introduction, and this has improved the authenticity of documents filed in courts and has also increased the revenue stream of lawyers across the country. We encourage our members to continue to support the strict implementation of the NBA Stamp policy and the vision of uplifting the standard of legal practice in Nigeria to meet global best practices. However, I must state that the fight is not over as quacks and their associates continue to file cases in court, seeking for an avenue to practice law in Nigeria. We remain resolute in defending these matters and have the firm belief that the law remains on our side.

The NBA Practice Licence: We wish to remind our members that payment of Annual Bar Practising fees has begun, and members are advised to pay within time and to ensure that they collect their Practice Licences for 2016.

 NBA Insurance Policy: The NBA Insurance Scheme is fully operational and several applications and claims have been successfully processed since the introduction of this insurance policy on 15th April, 2015. Please note that only lawyers who are duly verified and have paid their Bar Practising fees are covered under this scheme. We encourage members to update and submit their Insurance Forms to their branches as soon as possible to enable them reap the benefits of this scheme.

 NBA Identity Cards: The NBA identity card, powered by VISA and produced by our official banker, Access Bank, is also fully operational. Several cards have been issued to lawyers across the country. We urge all members to obtain theirs immediately. We are currently in the process of concluding arrangements with Arik Air and Hilton Hotels for the NBA card to be used in activating the discounts already agreed with them. This would be extended to other support partners shortly.

NBA programmes and events: NBA Human Rights Workshop, on Monday November 30, 2015 organised a one-day workshop on ‘Human Rights in Times of Conflict’ in Maiduguri, Bornu State. The workshop, held in collaboration with the Nigerian Army, was designed to draw particular attention to issues of human rights violation in the course of the war against terrorism in the North-eastern region of Nigeria. The event was a huge success. The recommendations made at the workshop are currently being implemented by the Nigerian Army. A direct benefit of the workshop is the inauguration of the Nigerian Army Human Rights Complaints Desk, which took place in Abuja on Thursday February 18, 2016. We have also inaugurated the NBA Human Rights Monitoring Teams in all our branches in the North-eastern states. The monitoring teams are working assiduously and will issue periodic monthly reports on human rights situation in their respective areas of operation. The report of the committee led by Emeka Obegolu, former NBA general secretary, was received during the NEC meeting.

Dinner in Honour of Justices of the Supreme Court. As has become our practice and, in keeping with the fine traditions of the Bar and the Bench, the NBA has successfully organised two dinners in honour of retiring justices of the Supreme Court. On November 26, 2015 and February 11, 2016 respectively, the NBA hosted the crème de la crème of the Bar, the Bench, diplomats and public servants to dinners in honour of the Honourable Justices Fabiyi, JSC (retd) and M S Muntaka-Coomassie, JSC (retd).

 Anti-Corruption Day: The NBA Anti-Corruption Commission organised a media briefing to mark the International Anti-Corruption Day on December 9, 2015. At the briefing, the Anti-Corruption Commission decried the spate of corruption prevalent in Nigeria and outlined steps so far taken by the NBA to fight corruption both within and outside the Bar. The NBA Anti-Corruption Commission at the media briefing spoke extensively on the Know Your Client (KYC) Guidelines of the NBA, designed to create an obligation on lawyers to refrain from engaging in unsavoury corrupt practices with their clients.

Human Rights Day: On December 10, 2015, the NBA, in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission, organised a workshop at the NICON Luxury Hotel to mark the International Human Rights Day. The event had in attendance the Attorney-General of the Federation,  ‘Comrade’ Governor of Edo State, His Excellency Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, who delivered the keynote address, and several other stakeholders. At the event, the NBA restated its total support and resolve to advocate for the observance and respect for rule of law and human rights at all levels. We also made a commitment to remain steadfast in our duty to sensitise and enlighten the public on issues of human rights enforcement.

Fact-finding trip to Zaria, Kaduna State: Following the recent violent clash between the Nigerian Army and members of the Shiite Muslim sect, on January 18, the NBA led a high-powered delegation on a fact-finding trip to the scene of the clash in Zaria, Kaduna State to investigate  allegations of human rights violations against the Nigerian Army in the course of the clash, which led to the death of several members of the Shiite Muslim sect. The trip was quite insightful and the NBA will present a holistic report on the incident soon.

Upcoming events and programmes

Legal study visit to the International Criminal Court (ICC), The Hague: I will lead a team of lawyers from various branches of the NBA to the ICC at The Hague for a legal study visit from 22 to 25th February, 2016. The aim of this visit is to familiarise Nigerian lawyers with the workings of the ICC and to establish a working relationship with the ICC; as the working and operation of the ICC are extending daily and are becoming increasingly relevant in our country. We would also take advantage of our being in Netherlands to have meetings with their Bar Association, with a view to developing collaboration between both bar associations.

African Bar Leaders’ Summit: The NBA has concluded plans to host an African Bar Leaders’ Summit in Lagos, from 10th – 13th April, 2016. The summit will provide an opportunity for African Bar leaders to discuss their common problems and challenges and, also, fashion our likely solutions to the common problems. Additionally, it would assist in forging a synergy between bar associations across the African continent.

Workshop on Review of the Performance of Election Petitions Tribunals: The NBA would in April organise a two-day workshop to review the performance of election petition tribunals at all levels: trial tribunals, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. The workshop would be organised in collaboration with the judiciary. It is aimed not at criticising any persons, but reviewing the performance of lawyers and judicial officers with a view to ensuring better performance, going forward.This would be the second time the NBA would be organising such workshop. The first workshop was held by the JB Daudu-led National Executive, in Benin-City, Edo State and was acclaimed to be successful.

One-day workshop on Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB): The NBA is working with key petroleum industry actors to have a workshop on the PIB. This workshop will be held in Abuja in March. This conference has become inevitable as efforts to pass the PIB have resumed at the National Assembly (NASS). We take the view that the NBA can collate the position of various actors in the industry and compare same with the version presented by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN). Thereafter, NBA, having the benefit of the views of all concerned parties, can then fashion out a PIB based on international best practices and standards. The Legal Education Summit and the State of the Nation Roundtable are also planned for April 2016.

State of the nation

Boko Haram Insurgency: Efforts of the Federal Government of Nigeria and the security forces are beginning to yield positive results. The Boko Haram insurgency is fast waning, but the battle is not yet over. We commend the efforts so far and urge government not to relent.

Naira devaluation: The economy of our country seems to be in dire straits. The exchange rate mechanism appears to have collapsed. The current exchange rate of the dollar changes every minute. At the last check (February 18), it was N365 to $1. In our import-based country this is extremely dangerous. At the current collapse rate of the Naira, a regime of N1,000 to $1 is looming ever so close. We call on His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, to act fast to address this problem.

Corruption: The war against corruption is raging on several fronts. The NBA restates its “zero tolerance for corruption” policy, as well as its commitment to work with the FGN and all willing federal agencies, to contribute its quota in the battle to kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria. We must also stress that the war against corruption must be fought within the ambit of the law: rule of law must at all times be given primacy. The war against corruption can be won within the ambit of the law. There is no need to resort to any other means other than legal means to win the war against corruption. There appears to be the need to draw attention to the essential elements of a proper trial in accordance with law. There must be a prosecution and a defence. If one is absent, there cannot be a fair trial. The duty of the prosecution is to prosecute, not persecute. The prosecution has a duty to the temple of justice: to bring all facts before the court, even if some may aid the defence. Where the prosecution is found to have withheld any such evidence, any conviction obtained is liable to be set aside. The duty of the defence is to present the defence of the defendant, and not to make up a defence for the defendant. Where this happens, counsel risks disciplinary sanction, if reported. I have laboured to draw attention to this position in view of the erroneous view being wrongly peddled by some persons that lawyers, in defending persons accused of corruption, are aiding corruption. Far from it! Counsel have a duty and are trained to prosecute or defend. Whichever position they may take, they are carrying out legitimate duties and cannot be wrongly classified as persecuting or aiding corruption. It is laughable that an agency of government would retain counsel to prosecute persons accused of corruption, but frown on counsel representing such persons. What is sauce for the goose is also good for the gander.

 Constitutional guarantee of ‘innocence until proven guilty’ remains: A person accused of corruption must be presumed innocent, until a conviction is secured. This fine constitutional point appears lost to few persons who seem to believe that persons that are accused are already convicted. If it is appreciated that persons accused are constitutionally presumed innocent, then their dignity and their human rights must be guarded jealously. We continue to collaborate as it is apparent that there is work to be done on all fronts in the fight against corruption.

 Election petition verdicts: The Election Petitions Tribunals and Appeal Panels have almost completed their work. We commend the judiciary for their efforts in resolving election matters ‘timeously’. We believe that the judiciary applied its best efforts, but must concede that things could have been a lot better. There were critical failures that could have been avoided. There were conflicting judgments that could have been avoided. There were issues of failure to follow laid down precedents that could have been easily avoided. Our position is that all those who were responsible for these obviously avoidable blemishes on the judiciary and the entire legal industry should be sanctioned. Failure to sanction earlier infractions resulted in the present infractions. We must not allow a few individuals to harm the fabric of the legal industry.

Appointment of New Justices to the Supreme Court: The NBA commends the Chief Justice of Nigeria for amending the Supreme Court appointment guidelines, to include appointments of deserving Senior Advocates of Nigeria, to the Supreme Court. In the light of the amendments to the Rules for Appointment of Judicial Officers we made nominations in respect of the appointments to the Supreme Court. We were extremely hopeful that our candidates would be successful. The candidates we put forward were men of integrity, personality and deep knowledge of the law. However, it appears that what was offered with one hand was taken away with the other hand. The final decision was based on number of judgments written. But when the rules were amended, it was known to all that lawyers don’t write judgments. So, we begin to wonder if there is any need to make further recommendations in future, when we all know that the rules are tilted against lawyers. We urge the Chief Justice of Nigeria to initiate a holistic review of the appointment guidelines to accommodate lawyers, as doing so will inject new ideas and improve efficiency of the Supreme Court.

Attack on Lawyers: The NBA notes with displeasure the steps taken by certain overzealous operatives of government, who hide under the guise of fighting corruption and criminality, to resort to unsavory techniques to harass, intimidate and browbeat lawyers in the course of their legitimate work. This practice is unacceptable and morally reprehensible. The NBA does not condone or support corruption. And we urge all our members to abide by the NBA-KYC Guidelines, and to refrain from collecting bulky cash payments from clients in contravention of the KYC guidelines. The NBA will stand in support and defend any member who is being vilified for carrying out his legitimate duty in accordance with the law. However, we will be the first to discipline any such lawyer who thinks that the NBA can be used as a cover to engage in unscrupulous acts of corruption.

State of the Bar

NBA House Project: The roofing of the ultra-modern NBA National Secretariat Complex, located in the Central Business District of Abuja, has been completed. Finishing works are underway to meet the proposed commissioning date of March 2016. The NBA National Secretariat Building Committee presented a report to the NEC meeting. We are, indeed, grateful to them and impressed with the level of work achieved so far.

Effects of the NBA Constitution: We wish to state that the new NBA Constitution has come into effect, and its provisions are sacrosanct. We are aware that the provisions relating to dates for elections and tenure limitation have generated a lot of controversy. We shall ensure that these issues are fully debated on the floor of NEC and resolved with finality.

Discipline in the Bar: The NBA restates its resolve to deal with all cases of professional infractions and misconduct with dispatch, and without favour. Lawyers are hereby warned to desist from making disparaging comments against the court simply because the judgments were not in their favour or because they do not like the judge. Lawyers must imbibe the practice of decorum and civility while commenting on a judicial pronouncement. It is quite disheartening to see very senior and respected lawyers, who ordinarily should set examples for their juniors, to be the ones who engage in this unprofessional conduct. We must look inwards and tackle issues of professional misconduct before we can make meaningful progress in tackling societal issues. Electronic Voting: We have taken giant strides in making good our promise to introduce electronic voting to the NBA elections. We have held several meetings with the service provider and have run series of tests to ascertain their preparedness for what lies ahead. We can state without equivocation that ballot-voting in NBA elections now belongs to the relics of the past, and that electronic voting has come to stay. The next NBA elections will be done online and lawyers, irrespective of their location at the material time, will be afforded the chance to vote for candidates of their choice.

Election of second vice-president of the NBA: Following the elevation of the former second vice-president of the NBA to the Federal High Court Bench, there is an urgent need to fill the vacuum therein created by electing a substantive second vice-president. In electing a second vice-president, we should ensure we comply with the provisions of our new NBA Constitution, which provides that we should have three vice-presidents – one from the North, one from the West and one from the East - to reflect equity and fairness. Consequently, our constitution has created an obligation on us to choose our next vice-president from the North.

Demise of Members: The NBA has, within the past few months, recorded huge losses, occasioned by the unfortunate demise of some of its resourceful members. These include past general secretary and Life Bencher Segun Onakoya Esq; Chief Chude Charles Mafua, Life Bencher; Ogochukwu Okeke, former chairman, Nnewi Branch and NEC member; Ms. Felicia Eimunjeze, former director of administration, Nigerian Law School, Yenagoa Campus, who died  in a motor accident. We pray for the repose of their souls and the souls of all the departed faithful. Amen!

Conclusion: Distinguished NEC members and learned colleagues, we thank you once more for your immense support, especially for our new policies and programmes. We assure you that we shall remain focused in our bid to improve the welfare of lawyers and raise the standard of legal practice in Nigeria. We urge you not to relent, but further support and assist us at all times to enable us achieve our solemn mandate to reposition the Bar. Thank you all for fruitful deliberations and a successful NEC meeting.

Being text of a speech by the President of the Nigeria Bar Association, Augustine Alegeh, SAN, at its National Executive Committee meeting  held in Jos, Plateau State, on February 18, 2016. Photo shows Alegeh.

Source: News Express

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