By Dele Adesina SAN
It is a common knowledge among all lawyers in this country that the Constitution of the NBA was amended in 2015 under the Presidency of Augustine Alegeh SAN, the immediate predecessor of the incumbent President. Before that time, an attempt was made in 2012 which did not sail through at the Port Harcourt Annual General Meeting. There was yet another amendment in 2009 during the tenure of Oluwarotimi Akeredolu SAN, now the Governor of Ondo State. Another amendment is being proposed for the AGM coming up on the 30th of August 2018 by the President A.B Mahmoud SAN.
For the avoidance of doubt I know the role of improvement in all human endeavours indeed it is said that the largest room in the world is the room for improvement. Improving a situation or a process is not synonymous with throwing away a process for a totally new and different one. When you do that, you perpetually get trapped in experimentation. I concede to the good intentions of the present leadership of the Bar. The President’s love and concern for a credible electoral process producing effective leadership is not in doubt. However, it is my considered opinion that a good number of the far reaching and fundamental changes being proposed to the NBA Constitution is not only unworkable but can also be very counterproductive.
I believe any amendment to our Constitution must not only strengthen the democratic foundation of our Association, it must add value to the process of the emergence of credible leadership and must be acceptable to the generality of our members.
COMPLIANCE WITH SECTION 20 OF THE NBA CONSTITUTION 2015
I was the General Secretary of our great Association between August 2002 and August 2004 and a life member of the National Executive Committee, yet I never received the Notice of the proposed Amendment to the Constitution from the General Secretary of the Bar up to the date of writing this publication. I was only able to get the copy of the Notice courtesy of one of the past Presidents of the Association Austin Alegeh SAN who was gracious to ask his Secretary to send me a copy which I received on the 4th of August 2018. But for this gesture, like very many members of our Association I would not have received the Notice of the proposed amendment. Similarly, I know as a fact that the Chairman of Ikeja Branch Prince Dele Oloke Esq could only get a copy of the Notice from me on Monday the 6th of August 2018. Reports also confirm that very many members of our Association neither got the Notice or the proposed amendment. It is very doubtful therefore if there is compliance with Section 20 of the Nigerian Bar Association Constitution 2015 which obligates the General Secretary “to circulate the Notice and the proposed amendment to delegates at least 30 days before the proposed amendment is tabled at the AGM”.
Let me comment briefly on three of the suggested proposals.
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE GOVERNING BOARD
The leadership has proposed the establishment of a Governing Board to comprise of: The President, 1st and 2nd Vice Presidents, General Secretary, Assistant Secretary, two representatives each from East, North and West, the immediate past President and immediate past General Secretary. The tenure of the Board is a single term of two years. It is to be noted that eight (8) other offices including but not limited to the offices of 3rd Vice President, welfare officer, Publicity Secretary, Assistant Publicity Secretary and 2nd Assistant General Secretary of the Association have all been peremptorily abolished by this proposal.
It will be recalled that an earlier attempt to scrape these other offices have been opposed to by our members for the simple but very important reason that those offices serve as platforms for Junior members of the Bar to climb the ladder of leadership. Nothing has changed to defeat that argument. If this proposal is not reversed, it will impact negatively on the participation of the junior members in the affairs of the Association. Furthermore, it will also negatively impact on the spread of our Officers which today is a veritable vehicle for inclusion and active participatory interests.
The proposed Governing Board is just another name for the National Officers meeting. What more, the duties of the members of the Board are the duties of each Officers of the Association as presently stated under the 2015 Constitution.
Finally on this, there is nothing in the proposal that tend to reposition the National Executive Committee for independence and effectiveness. Rather than reinvigorating the powers of the National Executive Committee (NEC) an attempt has been made by the proposal to diminish its powers by making the Governing Board (of promotional officers) to be the Policy making body of the Association.
The proposed amendment seeks to create State Bars by providing for the establishment and functions of State Council of Nigerian Bar Association. The promise that “creation of State Councils is not to replace NBA Branches” is of no moment. There is no function ascribed to the State Councils in the proposal that the Branches are not presently performing. Experience has also shown that Branches in a State do collaborate and cooperate with one another when exigencies require this. The autonomy and independence of the Branches is of utmost importance to the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the Association. It should also be recalled that as late as 2012 a proposed amendment to include State Bars into our Constitution was vigorously and unanimously rejected at the Annual General Meeting that was held in Port Harcourt. The situation that calls for that rejection remains valid today as it was six (6) years ago.
SUCCESSION OF GOVERNING BOARD
Another significant aspect of the proposed amendment is what the committee described as succession of Governing Board members. It is difficult to see the rationale behind this proposal. First it is totally unworkable, second it is undemocratic and against the principles of the Rule of Law. Besides it is capable of occasioning diminishing leadership and rubbing the Association of the much needed experience, effective and efficient leadership. The NBA has a corporate responsibility to defend Democracy and make it sustainable in our country and most significantly in the interest of the profession. We have a duty both constitutionally and professionally to practically and proactively contribute to the building of a sustainable Democracy and if we don’t have it we cannot give it as no one can give what he doesn’t have.
The proposal says that NBA Presidency shall be a product of promotion or ratification at an Annual General meeting like a Law firm or a company. The futility of this proposal is exemplified by recommendation 3 of the proposal which says “where any of the above proposed successors is rejected by the Annual General Meeting… the predecessor’s office shall be open for contest and elections…in accordance with this Constitution”. It follows therefore that if for any reason whatsoever, the promotion of a successor is rejected by the AGM then, the office of the Predecessor shall be open for contest and election. The question is what then will the proposal achieve when there may be a contest and election in any way. The NBA is and must remain a democratic Association at the centre of which is contest and competition.
The current system of electing our officers is good for the Association based on the ideals of Democracy and the propagation of the Rule of Law. All we need in my humble opinion is a full democratisation of the electoral process through the reinvigoration and refining of the Austin Alegeh SAN initiative of electronic voting system. The policy and process of one lawyer one vote must be protected by all of us. It guarantees the putting of democracy to work. Furthermore, it ensures that emerging officers represent the true choice of the members of the Association.
In my memo dated 13th October, 2017 to the Constitution review committee, I said inter alia that a situation whereby all succeeding Presidents take pleasure in amending the Constitution of the NBA year in year out is not right. This has made our constitution unstable. Experience they say is the best teacher. We are not able to build permanent experience or grow our Constitution anymore as we change them almost every two (2) years. I also made the point in my memo that the duty of the Branches who are the ultimate owners of this Constitution to make a tangible contribution through quality discussion and debate of the committee’s recommendations must be fully protected. Regrettably this was not so regarding the present fundamental proposals attached to the General Secretary’s letter of 25th July, 2018. The question is, between 25thJuly 2018 and now, how many Branches have got these proposals and able to discuss them. In the light of the above observations, the only option available is to defer this exercise in order to give maximum opportunity to the generality of our members and the leadership of our Association at various levels to discuss and deliberate on these far reaching proposals.
The solution to NBA challenges is not in amending the Constitution every two years. It is in reconstructing our attitudes and make our Constitution work in the running of the Association. I have always said that nothing works by itself, things are made to work.
DELE ADESINA SAN, FCIArb is a Past General Secretary NBA