The President, NBA, Abubakar B. Mahmoud, SAN
Secretary General NBA, Abiola Olagunju
Members of the NBA LPRRC
Learned Senior Advocates
Learned Professors & Judges
Members of the Press
Distinguished Ladies & Gentlemen
On behalf of the members of the NBA Legal Profession Regulation Review Committee, I thank the President of the NBA, Abubakar B Mahmoud SAN for constituting this very important Committee and for the privilege given to us to serve on the Committee.
Mr President, in your lecture at the 32nd Convocation Ceremonies of Bayero University delivered on Friday 22nd April, 2016 and appropriately titled, ‘Business as usual or Business unusual: The Future of the Legal Profession and Democratic Development in Nigeria’, you said as follows after exhaustive review of history of the legal profession in Nigeria, ‘…the legal system and the legal profession have a crucial role to play in setting the stage for the next phase of our journey to democracy and development. In the pre-colonial era and under military rule, the legal profession played important roles in liberating us from colonial subjugation and freeing us from military tyranny and dictatorship. The challenge of the new era is different. It is of guaranteeing the right to development for our citizens. It is about building institutions, systems and processes that guarantee good governance and balanced sustainable development. It is about enthroning the rule of law, ensuring protection of the rights of all citizens to pursue their endeavours in an atmosphere of peace and harmony. In a complex, multi-ethnic, multi-religious divergent society like ours, this is by no means an easy task. But that is where the knowledge, skills and capacity of the legal profession working with other stakeholders and groups and the citizens generally needs to be called up and mobilized’.
You said further, ‘My postulation is that the legal profession must first reform itself. At this stage, let me separate the legal profession into at least two of its main component parts: the Bar under the aegis of the Nigerian Bar Association and the Judiciary. The Bar, I will argue, has received a lot of battering in recent times. Its public perception is probably at its lowest ebb. It is no longer the prestigious profession held in awe by the public. The reasons for this are obvious. The quality of training, level of professionalism and high ethical values for which the profession was usually associated appear to have weakened considerably. Consequently, the quality of justice administered has also dwindled’.
Now as President of the Nigerian Bar Association you have the opportunity to pursue your agenda for reform of the legal profession leading among other initiatives to the constitution and inauguration today of this Committee. According to a quote by R. Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, inventor and author, ‘You never change things by fighting existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete ‘. Therefore, Mr President, we share your vision for reform. The importance of the legal profession cannot be overemphasized. Lawyers stand between individuals and government to prevent abuse of governmental powers. They also stand between individuals in the assertion of rights against each other. The entire system of administration of justice is designed to achieve the purpose of fair dispensation of justice without fear or favour. Justice is said to be blind. However, by its very nature the system of administration of justice deposits great power in judges and in lawyers. The lawyers also stand between individuals and judicial powers to prevent abuse of judicial power.
There is confusion in understanding of knowledge of law and practice of law. Having knowledge of law alone does not necessarily qualify a person to practice law. The reason is that the practice of law is a position of power, trust and privilege. It empowers the lawyer to represent and act on behalf of clients, to hold property and money for clients and to bind clients without necessarily the need for a power of attorney. It confers a general license to do many different things on behalf of the client. The judge who is also a lawyer has even more powers than the practicing lawyer. Apart from being able to bind parties, establish or discharge liability, they can impose the ultimate punishment, the sentence of death.
In return for the power, privilege and trust granted to lawyers, the profession must be regulated to ensure the protection of public interest and prevention of abuse of this privilege. In addition, the profession has been the subject of encroachment not only from other professions but also globalisation which has broken territorial barriers in the delivery of legal services.
The question for the committee therefore is what is the extra standard required of lawyers apart from knowledge of law for admission to practice of law. It seems simple that the answer is competence and ethics. However, setting the standard and maintaining competence and ethics seems to be the problem. As Mr President rightly pointed out, these two critical defining values of legal practice appear to have ‘weakened considerably’ over time and ‘the quality of justice administered has dwindled’. The committee fully understands the expectation that it should thoroughly examine the structures of the legal profession and make suggestions for its revival and resurgence as the premier profession in Nigeria with high level of competence (comparable to international best practice) and highest ethical values. In addition to a continuous competence and ethics programme, the reward system of the LPPC needs to be reformed as well. There is the need to encourage specialization through a second layer of recognition below SAN which can be called Certified Specialist. To be entitled to this appellation the lawyer would be required to meet certain conditions including specialization in an area of law in terms of knowledge and practice, certification of continuing professional development through the LPPC, among others. The LPPC itself would certainly be reformed in terms of completion and appointment.
It is in the above context that we intend to consider the terms of reference of the Committee. It is our hope that the outcome of our work, if implemented, will create an institutional framework for consistent regulation of the legal profession which ensures those allocated privilege of practice bear the burden of responsibility whilst those who are unable to obtain the privilege are also adequately engaged in areas of work that bear less assertion of responsibility. It is also hoped that the future state of legal profession would be such that Nigerian firms would be able, in the short term, to compete regionally and expand regionally on the back of Nigerian businesses that are going regional. In the long term, it is hoped that the future state of legal profession would sufficiently protect the local industry without inhibiting globalization whilst preparing Nigerian law firms to be able to compete globally.
In order to be able to achieve the lofty ideals set by our terms of reference, our future state regulatory objective must be clear and concise and our regulatory architecture must be consistent. After fifty-seven years of independence, we cannot continue to depend on historical accidental institutional framework for the regulation of our profession. As George Bernard Shaw said, ‘Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything’. We intend to examine the regulatory architecture dispassionately. As they say in engineering at times it is too expensive to renovate; green field projects in those circumstances may be better than a brown field project. We are completely open. Our work will determine whether we would go for green field or brown field solutions.
Mr President, to be able to tackle the complex terms of reference you have given to us, we will need input from the profession and the public that the profession serves. We have prepared a work plan that would facilitate stakeholder engagement at different levels. Our Call for Memoranda has already been issued and I am informed that the response has been most encouraging. We are also engaging with key stakeholders such as the judiciary, the law school, law faculties, Attorney Generals, NJC, NJI, National Assembly leadership, etc. We will also be inviting international resource persons in the area of global thinking in legal practice as well as experienced regulators of well-established regulatory regimes. You have given me assurances that NBA would lay before the Committee its extensive worldwide relationship to mine required resources. We are indeed grateful for this kind support.
Mr President may I express my personal confidence in the capacity and commitment of the committee members and thank them for their support of the leadership. Mr President, subject to cost, we could also do with some additional younger practitioners as you had privately indicated, as the work of the committee is also a process of transfer of values and it is important that the next generation be sufficiently engaged. Be that as it may, we intend to organize town hall meetings to enable us hear all who want to be heard before we conclude.
‘Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future’, thus said President John F. Kennedy in 1963. We do not want to miss the future, rather we want to create the future that would be resplendent for our profession and our beloved country Nigeria. We thank you, Mr President, for all your support, moral, intellectual and financial, for the work of the committee and again assure you that we will not disappoint your confidence in us. We hope that the outcome of our work would include specific legislative draft which can establish the agreed regulatory objectives and architecture. We will endeavour to meet the set deadline, all things being equal. We are confident that our work will bring about the required change in our legal system, bearing in mind Margaret Mead’s words, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has’.
Thank you again.
Anthony Idigbe, SAN
Chairman NBA LPRRC