Should the stamps be issued free to practitioners? Paul Usoro’s reflections

Should the stamps be issued free to practitioners? I am reluctant to promise any free service or item to practitioners when I do not know, as at date, the health status of the NBA’s finances and in particular, our outstanding liabilities.

Unfortunately, we do not currently have informative, transparent and publicly available financial records and statements of the NBA and as a result, we’re left with speculations as to the financial health of the Association – a position that I’m committed to rectify, as the President of the NBA by, amongst others (a) employing qualified personnel including chartered accountants to manage the finance unit of our National Secretariat; (b) preparing and publishing quarterly financial statements that would contain detailed and sufficient information on the finances of the Association; and (c) instituting internal control processes and procedures (d) setting up an Audit Committee for independent oversight of NBA’s finances. The financial status of the NBA should not be the subject of speculation; we should know exactly how much is in the Association’s kitty, our projected income for each year and our outstanding liabilities, amongst other relevant finance information. Only then can we produce and implement a budget based on reasonable assumptions, specifying therein such free services as the Association may be able to afford.

In that respect, it is important to know and understand that those stamps, whether electronic or paper-based, would cost money to produce and if they’re not paid for by members, quite apart and independent of their practice dues, they would need to be paid for somehow from the Association’s funds. Also, even if the stamps were made to be without expiry dates, there would still be recurrent expenditure therefor on an annual basis in respect of the newly enrolled lawyers which means there will consistently be a cost element in respect of the stamps which must be captured in the NBA’s annual budget and must be paid for.

In my understanding, the current practice has been for the Association to produce and issue the stamps to members at cost without any revenue element attached thereto. What is not so clear is the procurement method that produces the vendor. Do we have a competitive tender from which the vendor is selected and are we having the best price for the service? These are issues that I’ve committed to examine and, more importantly, make transparent. Without having these full facts, it’s impossible to comment on the reasonableness of the price that we pay for the stamps currently.

The assurance that NBA members have from me is that I will review the revenue stream and liabilities of the Association, review the entire procurement process with a view to making a sustainable determination on free services and ensuring that fees, where prescribed, are not burdensome and that we have our moneys’ worth in service from the vendors in terms of the timeous delivery of the stamps amongst other contractual milestones and obligations.

The issue of color-code difference between the red-colored stamps issued to law officers and the green-coloreds stamp issued to the rest of the practitioners*: In my interaction with the National Executive Committee of the Law Officers Association of Nigeria (“LOAN”), this issue was raised and I had committed to look into it with a view to understanding the reason and basis for the color difference and thereafter dialogue with LOAN on a satisfactory resolution thereto. The LOAN Exco had informed me then that Law Teachers had the same color-code difference in their stamps and that this was resolved in their favor and the Law Teachers are now using the green-colored stamps with the other practitioners. I had requested for the relevant documents in regard to the Law Teachers’’ case from the LOAN Exco in the hope that this would assist, as a persuasive authority, in resolving the law officers’ case and I’m hopeful that these would be sent to me presently.

Finally, should we jettison paper-based stamps and embrace digital stamp? Before taking a stand on this, it would be useful and helpful to understand the mechanics of the proposed digital stamp and how it would work. I’m not aware that this has been furnished yet to members to enable an informed discussion and/or decision on the matter. Meanwhile, if we all out embrace digital stamps (howsoever these would be produced and used), with no provision for paper-based stamps, what happens to the vast number of our members who are not digitally savvy and may only be able to use the paper stamps? How will digital stamps work in a justice administration system that is not digitalized? These are issues that need to be worked out ahead of any complete switch from a paper-based stamp to digital stamps.

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