Enugu High Court rules that membership of the NBA is mandatory for all legal practitioners and therefore automatic upon call to Bar and/or on commencement and/or continuance of the practice of the Legal profession in Nigeria. (CTC of Judgment enclosed).
SUIT No. OB/27/2020: BEN OLOKO V. THE INCORPORATED TRUSTEES OF NIGERIA BAR ASSOCIATION DELIVERED ON FRIDAY, THE 29TH DAY OF JULY, 2022 BY HON. JUSTICE R.O. ODUGU, Enugu State High Court, Obollo-Afor Division.
In an originating summons, the Plaintiff claimed the following reliefs against the Defendant:
- A declaration that the Nigerian Bar Association is not a compulsory association to which every legal practitioner becomes a member automatically upon call to the Bar or commencement and/or continuance of the practice of the legal profession in Nigeria; but a completely private and voluntary organization of legal practitioners, who are interested in the set objectives of the association and have exercised their free volition to join and or/participate in the activities of the association per time.
- A declaration that the Nigerian Bar Association lacks the power to increase the Annual Practising Fee for legal practitioners in Nigeria, same being a function reserved for the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, hence the Annual Practising Fees remains as stipulated under the Legal Practitioners (Bar Practising Fees) Notice, 2002, viz: Senior Advocates of Nigeria (N20,000); Legal Practitioners of 15years or more standing post call (N10,000); Legal Practitioners of 10years or more standing but less than 15 years post call (N7500.00); Legal Practitioners of 5years or more standing but less than 10 years post call (N4, 000.00); Legal Practitioners of less than 5 years standing post call (N2,000. 00)
- A declaration that the Nigerian Bar Association lacks the power to produce and/or issue stamp and seal to be used by all legal practitioners in Nigeria in a professed bid to curb the encroachment of quacks into the practice of the legal profession, same function having been conferred on the Registrar of the Supreme Court by statute.
- An order of perpetual injunction restraining the Defendant either by itself or its agent(s) or servant(s) from imposing any form of structures and or/duties and//or obligations on the Plaintiff and indeed all other legal practitioners, who may opt not to belong to the Defendant’s association, (including payment of annual dues; mandatory acquisition and use of Nigeria Bar Association seal and stamp on processes and documents) tends in any way to constitute the Defendant as a general umpire, overseer and/or superintendent of all legal practitioners in their practice of the legal profession in Nigeria, including the Plaintiff and other legal practitioners, who may choose not to be members of the Defendant’s association.
The issues for determination as formulated by the Plaintiffs, and adopted and determined by the Court are as follows:
- Whether the membership of the NBA is mandatory for all legal practitioners and therefore automatic upon call to Bar and/or on commencement and/or continuance of the practice of the Legal profession in Nigeria.
Resolution: This issue was resolved in favour of the Plaintiff by the Court.
- Whether the NBA has the power under the law to determine (increase or decrease) tax and/or collect Annual practicing fees for legal in Nigeria.
Resolution: This issue was resolved in favour of the Plaintiff. The Court held that the NBA has no business in the collection of practicing fees direct from Legal Practitioners in Nigeria because it has no lawful power to do so based on the Legal Practitioners Act which empowers the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court to collect the practicing fees and disburse same in accordance with the law.
- Whether the NBA has power and/or authority to produce seal and stamps that all legal practitioners, whether they belong to the NBA or not, must affix on processes they prepare for same to be cognizable under the law.
Resolution: This issue was declared to be no longer a life issue as same was withdrawn by the Plaintiff arising from the supervening action of the AG of the Federation which the Plaintiff acknowledged.
The issue of jurisdiction raised by Defendants was resolved in favour of the plaintiff as the Court held that it has the requisite jurisdiction to hear and determine the reliefs of the Plaintiff.
In conclusion, this judgment favours the NBA in that it is compulsory for every Lawyer called to the Nigerian Bar to become a member of the NBA. The NBA still has the power to increase or decrease tax/practicing fees. However, it cannot continue to engage in direct collection of the practicing fees of lawyers in Nigeria and has been restrained from doing so.
The Plaintiff in Person.
Ikeazor Akaraiwe, SAN with Ejikeme Oji, Esq. for Defendant.
HON. JUSTICE R.O. ODUGU, Enugu State High Court, Obollo-Afor Division.