(by udems)

I have just read an interview granted a respected Learned silk, and published under the title, “NBA Is A Voluntary Association, Emergence Of Other Associations Of Lawyers Is Not Illegal.” (see thenigerialawyer). In the report, the respected learned senior advocate was quoted as having said that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) “is a free association of lawyers called to the Bar in Nigeria but none can be compelled to be a member. Secondly, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, guarantees freedom of lawful association and freedom of assembly.”
There are many law associations in Britain, there are many such associations in the United States of America and even in Canada, to mention but a few. Also back home here in Nigeria, membership of chartered accountants in Nigeria is not limited to the respected body, ICAN. We also have ANANS, another recognised body of chartered accountants and I understand that the registered bodies of architects are up to four. So, it is not strange if somewhere along the line, there emerges many more associations of Nigerian lawyers outside the NBA.”

With due respect to the revered silk, we’re in Nigeria, not in England. Nigerian laws (legislation and case law) aren’t the same as those of the UK. Take for an example, in the UK, one qualifies either as a Barrister or as a Solicitor, and not as both. On the other hand, in Nigeria, one qualifies as both a Barrister and a Solicitor
Whatever is the case in England is the business of English people. The law in Nigeria is that one cannot be a lawyer without being a member of the NBA. When one elects to get called to the Nigerian Bar, that one has automatically elected to be inducted into the NBA as a full member.

I agree that membership of the NBA is voluntary; that is why no one compels anyone to chose to study law, to go to the NLS, and to be called to the — all being conditions precedent to becoming an NBA member. It is entirely a matter of choice. Those who choose to get called to the bar have voluntarily chosen to belong to the NBA and are therefore bound by all of NBA’s rules and regulations. This was the decision in NBA v. KEINDE, as well as In CHINWO v. OWHONDA. In N.B.A. v. KEHINDE (2017) 11 NWLR (PT 1576) 225 AT 250 -251 paras H- A, His lordship NIMPAR.JCA, stated as follows: “The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) was established for the purpose of regulating the affairs and conduct of all legal practitioners in Nigeria and upon being called to the Nigerian Bar, there is automatic membership to the NBA on a lawyer. See Chinwo v. Owhonada (2008)3 NWLR (Pt.1074)341. Hence, as long as one has elected to join and remain within the noble profession, he is a member and ought to comply with the directive of the Association”.
On the Implications of subscription to membership of an association, the Court of Appeal in CHINWO v OWHONDA (2008) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1074) 341, at 361, had this to say:
”The appellant was not compelled to take up the profession of law and its attendant compulsory membership of the Nigerian Bar Association. However, once he made the choice to study and practice law and thereby placing his name on the roll of honour of belonging to the profession, he stands bound by the internal rules and regulations of the Association. There would therefore be no issue of a breach of the Constitution of the country if the rules demand of him, UNDIVIDED LOYALTY”. Also, in the same case (CHINWO v. OWHONDA), Hon Justice DONGBAN-MENSEM, J.C.A., has this to say: “I have only a few words of mine to add in declaring that this appeal is without merit.In the exercise of their constitutional rights (sections 39 & 40) of freedom of thought, etc, and of free assembly and association, individuals elect to and do subscribe to membership in associations which sometimes curtail their rights. The appellant, while exercising his right, joined an honourable profession of formidable societal influence and relevance which of necessity has rules and regulations to guide his professional conduct and which along the line curtail some of his choices. The appellant was not compelled to take up the profession of law and its attendant compulsory membership of the Nigeria Bar Association. However, once he made the choice to study and practice law and thereby placing his name on the roll of honour of belonging to the profession, he stands bound by the internal rules and regulations of the association. There would therefore be no issue of a breach of the Constitution of the country of the rules demand of him, undivided loyalty.”

Where is more? I ageee with the respected senior advocate that lawyers in Nigeria are entitled to form and to belong to any other lawyers’ associations as they may wish. Yes.Indeed, that’s why we have Eastern Bar Forum (EBF), Egbe Amofin, Midwest Bar Forum , Arewa Lawyers Association, Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria (MULAN), Justice Reform Project (JRP), Open Bar Forum, Young Lawyers Forum, National Association of Women Lawyers, National Association of Catholic Lawyers (NACL), Christian Lawyers Association of Nigeria (CLASFON), FIDA, and so many other associations in Nigerian whose respective memberships constitute wholly of lawyers. This notwithstanding, wherever or whichever one belongs to, one must never forget that one remains a member of the NBA, having voluntarily elected to join the Bar.

One’s lawyerly status is inseparable from one’s membership of the NBA; they’re are like the Siamese twins. Indeed, by law, one is an NBA member from the day one’s name is enrolled at the Supreme Court and for as long as one remains a lawyer in Nigeria. This situation is not affected by one’s choice to not participate actively in NBA’s affairs. Indeed, whether or not one pays his practicing fees, Branch dues and other levies, one remains an NBA member. One’s NBA membership gets extinguished only if one dies, or is suspended from
Practice or one’s name is struck out from the Roll. See section 11(c)(I)&(ii) of the Legal Practitioners Act, CAP L11, LFN, 2004.

Beloved Learned silk also alluded to parallel existence and recognition of ICAN (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria) and ANAN (Association of National Accountants of Nigeria) to try drive home his point, that it is legally possible to be a lawyer in Nigeria and still not be a member of the NBA. With due respect, sir, that analogy appears to be inapposite. Permit me to start by observing that merely graduating and qualifying as an accountant in Nigeria does not make one a member of the ICAN. It is legally possible to qualify and get employed to practice as an accountant even without being a member of ICAN. On the other hand, as stated above, one becomes an NBA member from the date of his call to the bar and SC enrollment; one can’t be addressed as a lawyer until one gets called to the bar. Unlike what obtains in the accounting profession, graduation from the university doesn’t confer on one the lawyerly status, neither does graduation from the Law School.
Until you’re called to the bar, you’re not yet a lawyer; and upon becoming a lawyer, you’re in as a life member of the NBA, till death or suspension or striking out separates one from the noble profession.

I have a question: Can anyone be, and practice as a Medical Doctor in Nigeria wothout being a member of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA)? A resounding no! As it’s with the medical profession, so it is with the law profession.

In view of the above, I most humbly urge all Nigerian lawyers to take it easy, to sheath their swords, bury the hatchet and close ranks with the Bar Leadeship to lift NBA to the next level. Many of our colleagues are genuinely hurting, no doubt. Many others believe the last NBA national elections was a rape of democracy. I see reasons with all sides. But, let’s correct all ills from within. Those who may be muting the idea of a parallel Lawyers Union/Association should perish the idea because we, each and all, are inseparable from the NBA; we would sink and rise with NBA. Let’s therefore forgive one another. Let’s start by identifying all noticed flaws in both the electoral and other systems within the NBA. And then, let’s convene an Emergency General Meeting of the NBA for the purpose of discussing our internal problems with a view to finding ways to avoid mistakes of the past.

The reason our problems persist, increase and multiply is because we shy away from discussing our problems. If we find time to sit down and discuss our problems and to explore all possible solutions, we would do better in future. As it stands now, experience has shown that the business of leading the NBA is too onerous to be left for NBA leaders alone; they need the law as their guide, and they need our honest cooperation, candid advice, and sometimes constructive temperate criticisms, in order to succeed. Let’s feel free to express ourselves, to express our opinions, and to express our misgivings. But let’s do all of that from within and not from the outside.
Long live the NBA!
Sylvester Udemezue