THE MMA JUDGMENT AND RESURGENCE OF NBA-BALKANIZATION-DISEASE IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION

By Sylvester Udemezue

(1). The status of the NBA as a voluntary organization, has been settled by appellate courts. The reality is, no one has forced anyone to subscribe to NBA’s membership; as of the day of subscription, every application to the membership of the NBA knows the legal and practical implications of being a member of the Nigerian Bar, namely: that one would upon being admitted to the Bar, automatically join the NBA, and with the NBA you become henceforth like an inseparable set of Siamese twins.

(2). Section 40, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), 1999 dealing with freedom of association, has been court-interpreted in respect of the NBA. If one doesn’t like to bear with the consequences of being a member of the Bar in Nigeria (which is automatic membership of the NBA), let one refrain from applying to join the Bar; because from the moment one joins the Bar, one is a member of the NBA and is bound by all its rules. The principle is Volenti non fit injuria

(3). The extant law is what makes the NBA what the NBA is today. The laws regulating the NMA are poles apart with those regulating the NBA. The MMA judgment being applauded as a landmark is actually far from it, with due respect, because it has done nothing more than just restate the law. Only by an amendment of the extant law may this type of judgement (the MMA judgment) happen in respect of the NBA. Hence, comparing NBA to NMA in this regard appears inapt.

(4). Now, regarding the NLS (Nigerian Law Society), as of today, all members of the NLS are also members of the NBA. Ask them, they’d tell you. Besides, please note that promotion of the NLS is a mere grandstanding aimed to distract the powers that be in the NBA; NLS is being promoted mostly by lawyers who are unable to manage their bosses’ or candidates’ or friends’ NBA election losses. Check this out: as another round of NBA elections is now around the corner, do you still hear anything about or from the NLS? Everyone and every bloc has fielded its candidate, and hoping to win the NBA national elections in July 2024. However, immediately after the election, and unless the election umpire is careful to manage the election carefully, especially with regard to ensuring transparency, a new round of “crisis” would spring up, although to still naturally die off in 2026 during the build-up to NBA national elections 2026, while NBA itself continues to wax stronger, and standing like the wall of Gibraltar.

(5) . The NLS’ case/judgement has nothing to do with the fact, already settled by the courts, that all lawyers in Nigeria are members of the NBA. There was actually little or no reason for the NBA to have opposed a suit that has a zero negative effect, and would have only a zero negative effect, on the NBA. In my opinion, NBA’s opposition to the registration of NLS was ill-advided, unnecessary.

(6). I think the NLS’ judgment only says that any group of lawyers can register any association they like. That’s what the right to freedom of association entails; that existence of NBA can’t stop them from freely associating. However, the court did not say that members of the NLS or other lawyers in Nigeria are free to exit the NBA. I agree with the judgment. But the question one should be asking oneself, after the NLS judgment is, Does the fact that some lawyers have FORMED or have JOINED the NLS exempt the affected lawyers from membership of the NBA? Answer: a block NO. The reality is, until the extant law is amended, we all are stuck with the NBA like an inseparable set of Siamese twins. Recall that an association of lawyers known as LSN (Law Society of Nigeria) was registered in or around 1994 (about 30 years ago) and is still in existence. Where is it today? what has it done?leave all these; na post-election discontent na im dey cause all these NLS agitations. NBA dey kanpe(it’s post-election discontent that is causing all these agitations. NBA is still standing as the wall of Gibraltar). LSN or NLS is just as BOSAN, MULAN, NACL, CLASSFON, EBF, etc. They each are various associations of some lawyers in Nigeria. But the NBA remains what it’s created to be: the umbrella association of ALL LAWYERS IN NIGERIA.

(7). 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 …

(8). In CHINWO v OWHONDA (2008) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1074) 341, at 361, the Court of Appeal declared as follows:
“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”

(9). Meanwhile, this is why I tire for the style of public interest advocacy being adopted by some lawyers in Nigeria; some are just lost in pursuit of frivolousness and irrelevancies. Imagine that, instead of thinking of how to emulate the NMA members in fighting for the welfare and economic advancement of NBA members just as members of the MMA are known to have been doing, the only thing that thrills some Nigerian lawyers is how to destroy or balkanize NBA. Their public interest advocacy and human rights activism start and end with fighting to balkanize NBA. Pity!

(10). Today, in the public service, resident Doctors are paid an an average of about ₦500,000 to ₦800, 000 monthly. Professors of medicine and consultants are paid something in the region of ₦1 million- ₦1.5 million per month. In comparison, (a) Some lawyers in public service are paid less than ₦200,000 monthly. (b). Professors of law are hardly paid more than ₦400,000. (c). Lawyers in Ministries of Justice are paid peanuts. (d). Majority of Lawyers in private practice employment are paid between ₦20,000 and ₦70,000 monthly. Some are not paid at all. Only below 2 percent of those employed get more than ₦200,000 monthly as salary. Compare all these with doctors. (e) Do you know how much doctor-NYSC-members are paid monthly? Compare that to lawyers’ and you’d shed tears. (f). Meanwhile, while the Medical Ethical Code in Nigeria allows doctors in public service to engage in private practice, and the Federal Government and all State Governments have endorsed it, and no doctors witch hunts his colleague over this, some lawyers (some, I mean) who are “human rights activists” (not all) are filing applications in courts to object to appearance by colleague-lawyers in public service for clients in any private capacity. (g) While doctors negotiate and easily get whatever they want from government, some lawyers believe that the only way to engage Government is by confrontation and filing hostile lawsuits in courts. Unfortunately, and ironically, where has this style taken lawyers? No where!

(11). Now, a High Court has just delivered a judgment in case by a doctor against the NMA, and some lawyers are so elated that all they (lawyers) are thinking is that perhaps very soon, the court may give a similar judgement in respect of the NBA, so that NBA would get balkanized.🤣🤣🤣. They don’t care about the welfare of lawyers in Nigeria; nothing but the balkanization of the NBA is in their minds. In their minds, the only way to achieve results in their “human rights activism” (we know those who are true activists) is to have the NBA balkanized. Ask any of them what efforts they themselves have ever made towards solving any of the real challenges facing lawyers in Nigeria. And they’d run away. They’re not interested in discussing the challenges of the legal profession, because as far as they’re concerned, the only challenge facing the legal profession is for NBA to get destroyed. Once that is done, all our problems are over. But, no be juju be that?

(12). CONCLUSION: I respectfully think that some lawyers in Nigeria are suffering from a new disease known as NBA-BALKANIZATION-DISEASE. And it appears this ailment is incurable, or, the carriers just usually won’t accept any cure, meaning they are also incorrigible — they work, sleep, wake up, eat, walk, sit and talk, think and pray only about NBA-BALKANIZATION. Nothing else! The only other way they’d accept to be cured of their current ailment is if they’re allowed to control the soul of the NBA. So theirs, in truth, is a disease of either-you-let-me-control-the-NBA-or-let’s-work-to-get-NBA-destroyed. Na waaaooo!! This is an infantile disease.

(13). MY HUMBLE SUGGESTION: Please let’s learn to channel all our energy and efforts towards discussing and working to resolve the real challenges facing the legal profession in Nigeria; balkanization of the NBA is out of it, in my opinion, with due respect. Let’s Face Reality, please. See: A CHECKLIST OF 70 CORE CHALLENGES FACING THE LEGAL PROFESSION IN NIGERIA PLUS TASKS BEFORE STAKEHOLDERS. By Sylvester Udemezue_
https://www.
(Published on courtroommail.com and on many others).
Respectfully,
Sylvester Udemezue (Udems)
Proctor,
Reality Ministry of Justice (RMJ).
(A Public Interest Legal Advocacy Group)
08039136749.
therealistministry@gmail.com.

(16/05/2024)

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