SPEECH BY ABUBAKAR BALARABE MAHMOUD, SAN, PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION, NBA AT THE INAUGURATION OF THE NBA LEGAL PROFESSION REGULATION REVIEW COMMITTEE AT THE CONFERENCE ROOM OF THE NBA PRESIDENT, NBA HOUSE, ABUJA ON TUESDAY, 24TH JANUARY 2017.
National Officers of the NBA, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Chairman and Members of the Committee being inaugurated, Gentlemen and Ladies of our noble profession, the media, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.
There is no doubt that the legal profession in Nigeria is facing a plethora of challenges, and we must move quickly to address these challenges if we are to maintain high standards and remain relevant in the increasingly globalized legal services industry. Of particular urgent concern is the regulation of the legal profession in Nigeria, which encapsulates admission to the Bar, legal education/Continuing Professional Development, legal services, and professional conduct and ethics.
There have been growing concerns over the past decade or so about the falling standards in the legal profession. These concerns have been expressed among the Bench, Bar, and also by public. Areas of concern have included, low admission requirements, a sharp decline in the quality of legal education, and deteriorating standards of professional ethics. We have high rates of unauthorized practice of law, weak and inadequate statutes, weak legal, institutional and regulatory regimes for the legal profession in Nigeria, low level of compliance with the rules of professional conduct, poor and incompetent delivery of legal services to client, lack of client care, corruption, and threats occasioned by globalization of legal services.
With the globalisation of legal services and the onslaught of the internet, entry barriers to foreign practice are increasingly difficult to enforce, particularly for developing jurisdictions like Nigeria. Large corporations in Nigeria now import legal services from big international law firms, without regards to our law as to municipal licensing. Every year, legal work worth millions of dollars is firmed out to foreign Law Firms. I believe that the time has come not only to protect our work and stop encroachment by others, but also to open horizons of opportunities of legal work that will result in enhanced income for our members and expand our legal practice.
This poses enormous challenge for which we are scarcely prepared at the moment. We must work towards controlling and minimizing foreign invasion.
The above-outlined challenges make it extremely difficult to regulate the legal profession in Nigeria especially as these problems have remained unaddressed for decades.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I strongly believe that the time has come to address the issue of regulation in the legal profession in Nigeria. In my inauguration speech in Port Harcourt in August 2016 I had this to say about regulation:
“With respect to Regulation, it appears clear that the regulatory architecture of the legal profession is out of date and out of sync with modern day Nigerian realities and indeed the size and complexity of the legal profession today. We must interrogate this and build a consensus on the direction to go. We need more rigorous and effective framework for establishing professional and ethical standards, reigning in erring unethical lawyers and rebuilding confidence in the legal profession. In doing this we will look at current global trends and trends on the African Continent. We cannot assume leadership role, regain our respect, nationally, across the continent and indeed globally if we do not change the current perception of the profession. We will review all current models of regulation and attempt to adopt new models or revamp the existing model. But this in our view is something we must do in our overall best interest. If the Nigerian Bar Association must retain its self-regulatory status, sufficient internal mechanism must be devised and adequate resources deployed to ensure that regulatory responsibilities are carried out effectively and efficiently and in line with accepted global standards. The major task of the Bar should be in enhancing its standards at professional and ethical levels and ensuring that bad eggs do not find sanctuary in its ranks”.
The foregoing statement underscores how weak and ineffective our current regulatory regime is. It can also be deciphered from the statement that the current regulatory framework underpinning the legal profession in Nigeria is obsolete and cannot address emerging trends and challenges in the legal services industry. Commenting on the need to review the existing regulatory mechanism and its inefficiency and ineffectiveness, I stated as follows in my speech at the 2016/2017 Opening of the legal year and Conferment of SAN speech in September 2016:
“It is not only the judiciary that requires reforms. Indeed the Bar is an eminent candidate for reform. I am referring to the reform of the regulation of the legal profession. The recent public concern about the profession has forced many of us to think deeply on the current state of the legal profession and indeed how the profession is being regulated. We realize that there is an urgent need to interrogate the architecture of the regulation. This is imperative if the legal profession in Nigeria is to be raised in sync with current international standards of the regulation of the profession. Many countries for instance are moving away from the current model of self regulation. A few have strengthened their Bar Associations and Law Societies to combine both the representative functions with the regulatory function. In my view this is a conversation that is long overdue. We must for instance interrogate the capacity of the Body of Benchers to continue its regulatory responsibility. The Body of Benchers currently comprises 240 members. Out of these, 99 are Life Benchers majority of whom do not attend the meeting of the Body due to age or other exigencies. 72 are State Chief Judges and Attorneys General, the NBA has 30 representatives. The remaining members are justices of the Supreme Court and President and Presiding Justices of the Court of Appeal Divisions all very busy people. The question really is what sort of regulation do we expect from a Body comprising 240 members many of whom we can only expect fleeting attention from. Many countries in the Common Wealth, though still retaining the ceremonial responsibilities of the Body of Benchers for admitting qualified persons to the Bar and custodian of the legal tradition and other formal powers, they have created new and more effective institutions for the more arduous and increasingly complex task of regulating the legal profession. In the United Kingdom for instance, the Legal Services Act 2007 is a legislation of over 400 pages. It defines the regulatory objectives to be achieved in the regulation of the legal profession in the United Kingdom and establishes the Legal Services Board as the Apex Regulator with the Bar Council and the Solicitors Regulation
Authority having specific role of regulating Barristers and Solicitors respectively. My postulation is that unless we take important and urgent decisions, the legal profession in Nigeria will lag behind its other contemporaries in Africa and indeed internationally. The legal profession is key to the next phase of Nigeria's development. Effective regulation of the profession is an absolute prerequisite for the development of the profession.”
GOING FORWARD TO PROVIDE SOLUTION
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the Nigerian Bar Association is worried about the deteriorating professional standards in the legal profession. We are concerned that for too long the relevant and appropriate authority failed or neglected addressing the issues of regulatory gaps and challenges that are daily militating against the regulation of the legal profession in Nigeria. It is one thing to identify what the challenges are; it is another to tackle the challenges head long with a view to providing solutions. The NBA has decided to tackle these challenges. The NBA is now more determined to play a major role in ensuring a better regulated legal profession in Nigeria. We believe that the first step is to provide a platform to discuss and interrogate the current regulatory regime and come up with recommendations on the way forward. To this end, we have set up the NBA Legal Profession Regulatory Review Committee.
The members of the Committee are:
1. Dr. Anthony Idigbe, SAN – Chairman
2. Prof. Koyinsola Ajayi, SAN
3. Mrs Funke Adekoya, SAN
4. Prof. Taiwo Osipitan, SAN
5. Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN
6. Mrs Bisi Shoyebo, SAN
7. Chief Arthur Obi-Okafor, SAN
8. Yakubu Maikyau, SAN
9. Prof. C. J. Dakas SAN
10. Prof. Ernest Ojukwu, SAN
11. Mr. Olarewaju Onadeko SAN
12. Dr Mike Adeleke
13. Prof. Alwalu Yadudu
14. Patricia Igwebuike Orji (Mrs)
15. Prof. M. L. Ahmadu
16. Prof. Augustine Agom
17. Mr. Rotimi Odusola
18. Prof. Osita Ogbu
19. Mrs Sade Aladeniyi
20. Prof. Ogugua Ikpeze
21. Dr. Aminu Gamawa – Secretary
22. Prof. U.U. Chukwuemeka Eze
23. Mr Eric Otojahi – Assistant Secretary.
It is worthy of mention that we have co-opted junior lawyers as members of the Committee. These junior lawyers were picked to have their perspectives on the subject matter of regulation of the legal profession.
The names of the co-opted junior lawyers are as follows:
1. Mohammed Adelodun, Esq.
2. Sa'adatu Hamu-Aliyu (Ms)
3. Chideofor Onuoha, Esq
4. Olive Akem, Esq
5. Zubaida Mahmoud (Ms)
6. Temitope Ige (Ms)
There terms of reference are as follows:
1. To review the current regulatory objectives and regulatory architecture of the legal profession and advise on its suitability to meet the current requirements for a robust, responsive and independent modern legal profession in Nigeria;
2. To determine on whether the NBA retain both its regulatory and representative functions, and if so, what necessary measures should be put in place to strengthen these roles and ensure that neither is compromised;
3. In particular, to review the role of the Body of Benchers, the General Council of the Bar, the Council of Legal Education, the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the NBA in the regulation of the legal profession and determine if the roles being played by these institutions and organs are appropriate to meet the needs of a robust and modern and independent legal profession in Nigeria;
4. To determine for instance, given the current composition of the Body of Benchers, if its role should not be formal and ceremonial limited to formal call to Bar and formal disbarment of members of the legal profession while ceding the more rigorous duty of regulation to the more appropriate organs either of the NBA or the General Council of the Bar or any desirable Agency;
5. To obtain the proposed bills for review of the legal practitioners Act pending at the National Assembly and review same in the light of the recommendation arising from the work of the Committee envisaged in these terms of reference;
6. To review the current standards for admission into the Nigerian Bar and recommend changes. In particular determine whether the current threshold of 40% as pass mark for Bar examinations at the Nigerian Law School is realistic and determine how such threshold compare with entry requirement into the legal profession across Africa and the rest of the world and make appropriate recommendations;
7. To examine, given the current size of the legal profession, its exponential growth in recent years relative to the needs of the Nigerian economy, the desirability of candidates seeking admission to the law faculties in Nigeria to possess a degree in another discipline as a condition for admission;
8. To review the ethical requirements for admission into the legal profession and determine the adequacy of such requirements and how best to maintain high ethical and professional standards in the legal profession;
9. To determine if, aside from admission to the Bar there should be a separate requirement for licensing law offices and advise how best to regulate and monitor such licensing;
10. To advise on the need to introduce a system of pupillage into the legal profession and advise on the duration and how best to administer such system of pupillage;
11. To make any appropriate recommendations the Committee deems necessary or to achieve the objectives of strengthening the legal profession in Nigeria;
12. To submit its report on or before the 30th day of April, 2017.
Please note that you are to do other things necessary that will assist your work in recommending a stronger regulatory regime for the legal profession in Nigeria.
Permit me to use this opportunity to point out that there is a draft Rules of Professional Conduct that was prepared by a Sub- Committee of the General Council of the Bar under the Chairmanship of Yemi Candide-Johnson SAN. The immediate past Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice didn’t sign it before leaving office. The Office of the President of the NBA shall get copies of the draft and report of that Sub-Committee for this Committee to determine if there is need for further review and come up with final draft.
I conclude by reiterating the importance of the assignment given to this Committee. One of the cardinal programmes of this administration is the regulation of the legal profession in Nigeria. It is a programme that is dear to my heart. I look forward to the traction and the mileage that will be gained by the work of this Committee. I have no doubt in my mind that my generation and even our children and grand children shall benefit from the work of this committee.
I thank the members of this Committee for accepting to serve the Bar in this capacity. I searched and could not find more qualified and competent men and women of this calibre to do this work. I thank you so very much for accepting this call to serve. Your service to the Bar will not go unappreciated. The reports you turn in will not be left gathering dust in the archives. They will be implemented, either at the level of your national officers or NBA National Executive Committee or Annual General Meeting or even National Institutions such as the National Assembly or the Presidency or even the Judiciary.
Upon the submission of your report and recommendation, a Bill shall be presented to the National Assembly either to amend the Legal Practitioners Act or to repeal and replace the Legal Practitioners Act. We shall lead a high level legislative advocacy to ensure speedy passage into law. There is no time to waste. I encourage you to work with high speed and dispatch. Fortunately you may not need frequent physical meetings as you can work and make presentations with the use of information technology.
Congratulations on your appointment to serve! Again I thank you all for coming and accepting. Your assignment with the greatest respect begun last year.
I thank you all for your time and audience.
ABUBAKAR B. MAHMOUD, SAN PRESIDENT,
NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION.
JANUARY 24, 2017.