‘Bar conferences critical to robust legal practice’
Following the successes recorded in the just concluded national conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Abuja, a Lagos-based lawyer and National Centre for Societal Values and Development, Silas Udoh, in this interview with YETUNDE AYOBAMI OJO examines the recent reforms of the current leadership of the organisation and why some of them should have moratorium. He also spoke on investment law, judicial reforms and immigrations
How do you assess the current leadership of NBA vis-a-vis the current reforms and successful hosting of the national conference in Abuja? Truly, the present leadership of the NBA has attempted to reform the NBA, especially in the area of the insurance policy based on the condition that you pay your practicing fees.
This reform has brought some level of security to lawyers in case of the unexpected issue of life. I believe that if you are practicing illegally, you should not be benefiting from the basic insurance policy. Before now, lawyers, especially junior lawyers, are on their own.
If any dies, there is no representation of the NBA to sympathise with the deceased family, except when you become a senior advocate, then they make it a political burial.
But with this reform, once you pay your practicing fees, you are qualified. The insurance policy will take care of the unexpected because your family will have something in form of financial assistance.
I also want to commend the leadership in issue of the Stamp and Seal. But I believe that it should not be rushed. My reason being that there might be some practicing lawyers, who might be out of the country where they are based .
So if you stop them from practicing because they did not have stamp and seal at a particular time, then you stop him from signing and filing papers or practicing in courts.
To me, it is an injustice. NBA should give a period of two years to allow lawyers who are outside the country to comply. So rushing to say by September, lawyers will not be allowed to file papers in court is not fair and to me it is not a very good approach to sanitise the legal practice.
We have been living with fake lawyers for years, waiting for one more year to check their activities to me is not too much. How do you assess the hosting of the conference? I also commend the NBA for cutting down the cost of attending the bar conference.
This year, it was cheaper. The conference supposed to be an avenue for continuing education. Money should not be used to scare people away because if you scare them away from coming on board to benefit from the lectures, then you are killing the profession.
These lawyers are grassroot people, they are the ones to advise the clients and if they are not up to date, they will be giving wrong advise. Do not forget that the clients who are being advised are Nigerians.
So if they are advised wrongly, it will affect the economy because of its multiplier effects. NBA is the only profession that demands very high conference fee. NBA should take into consideration that law practice is for everybody.
They should try to further reduce the conference fees so that every lawyer could attend to update their knowledge rather then scaring them away with a hike in conference fees.
The senior lawyers should be encouraged to pay for the junior ones. It is better for the practice, it is better for the country! Do you support calls for a reform that will allow for extension of tenure for NBA officials? The period of two years term is quite in order, although in recent times, two years is becoming too short.
But no matter how short the tenure is, a good leader should be able to set a barometer for others to follow. The incoming leader should have the responsibility to work on that barometer.
So it will behold on lawyers to tell the incoming leadership to consolidate and compete the predecessor’s projects. NBA has agreed to adopt universal suffrage.
What do you think about the zoning arrangement? It is good for the elections to be open to every lawyer to participate. Let all lawyers participate in the voting.
I also commend the NBA for cutting down the cost of attending the bar conference. This year, it was cheaper. The conference supposed to be an avenue for continuing education. Money should not be used to scare people away because if you scare them away from coming on board to benefit from the lectures, then you are killing the profession.
I am totally against electoral college. Zoning is good to some extent but it may promote tribalism, irrespective of the zone, quality service , quality leadership, but one family should be paramount.
What advise do you have for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on expected reforms in the judiciary? Reforms have always been around. For instance, Lagos state was in the forefront of front-loading but the experience we have now shows that the process is more expensive and time consuming.
Before you start any action, you will follow the pre-trial process. This leads to congestion of courts and applications. The policy of N200 penalty for late gathering of filing defence is another area, that is not going well in the process. The court must understand that there are exhibits that will take long time to produce.
Most times, the plaintiffs are more prepared before filing actions and the defendants are often taken unawares. They need a long time to gather exhibits so as to put up good defence but the courts are not always patient. Once after the 42 days has expired, you start to pay N200.
In some cases the court itself has failed to deliver judgments within time and lawyers do not demand compensations from government.
The point is that penalty should be reduced to the barest minimum so that an average Nigerian should be able to assist the court. A situation where you pay N200 penalty per day before you can gathered your exhibits and papers to file your defence is not right.
The court must show that the entire exercise is not punitive but corrective. The second aspect is that the number of cases assigned to judges are too much and so judges are overworked.
You cannot be talking of reforms, when you are not ready to appoint more justices to reduce the number of cases. The facilities are not there for electronical reliance; we are still using long hands in taking proceedings .
So why would the cases be fast-tract, when one judge will be saddled with about 40 cases each day? In magistrate courts, you see even more than that. So the call of cases alone take a lot of time, whether the case is going on or not.
Everything about the case must be written long hands. By the time cases for trial go on, the judge is already tired because he is a human being.
These are no longer young people because before you are appointed a judge, you should be at least 20 years of in law practice, so the work load is too much on them.
The reform will not work without increasing the number of judges at the bench. Any need for investment law in Nigeria? Nigerians should embrace investment law, especially people that are retiring.
They should always consult lawyers on how they can invest their retirement benefits and terminal gratuities because many of them did not actually sit down to consider the business environment they want to invest.
On many occasions, when people collect their terminal benefits , they rush into business, without investigating the business environment or drawing up memorandum of understanding.
Every lawyer has the ability to do investment law, what that means is that the investment you are going into must be spelt out and you should ascertain the legal status of the business.
Can people who are denied visa appeal against it? Yes, they can. At the point of applying for visa, somebody should know the requirements before they apply. Anytime, you are denied visa, you lost all money spent, but when you have the proper advise,you can lodge an appeal when you are denied visa wrongly.