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Daniel Amaechi Onwe Esq | ALDIN

The Self-Demystifying Balkanization of the NBA: A Call for Rethinking

The just concluded General Election of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) left in its wake wounded feelings. And the resultant effect of which is the insinuations of the formation of a parallel Bar association. Subsequently came the Annual General Conference and the brouhaha over the invite and disinvite of Mallam Nasir El Rufai.

This is not without the casualty of aggrieved people. And their option –   actual move to form a parallel Bar Association. In the foregoing circumstance, we have been inundated with a barrage of grandiloquent arguments on the legality or illegality of forming alternatives to the NBA.

I am not really kin in enlisting in the army of either side of the argument, as both sides have already done sufficiently good showings of legal argument. Head or tail, the best interest of our association and nation is what matters.

Perhaps, each of the groupings in question has legitimate grievances actuating their decisions. However, doesn’t the NBA have an inbuilt grievance remedial mechanism to resolve the issues? The judicial system essentially made up of members of the legal profession exists basically for the settlement of disputes, which is a normal feature of human relationships.

The capacity to resolve disputes and sustain continued relationships between humans is one feature, distinguishing humans from other lesser animals.

The expertise for settlement of disputes is what in turn distinguishes the lawyers from other professionals. And this is the selling point the members of the legal profession survive and thrive on.

If for every grievance we resort to the escapist option of breaking away, can we then as professionals still command the trust of the members of the society to competently settle their dispute, either via litigation or mediation or arbitration?

As Nigerian lawyers, the NBA brand, despite all the odds, is still a strong an enviable one. And despite the amount of respect it may have lost, the NBA still has much respect left. Dividing the NBA will leave every part across the divide weaker, less effective and less respected.

I have heard the argument that professions such as accounting and engineering have more than one professional bodies respectively.  As factual as that argument may be, the truth is that those other professions look up to the lawyers for leadership, and not vice versa.

I can recall in my university days decades back, even as year one law students, students in other disciplines, including those in their final year, looked up to us for direction. And I am not aware that that position has changed today.  Are we conceding this leadership position to the other professionals?

If with one professional body, we find it challenging to speak with one voice as lawyers, it is unimaginable how worse off we will be if the bodies are in fragments. And this would not be a good omen for Nigeria as a nation, given the manipulative predisposition of the Nigerian politicians, and the dependence of the Nigerian masses on a body like the NBA.

We can see how unfortunately judgments of the Federal High Court of different divisions conflict; however, the Court of Appeal comes in to give harmony. And when the judgement of the Court of Appeal conflict, the Supreme Court come in to give direction. If we now have fragments of bodies of lawyers, with whatever nomenclature, where do we find common ground and one voice to speak against bad governance?

If we split today, we can be sure that we shall split again, as offences will continue to occur in every human relationship. Does it then mean that the process of fragmentation will continue in perpetuity? Rather than escaping to form another association, I think it will be in the overall interest of the Bar if we take our stand and confront the ills that may be in the NBA, until the change we expect comes.

When we run away from problems, such problems don’t only reinforce, they also follow us wherever we run to. Quitters don’t win, and winners don’t quit.

We must not lose sight of the fact that no matter what, the larger society still looks up to the lawyers for guidance. And what the lawyers do is likely to be copied and extrapolated from as the ideal.

Therefore, those who feel aggrieved one way or the other about the state of affairs of Nigeria may be guided to believe that the viable option would be breaking away to form their own country, instead of thinking of how to contribute their quota towards the solution to the problem.

This is not a matter of who has a better legal argument. It is a matter of charting the best possible course for our profession, its members, and our country.

The newly elected President of the NBA and his team, as well as the elders of the profession, need to rise up to the occasion to pacify aggrieved parties and steady our ship to navigate in the right direction.

Nigerians are looking up to members of the Nigerian bar for direction, and it is incumbent on us to give them the right direction.

Daniel Amaechi Onwe Esq., is the President of the Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN)

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