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Should the Bar debar…?

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By Ademola Adebisi

In the last week of October 2022, Nigeria and, of course, the world woke up to the news that a rival association of lawyers known as the Law Society of Nigeria had been formed.

According to the promoters of the society led by Kunle Ogunba, its formation became imperative in order to rejuvenate the praçtice of the law profession in Nigeria and also key it into international best practices. However, another promoter of the association who anonymously spoke with The Punch newspaper, has attributed the split to the failure of the Nigerian Bar Association to adequately look after the welfare of members and mismanagement of the financial resources of perhaps, the biggest professional body in Nigeria. While the promoters of the LSN are laying claim to its birth and originality, Olisa Agbakoba, a former president of the NBA, has pinpointed the distortion in such claim.

According to him, the LSN was a forgotten shell of the NBA. Drawing on historical evidence,he recalled that, around 1994 when the military government of the day jackbooted and banned the vocal NBA for fighting abuse of human rights and undemocratic tendencies of the military government, the NBA he said, resurrected as the LSN.When the situation changed, the name LSN he concluded, was sunk into oblivion and the law professional body reverted to its original name,NBA. If that is the origin of the name LSN, the promoters of the new LSN, are saying that they are not just a parallel body, they are also out to redefine the practice of the law profession in the country.

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Expectedly, since the announcement of the formation of the parallel body has been made, it has been met with vitriolic attacks by the NBA executive. It has not only declared the LSN an illegal body, but has also mapped out sanctions against it promoters. In one of such moves, it was reported that the name of the society shall be deleted from the Corporate Affairs Commission. Indeed, only last week, one of the promoters of the Society and former secretary general of the NBA,Nimi Walson-Jack was marked for denial of all his privileges as a former member of the executive of the NBA. The attack on the Society was further stoked with the judgement of a Federal High Court in Enugu that, the NBA is the only recognized body to license any lawyer that wants to practice in Nigeria. Indeed, since the break away was announced, the NBA executive has taken up the LSN as a national government would take up a section of its state that is attempting to secede. It is this seemingly hardline reaction that has provoked in me the question: should the Bar debar the LSN from berthing?

Let me hasten to state at this juncture that, I am not a sympathiser of the LSN, but rather a sympathiser of human rights, freedom of association to be specific in this case. That is just the motivation for this essay.

The first kernel of my position therefore, is that, since the constitution allows for freedom of association, no hurdle ought to be erected to still birth the parallel body. This is more so that, it is going to be a lawful professional body whenever the Act of the National Assembly permits it. We have indeed seen a number of professions in this country having more than one professional body or interest group. The ready example is the accounting profession. The profession is today being regulated by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and the Association of National Accountants. Also, the engineering profession has multiple of professional bodies of which the Nigerian Society of Engineers and Council of Registered Engineers are the frontliners.. Taking a look into it on the global stage, there are countries where even this same law professionals have the options of which lawyer association to join.

South Africa is one example; others are USA, UK and India. This being the case, why then should the NBA abhor the emergence of another law profession umbrella? Why monopoly? As partly a defender of human rights including freedom of association, would the NBA ever support a one party system for Nigeria? Certainly no! In the early days of this fourth republic, it will be recalled that, Chief Gani Fawehinmi legally fought the attempt by the electoral commission to impose limitation on the number of political parties that could operate in Nigeria and he won the struggle in the law court on the platter or platform of freedom of association. If all these are true,is it then not plausible for the NBA not to cause any further delay or frustration in the birth of the LSN?

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Indeed, it will be helpful to draw the attention of the NBA to the realities of the anthropological law in man’s social ecology when it comes to group formation., One is that, as a gregarious specie, human beings are bound to form themselves into groups based on interests. Two, exploring this law further, Arthur Bentley in his theoretical analysis of group dynamics had postulated that, group can form “today, break the next day and federate tomorrow”. In other words, atomisation or endless formation of groups from groups and by groups is naturally and sociologically inevitable. As such, the NBA must set it gaze on this law and should advisedly just let go. The contradictions within the NBA have now generated an antithesis in the LSN and it looks good a social progress.

The NBA may in introvertion choose to do some house cleansing in respect of the allegations raised by the men of the LSN.But the question is: for how long will an association that was formed in 1933, that is 90 years ago, enjoy its monopoly? Monopoly of course breeds lethargy and monotony. Perhaps if given a life of its own the LSN might deliver on its promise to inject innovations into the profession and make our lawyers more learned.

Further more, the existence of the LSN will no doubt, suggest competition with NBA and likely decline in its income. However, it does not suggest its extinction. Is it not even possible for lawyers to belong to the two associations? I buttress this with this story of a bean cake seller, “Alakara” in Ila-orangun, a community in Osun State. In the 70s, there was this”akara”seller in the town, a woman, by name Fanihun. She was very popular in the town.

She in fact baked for kings and chiefs in the town and its environs.This was on account of her excellent and tasteful akara. She spiced and mixed her condiments so well that her akara was irresistible. Thus, every day, she attracted a crowd of buyers from all the quarters of the town. In fact, the patronage was so huge that,buyers would struggle and fight to buy her akara which she also baked in varieties. To break her monopoly, other akara sellers mushroomed in the town.In spite of this, Fanihun’s patronage remained magnetic and the one to beat. , She did not behave like the proverbial Yoruba “Alakara” that would not want to tolerate a rival. She tolerated them ! Still, both Fanihun and her competitors survived for a long time and together they brought more creativity into akara business in the town.Should’nt the NBA play Fanihun? Methinks it should.

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Dr Adebisi teaches politics and international relations at Elizade University, Ilara-Mokin, Ondo State.

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