The report indicted the past and present leaders of the NBA of mismanagement.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is a completely disorganised body with an “unclear mission” and “insecure future;” where “predatory sexual misconducts” are rife and the morale of its abused and exploited staff is next to zero, a report submitted by the association’s“committee on professionalization of the NBA secretariat” has said.
In a damning analysis of the rot that has eaten the association’s secretariat, the committee said, “If any other organization or entity can rise to offer to members of the NBA a unifying promise of professional growth or edge, the NBA as we know it could become history.”
The report fears that the secretariat has become so dysfunctional that it could endanger the continued existence of the association as it could rubbish it with “adverse pecuniary and reputational consequences.”
According to the report, the shoddiness of the secretariat has undermined “the processes of professional discipline in the legal profession in Nigeria.”
Members of the association complain that they get nothing in return for their loyalty to the association in form of branch membership and practicing fee, which are the association’s lifeblood,leading one senior advocate to aptly describe the association as “grossly incompetent”, the report says.
“There is no defining vision or programmatic agenda that offers growth, value added or a competitive existential or professional edge to the members of the NBA or effective platforms for involvement outside the politics of bar activism.”
Formed in 1933, the NBA is a non-profit, umbrella professional association of all lawyers admitted to the Bar in Nigeria.
“It is engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights, the rule of law and good governance in Nigeria. It has an observer status with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, and a working partnership with many national and international non-governmental organizations concerned with human rights, the rule of law and good governance in Nigeria and in Africa,” the NBA website states.
The association is currently made up of 100 branches, three professional sections, two specialized institutes, and six practice-cadre forums. It is one of the most vocal and respected professional associations in Nigeria and has had over 25 heads since inception.
The report, submitted in January, by the NBA committee headed by Chidi Odinkalu, a law professor and current chairman of Nigeria’s Human Rights Commission, however, shows a decayed national secretariat without scruples.
Apart from Mr. Odinkalu, other members of the committee are Halima Aliyu (Birnin-Kebbi Branch), Muritala Abdul-Rasheed (Kaduna Branch), Abigail Waya (Lafia Branch), Idris Bawa, (Abuja Branch), and Udo Jude Ilo (Abuja Branch), Secretary,
Abysmal staff morale
With no staff contracts, job security, specification and deliverable attached to the staff position, the operation and management of the NBA secretariat are arbitrary and whimsical, the report says.
Most of the secretariat staff members are not paid a living wage. Staff compensations are deliberately “designed to leave staff on the margins of dependency and destitution, encouraging them to pervert the mechanisms and processes of the Association into avenues for subsistence.”
The report said the NBA pays discriminatory remuneration and staff members lack access to basic skill, capacity and instruments to do their work. As a result, staff morale is abysmal with high level of attrition among skilled personnel.
“It is clear that members of the NBA and much of the leadership treat personnel of the Secretariat as instruments to be exploited or burdens to be tolerated rather than as the principal tools for guaranteeing an effective Bar.”
One staff member described the atmosphere at the secretariat as “survival of the fittest”. Backstabbing and favouritism are verse and the preferred mode of doing things is informal with important information passed orally, the committee observed.
“Despite the best efforts of the Secretariat personnel, it was evident that the preferred and dominant tradition of work at the NBA is informal. Important instructions concerning the work of the Secretariat are transmitted orally or informally and this is accepted as standard procedure, with the result that record keeping and an institutional memory are discouraged or frowned at,” it said.
A staff interviewed by the committee stated that, “The NBA is run on rumours. There is no mechanism to verify rumour from reality. There is no clear organizational structure. You either listen to rumour or you’re out of the loop. We found this very confusing but we were used to the confusion. It was the way things were done. You couldn’t have done anything to change it. NBA is not a place where you take initiative. You do as you are told basically. You don’t do the thinking out of the box thing.”
The NBA, which is supposed to be composed of all ‘learned’ Nigerians, flagrantly violates employment laws. The association does not remit the tax return of its staff and neither does it pay their contributory pension as required by law, the committee observed.
“It is clear that members of the NBA and much of the leadership treat personnel of the Secretariat as instruments to be exploited or burdens to be tolerated rather than as the principal tools for guaranteeing an effective bar,” the report observed.
Sexual harassment and abusive working environment
Not only are the staff poorly treated, some of them are also sexually harassed, according to the findings.
“Predatory sexual behaviour” is rife in the NBA especially within the National Executive Committee, NEC, whose meetings were described as being notorious for being the venue of such harassment.
“Some staff avoided participation in the NEC meetings because of its reputation as a venue for predatory sexual misconduct. There was a perception that married female members of staff suffered because of their marital status. Among many female members of staff, the joke was that “married people are not particularly marketable because they don’t make good conference material”; with “conference material” being an object of sexual gratification, the report said.
“Sexual harassment happens but what can be done about it? The people that do the harassing are people against whom you can’t do anything because they are our bosses in the NBA. Who will you complain to without being victimized? You either comply or you survive,” said a staff while explaining why no complaints have been made against officials.
There are also allegations of bullying, intimidation, and imprecations directed towards employees.
“Staff severally reported being shouted at and called names, including “fool”, “stupid”, “silly”, “idiot” or worse. Young, nursing members of staff abused or reduced to tears or ordered brusquely out of the office for bringing their babies to work on days that they had child-minding difficulties,” the report noted.
Precarious financial state
While the NBA strives to increase its revenue by asking increasing the dues of its members, the committee observed that even the little funds it has is poorly managed.
The Association was recently charged to court by five lawyers over an increase in practicing fees with some increased by about 400 per cent.
The fee for lawyers, who have spent less than five years at the bar, was increased from N2, 000 to N5, 000; while other categories were also increased.
However, as the NBA committee observed, even its present income is not being properly handled.
Management of budget and accounting of the association are “perfunctory and slip-shod” at best, the committee observed.
The report paints a very damning picture of the association’s financial state. Because it has failed to explore other revenue potentials, it is “dangerously dependent on big envelope donations from Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) who are now potentially in a position to dictate the organization’s programmes or interfere in its processes.”
Several lawyers contacted declined to comment explaining they are yet to see the content of the report. However, Abuja-based lawyer, Charles Musa, said it is a good thing that the committee was constituted but advised that the recommendations of the committee should not be disregarded.
“There is no perfect organisation. I would not move to another organisation because we are stronger when people are united. If there’s any need for reform, then there should be reform. The NBA president should make sure the recommendations are carried out and that there are no sacred cows,” he said.