The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is set to commence the process of delisting a parallel organisation of lawyers, the Law Society of Nigeria (LSN), on the portal of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), a government agency saddled with the responsibility of registering businesses, companies and other corporate entities.
However, lawyers have told PREMIUM TIMES that the move may impinge on the right to freedom of association entrenched in the constitution. They said the legality of such action may have to be tested in court.
The NBA took the decision to take step against the LSN at its quarterly National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting held on 15 December, 2022 in Abuja.
The resolution of the NBA’s NEC meeting is contained in a communique jointly signed by the association’s President, Yakubu Maikyau, and its Assistant Secretary General, Daniel Kip.
The NBA said it was shocked to learn of an attempt by some senior members and former leaders of the bar trying to establish an “unknown” parallel body of lawyers.
The communique stated that the NBA, through its NEC, decided to sanction any of its members supporting another association either using a new name or the LSN.
The NEC added that the NBA, resolved to mandate the NBA President to commence process of the delisting of the LSN by the Corporate Affairs Commission.
“NEC receives with dismay the report of the attempt to register a parallel body of lawyers as an alternative to the Nigerian Bar Association and frowns at the involvement of some senior members of the Bar and past leaders of our dear Association in the registration process of the alternative body.
“NEC categorically resolves that the Law Society of Nigeria (LSN), a body so registered, is unknown to members of the Bar and mandates the NBA President to commence processes for the delisting of the LSN by the Corporate Affairs Commission.
“NEC further resolves to sanction all members of the Bar seeking to promote or register a new lawyers’ association, whether using a new name or an old registered Law Society of Nigeria (LSN).”
There have been controversies over the registration and formation of a new association of legal practitioners, which is different from the NBA, the Law Society of Nigeria.
The new association is reported to be led by Kunle Ogunba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
In a previous interview with PUNCH, one of the founders of the LSN blamed the NBA’s negligence of members’ welfare for the emergence of the factional group.
But a former NBA President, Olisa Agbakoba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had said that the group was a mere resurgence of the Law Society of Nigeria, which was first established in 1994 when the former military president of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babangida, was harassing the NBA.
“The Law Society of Nigeria was established in 1994 when Babangida was harassing the NBA and we could not operate, so we now try to use the name Law Society of Nigeria to continue to practise our profession. But shortly after, the NBA resurrected and came back, so it was something we entirely forgot.
“My point is that even this Law Society of Nigeria was established by the NBA, for a particular purpose when IBB forced us to go underground. So I don’t quite understand how the present officers can claim to be the ones that represent the law society of Nigeria when they are not,” Mr Agbakoba told the PUNCH last month.
Meanwhile, Mr Ogunba did not respond to calls and text messages sent to his known number, for comments.
Also, the LSN publicity Secretary, Douglas Ogbanakwa, declined to speak when contacted by our reporter on Saturday. He initially asked to speak with his superiors before speaking on the matter.
But on Monday when reminded, Mr Ogbanakwa said the LSN would not be speaking.
“No comment now. That’s the instruction,” he said.
NBA’s move may be tested in court — Lawyers
Inibehe Effiong, a human rights lawyer, told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview that it is not certain if NBA membership deprives Nigerian lawyers of belonging to or forming another association of lawyers.
“Whether membership or the existence of the NBA and association of all registered lawyers in Nigeria automatically deprives all legal practitioners of belonging or forming an association apart from the NBA is lawful is debatable already.
“Because even within the legal profession and the NBA, there are also other bodies and groups that are recognised by the NBA, for example, the Young lawyers’ Forum, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Christian Lawyers Association of Nigerian, and the Muslim Lawyers Association and the body of senior advocates of Nigeria including several other bodies.
While Mr Effiong noted that the LSN body was incorporated several years ago and has not been active, he said the LSN was revived by some members of interest within the NBA to pursue an agenda that is not in the interest of the corporate nature and oneness of the NBA.
Mr Effiong said the validity of the LSN as a body in the NBA would be tested in court, citing section 40 of the Nigerian constitution that protects the right to freedom of association.
“I am not sure whether the NBA can on its own bar other legal practitioners from forming an association independent of the NBA. I am not sure about that. And I think it is a matter that would have to be tested in court.”
Corroborating Mr Effiong’s stance, another lawyer, Abdulbasit Suliaman, said no organisation has the right to stop the formation of an association.
“No particular organisation or government parastatal has the right to stop a group of persons from joining or forming an association as far as it is not in contravention with the provisions of the constitution,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
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