Paul Usoro is one of Nigeria’s leading lawyers, with industry-leading expertise in commercial and telecommunications law. In the first part of a series of articles, he tackles the issue of institutional reform of the Nigerian Bar Association. He has recently completed a series of articles on the issue of welfare for young practitioners in the legal profession and wider industry reforms for The Daily Times which you can find here.
I believe that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), at the national level, is in need of urgent and far-reaching reforms if it must retain its relevance not only in the larger society but even to its members. These reforms will, at the minimum, achieve four significant and immediate goals, to wit, (a) enhance efficiency in the operations of the Association; (b) engender confidence and trust amongst its members (or, as some would say, win back the confidence and trust of members who are disengaged); (c) transform the NBA into a sustainable institution; and (d) increase the moral equity of the NBA to enable it effectively influence required reforms in the justice subsector and remain a respected watchdog of the society.
These objectives are interlinked. Creating an institution out of the NBA, for example, requires a much higher level of efficiency than we currently have. In like manner, the confidence of NBA members would be greatly boosted or won back through efficient operations and institutional reforms and, in the process, the NBA would be vested with an enhanced moral authority to propagate required reforms in the justice subsector and speak out against societal ills. To further illustrate, efficiency in operations that ensures the timely delivery of stamps and seals to members within weeks of the payments of their respective Practice Fees and the completion of required verifications would go a long way in heightening the confidence of NBA members in the Association. This would contrast with the current unexplained practice of some members receiving their stamps and seals very late and sometimes close to the expiration of the validity period/year and some others not at all within the said period.
There are several ingredients and elements that work in the building of an institution and one of these is the efficiency of its operations. There is no institution or successful organisation that does not adhere to corporate governance principles, the anchors of which include transparency alongside established and defined processes and procedures and strict adherence thereto. Embedded in the DNA of all successful organisations is the setting out of well-defined strategies/goals (usually spanning 5-10 year timeframes) to which the institution’s relevant stakeholders and workforce have signed up to. Such strategic plans are communally developed by the said stakeholders and its workforce and are usually documented, periodically reviewed and/or revised and faithfully implemented. Successful institutions also have in their structures efficient succession plans that promote the continuity of its programs and strategic plans and objectives.
As you would see from the journey that we are undertaking in this series of Reflections, starting with this piece, the NBA, as currently constituted and operated, lacks these basic ingredients and characteristics of an institution set for effectiveness. Not having these building blocks, the NBA is unfortunately bedeviled with and by avoidable inefficiencies in its operations – the delays in delivery of stamps and seals to members and over reliance on ad-hoc committees are symptomatic of these inefficiencies – leading, in parts, to members’ dissatisfaction. The absence of institutional efficiencies amongst others, shows in the lack of corporate governance practices in the operations and procedures of the Association, the absence of published strategic plans, goals and objectives, the absence of performance monitoring mechanisms and want of continuity in the implementation of the NBA’s programs consequent upon the absence of an established transition culture and plan that promotes such continuity of programs.
These deficiencies are not irremediable, in my respectful opinion. I firmly believe that they can be remedied, and the Association turned into a sustainable institution that will not only earn and retain the respect of its members but that of society at large and also have a commanding voice that cannot be ignored. My focus in this set of Reflections, I must reiterate will be on the NBA at the national level knowing and believing as I do, that if the reforms are successfully implemented at that level, it will gradually and ultimately percolate to the branch levels.
I therefore invite you, my friends and colleagues, on this journey that will x-ray the non-exhaustive reforms that the NBA needs in order to achieve, amongst others, the four goals that I set out at the beginning of this piece, to wit, (a) the enhancement of efficiency in the operations of the Association; (b) boosting confidence and trust amongst its members; (c) transforming the NBA into a sustainable institution; and (d) increasing the moral equity of the NBA to enable it effectively influence required reforms in the justice subsector and remain a respected watchdog of the society.