His message to legal practitioners
My dear Colleagues,
I am Paul Usoro, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and the Senior Partner and Founder of Paul Usoro & Co (PUC), a full-service law firm headquartered in Lagos with branches in Abuja and Uyo. I was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1982 and was subsequently elevated to the Inner Bar in 2003.
I have been engaged in legal practice since my Call to the Bar and have garnered over 30 years’ experience in all aspects of legal practice, including complex litigations and high profile commercial transactions. I sit on the Boards of several blue-chip companies and I am very well versed in corporate governance and administration. I am a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and a member of the International Bar Association.
Appreciating the significance of an efficient and vibrant Bar for Nigerian lawyers and citizens and the imperative for building an enduring and sustainable institution out of the NBA, I present myself, with humility and a high sense of responsibility, as a candidate for the position of the NBA President, for the period September 2018 to August 2020. I perhaps need to mention that I am from Ukana Ikot Ntuen in Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State and therefore fit into the NBA’s geographical East to which the office of the NBA President has been zoned for the 2018 Elections.
I consider it a privilege to present my ideas and thoughts on some of the issues we will focus on in uplifting the institution of the NBA and level of legal practice in Nigeria if I am elected as the NBA President. This is a non-exhaustive blueprint of my modernization and reform plans for the Bar. My agenda is not only to embark upon innovations, but also to consolidate on the foundation laid by our past leaders. In essence, we will be advancing the good legacies that we have, replacing the obsolete ones and advancing new frontiers for the Bar.
I have selected three thematic areas to drive the reform plan knowing as I do that two years would be inadequate to cover all the required reforms.
The three focus areas are:
- Institutional Development and Regulatory Reforms.
- Human Capital Development and Welfare Programme.
- Promotion of the Rule of Law and Good Governance in Nigeria.
The following paragraphs present a brief overview of each of the three themes and provide programme objectives to be achieved under each thematic area.
- INSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND REGULATORY REFORMS
- Institutional Development
I believe that the 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.
As my set-out point, it is my position that no institution or organization can be deemed or classified as successful if it fails to adhere to corporate governance principles, the cornerstones of which are transparency and emplacement of established and well-defined processes and procedures coupled with strict adherence thereto. The NBA, as currently constituted and operated, lacks these basic ingredients and characteristics of an institution – and this has been confirmed by the recent KPMG Diagnostic Report on the NBA. In driving the goal of building an institution out of the NBA, we need to entrench these governance principles and thereby not only guaranty efficiency in the administration of the Association but also boost the confidence of our Members and external stakeholders. Entrenching these principles will also clothe us with the moral toga to challenge and speak truth to power, particularly in instances of financial and/or administrative malfeasance, misappropriations and misconducts.
The specific programme strands that shall enable me deliver on this agenda, if elected as President of the NBA, shall include the following:
- Professionalize and strengthen the NBA National Secretariat for effective and efficient service delivery so as to meet the needs of our members and the public. The required reforms in the NBA must logically start from its apex, to wit, the governance structure at the national level. The operational complexities of the Association in 2018 justify the delegation of day-to-day operations and management of the NBA by the elected part-time National Officers to an executive management team made up of suitably qualified, skilled and experienced full-time personnel.
- Entrench Corporate Governance in Financial Management: Without financial planning and accountability, a Bar Association will fail to function. We will therefore ensure a complete overhaul of the account and finance unit at the NBA National Secretariat with proper definition of the unit’s role and the engagement/retention of qualified, experienced, well-motivated and skilled accountants to man the unit. We would also institutionalize internal control systems and processes. The essence of internal control systems and processes is to prevent leakages and fraud and to bullet-proof the organization against identified risks. To enhance the Association’s corporate governance in financial management we would constitute a Standing Audit Committee of the Association that would, amongst others, assist in reviewing and monitoring the efficacy of and compliance with our internal control systems and processes. Budgeting and budget reviews will also be made standard practice and quarterly financial statements would be routinely published to members to inform on the Association’s financial health. Transparency would be the watchword in the management of the Association’s resources including its finances and assets.
III. Upgrade and improve the operational capacity of NBA Sections, Institutes, and Fora so that they would be able to fulfil their mandate. Generally speaking, the NBA organs operate at sub-optimal levels. Well organised and run, these organs should serve, amongst others, as the engine-room for planning the contents of and for the Annual General Conferences (AGC) of the NBA. These organs offer opportunities for members to deliberate on topical issues and raise the bar in advancing the course of specialisation within the NBA. They therefore constitute a veritable NBA resource for planning our AGCs, content-wise in particular. In addition, the various committees of our Sections ought to be hosting, on regular basis and annually, workshops and seminars in their respective specialized fields. Best practice also recommends that some of the committees collaborate to host such workshops where the topics are common to and touch on the specialised fields of such committees. In summary, the NBA organs as currently constituted would be deepened and made to achieve much more in terms of structure, activities, inclusion, outreach, communication, and evaluation.
- NBA Strategic Plan. We would review, update and ensure the implementation of the NBA Strategic Plan to ensure continuity and sustainability of programmes, policies and projects. There was a Strategic Plan that was approved by the NBA National Executive Committee (NEC) at its meeting at Aba in March 2017 but I am not aware that there has been a monitoring of its implementation. Well-run institutions routinely monitor the implementation of their Strategic Plans during the quarterly meetings of their directing organs – i.e. the Board of Directors or its equivalent. NEC is the NBA equivalent of a Board of Directors and it does not appear that the monitoring of the Strategic Plan is a staple on its quarterly agenda. That would be corrected in my tenure as the President and the Strategic Plan itself would be reviewed, widely circulated and published and made to incorporate long, medium and short term plans, complete with measurable milestone activities and timelines.
- NBA National Electoral System and Succession Plan. No institution succeeds on a long-term basis without proper succession planning that ensures, amongst others, continuity of programmes and activities. The NBA has no such succession plan. Our current model changes the entire leadership every two years without any form of succession planning and it is no wonder that programmes, no matter how laudable, remain at the mercy of succeeding administrations and are indeed prone to being jettisoned by such new administrations. Indeed, even our national electoral system requires review and quite some tweaking. Currently, our national elections bring out different lawyers with their respective and disparate manifestoes and agenda for the various offices. Usually, there is no alignment of plans between the various contestants for the different offices. Thus, it is not uncommon for the Presidential candidate’s agenda for financial management to be fundamentally different, illustratively, from the respective agenda of the General Secretary, Financial Secretary and Treasurer for the same financial management. Upon election, these disparate persons, with their differing and uncoordinated agenda and plans are expected to miraculously coalesce and work together as a team. Such forced coalition does not always work, and I believe that we need to review the electoral system in a manner that would not only ensure some level of succession planning that guarantees continuity of programs but also be far more harmonious and coordinated than our present riotous experience. Very early in my tenure, I would encourage a roundtable dialogue of all stakeholders in that regard aimed at reforming the national electoral processes. I would also establish Standing Committees for the review of our Constitution and for the conduct of our National Election that would build on all our previous experiences and have sufficient time to deliberate upon and implement required reforms in our electoral system as well as our Constitution.
- Branch Administration. It is my expectation that the enthronement of governance principles at the NBA National level, with transparency and efficiency as the cornerstones, will gradually percolate and become the staple for NBA branches as well thereby strengthening the capacity of the Branches to function effectively and professionally thus earning the respect and trust of its members. In my respectful opinion, that will be a significant antidote to or panacea for the current spate of strife, brawl and infighting that is tearing our Branches apart in the bid for elective offices. As soon as we make transparency and governance principles the standard practice in the management of the Association’s finances and affairs, both at the national and branch levels, the quality of our leaderships across board would greatly improve and we would experience far less strife than we currently face. If elected President of the NBA, I would ensure these practices in the branches as well as capacity-building and the empowerment of the branches in a manner that would enable them to confidently develop programmes, manage projects, raise funds, and interface with justice sector institutions and State actors at States and local government levels.
VII. Establishment of NBA Liaison Offices within the three NBA Zones. There seem to exist a gulf between the National Secretariat of the NBA and the lawyers at the NBA branches, notably those branches outside the Federal Capital Territory. That gulf will be bridged with the establishment of NBA Liaison Offices within the three NBA Zones – Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano. These offices will take the national leadership and the national secretariat of the NBA closer to the lawyers at the branch level and would foster a more accessible and effective working relationship between the parties. Well managed and coupled with the accrued benefits from across-board improved and entrenched transparency and governance practices, these Liaison Offices would boost membership activism, confidence and trust and also increase NBA income-generation capabilities.
VIII. Revenue Generation Plans for the NBA. To alleviate the burden of members in financing the Association and its activities and administration, I would work on innovative revenue generation strategies for the Association. In particular, I would look at the possibility of generating income from the management of the Association’s assets, including its brand and real estate, and optimizing other NBA income streams and NBA revenue potentials such as sponsorships.
- Infrastructural Development. The NBA National Secretariat building (NBA House) is yet to be fully completed. When completed, the auditorium in the building, apart from saving the Association huge costs on venue rentals for major events, would also be a source of additional income for the NBA. If I am elected to the office of the NBA President, I would raise funds for speedy completion of the NBA Building Project.
- Regulatory Reforms
The regulatory framework underpinning the legal profession in Nigeria calls for review, with the aim of raising the standard of the profession. I will, if elected the NBA President, embark upon regulatory reforms with a view to achieving the said goal. The envisaged reforms will cover the areas of professional ethics and discipline, legal education and criteria for admission into the profession, continuing legal education, and legal practice generally. The key components of my Regulatory reform agenda will include the following.
- I will work in consultation and partnership with all relevant stakeholders, to facilitate the repeal and replacement of the extant Legal Practitioners Act (LPA) with a view to reflecting current trends and developments regarding admission to the legal profession, legal education, training, compulsory continuing legal education, professional ethics, discipline, and other aspects of the legal profession that are relevant to legal practice in the 21st century.
- My administration will consult with all relevant stakeholders and work towards the implementation of the adopted recommendations of the NBA Legal Profession Regulation Review Committee one of which is the repeal and replacement of the LPA. The report, which deals with issues affecting the regulation of the legal profession in Nigeria, is far reaching and comprehensive its scope and recommendations and requires a holistic and comprehensive review by all stakeholders with a view to upscaling the regulatory framework of the legal profession, as appropriate.
- As part of the afore-mentioned regulatory reforms, I will ensure that the Association facilitates the review of the Rules of Professional Conduct with a view to bringing them up-to-date with current and emerging global trends in the delivery of legal services. This will go a long way in enhancing the standards of professional ethics in the legal profession in Nigeria.
IV. I believe that the Nigerian Law School (NLS) Externship Programme should be designed to teach Law Students practical skills in legal practice. To attain that goal, Pupillage program could and should be incorporated into our NLS pre-qualification process and used to impart practical training to our trainee lawyers, both in advocacy and solicitor’s practice. If adopted as part of the qualifying process, the program should be regulated by the Council of Legal Education and the firms to which the trainee lawyers are attached must be firms with prescribed minimum standards.
- I will partner with relevant stakeholders including the Nigerian Universities Commission and the Council of Legal Education to review the LL.B degree curriculum in order to enhance the quality of legal education and introduce new areas of practice into the Universities’ curricula in line with emerging trends and technological disruptions in Nigeria. I will also work with these stakeholders to review the admissions policies into Law Faculties of Nigerian Universities.
- The planned reforms would also inculcate and institutionalize structured mentorship programmes – a program which, I believe, the NBA should encourage and entrench. Such structured mentorship program could involve, amongst others, periodic visits by young lawyers who are practising in the provincial NBA branches to structured Law Firms in cosmopolitan cities to learn, first-hand, law office management and the practice of law.
VII. I will work to reform and revamp the management and mechanisms of the NBA complaints and disciplinary processes with the aim of making the processes more efficient and timeous. It is not uncommon to hear complaints from members of the public who get frustrated by the delays in having their complaints to the NBA against lawyers processed and treated. There is also a perception that the disciplinary process may not be vested with full autonomy and independence. Our comprehensive review and reform of the disciplinary system and processes would ensure its independence, effectiveness and efficiency and this will in turn engender public confidence.