The Barman: Putting Him in Perspective

A dangerous trend lurks around. An insidious plot, scheming its way into prominence. Almost unseen, it threatens to wrestle control from the minds of the learned, seeking to enthrone unnecessary bickering. This threat, although grave, is encapsulated in a misunderstood question with very few words: who is the barman?

Answering the question properly, and understanding its import on the expectations of the modern Nigerian lawyer is paramount. By the most commonly recognizable standards, the
barman is simply recognized as a lawyer who upon the call to the bar, proceeds to constantly pay practicing fees and branch dues and is engaged in the legal practice.

So, by way of expectation, the barman should show up at branch meetings, sponsor said meetings (when able) and other branch activities, attend meetings of the National Executive Council, NEC (when elevated), and of course be able to grace NBA conferences and events. Fair enough, as far as definitions go, not a bad summation of the barman.

Is it, however, not a disservice to leave the anatomy of a barman at just that? How is it that a decent chunk of the people who consider the definition of a barman do not look beyond earlier stated parameters to the bar man’s actual practice of the law itself? Perhaps, even more tragic, are those who insist that the bar man’s validity is only enhanced as long as he is enmeshed in politics of the bar.

Nigeria is said to have produced over 120, 000 lawyers. Perhaps just about 47, 000 of them will vie for the 14 offices available across national NBA branches. Is this to say that the other 61% of the lawyers are for all intents and purposes “bad barmen”? The very notion is laughable, to say the least.

The time has come to redefine who a barman is. Clarity over what exactly the qualities of the barman needs to be should be sought. It is imperative that the register is updated to include attributes that go beyond just mere participation in politics or meeting attendance.

A barman should be a good ambassador for the bar. You don’t necessarily have to be involved in bar politics. It is rather, more essential that the barman is ethical, an individual with high fidelity and one who does not bring the legal profession into disrepute.

Commitment to the profession is expected at all times. Not just when election cycles come around. Contesting elections in the NBA is a service. This is why the bar should be led by individuals who have been properly screened. People who have attained a level of skill not just in the legal practice but in life in general. In fact, it is much more ideal to see such individuals build a career not at the bar but in legal practice.

Simply put, the impact of the barman outranks his standing at the bar. To quote Mrs. Mia Essien, the current NBA SLP Chairperson and a Managing Partner at a top law firm, “You do not need to be a barman to recognize desirable qualities in the NBA President.” She goes on to say “he should have a listening ear, integrity, honesty, managerial skills and
financial prudence.” Clearly, such an individual would seek to put you, the lawyer, first. Anyone that falls short of these standards really ought to engage in some intense self-assessment before considering himself a barman or even worthy of holding an office in the NBA.

Ultimately, being a barman is all good and fine, but what is the barman busy doing? If the impact on the law profession lags behind mere tags and labels, then you’re most likely a mediocre barman.

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