NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION: A BAR WITH 20TH CENTURY MODEL IN DIRE NEED OF CHANGE. By Benjamin Chukwuma.

There is perhaps, no delicate way to put this; the current governance and succession model of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, is obsolete. There is no Bar Association or Law Society that still operates the NBA succession and leadership model. This might be a harsh reality to contend with for some but it is the cold, hard truth.

The origins of the Bar Association as a concept are rooted in a time when they were originally trade unions, strictly focused on protecting and promoting interests of their members. That model spawned the management system where for example, the General Secretary was viewed as the engine room of the association. Consequently, the law firm of the General Secretary became known as “the office of the Bar.”

However, the legal profession on all six continents has shifted gears. This is due to innovation, technological advancement, public interest issues, and of course, emergent areas of practice. The same can be said for Bar Associations and Law Societies globally, a palpable change has occurred for them structurally.

Developed and developing nations have reformed the legal professional landscapes in their jurisdictions. For instance, the legal frameworks and architecture establishing the profession and legal services have been totally reformed in England &Wales, Australia, South Africa, and so have their Law Societies and Bar Associations. These bodies have transitioned away from the old trade union models of merely protecting and promoting member interests to other roles like regulation, public interest, as well as corporate and business services. But the NBA is still stuck to this archaic model. How can an NBA Presidential Candidate spend 300 million naira or more to be President of the NBA? How can the NBA Constitution provide that the General Secretary shall be in charge of the National Secretariat and yet an Executive Director is appointed to manage the National Secretariat? Both the General Secretary and the Executive Director will surely be on a collision cause. This two year ritual of vicious fight called election is a disaster waiting to happen in NBA. NBA is an institution built on 2 years cycle. If a lawyer is active in NBA politics he or she is regarded as a (Bar man) even if his or her activism over the years has not improved the Bar. This model does not issue continuity of programmes and policies. Simply put there is a primacy of politics over professionalism in the current NBA model.

The new model for Bar Associations has necessitated a change in governance and leadership models. Regrettably, the NBA still operates on the outdated model. This old model is antithetical to development, progress, and innovation.

In July 2018, Members of the Bar will be called upon to cast votes for new leadership. Expectedly, some of the candidates in high offices have been pointing to their years of experience but, that argument is quite the misguided one because these are experiences steeped in the archaic model. Thus, the experience being touted and claimed is not requisite for the new direction the NBA should seek to set off in. This new direction will require a new approach to leadership and governance.

With due respect to all other candidates and without prejudice to what they have achieved, the legal profession in Nigeria and the NBA are long overdue for taking a different strategic direction. The man who will guide the Bar, and indeed the entire profession in this new, strategic direction is Paul Usoro, SAN.

Paul Usoro, SAN, represents the new, much more effective path and model the NBA should adopt in the forthcoming elections. He is a symbol of fresh perspective, insight, and he is the safest pair of hands to whom the mantle of leadership of the NBA leadership can be entrusted at a time like this. The NBA election in July is not looking to throw up a President with old model experience. Neither is it not looking to elect a manager nor is it looking to elect a lawyer whose claim to fame is being experienced in an outdated system. These elections are about electing a leader who has corporate governance, leadership, and mentorship experience.

Paul Usoro is and has been an executive member of the Boards of several blue-chip companies ranging from Access Bank to Airtel, PZ Cussons to the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading and even Premium Pensions. His leadership skills were recognised as far back as the 80s where he was the President of the Law Society at the then Ile-Ife. H has also built and led a brilliant law firm since then.

As a mentor, he has tutored over 100 lawyers with at least 40 of them currently employed at his upper echelon law firm. He is well known for not just making time to show younger colleagues the best practices in the profession but also ensuring that they are well catered for (new hires at the firm as a standard, start off with six-figure salaries). No other candidate has such experience.

It can be stated without equivocation that Paul Usoro ticks all the boxes as he is the candidate who has personal experience of all the qualities needed as the President of the new NBA. As the saying goes, you cannot give what do not have. He understands the modern ways of the legal profession.

Paul Usoro understands corporate governance because he has experience garnered from sitting on actual boards, mentorship because he helms a firm with over 50 lawyers and leadership because he has led. This is the time for him to lead the NBA in the updated, modern, strategic direction.

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