NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (NBA) 2018 ELECTION: THE PAUL USORO I KNOW – By Philip Oamen

On 28 July 2018 which is about 20 days’ time, Lawyers in Nigeria would be going to the polls to elect National Officers that would pilot the affairs of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for the next two years. The NBA is the umbrella body of all Lawyers duly licensed to practise Law in the Nigerian legal firmament.

In my almost ten years of being a member of the NBA, I have not seen such an array of highly qualified presidential candidates as currently displayed in the list of screened and cleared candidates. From the veteran Professor Ernest Ojukwu through Chief Arthur Obi Okafor to the highly skilled and multiple award-winning Paul Usoro, it is indeed a clear case that the NBA would be better positioned by the election of any of the three as its President. Even the wrongfully disqualified (yes, wrongfully disqualified in my own estimation) Afam would have been another wonderful presidential candidate.

That having been said, it is however an obvious fact that all of the candidates cannot all be President. One out of them would eventually be elected and sworn in. I have, therefore, considered it apposite, at this point of the electioneering campaign, to lend my voice and support to one of the presidential candidates, Paul Usoro, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in his own right. I have had the privilege of working closely with the man Paul Usoro and can thus give an insider information about what he stands for. Paul stands for so many positive things, but for the purposes of this write-up, I would emphasise his disposition which endears him to me and which I believe makes him a better presidential candidate in the coming election.

As a matter of preliminary remarks, I wish to state here that I do not intend to reel off the campaign promises of Paul Usoro. The items of his proposed programme of action are already circulating, conspicuously, on Social Media. So, the intention here really is to give my personal assessment of Paul as a person, in my capacity as his former employee. Such an assessment of his personal relationship with others, I believe, would perforce filter through why he should be allowed to extend his managerial skills to a wider human circle like the NBA.

, I wish to state that if there is any presidential candidate who would cater for the welfare of (young) Lawyers, Paul Usoro is the man. It pains me a lot when I see some of my ex-students in court looking haggardly, for want of good remuneration from their Principals. Believe it or not, the way a man treats issues of his children’s welfare determines how he would treat other people’s welfare when given the responsibility. Paul Usoro has shown, over the years, that he cares about the welfare of other Lawyers. This he has done through a good pay package for his staff.

As a former employee of Paul Usoro & Co. (PUC), located at Oyin Jolayemi Street, Victoria Island, Lagos- Nigeria, I state on my honour that he pays a comparatively good salary. In an era where many Law Firms find it difficult or are simply unwilling to pay their Lawyers salaries that are commensurate with the work done, Paul exemplifies the saying, “Do unto others what you would want them to do unto you”.

Paul’s Law Firm is among the very few that pay a monthly salary of up to N150,000.00 (One Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira) to young Lawyers who are straight from the Law School. This of course is an entry point salary and it does not include other entitlements like Profit-Sharing. My research reveals that no other presidential candidate in the NBA election pays even up to a N100,000.00 (One Hundred Thousand Naira) at entry point. This juxtaposition becomes relevant against the interesting background that, all the candidates seem to be emphasising the welfare of members as one of their campaign promises.

If a man cannot take good care of less than 100 Lawyers in his office, who toil daily to take his Law Firm to a pride of place, I am not sure that same man would have the moral strength to champion a cause that would lead to the reshaping, retooling and review of the sorry state of package doled out to Learned Colleagues in the name of salaries. I have heard of cases where a Lawyer would confidently pay another Lawyer a monthly salary of N10,000.00 (Ten Thousand Naira) or N20,000.00 (Twenty Thousand Naira), in the current harsh economic situation, and would yet feel he is doing some kind of favour. It is understandable where such Law Firms do not earn much, but it is quite unpardonable for senior Lawyers to earn millions from clients and then tell the junior Lawyers to wait for their time. What time, Sir? That is hocus-pocus!

Paul represents everything that the word “welfare”means. He does not even believe that the staff’s reward system should be restricted to monthly salaries only. He is a man who believes that those who work hard should also eat and eat well. I remember when we represented the Akwa Ibom State Government against the Rivers State Government in one of the cases at the Supreme Court. On the day Judgment was delivered in our favour, Paul did not wait for the 25th day of the month (which is the pay day in PUC) before celebrating with his colleagues in the office. I went to work that day without an inkling that I was going to come back with a kobo; after all, it was not a pay day. But behold, I went back home with about N100,000.00 (One Hundred Thousand Naira) richer, not as part of my salaries but as an appreciation of the efforts put into the legal fireworks that led to the victory in court. Rewarding other people’s genuine efforts is one key attribute one can easily find in Paul.

Moreover, the NBA needs a de-tribalised man at the helm of affairs and Paul is that man. Apart from the already known fact that he has lived, studied and practised in virtually all the Geo-Political Zones of Nigeria where he has had cause to interact with Nigerians of multicultural backgrounds, Paul also promotes excellence over and above tribal and other primordial considerations. A case in point was when I went for the recruitment exercise at his Law Firm some years back. In the the course of the first stage of the exercise which is often a written test, my interaction with some other applicants revealed that two of them were from Akwa Ibom. Before then, I had done research about the Law Firm and found that the man Paul Usoro is from Akwa Ibom. So, when I got wind of the said applicants’ information as to state of origin, I naturally felt uneasy. I only hoped that the Firm would judge based on performance and not on state of origin as some terrible establishments do.

Thereafter, we wrote the test and left. When the result came out, behold, the best had the best results and the worst had the worst results. Those of us who made it to the second and last stages did not come from the same state of origin with the owner of the Firm. Paul earned my respect from that day. As a member of the Firm, I later found out that the Firm gives you the opportunity to grow to become a Partner without fear of being relegated because of the uncanny Nigerian factor of “Where are you from”? or “Who is your father”? Indeed, some of the Firm’s Partners are of Yoruba extraction and they got there solely on merit. I have no doubts that excellence, diligence and innovation would be rewarded under Paul’s presidency.

Further, Paul Usoro is fit for the presidential office of the NBA because he possesses the rare attribute of fruitful and engaging human relations. Many employers often allow the fact that others depend on them for family survival to get into their heads. Paul is not like that. He treats every staff with respect. While some Lawyer is calling Police Officers to harass and brutalise his staff for demanding his lawful and just entitlement, Paul on the other hand would listen to you with a fatherly disposition and proffer solution to your yearnings.

As a matter of particular interest, there is one other thing I admire about Paul; he does not believe that you must abandon your aspirations for the purpose of serving him or his Law Firm. He believes in your dreams and helps you with advice and other support to actualise them. I remember the day I interviewed with him during the final stage of my recruitment exercise into his Law Firm. One of the questions he asked me was, “where do you see yourself in five years’ time”? I did not hesitate to tell him about my dreams. I informed him that I would be in classroom teaching Law students and doing my postgraduate studies. I thought that would earn me a turn-down, because another reputable Lagos Firm had refused to employ me because of this same answer I gave him. They thought there was no point hiring someone who would not stay long with them.

To my amazement, Paul was excited about my dreams. He said he had seen my credentials and that they tended towards my dreams for the academics. Since that very day till now, he calls me “Professor” because I told him I would love to be one. Despite the fact that he knew I was not going to stay long with him, he employed me and encouraged me with all that he could. When I eventually resigned from his Law Firm to pick up a lecturing job, Paul felt it but he let me go, wished me well and promised to keep in touch. I was paid my entitlements and my Litigation Team organised a sent-forth party for me.

I had thought my leaving the Firm would reduce the uncommon fatherly interest that Paul shows in my professional and career growth. Happily, for me, that was not to be. At every opportunity I visit the Law Firm in Lagos or call him over the phone, he still reminds me of why I left his Firm, urging me on, on why that dream must be fulfilled. When I left the shores of Nigeria, Paul kept and still keeps in touch, asking pertinent questions about my academic progress. Only a few employers keep the channels of communication open to their ex-employees.

Indeed, the Paul Usoro that I know would be a rare gift to the NBA. A cursory review of his now trending campaign manifesto reveals that he knows what the NBA needs at the moment and how to get it. Overseeing the affairs of NBA has some polycentric implications and it takes a man of Paul’s vast experience, humanness and technical or on-the-spot corporate governance skills to resolve such polycentricity. His humility is another great asset that is worth exploiting. This is a man who submits to superior arguments from the least Lawyer in the Firm. He seeks advice from those below him as he believes that age alone has nothing to do with best decision-making.

My dear colleagues and my dear ex-students, we cannot afford to organise NBA activities in a higgledy-piggledy manner in this 21st Century. I implore you, therefore, to cast your votes for a man that would bring NBA back to its glorious days. His proposed programme of action shows that a lot of positive things would happen to every Lawyer and every Nigerian under his administration. Promotion of the Rule of Law in Nigeria, promotion of welfare programme and the advancement of human capital development of the Nigerian Lawyer would be secured under Paul Usoro, SAN. Paul is known for innovations, and NBA stands a good chance to benefit from this innovation-driven man who practically singlehandedly drafted the Nigerian Communications Act which heralded the GSM revolution that you and I enjoy today.

Paul puts others first. Paul would put the interests of Nigerian Lawyers, the NBA and the general public first before his personal interest.

Thank God it is an electronic voting process. I have found my name on the list of eligible voters and I shall be casting my vote for Paul right here and I beseech you to do the same.

Support PAUL USORO, SAN…he puts you first. – Philip Oamen

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