The two year term of Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud-led national leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association ends this August. Ahead of the handover ceremonies, lawyers who meet the minimum requirements will vote to elect a new leadership for the association. Already, at least four individuals have expressed interest in succeeding Mr. Mahmoud.
As important as it is to know the credentials and pedigree of the candidates vying for the office of President, it is equally important to know the candidates for other offices as well as what they have to offer the association. However, it is early days as the ban on campaigns has yet to be lifted but candidates have been reaching out by varying means to their audiences. This writer is not as concerned about the horse trading that is ongoing as he is about interrogating what candidates bring to the table – and getting elected officers to account for their mandates during and after their terms.
The election season presents an opportunity not only to interrogate what candidates have to offer but also to demand accountability of the outgoing leadership. Obviously, the standard should be the promises they made before assuming office and the expectations they created in the execution of their mandates. I leave that exercise to colleagues who might be interested in exploring that strand. I focus the remaining part of this piece on my expectations of the new leadership of the bar particularly in the context of our fast-changing socio-political and economic environment.
One of the most existential challenges to the non-profit movement in Nigeria in 2017 was the NGO Regulatory Bill. Happily, the NGO community was able to rally and defeat the bill…at least for now. Regrettably, the NBA was conspicuously absent in the advocacy against this bill although it will, almost certainly, be affected by the bill if it were to become law. I imagine there was a strategic reason for this stance and hope that the reason was well-considered. The new leadership of the bar must take more seriously existential issues.
Long-term planning is crucial for any organization that wishes to remain relevant into the future. Within the limits of its present experience, the bar association ought to think carefully about planning long-term and seeing through on the implementation of these plans. The practice of developing short term strategic plans that do not transcend one term of two years – although the plans often have more years than two – does not augur well for the association. I would like to hope the new leadership will address this challenge in a sustainable manner.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a sizeable proportion of lawyers who would rather not participate in the activities of the NBA because they think the association does not serve their interests as well as it should. They may well have good reasons to think so. The new leadership must seek to engage this group. As I argued in a previous article on the 2017 conference of the NBA, “opening up the space and scope for engagement…might increase the possibility that expectations will be met…” One way to do this is by finding out what exactly people expect of their association. This is not time for “government-style” project planning that assumes what people need and then executes it regardless of utility to the people.
One more government-style idea that we need to dispense with is staying in touch with the people as long as it takes to get their votes and then withdrawing upon assuming office. There is no point bombarding people’s inboxes and text message portals with seasonal greetings and campaign materials if you are not prepared to keep these platforms open to continuing engagement throughout your term.
Most thriving bar associations around the world are programmatically driven primarily by their secretariats. The NBA ought not to be an exception. Whilst our current realities demand that the national officers lead on policy and planning, I would like to think that the secretariat ought to lead on programmes and implementation – not just because it encourages professionalism but also because it strengthens the arm of partners who wish to engage with the association on a medium to long term basis. In its 2013 report, The Chidi Odinkalu Committee on the Professionalization of the NBA identified some challenges with respect to the secretariat, including absence of a clear role for the secretariat; no current scope for professionalism; and unsatisfactory division of labour between officers, committees and secretariat. The Committee also made far-reaching recommendations. I understand that steps have been taken to implement a few of the recommendations but there is room for much more. I hope the new leadership will fully implement the recommendations that are still relevant.
As Nigeria transitions to election year 2019, the NBA deserves a leadership that will be a stronger voice in the march towards consolidating our nascent democracy. The association’s 2018 elections offer the best chance to make that happen. I hope members will think long term and the best interest of the organization and our country in the choice of the next generation of leaders.
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