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Court Declares NBA Membership Compulsory For Nigerian Lawyers

Posted by Thandiubani on Fri 04th Nov, 2022 -

The judge cited judicial precedents which he said were binding on him to follow in blocking attempts by lawyers to defect from the NBA, the judge.

Membership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is compulsory for lawyers called to the bar and practising in Nigeria, a court in Enugu has ruled.
According to reports, the Enugu State High Court delivered the verdict on 29 July.
However, It was reported by the Nigeria Lawyers on 1 November, about two days after a splinter group of lawyers announced the formation of a body to rival NBA.
We had last month reported that the formation of the Law Society of Nigeria (LSN) reportedly led by Kunle Ogunba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
The formation of the rival association seeking to erode the decades-long domination of the NBA as the only recognised body of Nigerian lawyers is a defiance of the recent judgement delivered by the Enugu State High Court.
The judge, R.O Odugu, who delivered the verdict on a suit filed about two years earlier by an aggrieved lawyer, Ben Oloko, held: “It is compulsory for every lawyer called to the Nigerian Bar to become a member of the NBA.”
The judge cited judicial precedents which he said were binding on him to follow in blocking attempts by lawyers to defect from the NBA, the judge.
He cited the judgements of the Court of Appeal in other related cases such as Kehinde Vs NBA; Fawehinmi Vs NBA; and Chinwo Vs NBA, as precedents, which he upheld, saying “this court is not allowed to swim against the tide.”
“The summary of the current position of the law as decided by superior courts is that membership of Nigerian Bar Association is automatic upon being called to the Bar,” the judge said.
The judge noted that before one is called to the bar, one must have paid the bar practising fees for the year of call and choose a branch of NBA to belong.
The new lawyer is expected to indicate the NBA branch he or she has chosen on the Supreme Court teller for payment of the practising fee.
“Membership of the Nigerian Bar Association is a condition precedent to one being called to the Nigerian bar,” the judge said.
But the plaintiff won part of his claims – that the NBA lacked the power to collect practising fee directly from lawyers.
The judge, citing sections 8(2), 8(3) (a), (b), and (c) of the Legal Practitioners’ Act, ruled that the duty of collection of practising fees from lawyers was that of the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court.
Under the provisions cited by the judge, the Supreme Court’s Chief Registrar would pay to the NBA “a sum equal to ninth-tenth of the aggregate amount of the practising fee” received at the end of the year.
“The NBA has the power to increase or decrease tax/ practicing fees. However, it cannot continue to engage in direct collection of the practicing fees of lawyers in Nigeria, that being the duty of the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, and has been restrained from doing so,” the judge ruled.
The judge also awarded a cost of N50,000 against the NBA in favour of the plaintiff.
Mr Oloko filed his suit on 10 August 2020 urging the court to declare that the NBA “is not a compulsory association to which every legal practitioner becomes a member automatically upon call to the bar.”
He argued that membership of the association is “a completely private and voluntary organisation of legal practitioners, who are interested in the set objectives of the association and have exercised their free volition to join and or/ participate in the activities of the association per time.”
Similarly, the plaintiff argued that the NBA “lacks the power to increase the Annual Practising Fee for legal practitioners in Nigeria,” adding that “same being a function reserved for the office of the Attorney-GeneraI of the Federation.”
The annual practising fees for lawyers range between N2,000 and N20,000, depending on the year of being called to the bar.
Despite the judgement of the court declaring membership of the NBA as compulsory for lawyers called to bar in Nigeria, some lawyers, on 30 October, announced the formation of the Law Society of Nigeria (LSN).
The formation of the group was announced in a statement issued by the National Publicity Secretary of the group, Douglas Ogbankwa.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that legal practitioners in Nigeria had been regulated solely under the umbrella of the NBA founded in 1933.
Justifying the emergency of LSN, Mr Ogbankwa said the association came to redefine the ideas of the founding fathers of the legal profession in Nigeria
He referred to the LSN as a “new sheriff in town,” describing the legal profession in Nigeria as having a chequered history spanning from “the sublime to the ridiculous.”
The formation of the LSN is the latest attempt by lawyers to break the monopoly of the NBA as the sole umbrella body of Nigerian lawyers recognised by statutory bodies.
In 2020 some lawyers from the northern part of the country announced the formation of a splinter group of legal practitioners following the decision of the then National Executive Committee (NEC) of NBA to dis-invite the Kaduna State Governor, Mr Nasir el-Rufai, to speak at the association’s event.
Mr el-Rufai was to speak at the Annual General Conference which culminated in the inauguration of Olumide Akpata as the NBA President on 29 August 2020.
But the matter was promptly resolved at a meeting Mr Akpata held with leaders of about 40 branches of NBA in the northern region of the country in Abuja in September 2020.

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