Never be mistaken: Law is the best thread to sew neatly the fabric of society which is gradually pulling out at its seams.
Being called to the Bar in the year 1999, I quickly started my career in the law firm of Chike Chigbue & Co, Abuja Office.
In furtherance of my belief that the practice of law is a calling, a vocation, an occupation and a profession to which it is an instrument of service to God, humanity and society, I braved the odds by setting up my law firm, LAW FORTE in 2002. It was from this brand that new opportunities, openings and strides in my career were and are continually being birthed.
From becoming a Notary Public of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to obtaining a Master of Laws Degree (LL.M) from the University of Jos in 2010; from acquiring a Diploma in International Commercial Arbitration to becoming a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK) in 2011 all in the quest of deepening a thirst for knowledge.
Wanting to create a niche in the international commercial practice industry, I enrolled for a Master of Laws (LLM) degree in (Transnational Commercial Practice) from the Centre for International Legal Studies, Austria (in collaboration with the Lazarsky University, Poland) from where I obtained a Master of Laws degree with honours in 2016.
In 2017, I passed the Fellowship exam of the Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators and became a Fellow of the Institute.
Routinely involved in litigation and research in various areas of the law including Corporate and Business Law, Land law, Banking law, Intellectual Property, International Commercial Law, Tele-communications, Energy, Oil and Gas Law, Domestic arbitration, International Commercial Arbitration etc., I have a special bias for commercial, financial, telecommunications as well as financial crimes practice and litigation. Company Secretarial/ Legal Advisory services to companies, associating with some law firms in Nigeria on commercial and international business law issues in the course of providing legal services to clients are part of my core practices.
Vying to be the leader of this great Bar comes at the cost of being a capable leader in other spheres of the legal profession of which I do not attenuate from. In my service to the Bar, setting a programmatic agenda that offers growth, value added or a competitive existential or professional edge to the members of the Bar as well as putting in place effective platforms for the involvement of members outside of Bar politics is a sine qua non to success as the institutionalization of a value proposition embodying a service compact between the Bar and its membership.
Leadership qualities like being an avid reader, researcher, prolific writer, public affairs analyst and commentator have seen me on various television and radio programmes. I have also had the opportunity of appearing as a counsel in many arbitral proceedings a well as sat as an arbitrator in commercial disputes.
Revenue is an important factor in leadership and the ability to garner resources for various situations and projects is an advantage. Thus, my involvement in growing independent revenue sources which has and will improve the independence of the Bar and the legal profession, curtailing or eliminating the possibility of the Bar and its leadership contracting potentially awkward associations with politically exposed persons (PEPs) who sometimes have partisan interests in compromising an independent Bar.
As a member of the NBA Abuja Branch, I served in the following Committees of the Branch:
1. Law Reporting Committee: 2003-2005.
2. Bar Dinner/Awards Committee: 2004.
3. Secretary, Committee on Continuing Legal Education: 2005-2007.
4. Secretary, Committee on Continuing Legal Education: 2009 -2011.
5. Alternate Chairman for the LOC of the NEC hosted by NBA Abuja Branch: June 2011.
6. Alternate Chairman of the LOC for the 2012 Annual General Conference.
7. Co-opted member of the TCPC of 2012 Annual General Conference.
Aside from being a member of the Committees of NBA Abuja, I have been privileged to be appointed as a member of the following Committees by the Chief Judge of the FCT, Abuja:
1. Committee for the Review of High Court (Civil Procedure Rules) of the FCT: 2011- 2013.
2. Committee on the Review of ADR Laws and Rules: 2011 – 2013.
NBA LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE
Being the Publicity Secretary (PRO) of NBA Abuja, from 2006-2008 and following this feat with becoming the Chairman of the Branch from December 2010 to December 2012, the Branch hosted a NEC Meeting in June 2011, NBA Delegates Conference in July 2012 and Annual General Conference in August 2012. I was a member of NEC from 2011 to 2013 but was an observer for many years before then and an Editor-In-Chief of the Unity Voice (the monthly newsletter of NBA Abuja) from 2011-2013.
Under the able leadership of the ‘exco’ during my tenure, the Unity Bar FC (the football club of NBA Abuja), was transformed into a laurel-winning team. The team won the silver medal at the Football Tournaments at the Port Harcourt, Annual General Conference and Gold medal at the Abuja Annual General Conference, respectively. The successes achieved by the team would rightly be attributed to the unwavering dedication to sports and physical development as well as settling for nothing but the best.
Being the last person to hold office as the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Abuja Branch (Unity Bar) for the whole Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; Bwari and Gwagwalada Branches were created during my tenure as Chairman of the Unity Bar. By consent of the Chairmen of Bwari and Gwagwalada Branches of the NBA, I became the first Chairman of Chairmen of NBA Branches in the FCT, in 2012.
I was a prosecutor at the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee of the Body of Benchers from 2012 -2014, and elected the General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association in 2014, serving till August of 2016.
Providing pro bono consultancy services to Non-Governmental Organizations on the subject of Human Rights and providing pro bono legal representations to indigent persons undergoing criminal trial has been a great avenue to give back to the community.
I also served as Secretary and Deputy Legal Adviser of my Town Union.
MEMBERSHIP OF LEGAL BODIES
1. Member Body of Benchers – From May 2016 till date
2. Member Council of Legal Education from 2015 till date
3. Member Legal Aid Council of Nigeria – from September 2014 – 2016
4. Member General Council of the Bar – from 2015 till date
5. Life Member National Executive Committee of NBA
6. Member, Elders Committee, NBA Abuja December 2010- August 2015
MEMBERSHIP OF PROFESSIONAL BODIES
1. International Bar Association
2. Nigerian Institute of Management
3. Fellow Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK)
4. Fellow Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators (FCArb)
5. Associate Member, American Bar Association and
6. Institute of Chartered Mediators & Conciliators
1. “Is the Nigerian Legal Profession ripe for the re-introduction of a mandatory pupillage system: What effect (if any) will such a system have on standards and the welfare of Young Lawyers?’’.
2. Assessing Compliance with the Rules Of Professional Conduct By Lawyers In Nigeria.
3. Failure To Deliver Copy Of An Arbitral Award Or Make Same Available To A Party To an Arbitration, May Amount To Fraudulent Concealment Of Cause Of Action.
4. The mandatory use of NBA approved stamp on all legal documents: Not supported by Law, discriminatory and unnecessary, etc.?
5. The Challenges of Managing a Law Office in Modern Day Nigeria.
6. Legal Practice: A Quasi-business Undertaking.
7. Young Lawyers in Legal Practice: Venturing Beyond Usual Borders.
MAKING SURE THERE IS A POOL OF OPPORTUNITIES AND BENEFITS FOR ALL LAWYERS.
To improve the standing of the Association, proactively address issues affecting lawyers, fashion ways to promote the welfare, working environment of lawyers as well as ensuring lawyers especially the young ones benefit from their membership of the Association.
1. HUMAN DEVELOPMENT CAPACITY
a. Ensuring lawyers play a significant and independent role in the administration of justice as well as in ensuring lawful compliance by persons and entities involved in governmental, commercial, financial and socio-economic activities.
b. Institution of NBA Prison decongestion program which will be manned by young lawyers who will be paid a fair and reasonable sum. The exercise will serve as a learning curve and a financial uplift. We will partner with donor agencies and Legal Aid Council of Nigeria and other legal aid organisations in a bid to offer free legal services to the persons awaiting trial who have no legal representation as well as other indigent members of the society. There will be a trust fund to take care of this program.
c. Establishment of a “Law Firm Pro Bono Scheme” for law firms to assent to and become signatories. The signatory law firms will commit to spending whatever percentage of their total billable time they are minded to annually on pro bono work. All lawyers that will be involved in the pro bono exercise including the young lawyers will benefit from this scheme.
d. Provide occasions for lawyers in general and young lawyers especially to periodically undergo continuing professional development provided by the Association, to ensure higher standards and an ideal level of professionalism at the Bar.
e. The improvement of the young lawyers, to help them achieve their full potential, better encourage continuing legal education and to ensure that the members of the Bar are seasoned, competitive and highly compliant in the fast changing and globalizing legal practice of today.
f. Mentorship and pupilage in the early stages of a legal professional’s career path to help mold more entrepreneurs in the legal industry.
2. WELFARE OF LAWYERS
a. Free Insurance: Utilizing part of the Annual Practicing Fees paid to the Association by its members for the provision of life and health insurance scheme for lawyers. Other aspects of an Insurance scheme will be explored including but not restricted to Health and Accident schemes.
b. Employment opportunities for young lawyers as Research Assistants to Judicial Officers.
c. Using part of the Annual Practicing Fees for the provision of free online Library or resource for lawyers. This is envisaging the fostering of healthy partnerships with already existing online legal platforms and resource libraries in order for legal practitioners to have access to current data.
d. Setting aside at least N5omillion annually in a Welfare/ Legal Education Fund as well as partnering with donors to ensure there is ample fund for continuing legal education (Continuing Professional Development) for lawyers.
e. Ensuring non-legal practitioners are precluded from the legal services industry.
f. Protecting the legal industry in Nigeria from the influx of Foreign Law Firms.
g. Adequate protection of lawyers from job hazards. To this end we intend to strengthen the Human Rights Committee of NBA by establishing a Human Rights Attorney Support Network which will act as a Rapid Response Team whenever the right of a lawyer is threatened or being violated. The goal is to establish an attorney support network, consisting of lawyers who are willing to make free legal counsel available to colleagues and Nigerians, who have legitimate cause of action in job related hazards and abuses. The modus operandi will include direct intervention, legal representation, motivation for the volunteering lawyers, delivery mechanism (offline and online), telephone, co-ordination, public enlightenment etc. This will also include a toll-free line for victims of sexual harassment of either sex at the workplace where adequate responses are meted out.
h. Always keeping the members of the Bar effectively informed on salient issues as well as carrying them along in issues that affect their practice and welfare.
i. Effectively consult, give a good thought to and effectually represent the interests of the members of the Branch.
j. Developing business opportunities for legal practitioners.
k. Proactively address issues affecting the different cadres of legal practitioners, particularly by developing a program that meets the expectations of lawyers and addresses the grievances of teeming number of lawyers who join the profession every year.
3. DIGITIZATION OF THE BAR
a. Putting in place an electronic payment platform for all revenue yielding transactions with the NBA (payment of Bar Practice Fees, stamps, conference fees etc) to eliminate time-consuming trips to the Bank. The delay encountered in applying for stamp and seal will be eliminated by online application and payment for it.
b. The payment for NBA Stamp & Seal, Bar Practicing Fee and all other forms of payments will be digitized.
4. EFFICIENT ADMINISTRATIVE CAPACITY
A. ENHANCING THE ROLE OF THE BAR
i. The Bar has the power to stop corruption and play a lead role in entrenching cleaner practices and business transactions. We would make sure that the Bar exercises this power.
ii. Make the Bar vibrant so it can always stand, speak and act constructively in engaging requisite stakeholders and interest groups.
iii. Work internationally to open up legal markets to its members and defend human rights while supporting its members with opportunities in the domestic legal market.
iv. Positively project the image of our profession by fostering relationships that will represent the true position of happenings in the legal industry.
v. Provide support, advice and guidance on areas of practice and management, tailored to members’ individual needs.
vi. Advocating on legal issues of importance to members of the legal profession and the public across the nation.
vii. Reordering the training of lawyers.
viii. Improving access to justice by developing the courts to be user friendly, disposing of cases in a timely manner and putting in place measures that ensure quick dispensation of justice without resort to technicalities or time-wasting.
ix. Growing independent revenue sources which will improve the independence of the Bar and the legal profession, curtailing or eliminating the possibility of the Bar and its leadership contracting potentially awkward associations with politically exposed persons (PEPs) who sometimes have partisan interests in compromising an independent Bar, hence, the notion of corruption interwoven with the fabric of the profession. It should be noted that any institution that fights corruption and suggests that rule of law should not be binding on it can never succeed in fighting corruption.”
x. The institutionalization of a value proposition embodying a service compact between the Bar and its membership.
B. NBA SECRETARIAT
i. Establishment of Appointments, Promotions and Grievance Committee and the adoption of policies on such issues as Equal Opportunities and Sexual Harassment or Conflicts of Interest.
ii. Defining vision or programmatic agenda that offers growth, value added or a competitive existential or professional edge to the members of the NBA as well as effective platforms for the involvement of members outside Bar politics.
iii. Insulate the NBA secretariat and its staff from electoral and political processes by ensuring the clear and proper contracts for all staff of the NBA, clear and measurable processes and indices for staff remuneration and promotion; some level of programming autonomy for the secretariat to ensure continuity of programming and also build confidence within the funding and philanthropic communities, and continuity of both memory and programming irrespective of change of regimes in the NBA.
iv. Creating prospects for NBA staff to have full opportunity to grow and have a career path in the Secretariat.
v. Professionalizing the NBA Secretariat to guarantee effective planning, management, continuity in programming, to provide services and standards of the highest quality; preserve the legacies of successive Bar administrations and act as the memory and archives of the Bar under the supervision of the General Secretary of the NBA and the overall executive authority of the President.
vi. Progressively grow the programming, service delivery and revenue potentials of the NBA into the foreseeable future.
vii. NBA must provide a unifying promise of professional growth or edge. We must define a value proposition for our members and, in the Secretariat, evince a programming capability to ensure the realization of this promise.
C. CONFERENCING, OTHER NBA PROGRAMS AND ADMINISTRATION OF BRANCHES
i. Reducing cost payable by members to participate in Conference and other NBA organized programs. The template will be ‘pay less; enjoy more’.
ii. Establishment of an Internship Programme to encourage young or intending lawyers to acquire threshold introduction into the legal profession through organized mentoring.
iii. STRENGTHENING BRANCHES: Ensuring branches are automatically paid their own share of Bar Practicing Fees (BPF). The remittance of 10% of Bar Practicing Fees paid by lawyers in each branch SHALL be enshrined in the Constitution to avoid discretionary payments.
iv. Payment of additional 10% of Bar Practicing Fees paid by lawyers in each branch into a dedicated Welfare Account (BRANCH WELFARE TRUST FUND strictly for the Welfare of the members and not for the administration or running of the Branch.
v. Making sure laws are respected at the branches and that tenets of democracy are upheld at all times.
vi. Non-interference in the management of branches but a cohesive mutually benefitting relationship with the Branches.
D. UNIFORM BYE-LAWS
i. There is a need for all branches to have Uniform Bye-Laws to ensure that the operation of the Branches is largely uniform. However, a proviso should be inserted to enable Branches seek approval of NBA NEC to amend the Uniform Bye-Laws to meet specific needs of particular Branches that may be required.
ii. Establishment of a committee at the National and Branch level to look into and resolve National Officers and Branch officers’ electoral disputes to avoid the present situation which allows the same electoral committee whose decision is being challenged to sit in judgment over its decision. A proposal will be made for the amendment of Article 2.7(a) of 2nd Schedule, of the Constitution which allows the Electoral Committee of NBA (ECNBA) to entertain appeals against its decision as well as Article 15(5) of the Uniform Byelaws which makes the decision of the Branch Electoral committee final.
It is in the light of the above, that I respectfully bring to your attention this humble desire of mine to be elected the President of the Nigerian Bar Association for the years 2018-2020. I need your support towards the realization of this endeavour, especially in the area of honest advice.
There is need for this highly respected association to reorganize itself to serve as a model for other professional associations; NBA should be up and running and should set an example for a modern association in terms of ease of doing business; hence, the urgent clarion call for this generation to take up the task of bringing into reality all that we desire.
We are of the generation that is co-dependent; needing each other to realize the Bar of our dreams- a Bar where each and every person can realize and maximize his/her great potentials; where the strong help the not-so-strong; a Bar where deep care and attention is given to the young lawyers who are the future of profession; a Bar where those who dare, win; a Bar where no man is despised; a Bar where those who are dedicated to the actualization of their dreams receive a befitting recompense for their efforts.
We are the generation that can bring to bear a Bar where any lawyer can use the power which lies within him to be a man/woman of destiny; a Bar dedicated to improving access to justice by embracing technologies and developing the courts to be user friendly, disposing of cases in a timely manner and putting in place measures that ensure quick dispensation of justice without resort to technicalities or time-wasting.
We are better persons because we have each other. Together we can achieve these laudable objectives. Together we will.
I therefore earnestly solicit your support in every ramification, as I seek to take on this mandate to pilot the affairs of our beloved Association; for the love of this profession.
Mazi Afam Osigwe, LL.M (Jos) LLM (Lazarsky) FCIArb (UK), FCARB (Nig.)
is a Lawyer and Corporate Governance Professional with a Masters degree in Data Protection, Intellectual property and Finance