Nigeria: Amendment of Lawyers' Rules - Former NBA VP Sues Malami

17 September 2020

A former Vice president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Monday Ubani, has filed a lawsuit challenging the amendment of the rules of professional conduct for lawyers by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.

Mr Malami recently amended the provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC), expunging the use of NBA stamp and seal by lawyers, and provisions requiring lawyers acting for government, ministries or corporations to pay Annual Bar Practicing fees.

This development was met with stiff opposition from many members of the bar who say that it is an attempt to weaken the association, particularly at a time it is crisis-laden

Some members of the NBA had pulled out to form the New Nigerian Bar Association (NNBA) due to allegations of partisanship and poor welfare of members. The conveners also cited the dis-invitation of the Kaduna state Governor , Nasir El-Rufai, from the Annual General Conference as a reason for the pull out.

However, in a suit filed on Wednesday, Mr Ubani alongside other lawyers including Okoro Nkem, Clement Chukwuemeka and seven others, challenged the powers of Mr Malami to unilaterally make and or amend the rules of professional conduct for lawyers.

"Whether given the combined provisions and proper interpretation of sections 6(6b), 36(1) and Section 251(q&r), of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended, section 23A, of the Legal Practitioners Act, which prohibits and removes the right of action or access to court by any person with respect to the management of the affairs of the Nigerian Bar Association, is not inconsistent with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended," the originating summons read.

Mr Malami, trustees of the NBA and the General Council of the Bar were listed as the first, second and third defendants respectively.

The lawyer questioned the powers and responsibility of Mr Malami to unilaterally alter, amend and or make any rules of professional conduct, without a proper meeting of the General Council of the Bar, duly convened.

He,however, prayed the court to declare Mr Malami's amendment as unlawful and unconstitutional.

"AN ORDER of this honourable court, declaring the unilateral amendment and the gazetting, of Rules, 9(2),10,11,12 and 13, of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007,on the 3rd of September 2020, via the statutory instrument No 15 of 2020, by the 1st Defendant herein, as illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional and therefore null and void and of no effect whatsoever."

Also, he sought an order restraining the minister "whether by itself in its official capacity or personal capacity, its agents, servants, employees, or howsoever and by whatever name called, from unilaterally altering, amending and or making rules of professional conduct for Legal Practitioners in Nigeria"

He argued that given the clear and unambiguous provisions of sections 1(1&2), and 12(4) of the Legal Practitioners Act, the 1st Defendant alone, in its capacity as the president of the General Council of the Bar, cannot unilaterally amend or make rules of professional conduct for lawyers.

He further argued that where a statutory requirement for the exercise of a legal authority is laid down, it is expected that the public body invested with such authority will follow the requirement to the details.

"The non-observance in the process of reaching any decision renders the decision itself a nullity. BAMIGBOYE V. UNIVERSITY OF ILORIN (Supra), YEMISI V. FIRS (2012) LPELR CA/AK/02/2010.The position of the law, is that every action founded on a void act, is also bad and incurably bad. You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. We refer my Lord to the case of Macfoy V UAC Ltd (1962) AC 152 at 160."

This paper learnt that no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit yet.

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