MANY Nigerians were disappointed at the shameful conduct of some members of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) at Eko Atlantic, Lagos State, where they held their annual conference few days ago. The lawyers reportedly gathered to collect conference bags which had hindered them from accessing conference materials but became impatient over the slow pace at which they were being attended to. Strangely, however, some of the lawyers reportedly reached out to forcefully collect the bags containing conference materials and this led to a melee which in turn culminated in the destruction of the registration booth.
Lawyers should ordinarily be models of conduct both by reason of their calling and in deep appreciation of the legal and, more importantly, social consequences of lawlessness. Indeed, being “fit and proper” is one of the cardinal conditions for being called to the Nigerian Bar, and consequently, lawyers are expected to epitomise decency and decorum. This is one of the reasons lawyers are referred to as learned. The significance of this sobriquet lies in the expectation that regardless of provocation, they must maintain comportment, discipline and decorum. This is why we find the chaos and disruption that characterised this year’s NBA conference very embarrassing and unbecoming. It is really saddening that some members of the legal profession who should be model citizens and at the vanguard of social re-construction and re-engineering through exemplary conduct and behaviour are unfazed and are indeed willing to sound the death knell for what remains of orderliness in the society by their unruly conduct.
What happened at Eko Atlantic, without mincing words, is criminal and morally reprehensible, and constitutes a dent on the image of the NBA. While the NBA should ordinarily be excused and absolved of culpability for any professional misconduct of its members in their individual capacities, the same is not and cannot be tenable at its annual conference. It is a big tragedy that there is hardly any section of the society that is really concerned about its image and integrity anymore. It is important to also note, and painfully so, that the NBA members’ conduct at their annual conference simply mirrors the rot and decadence in the larger society of which they are a critical component. It is even more distressing to note that the cause of the show of shame by the lawyers in question boils down to leadership deficit, the same challenge that is plaguing the Nigerian state, leading to ineffective planning and/or suboptimal execution of plans.
The narrative is that some of the conference bags supplied by the NBA vendors were substandard, even though the vendors had earlier supplied bags of specified quality and same had been distributed to some lawyers. Apparently, the seeming reluctance of the NBA executives to distribute the substandard bags to the other lawyers led to the disorderliness. However, quite a few questions may be asked. When was the supposed right time to supply the bags? When was the apposite time to supervise the supply of the bags for the purpose of ensuring quality assurance? At what time was the bags discovered to have failed the quality test? Why was the distribution of the bags and conference materials centralised? Why didn’t the leadership of the NBA delegate the distribution of the materials to Bar chairmen in the states, especially since lawyers were made to pay for these materials well ahead of time? And did the outgoing NBA leadership learn any lesson from the outcome of some of the previous conferences because this was not the first time there had been complaints about conference materials?
Obviously, if the right things had been done by the relevant people at the right time, errors would have been detected and corrected, and the chaos which has now massively sullied the image of the NBA could have been averted. Though the NBA executive whose tenure has just expired and whose responsibility it was to prevent the official tardiness and lapses that resulted in the disorderliness has apologised to its members, witnessing the lawyers’ rampage is patently an inglorious way to bow out of office. Yes, lawyers are human and subject to passions and frailties but they also need to consider their place as part of the conscience of the society and act appropriately.
Meanwhile, it is hoped that the NBA will ensure that their aberrant members are apprehended and made to face its internal disciplinary procedure or better still, brought to book using the instrumentality of the law for the larger society. The objective is to deter would-be undisciplined and misguided lawyers who may want to engage in a similar show of shame in the future.
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