The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) will be holding elections for new national office-bearers on Friday July 24 and Saturday, 25. Africa Legal has invited the three candidates standing for president to complete a Q&A.
Dr Ajibade is the Managing Partner of S. P. A. Ajibade & Co. He was admitted to the Nigerian Bar in 1989 and is engaged in active and full-time corporate and commercial practice.
Q&A Dr Babatunde Ajibade SAN
If you were elected president of the NBA, what would be your top three priorities once you took office?
My top three priorities would be as follows: (i) initiate a detailed survey to ascertain statistics that would enable the NBA to plan better for the welfare of the Nigerian legal professional, ranging from nature and type of legal professional engagement, types and sizes of practice, areas of practice, income, remuneration, conditions of service, pensions, health insurance, life insurance, training needs and requirements, etc; (ii) engage with the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and the offices of the Attorneys-General of the States in Nigeria to re-activate and convene meetings of the Legal Practitioners Remuneration Committee to examine and make recommendations for establishing minimum scales of fees for a wide variety of legal work in Nigeria as well as to agree means of enforcing these scales, so as to ensure that legal professionals can earn a reasonable income for the work that they do; (iii) engage with the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Heads of the various Courts in Nigeria to agree modalities for strengthening the administration of the courts, particularly as it relates to their budgeting, finance, staffing and management.
What is the biggest challenge facing the legal profession in Nigeria today?
In my view, the biggest challenge facing the legal profession in Nigeria today is the poor welfare condition of the legal professional and the gross inadequacy of the resources that are dedicated to the Nigerian justice sector, with all its attendant consequences. The poor welfare condition of the legal professional manifests in significantly reduced earning power for the profession as a whole, poor remuneration for those in employment, and difficulty in securing employment for a significant number of legal professionals. It also results in a dysfunctional and overburdened justice sector.
What is your view on political involvement in the country’s justice system?
Political involvement in Nigeria’s justice system has had a negative effect. There is excessive familiarity between the judiciary and the political class and our Constitutional arrangements give the executive and the political class an undue and unhealthy influence on the system for appointment of judges. As a result, the independence of the judiciary has been eroded to a significant degree and the judiciary has not been able to exercise the full plenitude of its powers and act as a proper check on executive and legislative excesses.
What is your view on the overall quality of legal education in Nigeria – is it producing the quality of lawyers the system needs?
I believe the quality of legal education in Nigeria is reflective of the quality of education in Nigeria generally. There has been a general and steady decline in the standards of education in Nigeria over the last three decades due to inadequate budgeting and allocation of resources to the education sector, and this has affected legal education just as much as other sectors. The formative and most important years are those that precede the commencement of education in any particular discipline and once that foundation is faulty, it is difficult to build on it. However, these are generalisations to which there are various exceptions. There is a thriving private sector education industry at primary, secondary and tertiary level that is producing top quality students albeit at significant costs; and there are some publicly funded institutions that are still producing extremely talented and well trained students. Thus, my assessment is that legal education in Nigeria is producing some quality lawyers, but more quality is required still. Although you have not asked this, I also have a significant concern about the quantity of lawyers that we are producing in Nigeria. I believe that with greater discipline and control on the quantity we would also see an uptick in overall quality.
How would you build relationships with the legal profession in other parts of Africa?
I would build relationships with the legal profession in other parts of Africa by leveraging on and strengthening the various networking and collaborative platforms that already exist amongst African legal professionals. Pan African organisations such as the African Regional Forum of the International Bar Association, where I am a co-Vice-Chair; the Pan African Lawyers’ Union; the African Bar Association; the African Business Lawyers’ Association; the African Arbitration Association; and the ICC Africa Commission; as well as regional bodies such as the West African Bar Association; the East African Law Society; the Southern African Development Community Lawyers Association; etc are all veritable platforms for building and strengthening relationships between the legal professions on the continent. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement, when fully operational, will also provide greater impetus for the development of relationships between the legal profession in various parts of the continent.
Africa Legal has run several articles and interviews with junior lawyers where a common theme was poor pay and exploitation of their time. If you were made president of the NBA, what steps would you take to ensure junior lawyers were paid appropriately?
I would dimension the extent and details of the problem by carrying out the detailed survey I described in response to your first question above. Based on the information and statistics that come out of that survey, I would push for the NBA to make realistic recommendations for minimum levels of remuneration for lawyers in employment in Nigeria, giving due consideration to their relative levels of seniority and experience and also giving due consideration to the locations in Nigeria where they are employed. To encourage compliance with these recommendations, I would explore a variety of creative methodologies ranging from withholding letters of good standing from lawyer employers who are not meeting the NBA’s recommendations in terms of minimum remuneration as well as market driven measures and remuneration league tables.
Why did you enter the legal profession?
I entered the legal profession because I am passionate about the profession. I am a second generation lawyer and this must have had an influence on the development of this passion, but I can’t tell exactly how or when it arose. I enjoy what I do and that is the greatest gift of all. Hard work is easy when you actually enjoy what you do and are fulfilled by it.
What do you do to relax in your spare time?
I don’t have much by way of spare time to be honest, but when I do, I like to keep fit and exercise and spend time with my wife and children.
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