Lawyers under the auspices of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, have disagreed strongly with the Attorney-General of the Federation , AGF, Abubakar Malami, SAN, over his alleged unilateral decision to amend the Rules of Professional Conduct, RPC, for legal practitioners in the country.
The AGF had in a recent gazette, amended sections 9 to 13 of the Rules guiding the Professional Conduct of lawyers.
A cross section of legal practitioners in the country have however berated the amendment which came to limelight on Saturday, as a calculated attempt to weaken the NBA.
To this class of thought, with such an amendment, lawyers could practice without belonging to the legal association or even file court processes without validating same by affixing the requisite NBA stamp and seal.
Reacting to this development, some of the dissatisfied lawyers, maintained that the AGF was bereft of the powers to singlehandedly tamper with the Rules, without the involvement of the Bar Council.
The NBA, through its National President, Olumide Akpata, in a statement on Sunday, stressed that it was impossible for the AGF to independently amend the 2007 Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, even as he asked all lawyers to remain calm and ignore the purported amendment.
Akpata said, “For the avoidance of doubt, the Legal Practitioners Act (as amended) confers the power to issue rules of professional conduct for legal practitioners, and any amendments thereto, on the General Council of the Bar (the ‘Bar Council’).
“The Bar Council comprises the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation (‘HAGF’), the Honourable Attorneys General of the thirty-six states of Nigeria, and 20 members of the NBA.
“Consequently, the RPC and any amendments thereto may only be validly issued after it has been deliberated upon and approved at a properly convened meeting of the Bar Council.
“As far as the NBA is aware, no notice convening a meeting of the Bar Council was issued to its elected representatives on the Bar Council and no meeting of the Bar Council was convened and/or held to deliberate on the Instrument.
“To that extent, our position is that no authority or approval was given for the amendment of the RPC. Consequently, the NBA maintains that the RPC has not been amended and enjoins all legal practitioners to remain calm and continue to conduct their affairs in the same manner as they did prior to the issuance of the Instrument.”
Similarly, renowned Human Rights Lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Femi Falana, while condemning the amendment, described it as one that was illegally made.
Falana further vowed that he would take legal steps to fight what he termed as unpardonable impunity.
According to him: “My position on the 2007 RPC was anchored on the preamble wherein it is stated: ‘In the exercise of power conferred on me by section 12(4) of the Legal Practitioners Act 1990, as amended, and all other powers enabling me in that behalf, I, Bayo Ojo, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice/Chairman General Council of the Bar hereby Make the following Rules.’
“However, I have read the clarifications credited to Prof. Ernest Ojukwu (SAN) and Lawal Rabal (SAN) to the effect that the 2007 RPC was properly made by the GCB. I have also spoken to both of them on phone for confirmation of their positions. I verily believe them in toto.
“Therefore, notwithstanding my opposition to the Stamp and Seal on ideological grounds I wish to reiterate my position that the 2020 RPC was illegally made by the AGF, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN).
“To that extent, I will take appropriate steps to fight this latest act of unpardonable impunity emanating from the office of the AGF.”
In his reaction, another Human Rights Activist, Inibehe Effiong, appealed to the NBA to immediately initiate disciplinary actions against Malami.
To him, if Malami is not punished, other public office holders would continue to exhibit different forms of arrogant behaviours
“The Attorney General should be made to understand that he is not above the law. The Justice Secretary in the United Kingdom is currently under fire for stating in parliament that the government will violate international law by breaching some aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement.
“Boris Johnson is facing backlash too for expressing willingness to break the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. Two former UK Prime Ministers have publicly rebuked the Boris Johnson.
“Why is it so difficult to punish public office holders in Nigeria? Is Mr. Malami above the law?
“Is it not a shame that a supposed Chief Law Officer of the country is now leading the greatest assault on the rule of law?
“Why are we taunting the NBA to go to court?
Only the General Council of the Bar can amend the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners”, he said.
It will recalled that a group of lawyers from the Northern part of the country had recently formed a splinter body they named the New Nigerian Bar Association, NNBA.
The group which claimed that the NBA as presently constitued, failed to effectively protect their interest as lawyers, earlier wrote to Malami, notifying him of the existence of their own alternative platform.
Though Malami had yet to formally acknowledge the NNBA, however, those against his recent amendment of the RPC, argued that his action amounted to an open endorsement of the move to divide the NBA.