NBA won’t surrender independence over SCUML – Okey Wali (SAN)

Some state governors have criticised the leadership of the NBA, saying that the association has lost its voice for calling for the proscription of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), what is your reaction?
We went through history and found out how NGF was fashioned after the American Governors’ Association. The basis for that in America is good governance. In my opinion, it was a good platform to serve the people but most unfortunately what we are getting here is more of politics and so many problems. So the NBA appealed to the governors to resolve the crisis quickly.
Unfortunately, we could not dabble into who won because there was an action in court and that would be sub judice.  I never said that the NGF should be proscribed. I said if they cannot resolve their differences they should disband and go on and face the jobs they have been elected to do. I never used the word proscription. They are Nigerians and entitled to their opinion. My focus is that I have been elected to do a job and those who elected me have not complained about my leadership style, so what is important to me is that am I doing the job I am elected to do.  If the NBA members believe that I am doing what they asked me to do, I am satisfied with that.
Lawyers have high expectations of their conferences, to what extent is the NBA ready to meet these expectations at the forthcoming annual general conference?
Yes the expectations are very high. During the Port Harcourt 2011 conference, the NBA president was the local organising chairman and it was adjudged to be one of the best conferences. So if the person who ran as the conference committee chairman is now the president of the bar, some of the experiences we picked up during the Port Harcourt conference would come to play because we have duplicated some of the arrangements we made then. What lawyers mostly complain about is conference materials – bags etc. We have done all to get the bags ready, what is left now are the materials that go into the bags; the resource persons are to give us the materials in good time. I don’t want people struggling for conference materials and bags. We appeal to our colleagues because registration is quite slow. We have reduced the conference fees so that many people can attend because last year some lawyers protested. But last minute attitude will not help preparations. Every other thing is in place.
Do you agree that the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) is a waste of time and resources?
I don’t think so. There are some vital issues in the constitution that need to be amended. The only reservation we have expressed is that the major argument against that constitution is that we did not give ourselves the 1999 CFRN hence it is a military one so let us live with that until we are ready to amend it. If we sit down without making amendments, reverting by way of a referendum, then we have not given ourselves a constitution. The preamble to the constitution, “We the people of the FRN”, so if they do it the way they have done it, we have not really made a constitution.
But I would not say that the ongoing review is a waste of time. Like everything in Nigeria there is too much politics in the process. People are not very dispassionate; people are making constitutional amendment that would suit them today forgetting that a constitution is a life time document. The only problem I have with that is the referendum and when will Nigerians be part of giving themselves a law.
Unless and until they are prepared to address that issue I don’t see the difference with what we are already quarrelling with in the present one. I concede that like every other document, as you operate a document, you see some flaws that will need to be addressed and that is why we don’t subscribe to the holistic amendment. We believe that as issues crop up, they should be addressed. We are for piecemeal amendment. Unless and until we start having a referendum to amend that constitution, we cannot say that it is a constitution of the FRN.
The NBA secretariat is very professional. There is always room for improvement. We were having issues with committees until we started with the professionalization of the secretariat.  When I came in we met with the secretariat staff of the International Bar Association (IBA) at Dublin to find out how the IBA runs so taking a cue from the way the IBA is run we came back to Abuja and set up four directorates – conference and events planning, which handles logistics, seminars etc; finance and admin; programmes, which draws up our programmes and committees and lastly the Bar services which interfaces with branches.
We have tried to be firm and I have experience in administration, having been an attorney general over 10 years ago. So I understand administration.
Some senior lawyers have already registered with the EFCC and SCUML while the NBA has an issue with  the commission, has this been resolved?
The NBA has resolved to challenge the EFCC decision. Self regulation is used for legal profession all over the world. The Canadian Bar Association went to court over a similar provision and they won. The government went to the court of appeal and lost. Rule of law lives on the independence of the judiciary and the bar, the day the bar and the bench are compromised , then forget the rule of law.
If you look at the law and the way it was presented, it would mean compromising confidentiality of the bar. How do you expect every lawyer to report every transaction of over 1000 dollars (about N160, 000) to the Special Control Unit Against Money Laundering (SCUML)?  Those who have gone to register with the EFCC, that is not the position of the NBA, that is your business and we will not sanction you but the point is that NBA does not believe that we should be regulated by anybody outside the legal profession.
We have disciplinary mechanism to take care of erring members. On issues of terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering the NBA recognises that we have a responsibility to the nation but that does not mean we should surrender independence of the bar. Section 5 of the anti money laundering act says if you default, the governing body, which is the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) will withdraw your licence, how can that be.
I am here to lead the bar, we did not just take the matter to court, we took the issue to the NBA NEC in Asaba and invited SCUML , Nigerian Intelligence Financial Unit (NFIU) to come to our NEC meeting. While NFIU said we could look at the law, SCUML said we must report and they were also invited to the Makurdi NBA NEC meeting but when they said that we must report, NEC said we must go to court. So it is not Okey Wali SAN, it is NBA that took the decision.

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