NBA Benin Branch Bye-Laws; The Duty of Membership in the Forthcoming Branch Elections: An Appraisal- Dennis Osaretin, Esq.

The issuance of the robust electoral regulations and guidelines precisely on the 30th day of April, 2020. by the Professor Enabulele led electoral committee set up by the branch, signals the commencement of activities leading to the conduct of election into the various offices created by the Nigeria Bar association constitution and the uniform Bylaws.

Thus the main purport of this piece is to draw attention to the duty and important roles to be played by members of our noble association and the concomitant responsibility expected from them.

Although the recently released criteria and guidelines for the election, didn’t expressly define or state the roles and responsibilities of members in a branch election, permit me however, to take solace in the warmt embrace of our Constitution and bylaws, for the sole aim of subtle advocacy, clarification and enlightenment.

It’s suffice to say, that the enrolment of a lawyer and indeed his or her membership of our association remains a rare privilege that ought to be guarded jealously. Thus in the build up to this year election member should conduct their activities in support or against any candidate with due deference, respect and candour to avoid bad blood and ill feeling.

Flowing from the above introduction, the kpim of today’s piece is well captured in very succinct dictum of, Benjamin N. Cardozo, the famous American jurist, who once said;

“Membership in the bar is a privilege burdened with conditions”

It is interesting, to note and demonstrate how important membership is, the Nigeria Bar Association constitution, provides that, one of the aims and objective of our association is to ;

(g) Promotion of good relation among the members of the Association
and lawyers of other countries.
(h) Promotion of co-operation between the Association and other
(l) Creation of schemes for the encouragement of newly qualified
members and assistance to aged or incapacitated members of the
Association.
(m) Establishment of schemes for the promotion of the welfare,
security and economic advancement of members of the legal
profession.

It’s crystal clear, from the above article of our association that as an aspirant in an election, one is expected to amongst other things “promote good relation among the members”
This message has become important, so as guide us through the process of electioneering, and ensure our members don’t become enemies simply because of election.

For the purpose of emphasis and clarity, membership of our noble association is in two folds;

MEMBERSHIP
(1) There shall be two categories of membership; viz
(a) Full membership, and
(b) Honorary membership
(a) FULL MEMBERSHIP

It’s is however pertinent to note that for the purpose of today’s discuss, the category of membership in context is full membership, and the constitution clearly stipulate what a full membership entails;

(i) A full member of the Association shall be any person duly enrolled
at the Supreme Court of Nigeria as a legal practitioner and
registered with a Branch of the Association.

The same constitution then goes ahead to spell out clearly, the rights and responsibilities of a member, with regards to elections.

(ii) Notwithstanding the provision of Section 4(a)(i), any member who
fails or neglects to pay the prescribed Annual Practising Fees
before the end of March in each year shall, for as long as he/she
remains in default, have no right:

(C) to hold any office whatsoever by virtue of his/her
qualification as a legal practitioner;

(D) to vote or be voted for at any election of the association;

(iii) A failure or neglect to pay the Annual Practising Fees and Branch
Dues, as and when due, shall be deemed to be an act of professional
misconduct.

Consequent on the above provisions, it’s clear that the right to vote and be voted for is not a natural right or better still is not automatic, as one is further required to have become a member of a physical branch and must have paid his or her practice fees and local dues as at when due.

To further butress how important this duty is failure to comply with this responsibility can be deemed an act of professional misconduct.

Another very important issue that has come to the front burner, is whether a person should belong to any local branch, when the person is already enrolled and enlisted upon call to the national body.

The answer to this poser can be found in our laws. for clarity our Constitution provides for the creation of branches and for sustainable of membership it is expected that every lawyers enrolled must and should belong to a branch upon being called to Bar.

Therefore continued membership and participation becomes a bottom up arrangement, meaning that you cannot claim membership of the Nigerian Bar Association, without first belonging to a branch, hence it is provided that;

(1) There shall not be more than one Branch of the Association in any Judicial
Division of the High Court of any State.
(2) Nothing in this Constitution shall debar all the Branches in any State from
holding joint meetings/consultations to discuss matters of common interest
for the overall good of the Nigerian Bar Association and its members.
(3) A Branch of the Association shall consist of not less than fifty (50)
registered members who have their principal places of practice or residence
within the Judicial Division where the Branch is situated.
(4) A member shall join the Branch within the judicial division where he/she
has his/her principal place of practice or residence, provided that no
member shall belong to more than one Branch.
(5) A member having his/her place of practice or residence in a Judicial
Division in which there is no Branch shall register as member in a Branch
nearest to him/her.

(14) Every Branch shall keep an up-to-date list of its members and forward
such list to the General Secretary before the end of July in each year.

from the above, another very salient point we can deduce, is the fact that there is no such thing as a “floating membership”, because it is expected that a lawyer should as a matter of fact acquire the membership of a judicial division, where he or she practices or resides, and this responsibility is mandatory as the word shall was deployed.

The uniform Bylaws spelt out these responsibilities with better profundity, when it provided that;

(1) Every Legal Practitioner who resides practices and/or works in the
State where the Branch is situate may be a member of the Branch;
(2) Every member shall meet his financial obligations to the Branch by
paying, as and when due, all dues, levies and contributions as may
be imposed by the Branch from time to time;
(3) A financial member is a member who by the 31st of March of the
relevant year has paid all branch dues or subscriptions, levies,
including practice fees and other contributions imposed by the
Branch from time to time

Members are also enjoined to carry out other obligations with regards to finances and contributions to the association, especially at the branch level such that it forms the condition precedent and foundation upon which many other rights and privileges can ensure.

Thus for the purpose of advocacy and enlightenment, the following provisions should guide us moving forward;

(a) Every full member shall pay annually, by the 31st day of March,
practising fees as may be determined from time to time by the
National Executive Committee of the Association.

(3) Other Subscriptions, Branch Dues and Levies
(a) Other subscriptions payable by members shall include fees and
levies as may be approved by the Annual General Meeting or the
National Executive Committee.
(b) Any Branch of the Association may impose and charge dues and
levies payable by its members thereof for the purpose of running the
Branch.

therefore once a members meets the above conditions, such a members can be said to be in Good Standing, and can then participate in the electoral processes.

Another very important duty imposed on members is that of voting, for credible and responsible leadership that will ensure the promotion of good relationship amongst members and place their collective welfare over and above personal consideration, so, just like everything else the right to vote is also not automatic as can be gleaned from the provision below;

  1. ELIGIBILITY TO VOTE
    (1) To be eligible to vote, a member shall be a financial member of the
    Branch and shall have paid his/her bar practicing fees and annual
    branch dues, as and when due, for the two (2) years preceding the
    election or since enrolment, if less than two (2) years post-call, and
    shall have attended a minimum of five (5) monthly general meetings
    of the Branch within the twelve (12) months preceding the date of
    the election.
    (2) The member’s name must appear in the final list of eligible voters as
    compiled by the Election Committee and published not later than
    fourteen (14) days before the date of election.

In conclusion therefore, the writer’s aim in putting down this piece is restablish the the axiom that to whom much is given, much is expected. Our members are by this piece encouraged to take active part in the forthcoming branch election with above provisions in mind, because it is indeed the patriotic thing to do. In the words of Benjamin N. Cardozo “The risk to be perceived defines the duty to be obeyed”

Thanks for reading!

Stay safe, keep the distance and continue to wear your face mask and sanitize your hands

DENNIS OSARETIN Esq

Currently serves as Assistant Secretary, of the Nigeria Bar Association,Benin branch

He is also a dedicated Human right lawyer, with special bias for media rights and data protection and freedom of information law advocacy and related developments

He is currently retained and recognised as one of the selected media rights lawyer in Nigeria by the Premium Times Center For Investigative journalism

He makes regular guest appearances on various current affairs programs both on radio and television, to propagate the gospel of the law and legal jurisprudence

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