I have had the privilege of attending and even being part of organizing conferences both nationally and internationally.

Content is everything. Even though logistics is where all the work is, content determines what logistics will look like. The trick is to have great content with minimal logistic considerations which in turn saves cost.

The 2023 NBA AGC suffered many setbacks right from the planning stages but even though the content was not half bad, the internal politics at play in the planning and development stages created quite a bit of a nightmare in terms of delivery.

I will, however, address trending issues here, first the unbarred event and then the AGM.

I followed activities around the planning of this conference. I was in Abuja from Thursday, the day before the conference began, and went to the conference venue every single day to help facilitate the AGC Legal Aid Clinic. 

With the AGC closing party having a theme like "Unbarred", one should already expect the unexpected so why are we complaining? I can't recall which NBA administration came up with this theme but we should have all raised an alarm back then because if memory serves me right, NBA AGCs ended with Bar Dinners and not full-blown concerts or club-like events (just imagine the cost implications of these concerts). 
I saw the online poster for the unbarred event and it stated that a surprise guest artist was expected, no name or picture was on the e-flyer so when the artist turned out to be an ex-convict (forgive my harsh description), I was actually mused by the choice of the organizers but then I saw the responses from NBA members and the excuse given by the NBA leadership and thought to myself; that the back and forth was actually unnecessary especially after I watched the video of our colleagues who were in attendance actually enjoying the whole performance. 

Growing up as a young lawyer in this profession, I met an NBA that was focused. I can't recall the NBA having grand parties or events like unbarred being part of the AGC but today, almost every night of the AGC; parties were organized that went well into the next morning. How can anyone concentrate on the practice development areas and content the AGC seeks to provide when conferees go to bed at 3 a.m. or 4  a.m. each morning? They will get to the conference venue late and with a nasty hangover. It is actually unfortunate that it is the same people who organize these AGCs that also organize these parties or allow these parties to be held. (Though you can't really control how conferees want to spend their evenings, these after-parties shouldn't be given an official backing as we have it today.)

The AGM this year was already expected to be controversial but only because of the proposed amendment to the NBA constitution. What we saw at the end was another controversy, which though not new to the NBA was this time openly confrontational and combative.

I have already made my thoughts known on the specifics of the confrontation so I won't repeat them here but I think that the NBA has run its course as an Association established by less than 500 lawyers back then and is no longer sustainable with nearly one million members today. 

NBA can no longer be effective with 8 to 9 executive committee members at the helm of its affairs. The legal landscape has simply evolved, the social and political terrain has changed, lawyers who lead the bar today are at every level far younger and less experienced than lawyers who led the NBA more than 15 years ago. For instance, when I began practice, the chairmen of the Lagos Branch I met were more than 20 years post-call at the Bar but in the last 10 years or so, we have had lawyers barely 15 years post-call leading NBA branches. 

At the national level, we have had very senior lawyers (mostly SANs) as presidents while other executive members are either juniors or do not have the rank. (One administration, however, stood out as we saw the difference in the Olumide Akpata presidency.)

Mentorship within the Bar has also declined over the years. The Bar today is very different and naturally so. We may not bring the old ways back but we must try not to destroy the pillars of this profession. We can pull down the old structures but I still think the foundations are solid so let's rebuild. This is why I am drawn to the idea of the Nigerian Law Society (NLS) (see below on how to join NLS). 

NLS is building new structures on the foundational principles of honesty, transparency, dignity, rule of law, justice, prudence, respect, good ethics, respect for human rights etc. A lot of these virtues, the NBA as an association has substituted for high-level politics, expensive parties, and other mundane activities.

The NBA has come full circle and while some believe that the NBA can be "fixed", I opine that fixing the NBA is not from within its existing structures but rather it must completely re-invent and re-evolve.

Anything that needs fixing presumes it is broken. The broken pieces within the NBA need not be put together to make this profession work. These pieces should work separately and independently to create a collaboration down the line that will make this profession great again.

We make the mistake that we need one lawyer's body. No, we don't! What we need is room for more people to give their best within this profession. We need more space to identify and accommodate talents and future leaders, we need a confederation of Bar Associations that can reach every corner of governance and satisfy the legal requirements of citizens who desire good governance with regard to the respect for human and socio-economic rights.

Bayo Akinlade is the Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Law Society, a past chairman of the NBA Ikorodu Branch, and a former NBA NEC member. Bayo is also the Convener of Duty Solicitors Network, Fight Against Corruption in the Judiciary as well as the Convener of Citizens Support for Lower Courts.

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