Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice has come under criticism from some lawyers over the amendments to the Rule of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners (RPC) that purportedly weakens the power of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA).
The AGF according to the The Punch Newspaper, amended the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 by deleting sections 9(2), 10, 11, 12, and 13 thereby removing the requirement for NBA stamp and seal on court processes and giving everyone – including non-lawyers – the right to submit court processes.
The stamps and seals were sold at N4,000 for 72 pieces and were given upon payment of dues to NBA membership.
With the amendment, the use of the stamp will no longer be necessary to submit court processes, unlike before when a lawyer can only submit any document or letter to the court with the stamp.
This also implies that persons who are not members of the NBA, as well as non-lawyers are now permitted to submit court processes.
The development comes after some aggrieved lawyers pulled out of the NBA following the withdrawal of invitation to Nasir El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State as a speaker at this year’s NBA 60th annual conference to form a splinter group, New Nigerian Bar Association (NNBA).
But in reaction to the purported amendment to the Rule of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, Inibehe Effiong, a constitutional and human right lawyer stated that disciplinary actions should be initiated against Malami for this amendment.
“On the purported amendment of the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers by the AGF, Malami SAN, NBA should initiate disciplinary actions against Mr. Malami. The arrogant behavior of public office holders will continue until public office holders are punished for infractions,” Effiong said.
“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. ”
Olumide Akpata, the President of the NBA in a statement said the Minister lacks the authorised approval to amend lawyers’ professional conduct.
He faulted Malami’s action, stating that due process was not followed and that the decision to amend the RPC can only be taken by the General Council of the Bar.
“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’),” Akpata said.
“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.
According to him, 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.”
Also, Femi Falana (SAN), a human rights lawyer in a report disclosed that he would be challenging the AGF’s decision.
Malami’s move according to Falana was illegally made stating that, “I will take appropriate steps to fight this latest act of unpardonable impunity emanating from the office of the AGF.”
Also, a former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Professor Chidi Odinkalu in a series of tweets on his twitter handle, described Malami’s action as dud as a bounced cheque.
“He claims to have acted under a section of the law that gives him no such powers. Even if he acted under the right provision, he can’t usurp the role of the #BarCouncil & he knows it,” he said.
Meanwhile, some lawyers have also initiated a petition to strip Malami of his SAN rank over the amendment matter.
The petition on change.org titled, “Sign to strip Nigeria’s AGF, Abubakar Malami the title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria”, was registered by a lawyer, Izu Aniagu and had received over 380 signatures as of on Sunday.
Izu said Malami as the AGF had no such power.
“This time, the AGF has decided to take his imprudence to top-notch by unilaterally deleting the provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct which provide for stamp and seal as well as bar practicing fee for government lawyers” he said.
“The AGF does not have such power. Section 12 (4) of the LPA gives the General Council of the Bar power to make any such amendment and make other decisions concerning the NBA.”
“There is no record of any meeting convened by the Attorney General of the Federation, who is the President of the Bar Council. The AGF took the decision alone and his actions constitute a threat to the rule of law. His action is totally shameful and is undeserving of a lawyer in the rank of a Senior Advocate, let alone a Chief Law Officer of the federation.”