Lawyers are trained to imbibe special personality traits which make them natural leaders who positively influence others. Lawyers are expected to be decorous and respectful always, and to exhibit excellent character at all times especially in public places. 

But some lawyers who forced themselves into the registration booth at the Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Conference (NBA-AGC) which was held in Lagos recently were of a distinct trait. They destroyed the booth, vandalized the area, and made away with conference bags, water bottles, notepads, brochures, dinner tickets, among others. By this reprehensible conduct, these lawyers went below the bridge of decency and allowed anger and impatience to vandalize their senses, throwing them beneath the waters.

What reasons do they have? In principle, none. But the trigger was the delay in handing over conference materials to the “vandals” at the point of registration. The Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP) had experienced some disappointment from the company engaged to supply the conference bags. The TCCP was transparent and above board on this. The TCCP Chairman had assured the attendees that they would receive their conference bags as more bags were expected to arrive at the venue soon. But nothing could pacify these “vandals” who were determined to embark on a show of shame. 

The “vandals” do not define who we are, said the immediate ex-President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Akpata, at the 2022 Annual General Meeting of the NBA. The celebrated leader of the Bar decried the development and called for the sanctioning of those responsible. Perhaps, these “vandals” at the Bar may find themselves behind bars for lowering the bar of professional standards. Members of the NBA present at the AGM expressed their support for decisive actions to be taken against the culprits. 

The incident appeared to dent what was meant to be a Legacy Conference for the Olumide Akpata-led administration, though insignificantly. Thus, the Conference would still be remembered for the highpoints — a world-class opening ceremony which witnessed an outstanding keynote speech of an international icon, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and presentations by presidential candidates in the forthcoming 2023 general elections; the plenary sessions and other breakout sessions defined the true theme of the Conference, “Bold Transitions”. 

The  “vandals” were not part of the Bold Transitions. Theirs was a timid transition into degeneration in character. They had the tags of indiscipline hung on their necks by perhaps years of poor upbringing. This category of lawyers showed that all the legal training they received through the years probably yielded little or no profits as the culture of indiscipline, probably inherited, never found a way to exit their DNAs. They are indisputably lawyers within the lowest ebb in the legal profession — having neither character nor brand, and nothing to lose. The words “honour” and “nobility” are strange bedfellows with them.

The conference-bag and water-bottle “vandals” are not oblivious of the provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners (RPC). They threw caution to the wind while embracing conduct unbecoming of the status of a legal practitioner, contrary to Rule 1 of the RPC which boldly states that:

A Lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner.

There are a number of options available to a member of the NBA or any conference delegate who was not given conference materials. One of them is to make a formal demand for the materials or demand a refund of a percentage of the conference fees paid. Proper complaints may be channeled directly to the Chairman of TCCP, or the Branch Chairman or the President of the NBA. There are rooms for escalation to other relevant regulatory bodies without excluding the courts. Our legal system is well-developed for resolution of disputes in a civil manner. 

Therefore, rioting is not an option. Any conduct capable of causing a breach of the peace or harm to anyone is never an option. A lawyer may be assertive but not aggressive. In the U.S., a lawyer, David Charles Johnston, was fired by his law firm, George Sink, P.A., for entering the U.S. Capitol during the January 6, 2021, riot which was allegedly  inspired by the former U.S. President, Donald Trump. The South Carolina Bar also placed David Charles Johnston on suspension following the formal charges filed against him at the time. Will we see Nigerian law firms firing their lawyers for becoming conference “vandals”?


Beyond the claim of right and sense of entitlement, owing to the fact that the “vandals” paid for the conference, what’s in a bag and water bottle?

As members of the profession, by virtue of their call to the Bar, and not necessarily by having deserving virtues, this set of lawyers are in need of urgent reorientation.

Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has advised a number of both established and startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.
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