NBA PROPOSED VIRTUAL AGC: WHAT’S THE USE OF A CONFERENCE WITHOUT ITS NATURAL LUSTRE?

In the wake of a worldwide pandemic that has grounded travel, halted trade and led to the placing of an embargo on the little things like hugs and handshakes, people have resorted to new ways of conducting business, navigating work, learning and even entertainment. People have had to work from home, business meetings are now facilitated via software like Zoom and Google Meet, and there are more than a few online professional courses to take on (for those who have the discipline and perseverance to commit to virtual learning). In the areas of public policy and music, we have seen panel discussions happen on Twitter live chats, and music producers have treated fans to entertaining jamming sessions on Instagram Live. The issues of electricity, internet connectivity and the cost of mobile data will be discussed another day, but at least alternatives have been provided for the things we love to (and need to) do.

With a view to joining the global trend of taking everything online, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) earlier in May stated that it would hold its 2020 Annual General Conference (AGC), in a virtual format. The President of the Association, Paul Usoro (SAN) communicated this via a statement signed on May 13, 2020, wherein he stated that the decision became necessary following a meeting with the Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP) led by Professor Konyinsola Ajayi (SAN), which held on May 12, 2020 where it was decided that the 2020 AGC would be held virtually. In his words, the prognosis did not suggest that COVID-19 would abate by August and there was, therefore, no basis to believe or expect that restrictions on travel would be lifted by then. Mr. Usoro also added that canceling the conference was not an option.

On the surface, the explanation from the office of the NBA President is satisfying, and it would appear that there is a really valid rationale for the decision to “take the Conference online”, but there is a perspective to all this that hasn’t been wholly considered.

Sure enough, people are able to log in and participate in activities with a few touches of their phone keypads, but there are events, and then there are events. The NBA Annual General Conference is not just any forum, it is the largest gathering of lawyers across the country, and reducing it to an entirely virtual affair takes away the essence of hosting a conference. Having people partake in the conference by simply typing away at their laptops makes the event no difference from a LinkedIn webinar or a regular interaction on a Facebook group created for lawyers. There is also the question of what constitutes a “quorum” in circumstances where people are signing in, rather than physically showing up.

It is also pertinent to note that there are many Nigerian lawyers who are not quite as Internet-savvy as we would love to believe. Much is made about the inclination towards technology in recent years, but websites and LinkedIn posts aside, the reality is that there are lawyers who would be left out if the NBA decides to proceed with hosting a wholly virtual conference. In an ideal system, every Nigerian legal practitioner would have premium access to the Internet, seated in a decently-furnished office or apartment with a modem at one end of a table and a fancy tablet at the other end, but that’s not the case now, is it?

There is also the matter of internet connectivity in the country, and the volatile nature thereof. Nigeria is yet to fully embrace 5G technology – the controversy surrounding same is well documented – and indeed there are lawyers who carry out their practice in locations where even 4G seems to be a luxury. It would be tedious, cumbersome, time-consuming and frustrating to be in a place where mobile network is poor and attempt to log in to one of the interactive sessions that would have probably been scheduled as part of the conference. The idea of a “Zoom conference” sounds cute, but we need to stop daydreaming: Nigeria is not technologically equipped for us to have an e-conference of the AGC’s magnitude.

There is another angle to this that may not be readily admitted by some, but which is true nonetheless: the NBA Annual Conference is an avenue for friends to rekindle old ties, for networking to be solidified, and more explicitly, for the warm-blooded to take shots at romance. There are moments that cannot be created, and memories that cannot be made, across phone wires or a laptop’s cord. A significant part of what makes the NBA Annual Conference tick is what happens on the beach, the football pitches and the hotel rooms. What’s a conference without photos, without conference materials, without souvenirs and a few complimentary cards in breast pockets of jackets?

Some decisions look good on paper, but fall short when analysed within context. Maybe the NBA does not need to have a conference this year. Maybe the funds set aside for logistics could be used for the welfare of lawyers across the Association’s branches. Maybe the executive committee needs to review its plans for this year’s activities, because in the grand scheme of things, a virtual AGC is far from feasible.



Jerry Chiemeke
Author: Jerry Chiemeke
Jerry Chiemeke is a lawyer, editor, columnist and art enthusiast. Per his legal practice, his interests include Regulatory Compliance, Legal Advisory and Finance. He is a widely published writer whose works have appeared in journals and publications around the world. Jerry loves commenting on music, film, art and everyday happenings around lawyers. He lives in Lagos. He can be reached on chiemekejerry5@gmail.com.
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