Mazi Afam Osigwe (SAN) is a former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Abuja branch, and former general secretary of the association who was recently appointed as the Chairman of the 2023 NBA Annual General Conference (NBA-AGC) Planning Committee. In this interview, he speaks on the healthcare of judges, the death of Justice Lokulo-Sodipe of the Court of Appeal in Ondo State, the rival Law Society of Nigeria (LSN), the NBA-AGC and other issues.
What is your reaction to the death of Justice Lokulo-Sodipe?
Death is inevitable, but how it comes is very important. When death occurs in circumstances that are related to burden of work, especially where a justice dies while preparing to go to court, they speak volumes of healthcare and workload available to them as a result of the mounting pre-election cases which ultimately find their way up to the appellate court. The party primaries conducted last year attracted a lot of litigation that even the Federal high Courts were burdened by these cases which they were not prepared for because they were not consulted.
Attention must be paid to the healthcare facilities available in the courts, as well as the types of cases that go to the courts. That also means that the political parties must imbibe the democratic culture. Political parties should find a way to conduct transparent primaries and also resolve disputes from their primaries at that level.
Is the NBA presidency the preserve of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs)?
I have never subscribed to the idea that the NBA presidency should be for SANs alone. Leadership can be found in any level of the profession. That was why I contested for the NBA presidency even when I had not yet applied for the silk. What matters is your experience and what you propose to do for the bar. It has got nothing to do with the rank. Olumide Akpata led the bar in recent times and did very well. It is about service to the bar irrespective of the rank.
What is your take on the LSN as a rival to the NBA?
I understand that everybody has a right to freedom of association, but permit me if I have a bias against the LSN. I think the LSN was birthed in circumstances that was not justified; it came out of the fallout of NBA elections. LSN was birthed in 1992 when the NBA was having a leadership crisis and was registered as an alternative platform for lawyers. With the coming back of the NBA in 1998, the need for the LSN became unnecessary. Some of the offices they claim to occupy do not exist. I read Chief Richard Ahonarougho (SAN) who said that those who paraded themselves as members of the LSN were not known to the LSN. Aside from the public releases from the organisation, I am yet to see that they are on the ground.
However, whatever are the reasons that make lawyers in the NBA feel that they are no longer represented, or that the NBA acts in a manner that is no longer democratic; we need to bring everyone together, and this may call for a reform.
You have been appointed as the Chairman of the NBA Conference Planning Committees, what is your mandate?
We have a mandate to organise the AGC for the NBA. Incidentally, the conference is taking place in the last week of August, 2023, in Abuja. It is the responsibility of the members of my committee to make sure that the conference is a successful world-class conference. We are to choose the theme and the various topics for the conference, as well as get resource persons and service providers, the acquisition and distribution of conference materials and to ensure that lawyers are happy for the time and money spent at the conference.
The last NBA conference witnessed some lawyers who allegedly looted conference bags and other items. Do you agree that the organisers of the last conference were culpable for not being sufficiently prepared?
Permit me not to comment on that topic because I am not privy to the report of the committee set up to look into the matter which took evidence from parties involved.
Going forward, what lessons have we learned from the last conference?
For me, the takeaway is that whenever the report is out we will find out ways to avoid a repeat of such an incident. We as a committee at our inaugural meeting agreed that the major factor that may have contributed to the incident was that conference materials did not get to the conferees on time. So, we have taken a preliminary position that conference materials will be distributed ahead of time, long before the commencement of the conference. For the conference brochure and programme, we are going paperless. We will try as much as possible to make use of technology.
Is this the first time you are involved in organising the NBA conference?
I have been involved in the planning of the conference, but I have not been chairman of the planning committee. I was involved when I was Chairman of NBA, Abuja branch, and as General Secretary of the NBA in 2015 and 2016. I was a member of the planning committee. To these extents, I have been involved in planning NBA conferences.
A number of persons who are members of the committee have various backgrounds and experience to leverage on and avoid all previous problems. And we will ensure that we have resource persons of international standard to add value to the lawyers that are attending the conference.
What do we expect from your committee?
Lawyers should expect a record-setting conference. Coming at a time Nigeria has successfully had general elections. I am sure this will throw up issues on the electoral process, economy and monetary policy.
Apart from all these, what other benefits should a lawyer expect?
Ideally, the conference provides opportunities for lawyers to network, meet other lawyers from different backgrounds and expose lawyers to new areas of practice, listen to new perspectives and afford them opportunities to unwind. So many things will take place, and there are multiplier effects on the economy.