Alteration of Rule 9 (2), 10, 11, 12 and 13 of the RPC: Much Ado about Nothing

1. Like most lawyers, I was a bit jolted when I received the news of the alteration of the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC). After my initial reaction I tried to verify the authenticity of the news. While I am still awaiting official confirmation of the news by the AGF, the reactions that have trailed the news from both members of the outer and inner Bar, my gut feeling is that the news might be true after all. It is on that note that I have appraised the altered rules below:

2. Rule 9 (2) provides to the effect that a lawyer shall not claim that he has paid his annual practicing fees when he is in default before any court or judicial tribunal.

3. I admit that I have not perused the revised version of the RPC, 2020, as altered by the AGF, and I have merely worked with what has been reported thus far. However, if we are to take the foregoing said altered rule on its face value, not much has changed. For the simple reason that it cannot be interpreted conversely to suggest that, because of the said altered rule, floodgates have been open to people to make false claims in Court, or before a tribunal to the effect that they have paid their annual practicing fees when they have not.

4. On the contrary, though, it has also been reported that the alteration of the said rule goes deeper to exclude lawyers under the government payrolls from payment of practicing fees. Now, if that is the case then it makes sense to do away with Rule 9 (2). We can argue about the desirability of the exemption accorded to government lawyers but that is another matter entirely.

5. Rule 10 provides to the effect that a lawyer shall not sign or file legal documents devoid of NBA issued stamp and seal. How much one pays depends on the number of stamp required. 
6. Alteration of Rule 10 is the most controversial of the lot, and its attendant consequences are numerous. It erodes a major source of revenue to the NBA and also enables rival association(s) to spring up unhindered. Hence, NBA has every reason to be jittery about the said altered rule 10. 
7. Against the backheels of threats by some lawyers to break away from NBA and form rival associations, the most pronounced of which is the NNBA, rule 10 has been their major draw back. It is trite that, although the constitution guarantees freedom of association, it is common knowledge that the promoters of NNBA were hindered, nonetheless, by the requirement of the NBA issued stamp and seal to file legal documents in court, as provided under the now altered rule 10. Therefore, the implication of the alteration of rule 10 is that the floodgates of rival associations to NBA to spring up has been opened. Naturally, this should concern those that will rather have one united Bar for all Nigerian lawyers. 
8. It explains why some lawyers have betrayed emotions while appraising the said alterations by the AGF. Others on the other hand have, however, pointed out that the introduction of the aforesaid rule 10 was carried out in a similar manner and that NBA deemed it legal, or saw nothing wrong with it or step taken by the erstwhile AGF, Bayo Ojo, SAN when he introduced the said rule because it was a major source of revenue for it.
9. My question, therefore is, how is the alteration of the said rule by the incumbent AGF, Malami, SAN, illegal while the introduction of the said rule by the erstwhile AGF, Bayo Ojo, SAN, legal; provided it is true that Bayo Ojo singlehandedly introduced it?! 
10. Since, it is clear that Bayo Ojo acted alone devoid of consultation with the other members of the Bar Council to have introduced the said rule, the reversal or alteration of the same rule by Malami in a similar manner has to be legal because the introduction of the said rule was illegal ab initio. You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. If your take is that both Bayo Ojo and Malami lacked the powers to unilaterally introduce or alter the said rule, that leaves us at the pre-introduction-epoch of the said rule, which is exactly what Malami has restored.

12. If I may add, rule 10 is unconstitutional to begin with, never mind that Nigerian lawyers acquised to it. The constitution guarantees the right of every person to represent himself or by a legal practitioner of his choice. Rule 10 of the RPC, on the other hand, deprives lawyers (and laymen alike), who fail to affix the-NBA-issued-stamp and seal to legal documents (pleadings, affidavits, applications, instruments, agreements, deeds, letters, etc), right to file processes before the court, and by extension right of audience before the Court. How that is not an infringement on fundamental right the constitution guarantees beats my imagination?!  Or, how is it legal for a constitutional right to be eroded by failure to comply with a subsidiary legislation like RPC ?! It is trite that the constitution is the supreme law of the land and any law that is inconsistent with it is to the extent of its inconsistency void.Therefore, the alteration of rule 10 is in order.
12. Rule 11 deals with continuance of professional development; [12] deals with compilation of list and issuance of annual practicing certificates to legal practitioners; and [13] deals with issuance of notice to branches prior to commencement of practice; all of which have truly become obsolete and rightly altered, if you ask me. 
Therefore, Malami deserves a medal not condemnation for the law is on his side. Malami has by the alterations realigned RPC with the constitution.

Usman Ibrahim Kuchi, LL.M, LL.M


1 comment

  1. Danbala Garba

    This is a very sound argument that addresses areas of misconceptions in the RPC and the contestations generated by its recent amendment by the AGF. No any better perspective to view this controversy.

    Kudos Usman.

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