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Sunday, April 14, 2024

NBA criticizes agreement allowing UK lawyers to practice in Nigeria, considers legal action

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The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has criticised the federal government’s bilateral agreement with the United Kingdom, allowing English lawyers to practise in Nigeria.

On Tuesday, Nigeria and the UK formalised a new trade agreement to boost trade and investment between both countries.

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Called the Enhanced Trade and Investment Partnership (ETIP), the agreement is also expected to unlock new opportunities for UK and Nigerian businesses.

The aspect of the agreement that bothers the NBA will commit Nigeria to work towards allowing UK lawyers to practise in Nigeria without any hindrance.

Many Nigerian lawyers fear that it will considerably increase the import of legal services to Nigeria to their disadvantage.

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Why we oppose the agreement

The NBA said the agreement puts Nigeria at a disadvantage, threatening to resist it by all means necessary within the ambit of the law.

“We want to make it very clear that the ETIP agreement, in so far as it relates to legal services is unacceptable in its entirety. The NBA will take all necessary measures provided by our laws in support of our position on this matter,” the NBA president, Yakubu Maikyau, said in a statement on Wednesday.

He said the agreement “will compromise our legal space.”

Describing the deal as a “tragic reminder of our colonial past,” Mr Maikyau wondered why the Nigerian government would take such a decision with likely monumental impact without consulting with the NBA.

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“It is indeed unfortunate that this tragic reminder of our colonial past is being gleefully celebrated at the highest level of the Government of Nigeria. What is more disheartening is the fact that a decision of this magnitude that adversely affects the well-being and livelihood of millions of Nigerians, could be taken without any consultation, especially with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).

“For the avoidance of doubt, the NBA had no foreknowledge or inclination of the text of the said agreement. We could not therefore have contributed to it. I have since assuming office as President of the NBA clearly opposed any agreement that will compromise our legal space. At all the meetings.”

UK Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Kemi Badenoch

Mr Maikyau, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), posited that a provision of the agreement allowing lawyers from the UK to ply their trade in Nigeria is reminiscent of “our colonial past.”

He explained that Nigerian lawyers do not possess the requisite skills to match their British counterparts even if the UK was to reciprocate the gesture to Nigeria.

“I emphasised that we are not yet at a place for such an agreement and that even if we are to enjoy reciprocity with the UK (which is not an acceptable position), the knowledge and skills gap is so wide that we cannot favourably compete with the lawyers from the UK.”

Nigeria undermining its legal professionals

Drawing comparisons between the two countries, Mr Maikyau said the British government would not undermine its own body of legal professionals in such a manner as the Nigerian government has done.

“It is truly tragic that while the government of the UK is seeking opportunities for its own lawyers beyond its constrained environment, the government of Nigeria is attempting to deprive Nigerian lawyers and their millions of dependants of means of livelihood.

“To embark on such a venture without recourse to the NBA is the height of insensitivity to the plight of the legal profession in Nigeria, and this is totally unacceptable,” the statement added.

Recalling his previous interactions with the Law Society of England & Wales and the Bar Council of England & Wales, the NBA president said he registered the association’s “opposition to a bilateral agreement between the Government of Nigeria and that of the United Kingdom on legal services.”

He called on lawyers in Nigeria “to brace up for the struggle ahead,” adding that “The NBA under my leadership will not allow any incursion into our legal space.”

The Minister of Trade, Industry and Investments, Doris Uzoka-Anite [PHOTO CREDIT: @DrDorisAnite]The statement described Nigeria’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Doris Uzoka-Anite, as “unpatriotic” for giving the impression that the agreement would translate to “more money for Nigeria.”

The controversial agreement was signed on Tuesday by the UK Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Kemi Badenoch, alongside her counterpart and Nigerian Trade Minister, Doris Uzoka-Anite, in Abuja.

The agreement is anchored on the hopes that it would herald significant economic opportunities for both nations.

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