The Metro Lawyer presents the concluding part of Mr Ezenwa Anumnu’s interview. You can read the first part here. Enjoy the read and do air your views in the comment section.
- Every kobo received is well documented and accounted for
- We cannot be distracted
- It is not about Ezenwa, I don’t stand to benefit
- there is need for us to invest in human capital development
- We sold to people a superior value proposition
TML: What are your plans for the branch? Can you talk about some of the programs you have?
Ezenwa: In my opinion, the biggest gift anybody can have after salvation is to be a lawyer. You can fit in anywhere. So why are we lawyers struggling to survive or fit in to the larger society? Why are lawyers hanging around CAC with no offices, little or no prospects. Some have now converted the restaurant in CAC to a meeting place and office. We are social engineers and change agents! There is a no place we can’t carve a niche for lawyers.
Our plan is to move from place to place and carve that niche for lawyers in every establishment. It is possible. That is why we are calling on people to set their differences aside. We want to expand practice opportunities, make legal service the go-to thing in the economy. Everybody is talking of economic recovery but nobody has looked at the angle of the place of lawyers and legal services. In the UK legal services contribute 4% to the GDP and is the 2nd highest employer of labor, second only to telecoms; that is such a big deal. We can change the narrative here in Nigeria too. We plan to expand our practice to Intellectual Property law, Procurement law, Complaints Management etc. In the FCT, only one law firm is into procurement practice and there are copious provisions in the Statute for lawyers to make a decent living from. Is that not a shame? So you see people who call themselves consultants (not lawyers) come in and get fat cheques while lawyers are paid peanuts to endorse such reports. Lawyers must up their game.
We have an organization that wants to build a Resource Center for the Unity Bar; we have an arrangement that once we have the place, they will supply us with the hardware and software and subscription to both local and international journals. That is part of our drive to create a knowledge-based economy where lawyers will access legal resources free of charge. We also have the Young Lawyers Training and Employment Scheme (YoLTES), where young lawyers are sent to pupillage in various establishments for about six months, and they are paid a stipend at the end of each month. That will give them a foothold in organizations where they would ordinarily not have access to, and open their eyes to certain areas of practice. We have the NBA Discussion Series, the training and networking program. We also have our UNITY VOICE magazine, which is in production, and will showcase the capacity of our lawyers. Our plan is to place lawyers in the front row of every national discourse; lawyers must participate and be showcased properly.
TML: How are the programs accounted for?
Ezenwa: We have full complements of the Executive committee with the appropriate officers. We also receive support from friends and some members. Every kobo received is well documented and accounted for by the treasurer of the Branch and the report presented to the whole members of the Branch at the appropriate occasion as prescribed by our byelaws. We are running a very transparent and efficient organization. Earlier in the year, we had a Planning Retreat where our program for the year was planned and articulated. We were confident of the viability of our programs. Even in the midst of recession we believed that if you have a good program, it usually funds itself. We also had series of training and we didn’t take money from the branch neither did the lawyers pay for any of the programs. These were absolutely free for lawyers in the Branch. This is the model we run although with the recession in the country, it is a bit difficult for the programs to be 100% self-funded anymore these days and the need to make adjustments accordingly. We run our NBA Discussion Series at very minimal cost.
TML: There have been musings that the trainings you have already carried out are nothing short of a show and cannot be taken seriously as they are more of quantity over quality. For instance, why would lawyers who are very busy people need to attend more than 1 training in a month?
Ezenwa: (laughs) Talk is cheap. An event that brings together subject matter experts to impart knowledge on our colleagues is a show? That is such a pedestrian argument that I am tempted not to dignify with an answer. I will give anybody that says the benefit of doubt as reviews from our colleagues on the impact of the trainings have spurred me to do even more. So what is their alternative? That person perhaps have never attended any of our trainings, don’t value the need for capacity building and have never put together any training program. It takes a lot of energy to do so: source funds, resource persons, subject matter experts etc. When you have a training with about 200 lawyers in attendance, when you have an understanding of the situation that we face as lawyers in the F.C.T. Lawyers in the FCT do not have access to places like NNPC, AMCON, CBN etc because of the false perception that we lack the competence to handle such briefs while our colleagues in other jurisdictions fly into Abuja in fancy suits and take all the juicy briefs. We conducted a NEEDS Assessment of lawyers in the FCT and realized that there is a huge skills gap. My heart bleeds when I hear that a lawyer was arrested in CAC for removing documents from the file for two thousand Naira or that a good percentage of lawyers have never seen a simple Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). What the Training does for us is that first, it opens our eyes to opportunities out there. For instance, in the Procurement act, SEC audit committee, Fiscal Responsibilities Act have copious provisions for lawyers. Secondly, it gives you the requisite knowledge, competence and certification. Thirdly showcases to the establishments (big corporations) that we have capacity, the knowledge base, experts within the Branch and they do not need to go to other jurisdictions to source lawyers. Fourth reason is that these trainings make the average lawyer in Abuja more competitive. The lawyers in other jurisdictions have upped their practice and we are here struggling over traditional things like searches in CAC. The fifth reason is that it provides networking opportunities and gives you access to certain cadre of persons you may not have access. When you train people they have the knowledge, they have certification and can compete with colleagues from anywhere. I went through the streets. I know the challenges that I faced as a young lawyer. I’ve seen people come out of our trainings and reconnect with old friends, exchange contacts etc. This is how lawyers grow their practice. There is no other magic about it. So whoever says our trainings are a show lacks proper understanding.
I have always said show me a superior alternative if you say training is not good but they have not brought any alternative. We have said this is the way to build capacity and promote competition among lawyers in Abuja. Every year law school churns out about 5000 lawyers. No provision for them and we sit down in our offices and think that the profession will get better if we do nothing? I see it as an emergency and there is need for us to invest in human capital development. That is the greatest investment we can give and I dare anyone who thinks contrary to give us a better alternative and I bet you nobody will come. I am waiting….
TML: How far are you willing to go to champion your cause along with your supporters?
Ezenwa: I am delivering on what I believe in. I believe we sold to people a superior value proposition. Lawyers are critical thinkers. I have never offered anybody money to support me. It’s all about the value proposition. We have a vision to expand the practice and we are prepared to key in and deliver. We sent out a communiqué when the SEC Code of Corporate Governance came out some years ago when we found out that accountants have carved a niche for themselves there but there was no place for lawyers, in a Code that was perhaps drafted by lawyers. It was stated that every public company must have an audit committee comprising of about 4 people with at least one accountant as a member. My question which was contained in our communiqué is, why must there not be a lawyer on the committee since audit is not all about accounting? It is about compliance. You can imagine the opportunities that would have been created for lawyers in public companies if in every public company there is provision for a legal adviser, lawyers in ordinary employ, and in the audit committee. But till today, nothing has been done about that communiqué. We need a voice out there and that is why it is important that our people key in. It is not about Ezenwa, I don’t stand to benefit anything from this despite the whole misunderstanding out there. It is the superiority of our value proposition that will transcend every ethnic, religious or clannish consideration. This has made so many people more committed to the cause and willing to see this to a logical conclusion. I will resign today if somebody comes up with a superior vision that would be for the greater good and I will equally urge people to also support him/her. I have absolutely nothing personal to gain apart from fulfilment that I and my team are making positive impact.
TML: Earlier you told us that a member of the panel set up by the NBA national body asked you to resign. Victor resigned. Would you resign your position for any reason?
Ezenwa: Like I said, if there was a superior reasoning or value proposition to what I’m doing, yes I would resign immediately without much ado. I don’t have to be chairman. It is not a do or die affair. I can walk away from it all if a superior proposition is brought forward but I will never concede to mediocre reasoning. There is too much at stake for the Bar.
TML: Could the fact that the branch is disunited and your resignation would bring peace and unity, be a good enough reason?
Ezenwa: No the branch is not disunited. In every administration, there would be people who would not agree for reasons best known to them. It is absolute hogwash to state that my resignation will bring peace to the branch. No. Members do not have any problem with my position, the people are only fighting their proxy war which have nothing to do with me as Chairman or the welfare of the members.
TML: But there are two very distinct factions of the Unity Bar, holding separate meetings, before now?
Ezenwa: I am not aware of any factions, there is only one Unity Bar and we have been meeting since June 2016, we have consistently had branch meetings every month, except December and January this year, which is traditional that we do not have meetings in those months. I understand some people had a meeting in June 2016 and then the meeting, which they claimed they were convening to discuss a “missing” =N=30 million. (Laughs)
TML: So you agree that there are factions, two at least…and you must agree that a significant number of Unity Bar members do not agree with the manner you came into office?
Ezenwa: There are no factions. It is not true that a significant number of members do not agree with the manner I came into office. These handful are people with inordinate ambition to control the branch without regards to due process of the wishes of the majority. They agree you are best suited for the role but will not allow you as you are not from their clique. It’s a question of “if you are not one of us, you can not have it” but the Branch has said No, Not again. Now, if I sit here and shout that I am now the President of Nigeria definitely a handful of people will follow me but does that make me a faction? No. People must be allowed to ventilate their views as long as it is lawful, just like I did mine in the issue with the banks. In Nigeria, not every one agrees with President Buhari, but governance must go on. We cannot be distracted.
TML: What efforts are you making to bring this group of people on the other side, on board your ship?
Ezenwa: We have reached out to a number of people to explain to them, we are engaging them and they have heard our side of the story and understood us. I am ever willing to sit down and resolve any issue as long as the process is sincere. I have also initiated some meetings and it is yielding tremendous results. We are open to criticism and we are still reaching out to more. If they see what we are doing, I’m also hoping that they would lay down their arms and come on board. I am not here to benefit from my different projects, paramount of which is opening up legal practice for lawyers and that to my understanding is the purpose NBA was established in the first place. I’m here to serve just like I did when I served as President of Rotary Club of Abuja and I sure made the difference and raised the Bar. I believe that when you serve with the integrity of your heart, God rewards you. It might not be now but it will definitely come. That is my primary belief and the reason I am still here.
TML: How would you like to be remembered?
Ezenwa: I want to be remembered as one who put lawyers in the Branch in the front row of every national discourse. I would like to be remembered as a man that changed the narrative in the branch and its members not by giving them periodic handouts but by building their capacities for a better and sustainable tomorrow.
I want to be remembered as one that built a more inclusive and knowledge based bar. I would like to be remembered as someone that invested in people to the extent that people developed opportunities to excel and are given a chance in life.
As a young practitioner I was never given a chance to succeed and I intend to change that for young lawyers. My experiences as a young lawyer have been the basis for our NBA Discussion Series, YoLTES program and trainings. It has given our lawyers networking opportunities, capacity building, a training and employment scheme has been explored for young lawyers. I believe that if such opportunities are created we would have less lawyers engaging in unwholesome acts, and of course, less complaints going to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. What has kept me going is level of gratitude and reviews from colleagues.
TML: You seem like a very busy person, with your law practice and Unity Bar activities, how do you unwind?
Ezenwa: I take my primary assignment in life as a Minister of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I serve as the Vice President of a Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship Chapter here in the FCT. I also take out time to go on vacation at least once a year. I just returned from a 10 day cruise with my wife to the exotic South-East Asia and it was beautiful. It was most refreshing and relaxing. I try to spend some time with my children, watching movies and playing table tennis and basketball at home. I also play football and exercise whenever I can squeeze out time to do so.
TML: Thank you so much for sparing us your time, Mr Anumnu.
Ezenwa: The pleasure was all mine. Thank you.