1. It gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you, my dear colleagues, to Year 2019 and to wish you a most successful and prosperous Year ahead. It is my prayer and hope that 2019 will be kinder to us than 2018. We, nonetheless, have cause to thank the Almighty for the successes that we recorded, individually and as a body, in 2018 and for keeping us alive and walking us through the perils and tribulations of 2018 into the New Year.
Ea1A number of our colleagues were not that fortunate or blessed; death snatched some of us away. The grim reaper did not differentiate based on age or sex; some of our fallen colleagues had indeed lived full and long lives but most were at the threshold of life’s journeys. We remember fondly and celebrate those our departed colleagues even as we pray for their eternal rest.

2. We must make 2019 our Year of Renewal, our Year of Hope and our Year of Revival, both as an Association of Lawyers and as a country. It lies within our powers to refresh and renew, in words and deeds, our bonds as “learned friends” and colleagues and in the process, set the tone and an example for the rebuilding of our bonds of friendship and brotherhood across the Nigerian nation. We must, as lawyers, continue to be the leading light for our nation and be exemplary in our conduct and utterances. Sometimes, our utterances and conducts do not speak well of us as “learned friends” and cultured persons. In renewing our bonds of friendship, we must determine to set the example for our countrymen in being, cultured, as individuals, united as an Association, showing love and care for each other, placing the interest of the whole above self, and showing courtesy and temperance in our words and deeds.
3. As part of our renewal efforts and to give hope to our members in the New Year, we have started the process of resuscitating the moribund NBA insurance scheme. This is in fulfilment of our electoral promise to put you first at all times and to focus, amongst others, on your welfare. The insurance scheme, in our understanding, was designed primarily to serve as a safety-net for members in circumstances of death and/or disability. In revamping the scheme, we are taking a holistic look thereat and would in particular review the required props for its sustainability, the scope of coverage and the basket of benefits that members should and would derive from the scheme. We would be consultative in our approach in the redesigning of the scheme and would take on board your suggestions thereon.

4. Another immediate and urgent milestone that we will unveil to members within the next couple of days is an online payment system for the payments of all our national dues including but not limited to practice fees. It is deplorable that, in Year 2019, we still have to visit banking halls to fill pay-in-slips for the payment of, amongst others, our practice fees, in the face of pervasive online and internet banking platforms and systems. To remedy the situation, we have been in discussions with our bankers and other relevant stakeholders for the creation of an online payment platform that would make payment of dues stress-free and from your locations of choice. Our target is to go live with the online payment platform by 14 January 2019and we would, in succeeding days keep you updated with the progress and the mechanics thereof.

5. Tied to the payment system is our plan to entrench a consistent early turnaround time in the printing and delivery of stamps to our members – an issue that had bedeviled us in past years and was a hot electoral topic in the NBA 2018 Elections. In my Address to the NBA NEC on 06 December 2018 I had informed NEC members that “these days, stamps are delivered to our members within a fortnight of our receiving the orders at the National Secretariat from the branches” and that “this is still a work-in- progress” as “we do hope to shorten further the delivery time as we move into 2019”. One of our objectives in instituting an online payment system is to fulfil that promise. Beyond that, we would be engaging the Branches on how best to fast-track the submission of stamps orders to the National Secretariat, taking into account the need for lawyers to fulfil their Branch obligations as conditions
precedent to the submission of the orders. We are also working with our vendors to institute a seamless system that would ensure quality production and delivery of the stamps within a period not exceeding a fortnight from when the orders are received at the National Secretariat.

6. Year 2019 is a year of Hope and Renewal for us not only in the NBA but also in the Nigerian nation. Underscoring that national hope and renewal is our role as the pre-eminent Nigerian professional association and the voice of the voiceless. Our role as the Voice is even more pronounced and accentuated in this election year. This is the year that we would decide both at the national and States levels how we wish to be governed and into whose hands we will entrust our affairs and lives. I emphasize the entrusting of our lives because that is literally what we would be doing at the polls this year. The decisions of our rulers directly impact and determine the course of our lives. It determines the quality of our lives, not only from an economic standpoint but also from our health, longevity and developmental standpoints. Our decisions at the polls will determine the quality of life for our youths and children from an educational prism as well as from the perspectives of employment and self- development opportunities. The quality of rulers that we will vote into power this year will determine whether we move from a perennially consumptive economy into a productive and hopefully an industrialized economy; it would determine whether we would, in our lifetimes ever be assured of such basic necessities like pervasive energy supply and provision of potable water and primary health care for our citizens. The Elections of 2019 should and must therefore serve as a defining moment for our country.

7. In fulfilling these mandates, we have civic responsibility, as lawyers, to cast our votes and I am hoping that we all have our PVCs ready and available for that all-important assignment. Beyond that, as an Association of Lawyers, we have additional roles to play in assisting to ensure that the will of our people is not subverted and that the votes of our people count. These include participation in voter education, consultation with relevant stakeholders to ensure free, fair and violence-free elections, monitoring the electoral processes and, not least, blowing the whistle on perceived or identified plans to subvert the people’s will. Voters education is particularly critical. Nigerians need to be encouraged not to mortgage their future on the altar of immediate and ephemeral gratifications. We need to understand that our lives and the lives of our children and future generations are at stake in these elections and we must therefore vote our convictions. In the succeeding days, we would unfurl the concrete steps that the NBA would take, in a non-partisan manner, to contribute to the success ofthe2019 Elections.

8. In all of these, we must not lose sight of our core responsibility and obligation to promote, protect and uphold the rule of law in our land. In our country, the rule of law suffers degradation in multiple ways. The rule of law is trampled upon when there is no access to justice or when such access is denied, not well defined or is constrained, stifled or impaired howsoever. The rule of law is threatened when the practice of law, whether at the Bar or on the Bench, is brought under siege by agencies of State through their actions and/or inactions. The rule of law suffers subjugation when the rights of our people are trodden upon whether in terms of rights abuses or brazen disobedience of court orders and judgments. The rule of law is degraded when we, wittingly or unwittingly, fail to build strong institutions that can stand up to the arbitrariness and abuse of power. In 2019, we will continue to condemn and beam our searchlights on these undermining practices. Nigerian lawyers must stand as a united and independent Bar against these unwholesome and undemocratic practices; in carrying out this responsibility we must not be cowed or intimated howsoever.

9. In further renewal of our hopes in 2019, I restate my pledge to organize and present to you the best ever NBA Annual Conference–content-wise and in cost effectiveness. In succeeding days, we would announce the composition of the Technical Committee for the planning of the Conference and would work with the different segments of our Association to organize a Conference that we would all be proud of. The good news is, we had in 2018startedand have sustained the practice of transparency and prudence in the management of our NBA affairs, notably but not limited to the management of our finances. We would deepen and entrench those practices in 2019and would in particular reflect them in the planning and organization of our Annual Conference.
10. The few aspects of our plans for 2019 that I have touched upon in this Message constitute an infinitesimal jot of our overall plan and strategy. I mentioned them merely in an illustrative manner to give assurance that we remain alive to our responsibilities and promises to you. Amongst the programs that we are working on, but which time and space would not permit an elaboration is our commitment to better the lives of our young lawyers. We would also continue to support government in its efforts to better the lives of our citizens and stamp out corruption in all its facets. We carry out such collaboration through our specialized Sections, Fora and other organs and committees of our Association having as our goal the realization of a booming and prosperous Nigerian economy that attracts domestic and foreign investments for the betterment of our people.

11. In conclusion, I must thank all our members, from the depths of my heart, for the overwhelming and thunderous support that we, the National Officers, have consistently received from you, right from the beginning of our tenure on 31 August 2018. In my moments of trials and tribulations, you have stood stoutly with, by and for me, continually affirming your trust and confidence in me and in my integrity. Your trust and confidence in me are not misplaced and will not be betrayed howsoever. Be assured also that I have been ethical in all my business dealings and my integrity remains intact and without blemish. I assure further that I will continue to protect and hold on to, and by God’s Grace, fulfil the mandate that you freely gave to me as the President of our noble Association. I am confident that, we will, in 2020 and with your continuing support, leave the NBA in a much better form and shape than we met it in August 2018. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Long live the Nigerian Bar Association.

Paul Usoro, SAN President