NBA asks court to permanently restrain Trade Minister from allowing UK lawyers practice in Nigeria

Story highlights

  • NBA seeks a permanent court order against the Nigerian Trade Minister to prevent UK lawyers from practising in Nigeria under an MOU.
  • The dispute arises from the ETIP Agreement aimed at enhancing trade, including legal services, between Nigeria and the UK.
  • Court proceedings adjourned to November following the ministry’s counter affidavit challenging NBA’s suit.

The Incorporated Trustees of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) have asked the Federal High Court, Abuja to permanently restrain the Minister of Industry, Trade & Investment, Doris Nkiruka Uzoka-Anite, from giving effect to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that allows lawyers licensed in the United Kingdom to practise in Nigeria.

The suit seen by Nairametrics on Tuesday seeks “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant(Minister of Trade) from discussing or further discussing and/or implementing the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding, otherwise known as the Enhanced Trade Investment Partnership (ETIP) Agreement dated 13th February 2024 in so far as it relates to legal practice or services.”

The NBA insists that the MoU on ETIP will “prejudice the interests, well-being and livelihood of legal practitioners in Nigeria.”

NBA’s Case

Nairametrics earlier reported the signing of the “Enhanced Trade and Investment Partnership (ETIP)” between the Nigerian Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment Dr. Doris Anitie and her British counterpart Ms. Kemi Badenoch.

The economic agreement sought to eliminate barriers in trade, finance, legal and the creative industry and enhance business collaboration between both countries.

However, after strong resistance from the NBA, the Minister stated that contrary to earlier reports on the provisions of the “Enhanced Trade and Investment Partnership (ETIP)” signed with the United Kingdom, lawyers licensed in the United Kingdom are not allowed to practise in Nigeria.

But in an affidavit deposed by Ayodeji Oni, Esq, NBA Secretariat Legal Officer and Head, Legal Regulatory and Compliance in suit no FHC/ABJ/CS/668/2024, he told Justice Peter Lifu that when the minister forwarded a copy of the executed MoU on the ETIP Agreement to the NBA, it was discovered that “legal services” was still included as one of the items on which the Agreement was entered into.

He added that in Yakubu Maikyau’s (SAN) capacity as the President of the NBA, he had always indicated that the Plaintiff was not ready to go into a Bilateral agreement with the United Kingdom on legal services for several reasons, more particularly because of the limitation imposed by the Legal Practitioners’ Act which regulates legal practice in Nigeria.

He submitted that he knows for a fact that while there can be an agreement or discussion on other trade matters, legal services were not an option.

The only option for UK lawyers to practice in Nigeria

Oni stated that legal practitioners whose names are not on the Roll of the Supreme Court of Nigeria cannot practise as lawyers in Nigeria.

“That legal practitioners licensed to practise law in the United Kingdom are not qualified to practise law or render any legal services in Nigeria, except by a warrant duly issued to such legal practitioner by the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“That he knows for a fact that only the Chief Justice of Nigeria is empowered to grant leave to foreign lawyers to practise in Nigeria in a limited sense.

“That the MoU on ETIP dated 13th February 2024 was taken without any consultation with the NBA which is the umbrella body of all lawyers called to the Nigerian Bar,” Oni deposed.

He urged the court to uphold its suit in order to protect the rights and interests of legal practitioners in Nigeria within the ambit of the subsisting law.

What transpired in court

When the matter came up before the court on Tuesday, the legal team of the ministry said they have filed a counter affidavit against the NBA, implying the suit should be struck out.

The court then adjourned to November for the parties to file and serve their respective replies to their processes.

Back Story

Nairametrics reported five months ago that the reports from the United Kingdom and the Nigerian government on the new trade agreement showed a disparity in the area regarding the practise of international law in Nigeria by U.K licensed lawyers.

Checks on the UK Website today still show the UK stating the MOU “will see the UK and Nigeria’s shared aspiration to facilitate each other’s lawyers practising foreign and international law in each other’s jurisdictions – a step which could significantly enhance legal services collaboration and exports. ”

The disparity between the statement from the Nigerian Minister and that of the UK government leaves many with doubts as to the true contents of the ETIP and whether it was properly negotiated to favour Nigeria.


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