If there is any issue which would soon come to the fore in view of the build up to the electioneering for the NBA General Elections, it is the issue surrounding the crisis that has continued to linger in the NBA Abuja Branch (Unity Branch). DNL Legal & Style has set a mandate to meet with the role players in the crisis. Consequently, DNL Legal & Style recently sat with Mazi Afam Osigwe to clarify issues relating to the NBA Abuja crisis. Below is the excerpt of the interview:
DNL Legal & Style: In your own words, how would you summarize the genesis of the NBA Abuja Crisis?
Mazi: I have said it several times that the cause of the problem in Abuja NBA is the refusal of people to respect the rule of law, constituted authority and also trying to play ‘God’ by manipulating both the law and the electoral process to achieve a predetermined end as well as an unlawful insistence that a person who is qualified to contest in an election is not only unlawfully disqualified but also unlawfully excluded from the process even when they have a directive not to exclude that person. Here, I mean Ezenwa Anumunu.
DNL Legal & Style: When you say people taking decision that are against the interest of the Branch, we would want you to be specific, because that is all we hear. “Some people are the ones that are causing the crisis, some people do not want NBA Abuja crisis to end, “some people” that is all we hear. Specifically we want you to identify these “people”. Who are the people Mazi Afam Osigwe would identify as the person that started these crises?
Mazi: I will not conjecture. I will say what I know. Precisely eight days after the NBA Abuja Electoral Committee which was to be headed by then Ola Olanipekun (now Ola Olanipekun SAN) was constituted, in a most unconstitutional manner by the Branch Chairman I daresay, I got a call around 10pm on a Saturday night by Abdul Ibrahim who handed over to me as Chairman of the Branch and who was the alternate Chairman of the Electoral Committee, requesting to meet with me late at night and I went to meet him at at the Bush Bar of Cubana Lounge in Wuse 2, Abuja. I remember I was dressed in my nightwear because I was already preparing to go to sleep, when he called me.
After the normal exchange of pleasantries and initial small talk at Cubana, he said to me, “Is it true that you are the person bringing out Ezenwa Anumunu?” I told him clearly, that I do not have particular interest in NBA Abuja election because in my position as General Secretary, I should play a neutral role as any dispute(s) arising from NBA Branches may be brought to the NBA National Secretariat and I don’t want to compromise my position by getting directly involved. I further told him that when Ezenwa came to consult me about his intention to run for Chairman of NBA Abuja, I advised him not to run not because he was not qualified but because of my belief that his aspiration would put our Law School in a bad light. We are call mates (1999) and our set had produced three Chairmen of the Branch and I reasoned with him that we campaigned against cabals in the branch and it would not be right to take any action that would portray us as such. If we campaign against “Cabals”, our class would look like “Cabal”, if a member of the class again indicated interest that would inevitably give the impression our class had become a cabal in the branch. I gave him some other reasons why I felt he should not run. He was not happy with that and even reported me to some mutual friends. I told Abdul Ibrahim all these that night and also told him that for other personal reasons, other than the reasons about our Law School class, I didn’t want to get involved. I also noted that one of the other aspirants in the election who was my junior in secondary school and who didn’t support me during my election would assume I am trying to project Ezenwa to take revenge. I said that I would rather stay away. Abdul Ibrahim (now a SAN) then said to me that he requested to see me so as to tell me that the elders of the branch had decided that Ezenwa would not be Chairman. I quickly retorted, “When did the elders meet?” I am an elder of the Branch. Having been a past Chairman, a sitting General Secretary and a member of the Body of Benchers, I qualify as an elder in any of these three categories. I said to him no meeting has been called and in any case, even if a meeting was called, the Elders Committee of the Branch lacked powers to say that a certain individual would not be Chairman. The most they can do if the elders feel strongly about the candidacy of anyone is to mobilize people against him/her in an election and not sit in a meeting to decide that such a person would be not be Chairman.
Then Abdul Ibrahim told me “I have just told you, in fact, he would be disqualified”. I said to Abdul, “you have not even called for nominations, the man has not even picked up nomination and you have made up your mind to disqualify him?” He said he has told me, he then asked, “by the way what did you do to Ikechukwu Ezechukwu that he hates you so much?” I said “I don’t know, I didn’t know he hated me so much, you are just informing me”. He said well, you go and see him. I said I would not. I told him in Igbo culture if an elder feels he has been offended by any act or behavior of a young person, he sends for him or talks to someone to talk to him. I said what would I say to him when I meet him? That it would look like gossip as he has never made any complaint against me. We attend same church and I go to him to greet him with respect and deserving courtesy. He has never told me he bore any animosity against me. He said well, he has just told me that Ezenwa would be disqualified; he will not be allowed to participate in the election. He went on to mention names of other persons whom he said would be disqualified; Miss IBB Benede, Ndubuisi Ozokoli, Izy Nwaiwu, Dan Nwobodo and they were all subsequently disqualified except Izy Nwaiwu. I said Abdul, though I would not get involved in the Branch Election, do not disqualify any person because of that person’s is closeness to me. That I will take it that you called me this night to slight me. To tell me “we would punish a person for being close to you and you can’t do anything about it”.
I don’t wish to get involved but if you disqualify Ezenwa because of his closeness to me, that whatever fight he puts up, I would support him and we parted on that note around midnight, I went home. Subsequently, Ezenwa was disqualified, Ezenwa petitioned to the “Ad-hoc Committee on Branch Election Monitoring” which was set up by NEC in exercise of power conferred on it. Because there is no clear-cut provision in Uniform byelaws with respect to appeals against decision(s) of branch electoral committees, the Ad-hoc committee was set up to fill the gap. One of the powers of the committee was to entertain petitions from Branch Elections. Now, there are always a number of complaints/petitions from Branches where candidates sometimes complain of being unlawfully disqualified or unqualified candidates being unlawfully qualified to contest in an election. This played out in the Abuja Election where they disqualified Ezenwa Anumnu because the Committee claimed that one of his nominators was not qualified to contest in the election on account of having been in the Exco more than once. The committee made this decision even though the nominator met all the grounds for qualification to contest for election which is required of a person nominating a candidate for Chairmanship. The same Committee which disqualified Ezenwa Anumnu on this flimsy ground, qualified Prince Adesotoye who was called in 2009, when he was seven years post call to run for an office in 2016, that required a person to attain at least 8-years post call.
The committee also qualified Victor Abasi-akam-Ekim to run for chairman when he attended only three meeting out of the 5 required by the NBA constitution. The published minutes of the branch in this regard is available but they later claimed that in the minutes book held by the then Secretary (who openly campaigned for Victor), he made 5 attendance.
In that same election, after they had disqualified Rilwan Sadiq from running for Secretary, they suddenly introduced Chinedu Obienu who never picked nomination form up to the close of nomination as a candidate for the same office, instead of returning Lawrence Erewele as unopposed. Suddenly he became a candidate in the election. So they were manipulating the electoral process to suit themselves. If you are their person and you are unopposed you are okay but if you are not wanted by them, they smuggle in persons like Chinedu Obienu for you and if you are a favoured person like Adesotoye, who was not up to legal minimum age to run for the election, you are allowed to stand. And this is an association of lawyers where our motto is “promoting the Rule of Law” and where we have laws guiding the election. When Ezenwa protested, the Ad-hoc Committee led by Olorogun Dafe Akpedeye SAN, wrote clearing Ezenwa and indeed upholding the petition against Victor Abasiakam Etim and Izy Nwaiwu in which case they were to return Ezenwa unopposed, but because the Electoral Committee didn’t want him to be chairman, they said they cannot give them directives and went on to conduct an election for persons who to their knowledge were not qualified and that was what precipitated the NBA Abuja crisis. It is therefore laughable when they say that Ezenwa Anumnu was not a candidate in the election but was unlawfully made a Chairman by NEC in Benin. It is a clear case of unlawfully excluding a person from an election he ought not to be excluded from. We all know the legal effect of this especially in the case of Ezenwa and Erewele, where they ought to have been acknowledged as the sole candidates for the offices they vied for.
And I would stop to say that Abdul Ibrahim is a Muslim, if he says I have lied in narrating what he told me about disqualifying Ezenwa as well as disqualifying other candidates, let him swear on a Quran in a Mosque before an Imam to be agreed by both of us. If he claims that I lied or has said anything that is not true I challenge him to take up my challenge. Ezenwa Amumnu has earlier made a publication in this regard challenging him to deny this and I am not aware he has taken it up. It is easy to go about bandying unfounded allegations without any facts or proof. Because I refrained from joining issues with people who are just mouthing empty allegations “Mazi Afam Osigwe caused division in the Unity”, these false and misleading narrative had continued. Has it ever occurred to you that these individuals have never supplied the details of how I caused the division in the branch. What did I do wrong?” All I have done is support Ezenwa in his fight for justice because I fought the same battle when I wanted to be chairman, so I have been in his shoes; When the same powers who tried to evict me from the office with a fraudulent court order and even brazenly manipulated the electoral process on election day. That has been the bane of Abuja NBA politics where some people play “God” because according to them, you can only become something if they allow you and this fight has been on since I won election in 2010, it was fought in Desmond U.M Yamah’s election. It has always been there. It only blew in the open because they have become desperate and went to a bizarre level to exclude an unwanted aspirant and allow an unqualified person as Chairman.
DNL Legal & Style: In specific details, as the then General Secretary of the NBA, when these crisis was at the inception, what were the specific roles that you played either in your personal capacity or as a General Secretary of the NBA. We ask this question because what some believe is that you used your position as a General Secretary to favour your preferred candidate.
Mazi: I did not play any specific official role in this matter. When Ezenwa called me to say this is what happened, I told him to write a petition and attach documents. I kept out of it. He wrote a petition to Dafe Akpede SAN Committee. I never for a moment picked up my phone to call or discuss with Dafe Akpede SAN on what to do in this matter. I didn’t play any role in it. I am a member of the branch. I did not play any role as General Secretary anyway. In fact I was out of the country and returned to Nigeria after the Akpedeye Committee had written to the NBA Abuja Electoral Committee, upturning Ezernwa Anumnu’s disqualification. I hate injustice and I have seen it play out over others and it makes it look like other member of the Branch are second class citizens who amount to nothing. As if you only get what they want you to get. God has blessed most of the people involved in trying to bend everybody in Abuja branch to their will, so they feel that with their money, impunity should be the watchword. It is either their way or the highway. I swore to an oath to uphold the law and fight injustice. After leaving office as General Secretary, I had never hidden the fact that I am fully with Ezenwa in challenging the impurnty in NBA Abuja and will not on account of aspiring to run for an office in NBA shy away from supporting the cause of justice. If I am shown where I am wrong, I will accept that and apologize but not amount of fake news or false allegations will make me succumb to impunity and lawlessness. At some point in the crisis a suggestion was made for a fresh election, but because they knew Ezenwa stood a better chance, they insisted that he must be disqualified. They went to Aba NEC and in handling Abuja crisis they said that Victor Abasi-akam Ekim and Ezenwa should be excluded (banned) from the election but Ikeja NBA with similar facts, they said Ogunlana and his opponent should run.
My understanding of the law is that justice is treating equals, equally and unequals, unequally . You cannot arrive at different decisions, with different set of facts. Such a situation would definitely leave much to be desired. I don’t want to argue the legal position of whether the NEC meeting that took place in Aba can upturn a decision of the AGM in Port Harcourt. But let’s assume for the purposes of argument that NEC will do that in Aba, what was the rationale for saying Ezenwa should not run in a fresh election, even when persons involved in a similar situation in Ikeja were allowed to run. If not for an ulterior motive, there is no way any person could have arrived at such a decision. Think about that.
DNL Legal & Style: what if they were trying to find a way to calm frayed nerves? You know like; “we want to just put a stop to the issues by having a fresh set of people”?
Mazi: No, I disagree. To even agree to a fresh election is calming frayed nerves. To agree for it to be held where you believe you are a Chairman, is a big concession. To exclude you, is the injustice.
DNL Legal & Style: The Kanu Agabi SAN’s committee was set up to reconcile parties. What is your impression of the outcome of that committee?
Mazi: If I were Chief Kanu Agabi SAN I would never have agreed to work in that committee. Why? When NEC in Benin decided that Ezenwa was chairman, Ezenwa approached Chief Kanu Agabi to host his meeting and he gave money for the hosting of the July 2016 meeting and people immediately reached Kanu Agabi to say Ezenwa is not Chairman, it is Victor. Chief Agabi SAN sent his head of chambers to a meeting called by Victor whom NEC has said is not a chairman and who in defiance of NEC and NBA convened a Branch meeting. He sent his Head of Chambers to that meeting to say he was misled into recognizing Ezenwa as chairman. Even though I gave him money, I now recognize Victor as Chairman of the Branch and he still accepted to mediate in the crisis and he accepted it that is why I said if I were him, I would have declined. Because his mind was made up and this was evident in his approach to the resolution of the dispute. I hate to discuss this matter but we must call a spade a spade. When Ezenwa met him privately after the committee was set up, without hearing him he said to him to leave the position for Victor. They accuse Ezenwa of refusing to appear before the Committee. Tell me if you were Ezenwa would you appear before the committee knowing the Committee Chairman’s position. He publicly claimed through his head of chambers Ezernwa was not Chairman and declared support for his opponent and he went back a second time and met him with one other SAN and they said come out of it, leave it for Victor. Other people also raised the issue that two members of the committee were from the same area as Victor Abasiakan Ekim. That is 2 out of 3. Ezenwa wrote to Committee as well as to NBA President highlighting these reasons and said he lacks confidence in the committee without going into the legality of a committee being able to review an AGM decision. In my first year reading law I learnt something that justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done. And that a decision may be right but pitched on real likelihood of bias. For these reasons the Kanu Agabi SAN report would always fail to be a basis for resolving the Abuja branch crisis. I therefore don’t want to discuss the merit of the Kanu Agabi SAN’s committee report or the committee any further.
DNL Legal & Style: Does it mean you don’t believe in the committee’s report?
Mazi: No I don’t. With the mindset of the Chairman of this committee, whose stature in the legal profession is being used to lead credence to this report, it would be difficult to rely on the committee’s report. So I don’t need to go into that committee report. If you check the report, you would also see that it make no reference to memos presented to which did not support its findings and conclusions. People submitted memos they made no reference and they started by blaming Alegeh’s administration without showing how the administration in its handling of the matter.
DNL Legal & Style: Since this crisis started, have you had interacted with Emeka Obegolu for instance who some people have identified as the person on the other side of the divide?
Mazi: O yes, Emeka is my friend. But I understand his politics and I understand that because of certain things, he is not going to bulge. So we have had interactions but I wouldn’t want to discuss that further.
DNL Legal & Style: It is important that the NBA Abuja crisis is resolved; both in the interest of NBA Abuja Branch, and in the interest of NBA National. Two Branches had this crisis; Abuja and Ikeja. While Ikeja is fine for now, Abuja still has its crisis. Whether you like it or not, that is your Branch and it is already in the news that you may be interested in the leadership of NBA. If that news is correct, then it is important that the leadership crisis in your Branch is resolved. In specific terms who are those 5 or 3 people that we need to concentrate on to ensure that the crisis in NBA Abuja is resolved.
MAZI: I believe in the will of God. What will be will be. I believe that you can labour but if God doesn’t will it, will be in vain. Abuja has been a hotbed of crisis even before the last branch election. When I ran for General Secretary, most of these people involved in this fight,- (apart from Emeka Obegolu and a few others who worked with me) didn’t support me. Many prominent persons in my Branch supported my opponents. One person even went as far as sending emails and SMS that I embezzled my clients funds. In fact my most organised attacks and opposition came from within my branch. This happened in the same Unity Bar. I got victory by the grace of God. When Emeka Obegolu ran they also didn’t support him so that is why I said what would be would be.
Back to the issue of resolving the crisis, I believe that if the NBA leadership had shown fidelity to the resolution of the crisis we won’t be here. At the AGM after inaugurating A.B Mahmoud in his inaugural address said he is glad that the AGM has taken a position on the NBA Abuja, that this will save him a headache. But all his actions after that day have been contrary to the resolution in Port Harcourt AGM and his statement.
First of all without any NEC resolution the NBA National secretariat under Isiaka Abiola Olagunju refused to accord Ezenwa Anumunu recognition as Chairman, would never accredit him in any Bar event, refused to relate with him as Chairman. It shows you a mind set. Before they went to the Aba NEC to pass what they called a resolution, they never recognized him, even in the Aba NEC, they refused to recognize him as Chairman. He was excluded from the meeting. He came in there as observer. At a time there was nothing saying you are not a chairman. You have subsisting AGM and NEC resolutions in his favour yet they administratively determined he was not a Chairman.
Prior to the Aba NEC meeting, Ezenwa sued NBA in court for the court to determine Whether NEC could remove him as Chairman in the light of the decision in that regard buy the NBA AGM in Port Harcourt. So as at the date the NBA President was presenting that matter for discussion in Aba NEC, he had been served with a court process and a motion for injunction challenging what he was about to do in Aba and he had entered appearance through his lawyer Mas’ud Alabelewe. Despite being served with the court processes as well as being represented by counsel in the matter, the NBA President went ahead to discuss it and claimed to have removed Ezenwa as Chairman and appointed a caretaker committee to run the branch. When the court was informed the court said that they had purported to remove Ezenwa despite the pendency of the suit and the motion the court said they should stay all actions which to my mind means leave matters the way they were before you went to Aba and they refused. In Aba they set up the Caleb Dajam led care taker committee to conduct the election. A motion was also then brought by Ezenwa to restarin that committee from conducting election in the branch. As at the time the motion was argued, the committee had issued a notice that they had cleared Princess Frances Chukwuani as the only person that indicated interest in being chairman and Noah Ajare as the only person that indicated interest in being Secretary. The court gave a positive order restraining NBA from conducting election. In clear defiance of the injunction, NBA under the hands of Isiaka Abiola Alagunju, after they were served with this issued a notice that the said Princess Chukwuani and Noah Ajare have been appointed acting Chairman and Secretary of the Branch respectively. What do you make of this? Judge for yourself who is causing the crisis in Abuja. Assuming they could appoint caretaker committee chairman under the NBA constitution, you can only appoint three past Chairmen of the Branch, Princess Chukwuani and Caleb Dajan, were not past Chairmen in the branch. How can you appoint a person who was a candidate in an election that has been injuncted by court and claim the person is acting. Can there be worse impunity? If that is not doing violence and stoking the fire of discord, tell me what is!! Is not playing God, because it must be their way? This is why I insist refusal to abide by the rule of law and respect law is part of the problem in NBA.
DNL Legal & Style: Do you think there is a form of alliance between the Emeka Obegolu camp and AB Mahmoud SAN as the president of the Bar.
Mazi: I don’t know to what extend they are cooperating or not and I wouldn’t want to conjecture because I don’t have facts.
It has become an intractable crisis and if I tell you that I will sit down and have a solution to it, I lie to you. It must have the buying of some people. There were so many suggestions made about how to resolve this crisis one of which was as happened in Kaduna Branch where the branch had broken out into factions, who held on not to principles but to interest where the branch was divided into Kaduna and Barnawa Branch and today they have peace. So the Kaduna Model was suggested for Abuja. Abuja has a membership of 6000. That suggestion was made because there are people who feel that you must have some kind of Oyo mesi running a Branch and those who think that leadership should evolve through a democratic process: if you are a popular person and or you have a more credible program, let people vote for you. So these are sharp divisions in the Branch. Those who have chosen to try their popularity and those who have chosen to be anointed. There are some of the options that should be considered. In fact it was one of the options that should have been taken in Aba only that the president said he was scraping Abuja Branch and all the parties said no you cannot scrap a Branch in this circumstance; you may create a new branch but not scrap an existing one, because we have assets and liability. And the law is not on your side.
My point is that the Abuja problem has got to a stage where a lot of consensus building must be had.
DNL Legal & Style: What would be the first thing that you would do towards resolving Abuja crisis if for instance you become the president of the bar
Mazi: You need to realize that even from the earlier questions; I am being accused of being a key player in this dispute and I don’t want to suggest I have an answer that will automatically resolve the crisis. Such a position will suggest a self serving solution to the crisis. That’s why I talked about consensus building, getting everyone on one page, but it is one thing to hand down a decision and another thing for it to be obeyed but we need one that achieves peace, solves the problem and gives everybody a win-win situation. Considering my perceived role in the matter, I would be unable to give that kind of answer.
DNL Legal & Style: Let’s talk about the consensus building who are these people?
Mazi: We know ourselves and we know what divides us in Abuja. When we sit down, we know ourselves. We can resolve the matter when we are already to allow truth and justice to guide our actions and decisions.
The point I am making is that you can force a horse to the stream, but you cannot force it to drink water. That is why I talked about consensus building because you can say this is my solution and people would want to defy you. There are so many court cases arising out of these Abuja dispute. We have to bring it to an end and I don’t want to give an answer that will suggest one wants to force others to accept his position if he contests and wins election. That would not be fair because it has got to a point where people have their various positions but we need to move forward. I prefer to cross the bridge when I get there, therefore those who are saddled with the leadership of the Association should be allowed to continue with their efforts to resolve the problem. If they fail at the end of their tenure then your question may become apposite. In any case, I have a few ideas I am bouncing around in my head, which I would want to discuss if called upon. I understand also that a meeting has been going on between the General Secretary and some of the parties. I am not sure they have made progress but am praying that they make process but I say no more.
DNL Legal & Style: Do you think if you eventually decide to contest election the crisis would affect you?
Mazi: Like I said earlier even when there was no crisis a division in the branch worked against me and that is why I said what would be would be.