Aggrieved Persons Have the Right To Opt Out Of NBA – Okutepa Tells Ozekhome


Mr. Jubrin S. Okutepa SAN’s  disagrees with Mike Ozekhome SAN’s speech at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) AGM  challenging the right of lawyers to opt out of the NBA to form a parallel Association of lawyers (Read Ozekhome here)

Okutepa SAN wrote

When I read the views of some of my colleagues, and in particular the view of Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN, whom I love and respect, that formation of another Bar Association outside of NBA is dead on arrival, I feel terribly amazed.

Such Statements are not only provocative but are clearly not pacifying and re-conciliatory. To make such statements in the face of recent events in NBA, is to add pepper to an already aggravated injuries.

Let me make it clear that Nigerian Bar is one and indivisible Bar, unless there is an amendment to the legal Practitioners Act.

All lawyers duly called to the Bar in Nigeria are members of Nigerian Bar and are solicitors and advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. There is no Regional Bar or State Bars as we have outside the shore of Nigeria.

But having said that, it is idle with respect to contend that membership of NBA is statutory and compulsory or that another Association cannot be formed by lawyers called to the Nigerian Bar outside of NBA. Such position is not only illogical, it does not and cannot represent the position of law and Nigerian constitution.

No Nigerian lawyer was called to the Nigerian Bar Association. NBA is not Nigerian Bar. It is an Association of members of the Bar. The right to freedom of Association is a fundamental right and enshrined in section 40 of Nigerian constitution 1999 as amended.

Let nobody tell me that lawyers who feel terribly aggrieved about the ways and manner the affairs of NBA is being ran cannot opt out of the Association. They can and nobody can stop them. Let no body say it is dead on arrival. Such statements are clearly inciting and provocative. You don’t dare a person who has capacity to do a thing and say he or she should do it let us. I think the views of Mallam Yusuf Ali SAN and Chief Yomi Aliu SAN sounded more conciliatory and pacifying.

According to reports, Malam Yusuf Ali (SAN) told Saturday Tribune on Friday that aggrieved members of the NBA should imbibe the spirit of forgiveness and save the association from fragmentation.

“I want to appeal to our colleagues that an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. The spirit of forgiveness is not just a religious issue, it permeates all human affairs. Two wrongs can never make a right. The solution does not lie in balkanising the NBA. “The Bar association commands respect because of the strength and size of its membership. Creating a parallel structure is not the solution. I just want to appeal. If we balkanise the NBA, each part becomes weaker. “We should allow reason to prevail. This is a matter that should be sorted out. We should not behave like Nigerian politicians who jump ship at the slightest disagreement to create new platforms. The result is the large number of weak political parties in the country,”.

This to me is a view worth considered and exploited. Those who are aggrieved must not be provoked by statements that are inciting. We all read law and no one has monopoly of knowledge to make statements that sound final.

Chief Yomi Aliu SAN was forthright in his views. Chief Yomi Aliu (SAN) said the dis-invitation of El-Rufai, in the first place, was an indication that the NBA had been taken over by politicians.

He said the withdrawal of the invitation to the governor was an unnecessary political move that has caused dissension among members. Chief Aliu said: “The NBA has been hijacked by political lawyers to the disaffection of real practitioners of law. “Elections from 2016 or so vide e-voting had been manipulated to favour members of this class.

They often engage in class wars as could be seen from the dis-invitation of El-Rufai. “One may ask what crime El-Rufai had committed that Obasanjo or Wike had not committed. Or what do we say of Iraqi warmonger, British ex-prime minister, Tony Blair?

Before the northern lawyers’ resolution, disenfranchised and cheated members of the Bar from the last election that produced Olumide Akpata had perfected schism of NBA and have over 10,000 lawyers across the country on its roll.

“In fact, the last election had produced a Rehoboam and as such, a Jeroboam must arise to save the Bar from the biennial rape of majority decisions by the over-rich minority spending billions on professional elections as in the Israel of old.

However, there is one militating issue of law calling for clarification.

“Have I signed away my right to freedom of association by choosing law as a profession and as such, bound legs and feet to an association to wit NBA registered as a private organisation with the Corporate Affairs Commission or whether as a Nigerian I can take benefit of the freedom of association enshrined in the constitution? From Fawehinmi case in 1985, we had our freedom to freely associate and disassociate from NBA but over time, the Court of Appeal had held that anybody that read law is in eternal bondage to NBA.

“The NBA has failed woefully, neglected and refused to protect the interest of the majority of its members. It has refused to speak to power but rather it hobnobs with power, albeit in a beggar-like manner.

“The ship is filled with filth and any occupant not used to dirt is free to disembark and join or form another organisation that will protect his interest.

“Law Society of Nigeria was incorporated in 1994 as a fallout of the Port Harcourt conference imbroglio of 1992.

Today, we have in the offing New Nigerian Bar Association, Nigerian Bar Society and Northern lawyers should stop bid to real NBA —SANs Bar Society of Nigeria. Some members of the Board of Trustees that could save the NBA from imminent schism became partisan by congratulating the declared winner, even when a candidate had protested in the course of the election.

“They thereafter sat and decided the petition of the declared loser, thereby throwing away the avowed principle against bias. “Certainly, this cannot be the Bar of our dream and nobody can put the rope on the neck of any lawyer to join by force. Let there be the choice as obtainable in other civilised climes or accountancy profession that has ICAN and ANAN.”

For me the views of Chief Yomi Aliu SAN qouted above cannot be dismissed with the waves of hands. I share his view.

The current leadership of NBA will do itself great good if it does not allow itself to be misled by stand that tends to promote the break away or divisions now too ripped to be plucked. There is a saying in my place that when a foolish man is holding gold in his hands on the man road, there is a wise man following him at the back. Those who have ears to hear should hear.

J.S. Okutepa, SAN.

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