As the ‘Almighty’ Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Elections draw close – in fact, they are more or less upon us (they are scheduled to hold on July 29 & 30), for Lawyers, the excitement as to who will emerge as the new leader of our esteemed Association for the next two years, is palpable. Two Fridays ago, I watched an online interactive session which featured the three Presidential candidates, Dele Adesina, SAN, Tunde Ajibade, SAN, and Olumide Akpata, and they all spoke well enough. But, as we all know, being a good NBA President goes far beyond being an orator or having the gift of the gab; and as we move into a new phase of leadership, this is as good a time as any, to consider the innovations we wish to see in our Bar Association going forward, and the type of leaders/representatives we desire in furtherance of these objectives.
What is a Bar Association?
We are aware that a Bar Association consists of a group or body of Lawyers usually within a jurisdiction (though we have Associations like the International Bar Association and Commonwealth Lawyers Association which cut across jurisdictions), with the responsibility of regulating the legal profession, as well as looking after the welfare of Lawyers, and trying to ensure that Government and its agencies uphold the rule of law in its area of operation. Of course, the more the Bar Association is successful at achieving these goals, the better and more effective it is said to be. A Bar Association, must also be actively involved in pushing for law reform (See Section 3 of the 2015 NBA Constitution on the Aims and Objects of the NBA).
Qualities of NBA Office Holders
Naturally, to be able to be the moral and legal compass of adherence to the rule of law, the occupants of the principal offices of our Association, must not only have the capacity to function optimally in their roles, but must also be people of integrity, forthrightness and without any impediment that will prevent them from operating effectively, or from calling the Government out and holding them accountable when necessary. Accordingly, candidates must meet the criteria for qualification for offices set out in Section 8(3) of the NBA Constitution and 2020 ECNBA Guidelines (Electoral Committee of the NBA set up by virtue of Section 9(1) & (2) of the NBA Constitution, seised with the responsibility of conducting the elections), particularly Section 8(3)(e) of the NBA Constitution and Paragraph 5 iv of the ECNBA Guidelines which provide inter alia that, candidates for national office must be of: “……proven integrity, administrative skills and experience…..” and “……proven skills, experience with demonstrated capacity to serve, without expecting or having consideration for pecuniary rewards and remuneration……”, respectively. In making our choices from the candidates who have been cleared to participate in the upcoming elections, assessing their possession of these qualities should be a major part of our checklist. I must say that, I do not agree with those who believe that the Presidency of the NBA should necessarily be the preserve of Senior Advocates, as not only do our rules for qualification exclude any such stipulation, one’s prowess as an Advocate certainly does not translate into having the ability to run the Association.
Disqualification of Candidates
Paragraph 6 of the ECNBA Guidelines sets out the infractions which can lead to the disqualification of a nominee/aspirant from participating in the elections or holding national office. The question to ask at this juncture, is how seriously is the ECNBA taking its own Guidelines, or its responsibilities as the organiser of the NBA elections? While candidates who lose out on the elections may still want to “cry over spilt milk” after the elections and go to court to ventilate their grievances, I would imagine that this is the most appropriate time (before the elections) to lay any complaints about election preparations before the ECNBA, for action.
Lately, social media has been awash with different complaints, not just about the ECNBA’s preparations for the elections, but about infractions by candidates. Firstly, in the matters arising, is the issue of the compilation of the register of eligible voters, which is provided for in Paragraph 8 of the ECNBA Guidelines. There have been serious criticisms that in several Branches, some names of eligible voters were excluded from the lists, while some of the same names appeared multiple times on the lists. There was a photograph of a voters list that went viral on social media, which included the name ‘Opening Balance’, as one of the eligible voters! I wondered if such a list could actually be real, or whether it is a photo trick, and if indeed, it is real, what the ECNBA is doing about it. Paragraph 8.6 of the ECNBA Guidelines allows members to draw the attention of the ECNBA to such anomalies, and it behooves on the ECNBA to ensure that Branches correct discrepancies before the elections, in order to make the final voters register as flawless as possible. Accusations are rife, that some Branches may be manipulating their final voters registers, in order to skew the elections in favour of their leaderships’ preferred candidates. Surely, this definitely qualifies as a matter that the ECNBA should be addressing with the sense of the seriousness it demands, as it will be impossible for the ECNBA to deliver on its promise to provide free, fair and credible elections, if one of the main tools for conducting the said election, is considerably flawed.
The second issue, relates to the candidates themselves. Some candidates have been accused of travelling to various parts of the country in the past few weeks, contrary to Paragraph 6.7 of the ECNBA Guidelines, even during the Covid-19 no inter-State travel ban, to stylishly canvass for votes and support from various Branches. Aside from being a contravention of the laid down NBA Rules, such travel also runs foul of Government Regulations which placed a ban on inter-State movement, in order to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus within the country. How much integrity can rule and law breaking candidates, be said to have?
Again, an audio recording of one of the candidates for election who travelled to the South-South region to canvass for votes during the no travel period, has made the rounds on social media. The recording leaves you in no doubt as to the identity of the candidate, who in selling their own candidacy, also disparaged the other contestants to the audience. Is the ECNBA oblivious of this, or is it that these things do not really matter? Or is it the end that justifies the means? Are candidates who are desperate enough to realise their ambitions by breaking the law, qualified to be national officers of the Bar? Do such people have any moral standing to call out the Government or any of its agencies for disrespecting the rule of law, when they themselves are law breakers too?
Some have also accused candidates of giving out financial inducements, especially to the younger Lawyers, to entice them and influence their choices in the upcoming elections, contrary to Paragraph 9 iv of the ECNBA Guidelines.
Has the ECNBA investigated these allegations? In This Day Lawyer’s recent interview of the Chairman of the ECNBA, Mr Tawo Eja Tawo, SAN, he said: “The essence of the guidelines and constitutional limitations and prohibitions to campaigns, such as traversing and criss-crossing the entire length and breadth of the country for votes, is to discourage unnecessary spending of money with the attendant urge to recoup same upon being elected….we are monitoring the activities of the prospective candidates and their supporters, and we shall not hesitate to impose appropriate sanctions for any violation…..as an ingredient of a credible election which pertains to members’ rights to question the conduct of stake holders and the candidates for the election”. How effectively are the activities of candidates and their supporters, being monitored?
As beautiful as the 2020 ECNBA Guidelines may be, it becomes nothing more than a useless decoration, if it is not properly implemented or applied. Many have become cynical, and are of the opinion that, the ECNBA may be doing nothing more than paying lip service to Lawyers about delivering credible elections; that the elections will hold as usual, without the ECNBA taking any worthwhile action regarding these obvious discrepancies and improprieties. I hope the ECNBA, forthwith, proves the cynics wrong, as there is absolutely no use in Lawyers claiming that they want to take the NBA to the next level, if the process of doing same is fraught with irregularities, and our elections are run little better than the general elections conducted in the country, which are always marred with vote buying and rigging. This type of elections, usually result in the most inappropriate candidates securing the positions. For those talking about the good old Alao Aka-Bashorun vibrant NBA days with nostalgia (he is said by many to be the best NBA President in the history of the Bar, and he was not a Senior Advocate), I’m sorry to ‘burst your bubble’ – at the rate things are going and with the type of elections we are running, ‘c’est ne pas possible’ (it is not possible), as you cannot do things the same ‘questionable’ way, and expect a different, good result. I hope and pray that, I am wrong.
The bottom line is that, once elections are monetised and/or rigged, the candidates who spend the most money on vote buying and/or manipulating the voting system, usually the worst candidates for the positions, most times, emerge as winners. If the ECNBA takes the implementation of its Guidelines as seriously as it should, we may be able to prevent our esteemed Association from the downward spiral which many, including some members of the Justice Reform Project, believe it to be in. It is at least of some consolation, that to the best of my knowledge, the outgoing Executive of the NBA, has not been accused of any financial impropriety with regard to the NBA’s funds during their time in office. This is a step in the right direction, as same cannot be said for most agencies, whether Government or otherwise. We shall not give up hope, and our strong desire and expectation that the most suitable persons for the various positions shall emerge as the winners, in the forthcoming elections.
My dear colleagues, this is one of those “speak now, or forever hold your peace moments” – or rather, hold your peace until it’s time for the 2022 elections, if you don’t register your satisfaction or otherwise now. Kindly, send me your comments. Thank you.
I wish the candidates in the various elections, the best of luck. May the best candidates