By: Abdulrasheed Ibrahim, LL.M, Notary Public
There is no doubt that Mr. Olumide Akpata, the newly sworn-in 30th President of the Nigerian Bar Association is inheriting a Bar that is divided. The first seemly division was prior to the election that brought him into power as a result of an uproar generated by an assertion attributed to a very Senior Lawyer that was rooting for the reservation of the NBA presidency solely for the Senior Advocates of Nigeria.When the election was eventually lost by two SANs to a Non SAN, those aggrieved by the election result were threatening to create a parrarell bar.Before that controversy could die down , the disinviation of Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State suddely became another big issue in the NBA politics. Almost around the same time Mr. Akpata was being sworn- in as the New President of the NBA ,the news was going round that a group of lawyers from the Northern part of the country who were aggrieved by the disinvitation of what was perceived as injustice to El-Rufai had declared the formation of what was called the New Nigerian Bar Association (NNBA). When I read the news, the question I asked was that : Were those lawyers following the pattern of those conventional politicians who formed the New People Democratic Party (nPDP) from the mainstream PDP or the Reformed All Progressive Congress (rAPC) from the APC? Did anything come out of those “new parties” formed by the political Protestants?
I was one of those involved in the war of pen against the decision of the NBA NEC disinviting El-Rufai from the just concluded NBA virtual conference.The question I asked in my write-up titled, BETWEEN NBA AND EL-RUFAI : A WALK ON A TIGHT ROPE https://lawyerwaka.com/between-nba-and.el-rufai-a.walk.on.the.tight.rope/ was whether the anticident of El-Rufai as a controversial speaker or personality was on unknown to the NBA before he was invited in the first place ? While many lawyers and non lawyers commended the said write up as a brilliant and thought provoking, some of our colleagues insulted, abused, attacked and called me all sort of unprintable names for expressing my personal view. There is this lawyer that called himself “Steve Sun” on the social media. He said that he deliberately approved my post on his platform so that lawyers would be able to LAMBAST me on his platform. When the purported lambasting started from him and his comrades, it was a great war of written words between me and them, but when “Steve Sun” could no longer bear the bombardment and the crossfires; he blocked my right to reply on his platform and cowardly ran away. This is a man that always raises unnecessary dust on the social media. Prior to the just concluded elections of the National Officers, he did a fake public poll that a particular candidate would win the position of the General Secretary but his fake prediction never came to pass. When the election result finally came out, “Steve Sun” made a post on his platform trying to ridicule the lawyers from the core West that they had again been defeated by the lawyers of the Mid-West in the race for the NBA Presidency.Is “Steve Sun” a kind of lawyer to be taken serious?
Was it a crime to express one’s personal opinion? Why must I lose a sleep because someone like “Steve Sun” called me names when he could not write a strong rejoinder by quoting me words for words to prove me wrong? There are lawyers in our midst who do not like reading but complaint of an essay being too long or asking someone to summarize for them apart from making other irrational comments.Can those lawyers afraid of reading what they called “long essay or thesis” perform very well if they are appointed as judicial officers whose duties are to read volumes of documents in forms of court processes including written submission, record of proceedings and briefs of arguments before writing their judgments? Their attitude has justified the assertion that standard is fallen in the legal profession. Any person that is afraid of reading and writing does not worth being a lawyer!
I was not the only one that disagreed with the decision of the NBA NEC on the issue of invitation and disinvitation of El-Rufai. Many lawyers and non lawyers equally disagreed with that decision, Dr Reuben Abati, an ex-aide to a former President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in his column of 25/8/2020, a day after mine titled NBA Vs. EL-RUFAI said:
“…By disinviting him to the 60th NBA 60th General Conference, the NBA submitted itself to the will of an aggressive and vocal minority in a manner that could affect the future of the NBA negatively .Most of the people that signed the petition against Nasir El-Rufai come across like persons who nurse personal grudges against him and who failed to look at the big picture….NBA should not be politicized.It must not be personalized .It mus not be used to settled ,ethnic or personal scores. The decision to uninvite Nasir el-Rufai to this year’s NBA which commences tomorrow is a major low in the history of the NBA…”
Some people have argued that there was no big deal in the disinvitation of El-Rufai,that he was not the first victim of such disinvitation that Professor Maurice Iwu, a former Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was once a victim as such NBA owed nobody apology for doing that .My response was that if the NBA has been involving in such act, it is high time NBA stops that . I am of the view that it will be unjust to ask for a consent of a speaker and after consenting,you publish it and send an invitation to him only for you to later embarrass him with disinvitation.To me, this will be unreasonable and irrational to the extreme.If the Conference Organizing Committee is not independent to determine the speakership,then let the NBA NEC first approves the speakers before they are contacted for their consents and invitation send to them.It was for this that I disagree with those saying the NBA owes nobody apology. Except there was a scheme on the ground to deliberately disgrace or ridicule those people invited and later disinvited, I believe both Maurice Iwu and Nasir El-Rufai needed to be apologized to for the embarrassment caused to them by the NBA. If I were the new President, I would soon personally visit both Maurice Iwu and Nasir El-Rufai to apologize to them for the embarrassment caused to them by the NBA.
There is also a strange argument going around even among the Senior Lawyers that NBA NEC on its decision on disinvation being not a court cannot be accused of violating the principle of fair hearing. I for one cannot buy into this newly invented definition. Must a body be a court or tribunal to embrace the principle of fair hearing? If I may ask: Was the NBA BOT a court or tribunal when deliberating on the petition of Deacon Adeshina requesting for the cancellation of the last election? Did the BOT hear from the Electoral Committee before arriving at its decision not to cancel the election? Please forget for the sake of this argument whether the BOT decision was right or not. My advice to those flying that irrational argument is to go and do proper legal research to honestly see whether their newly “invented definition” can hold water or not. Before God passed judgment on Adam for eating the forbidden fruit, did He not give him fair hearing? When Yoruba say that an elder that listen to one side but does not listen to the other side in a dispute is a wicked person , what are they talking about?
The need has arisen for the NBA to change the sytle of its invitation of those to be invited to its programmes and conference. I absolutely share and agree with the view expressed by a learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chris Uche when answering the question, what is a Law Conference? He said:
“This is the question we must honestly ask ourselves .We must return to the basics. Annual Bar Conference in those days used to be our professional forum for talking to ourselves about our profession and improving ourselves professionally.We brought distinguished professionals in law who had excelled in their various fields to speak to us .We interacted among ourselves .We lost it the moment we started using Bar leadership as platform to reach out to political leaders.We have no business bringing politicians to our Conference to address us. It’s being mutually abused .This is what is killing the Association. In those days (mid-80 as I can well remember) we attended NEC meetings without being hosted by or visiting any Governor. It was our own thing until that changed and it now became the norm that every Governor in whose State we took NEC to ,must give us N5 million and talk to us.I’m sure the amount must have increased by now. Let us all retrace our steps, and reclaim our profession. We are losing it.”
Will the new President, Olumide Akpata take us back to the glorious days? Those NBA leaders that went about collecting money from politicians are not doing that in the interest of the bar but for their own selfish interest. They were not on the same pedestrian with that late great Bar Leader, Alao Aka-Basorun alias “MAO” who would never compromise the interest of lawyers for any personal gain. The rat race among some senior lawyers to become the NBA President with the view to get appointed as the Attorney of the Federation by the Military junta in the earlier 90s led to the demise of the NBA at that time.
The inaugural speech given Mr. Olumide Akpata as the new NBA President is filled with a lot of hope for the better of the profession. He is fully aware of the problems on the ground when he said:
“….I am not unaware of the very recent events and agitation that have tended to divide our Bar along regional and religious lines. This is rather unfortunate for an egalitarian Association like ours. The Bar that I want to lead henceforth is one that is united on all fronts and that recognizes that our diversity is, perhaps, our greatest strength .I plead with all Nigerian lawyers to bear this philosophy of unity in mind as we commence a new journey together today…..I saw many Nigerian lawyers who had either lost faith or had never been interested in the NBA participate with utmost enthusiasm in the hope that things would become better.I restate that this victory is for our colleagues who have become disillusioned with the NBA and how the Association appears to be disconnected from the challenged that faced its members It is progressive lawyer who refused to accept the status quo and took firm steps to ensure that things are done better…”
The burden is now on Mr. Olumide Akpata to immediately take step to call those who are aggrieved to the round table for proper and serious discussion on how to really unite the bar. The new President should ignore those who are trying to provoke those who are already aggrieved by the recent events at the bar. NBA does not need any parallel association now but we need to reform the present NBA to embrace all its members. I commend the President for the Committee set up to be headed by Mr. Ayo Akintunde (SAN) as I have no doubt in his competence to discharge any assignment given to him. After the conclusion of the NBA Lagos branch election last year, I wrote this about him:
“… The Electoral Committee headed by Chief Akintunde again did a wonderful job which it has been doing for many years now. Chief Akintunde is a person I can recommend for any electoral assignment whether nationally or internationally. We have a personality in our branch that the NBA at national level can look up to, to deliver a free and fair election in the nearest future.Chief Ayodele Akintunde (SAN) is a person that will not compromise as he is a principled man. I congratulate him and all members of his committee for making history again.
If I were Mr. Olumide Akpata, I would also go ahead to constitute a Sport Committee to organize a friendly Football March among lawyers in the sense that all the branches within each state of the federation including Abuja should form a football team to compete for what will be called NBA Cup among state bar. This was the magic I used to unite the Campus Journalists during our undergraduate in the university. During the years of General Sani Abacha’s self succession bid, the leadership of the National Association of Campus Journalists (NACJ), Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto Chapter compromised their positions with those promoting the Youth Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA) and by this various Press Clubs under the Association were divided and there was press war on campus. When I later got elected as the President of the Association, I used the Football Competition to unite all the press clubs. Therefore this is one of the ways we can unite the lawyers in the NBA.
To have a united National Officers leading the NBA, the leader must be transparent by carrying all executives members along in decision making. The leader must avoid the attitude of the sole administratorship and usurpation of the powers of other executive members as this may lead to conflict and misunderstanding. Many leaders are still unable to do away with this kind of attitude which seems to have become rooted in the NBA politics and often create problems within rank of the NBA officers.Mrs Funke Adekoya (SAN) once asserted that:
“Instructively ,the Presidency of the NBA is not a one man show;that is why the President has many National Officers to support him.That is why the President has three Vice Presidents,has a treasurer,has a financial secretary ,has a welfare and a legal adviser.And if everybody is allowed to do their jobs,then it is not a stressful exercise at all .The problems that we are actually seeing in the Bar Association today is that people are trying to put all the powers of all the officers in one place ,that is not what it is suppose to be.”
The above observation was made by the learned silk about six years ago, but the business is still as usual as at the last outgone NBA National Officers wherein Dr. Foluke Dada , the outgone 2nd Vice President accused Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN) of turning the NBA Presidency to the Sole Administratorship.She said PUSAN attempted to assign his kinsman to perform her constitutional duties but she resisted the move. Anyone that has been involved in NBA politics would surely have one story or the other to tell. I once served in the NBA Lagos executives and the experience was not all that pleasant. When I contested for a position and I won, I had it in mind I would pressurize the executives as to the reality of our branch secretariat or bar centre as our branch had existed for years without one to show for it.
When I joined the branch in 2002 immediately I was called to the bar, there was in circulation a Newsletter called NBA LAGOS BAR but later ceased to exist. When I became the Publicity Secretary of the branch, I made an attempt to revive it but did not get the necessary official support. Then from my own personal purse I began to publish a monthly newsletter I called THE BRIEFCASE which I circulated among members during the monthly meeting of our branch.Whenever I hear anyone complaining be marginalized, I just laugh and say that is the NBA politics for you. I remember vividly very well that I started sending monthly meeting notice to member online as Publicity Secretary, some people brought the useless argument that it was the General Secretary that suppose to be doing that.In NBA politics if you are not patient you will be always be at loggerhead with those who may want to frustrate you. Another problem with the NBA politics is that many Presidents or branch Chairmen come to the office with their own person hidden agenda that may not be in the interest of the Association but for their own selfish interest and that is why they want to marginalize everyone other officers. Many NBA leaders prefer wasting Millions of naira on merry making like organizing Bar Dinners that would last for just few hours than stocking their Bar Secretariat Library if they have any with useful material that will be of benefit to all the members.
While congratulating and welcoming Mr. Olumide Akpata and his new team to the NBA House, I must commend his very impressive inaugural speech wherein he has highlighted his great mission for the NBA. His promise of free 2 packs of 48 stamps for every lawyer that pays his or her annual bar practicing fee on or before the 31st March 2021 is wonderful and well thought. Perhaps for the first time in many years, lawyers are now to derive benefit from the NBA. If were Mr. Olumide Akpata , I will move a bit further to print NBA dairy for lawyers that will have the NBA Constitution as annexture as majority of its members are not familiar with the contents of the Constitution apart from the fact that it needs to be amended to make it more democratic and non discrimianatory.
NOTE: Anyone is at liberty to disagree with my above submissions as I will surely appreciate a balanced, fair and objective rebuttal.
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30th August 2020