For years, I have been an advocate for the full democratization of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) politics. I was involved in the war of pen against the old regime of voting by Delegate System that has now paved way for the Universal Suffrage or Electronic Voting in NBA. When the delegate system was in vogue, the highest bidders usually carried the day. That system was characterized by what is known in the conventional politics as voting buying. What the aspirants then particularly for the position of the NBA Presidency needed to do was to buy the Chairmen of various branches of the NBA to their sides. The Chairmen of branches were like the godfathers in the conventional politics because they were the ones to select the delegates that would vote to elect the National Officers of the NBA. In those days under the military regimes, an elected NBA President was seen as a potential Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice.The policy of rat race attached to that position then was one of the reasons why the NBA at the national level had to go on sabbatical leave between 1992 and 1998.
While the NBA at national level was on sabbatical leave, the NBA politics continued at the various branches level. The positions of Chairmen and Secretaries are (were) very powerful. For you to secure either of the positions, you had to be very smart to outwit other contestants or opponents vying for that same positions. Just forget about whether you have the brain to run the offices or not , all you needed to do then when the election was approaching was to collect names of your branch members as many as you could lay your hands on to pay their Annual Branch Dues (BD) or even the Bar Practicing Fees (BPF) as at when due. Before the introduction of the bank tellers, the payment receipts were manufactured and backdated in one way or the other, all in the bid to win the positions during the election.Remember wordings majority carries the vote. From this narration, would it be wrong to say fraud was one of the weapons used to be employed to win elections at the branches level? I pose this question in the spirit of debate?
Having being seriously concerned about the dormancy of the NBA at the national level, some senior lawyers including Chief Adegboyegan Awolomo SAN put together great efforts to revive the NBA at national level and the idea of Rotational Presidency was brought into the NBA Politics. Another standing rule then was that any NBA President so elected should not use the position to canvass or lobby to become the Attorney General of Federation under any government. Notwithstanding the brilliant innovations that came with the revival of the NBA at national level, the delegate system of voting still had its root in the system and as such the election of National officers remained the business as usual.The Chairmen of branches were still the godfathers. When Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN) came in 2014 and with the endless clamour for the change of the status quo, the NBA Constitution was amended to have 2015 Constitution which he left behind on his exit from the office in 2016.
The 2015 NBA Constitution did away with the Delegate System of voting by replacing same the Universal Suffrage or Electronic Voting. By this electronic voting, every lawyer in as much as he or she pays his Bar Practicing Fee and Branch Due is eligible to vote in the election of the National Officers.Unlike under the delegate system where the delegates would travel from their various branches to the venue of election in another State, a Nigerian lawyer can vote from any part of the world he or she may be, even right in his or her bedroom. There is no doubt that this NBA Constitution left behind by Mr. Alegeh was very innovative and revolutionary, although it has been amended under the leadership of Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN) without much significant changes. This notwithstanding , I am still of the view that with the recent amendment to that Constitution, the NBA electoral system is yet to be fully democratized as I had expected based on the PUSAN’s campaign promise of an all inclusive NBA. For those who may hold contrary view, may I again pose the following questions in the spirit of debate? Is NBA political system as we have it today all inclusive? Is NBA Politics really democratic? My own answers to these questions are in negative.
Can NBA be said to be all inclusive, when you as a lawyer and member of the association, after performing all your financial obligations and fulfilling all other reasonable requirements by the Constitution, and you are later told that you can only vote in an election but you cannot be voted for? Is that what a true democracy all about particularly in an association of lawyers with motto such as “Promoting the Rule of Law”? In the NBA politics, the rule of the game is that for you to contest for any substantive position under its Constitution at national level, you must have served either as a Chairman or Secretary of any branch of the NBA. In the alternative you must have been co-opted NOT elected into the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the NBA. By the rule of law or rule of the game as contained in the NBA Constitution, a lawyer who has served as a Vice Chairman of any branch but was not co-opted to the NEC cannot vye for any substantive position at the National level except for the position of an ASSISTANT officer. Is this not irrational and discriminatory? By my understanding of the NBA Constitution and I stand to be corrected, a Senior Advocate (SAN) who has never served as either Chairman or Secretary of any branch ,nor co-opted to the NEC cannot vye for any position at the National level. In NBA politics , a lawyer does not necessarily need to be a very active member of any branch, he should just be paying his subscription without being active, when election is approaching, he should be showing his face at a branch meeting to register his attendance, if he is very influential and has good rapour with the Chairman of the branch, he will surely be co-opted into NEC membership when the list is being compiled.When the time comes and such lawyer shows face to contest ,will the Electoral Committee of Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) dare disqualify such personality? I am not saying here that some lawyers have no right to contest, rather what am saying is that NBA political system should accord every any Nigerian lawyer that has reasonable qualifications and requirements, the right to vote and be voted.The present policy in the NBA Constitution that confers the right to vote and not be voted on the majority of Nigerian lawyers is undemocratic.
Any electoral system that deliberately includes some and excludes some can be said to be fair enough and called democracy that has been said to be for the people and by the people. Another irony of the NBA politics is that the contents of its Constitution are not known to most of its members.How did I come about this fact, you may ask? Prior to the election that brought in the incumbent NBA regime in 2018, I had declared my intention to join the race for the position of National Publicity Secretary. Having previously won election unopposed into a similar position in my NBA Lagos Branch, I did only a single term between 2013 and 2015. I later applied to contest in the 2018 NBA Elections of the National Officers. During the opening of the nomination forms in Abuja by the then Electoral Committee of Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA), I sent a representative. When the ECNBA published the names of the contestants, my name featured among those contesting for the position of the National Publicity Secretary. Later the ECNBA sent me a letter that I had been disqualified on the ground that I was never a NEC member of the NBA at national level. The ECNBA said I had the right to appeal against its decision within 7 days. Ironically, it was the same ECNBA that would sit on my appeal.This notwithstanding; I put together my appeal wherein I raised some issues for determination. The ECNBA without considering the issues I had raised in my appeal against its decision, said in a letter dated 29th June 2018 signed by the Chairman and Secretary of ECNBA conveying its final decision on my appeal to me, said :
“Following your appeal dated 15th June 2018 against the decision of the ECNBA contained in our letter 14th June 2018, we regret to inform you that the Committee finds no merit in said appeal. Consequently take notice that you are hereby disqualified from contesting for the office Publicity Secretary of the NBA at the 2018 NBA Elections slated for the 28th July by virtue of non-compliance with Section 8 (3) (c) (ii) of the NBA Constitution 2015.The Committee wishes you well in your future endeavour.”
I immediately did a widely published rebuttal to the ECNBA’s final decision.The questions and reactions that I got from many of our colleagues were very astonishing as they established the fact that many of our colleagues were not familiar with the contents and provisions of the NBA Constitution. The major question being asked by many was that: must you have served as a NEC member before you can vie for any substantive position at the national level? I have on several occasions asked similar question but yet to get a rational answer to that till date.Is the philosophy behind that policy in the NBA Constitution meant to say that only those that have served as Chairmen or Secretaries of the NBA branches or NEC members that possess the unique brain to run the affairs of the NBA at national level? If that was truly the intention of the drafters of the NBA Constitution, I dare say that, that intention was grossly misconceived.If the drafters of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended did not think it wise to insert in that Constitution that for any Nigerian citizen to qualify to contest for the position of the Presidency, he must have served as the President of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Representative or a Governor of any State, why must the drafters of the NBA Constitution, an association of the people that pride themselves as the learned colleagues insert such policy of inclusion and exclusion in its Constitution? If any politician in his state is not required by the 1999 Constitution to have served as a Speaker of his State House of Assembly or a Chairman or Secretary of any Local Government in his state to qualify to run for the Governorship position, what was the rationale behind that policy in the NBA Constitution that for a lawyer to vie for any substantive position at the national level, he must have served as Chairman or Secretary of any branch or must have been co-opted and not elected to the NEC of the NBA? Is there any fear being entertained in making the NBA politics to be more and fully democratic?
Despite the fact that this policy of inclusion and exclusion has been in vogue for a while in the NBA politic, but why are many lawyers still asking the question: what value has NBA added to their lives and practices? Many are still complaining of not benefiting anything from NBA. That is just the same way Nigerians are complaining of not benefiting anything from the dividend of democracy in Nigeria. Whether in the NBA politics or in the conventional Nigerian politics, what matter most are the intentions that the politicians carrying into politics. People go into politics for various reasons. Some go into politics because they want to remain relevant in the scheme of things. Some go into politics for personal ego, self enrichment and selfish purpose, while only very few politicians go into politics for selfless service to the people.The same reasons apply in the NBA politics. Most times, I become very worried and disturbed when I hear some politicians saying they are not in politics to solve the problems facing Nigeria, but rather to satisfy their own personal desires.I am equally worried and disturbed when our politicians entrusted with our commonwealth are being sent to jail for the breach of that trust. Until the NBA Constitution 2015 as amended came into force to checkmate those lawyers swapping positions in NBA, it was as if NBA was a personal estate of some lawyers. To what extents have some of those lawyers who eventually made it to the top significantly contributed to the development of the association, whether at national or at branch level? Some years back ,I was reading a book written by a foreign lawyer and on his acknowledgment page, he was paying a wonderful tribute to the local branch of his law society for the enormous benefits in terms of research materials he derived from its library while working of the book. If one may ask here, how many of our NBA branches in this country can today boast of having befitting structures to call their bar centres or secretariats talk less of having up to date and well equipped libraries to cater for the demands of their members in need of serious research materials?
Another problem with the political thinking and thought in this country is the unnecessary emphasis often lay on the wrong notion that only people with previous experience in certain things or with chain of university degrees that can perform better in position of leadership. There are glaring examples that have made mess of such notion and I will cite only one example here for the sake of space. Prior to the 1979 General Elections in this country, Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), one of the political parties then under the leadership of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo (SAN) was deeply involved in that elections aimed at returning the country to the civilian rule. In Lagos State, some prominent Nigerian politicians came out to vie for the position of the Governor but Awolowo was able to persuade other politicians in his party to step down for Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande who eventually won the race. Within the period of four years he spent in office as Governor of Lagos State, Jakande tremendously transformed the State for those that have eyes to see then. During his reign within that period, he established the Lagos State Television (LTV) and the Lagos State University at Ojo, the first ever State University in Nigeria. He built several Housing Estates in different parts of Lagos State which people today referred to as “Jakande Estates” or “Ile Jakande”.He built several schools and hospitals apart from the massive Secretariat he built at Alausa, Ikeja which now housed the Lagos State Government offices. Since the man left office, I have been looking for another Governor throughout the federation who has been able to beat that record in four years, but yet to see one, even among the so-called second termer Governors that spent eight years in offices.
Some people may ask, what is or was so special about Jakande, a former Governor of Lagos State? Unlike most of our political leaders today that goes about with the titles of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Professors and holders of many Doctorate degrees occupying various positions as Governors, Senators, Ministers, Special Advisers among others, Jakande is or was not known to be a holder of any University degree. He was (is) a journalist that probably rose to the position of Managing Director of a Newspaper company before becoming the first Executive Governor of Lagos State.With this single example, I think we can all honestly spot the difference between the holders of the University degrees and non holder of a University degree.When in power, Jakande was a visionary and purposeful leader.When the Guardian Newspaper once asked Jakande about his master, he said:
“Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo was the gift of God to Nigeria. I was fortunate to serve him and he did me the honour of making me Baba Kekere …putting me in the high honour of his own second- in- command. Quite frankly, I think there are very few countries that are fortunate to have many of Obafemi Awolowo character. It was my pleasure and pride to have served under him. He was a great man in every sense of word. It was under his inspiration that I became the first Executive Governor of Lagos State. And nobody was surprised that Education was our number one priority…Education policy in the then Western Region under our Leader Awolowo was through a careful policy and the leader was serious about it as a fundamental objective to build capable citizens in the area.”
As long as this policy of inclusion and exclusion is continued to be maintained in the NBA Constitution without a rethink to amend it and make the NBA politics to be more democratic, just like the status quo is being maintained in the “made in Nigeria democracy” ,so long will Nigerian people include lawyers continue to gnashing their teeth on bad governance. I do not see any sense in asking a politician aspiring to be a Governor of his State to pay about N20 Millions to his political party before contesting. If a brainless politician can raise such huge amount of money and a brilliant politician could not, it means that State will at the end of the day be ruled by a brainless politician as a Governor.The money bag politics as being practised in this part of the world is chasing away responsible and brilliant people with fresh and good ideas from the Nigerian politics and until we devise a way to make politics more discouraging to the greedy and brainless politicians and pave way for the patriotic Nigerians who really have the interest of the country and her citizens at hearts to participate, real development in terms of genuine human and natural resources will continue to elude us in this country.
In the next few weeks, NBA will be performing its biennial ritual of electing its new National officers, may those that really have the interest of the association and its members at hearts emerge victorious in the forthcoming elections. The bar politicians must exercise the high level of maturity in the cause of their campaigns for votes as all of them can not be the winners at the same time and by the time the race is over ,all those involve must display their spirit of sportsmanship.
Abdulrasheed Ibrahim, LL.M, Notary Public
NOTE: Anyone is at liberty to disagree with my above submissions as I will surely appreciate a balanced, fair and objective rebuttal.
31st May 2020