By Hannatu Musawa
The Nigerian Bar Association election takes place every two years. The Nigerian Bar Association is arguably the most popular professional body in Nigeria perhaps due to the role that lawyers and the legal profession play in any government, be it autocratic or democratic system. Lawyers, by their calling, should always be in the driving seat of any administration in order to ensure that the rights of citizens are protected through good governance premised on the rule of law.
The Nigerian Bar Association is such a strong body of eminent Nigerians and provides hope for vulnerable Nigerians in the period of tyrannical military regimes in Nigeria. The presidency of Alao Aka Bashorun stood tall in this regard.
Over the years, the NBA has produced various Presidents in its elections. NBA elections used to hold during the Annual General Conference of the Bar but along the line changes were introduced into the electoral process of the Bar at the national level. Previously, the manner in which the election took place was by delegate votes. This was until the Association’s Constitutional amendment of 2015 conferred rights on all members of the Association to vote, provided that such member is eligible to vote by fulfilling the conditions precedent thereto.
The election of NBA holds the month of July of an election year or at such time and place as may be ratified by the National Executive Committee – 2.3(a) of the Second Schedule to NBA Constitution, 2015.
This year that we are in, 2020, is an election year for the NBA to elect the 35th President of the NBA and other National officers. The office of the President of the Association is the cynosure of the election. Section 9(3) of the NBA Constitution, 2015 provides that, “for the purposes of election into National Offices, the country shall be divided into three zones as set out in the Second Schedule to the Constitution.”
The year 2020 provided an opportunity for the emergence of a President from the Western region of Nigeria and it is pertinent to state here that Delta and Edo States are part of the West by NBA delineation of zones for national election. At the end of nominations for the office of the President, three candidates emerged, namely Dele Adesina, SAN, Babatunde Ajibade, SAN and Anthony Olumide Akpata, Esq. Olumide Akpata, Esq is not a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and knowing the enormous task hanging on him, he launched a far and wide reaching campaign to all members of the NBA who were eligible to vote.
During his campaign, the emerging President was rigorous, relatable, endearing and convincing. He was visible at all times material to the build-up to the election taking apparent risks to travel to almost all branches of the NBA in Nigeria despite the escalating waves of insecurity.
Before the 2015 amendment of the electioneering process when delegates voted for National Officers, all the members of the inner Bar had rights to vote and that positioned them advantageously over lawyers who were not Senior Advocates Nigeria. The year 2015 saw the emergence of the Constitution of the NBA, which provides in Section 9(4) thus, “Election into National Offices shall be by universal suffrage and electronic voting as set out in second Schedule”. This Constitution became popular in the estimation of members of the NBA as it gives each member eligible to vote the right to make a choice in electing the National Officers of the Bar. It also affords members the comfort of voting from anywhere within the period of voting.
It can be recalled that Mazi Afam Osigwe, Esq was the first lawyer in 2018 outside the inner Bar to evince an intention to contest the position of the President of NBA at a time that the position had been zoned to the Eastern region of Nigeria. Although he was a very popular candidate, his colossal popularity among young lawyers then nationally was checked by the politics of the elders who mat have had a complex as far as he was concerned. As a result, Mazi Afam Osigwe, Esq lost the election
It almost seems as if Mr. Akpata took benefit of Mr. Osigwe’s strategy in 2018 and concentrated his efforts during the campaign more on the young lawyers who became ecstatic that a candidate had found them worthy of his recognition and providing them with a mandate that increases their welfare and the participation of young lawyers in the affairs of the Bar. Akpata did not stop there as he paid visit to so many senior members of the Bar and accorded them their due respect.
Few days to the election it became obvious that Akpata was unstoppable as all the branches of NBA went agog with young lawyers and others who preferred Akpata celebrating when the election was yet to hold. On the 29th of July, 2020 voting for the presidency of the Bar commenced by 11:00pm and ended on the 30th July, 2020 by 11:00pm. The electronic platform, which was open for transparent monitoring showed that Akpata polled 9,891 votes to defeat Babatunde Ajibade, SAN and Dele Adesina, SAN who polled 4,328 votes and 3,982 votes respectively.
The apparent hurricane that Akpata launched during the election and his landslide victory didn’t seem to have gone down well with some lawyers and that was quite apparent by their condemnation of the entire electoral exercise. It is also common knowledge that Dele Adesina, SAN called for the cancellation of the election as he maintained that there was over voting and disenfranchisement of some voters. Akpata was once a Chairman of the NBA, Section on Business Law and he is not a total stranger to NBA politics, thus it is surprising that anyone would doubt his ability to navigate the murky waters of NBA politics.
Now, the election has come and gone with Anthony Olumide Akpata, Esq emerging as the overwhelming winner, all the “learned gentlemen” that are and have been part of the legal process should accept the result of the election with grace. Anyone who feels aggrieved by the outcome of the election still has a right to challenge the matter through the legal channel, for they have the liberty to ventilate their grievances.
This election and its victory should not be treated in a manner that it affects the unity of the NBA. And, if care is not taken, the unity of the NBA will be affected. This more so given the fact that some senior members of the Bar are already expressing opinions that it is legal for lawyers to form another body outside the NBA. This narrative should not be let to fester in the bigger interest of the Bar.
We must appreciate that, in an election, sentiment can only be expressed through the ballot and lawyers are first and foremost lawyers before some are elevated to the rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, appointed as Judges or appointed into political offices. The fact that there are Senior Advocates of Nigeria does not negate the fact that every member of the Bar stemmed from the same exact place. And, one must not forget that there are some astute, brilliant and amiable lawyers may see no need to apply for the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Becoming a Senior Advocate of Nigeria is a privilege not a right. Becoming SAN is also a choice for the qualified lawyer who chooses to apply for it. The fact that a lawyer who emerges victorious in democratic vote of the NBA is not a Senior Advocate of Nigeria is not enough to invalidate his victory. Being a Senior Advocate is not a prerequesite for emerging as the President of the NBA. Furthermore, the NBA Constitution does not, in no way, reserve the position of the President of the Bar for any particular class of lawyers. Therefore, the victory of Anthony Olumide Akpata, Esq as the President of the MBA is well in order. This is a pill, which every lawyer within the Bar, including those in a senior or junior position must swallow.
If the Senior Advocates of Nigeria wish to stake a claim of any position, they can collectively do so in the exclusive Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) where non Senior Advocates cannot participate in its affairs. Within such a body, Anthony Olumide Akpata, Esq would outrightly be excluded.
The recent vote in the NBA, in which Anthony Olumide Akpata, Esq emerged victorious exhibits a sort of camaraderie, which saw young lawyers who practice under senior lawyers come together to vote against their principals’ choice. Could there be some subliminal message that can be drawn from this, which borders on poor treatment of young lawyers or on an issue of welfare? Perhaps this can be the next conversation within the legal corridors.
The crux of the matter is that Anthony Olumide Akpata, Esq came with a message of hope for the young lawyers, which they eagerly embraced. It is necessary to get that magical line of his campaign speeches and study it to build a healthy relationship between young lawyers and their older colleagues.
The Bar cannot bear the cost of destroying the legacy left by Christopher Sapara Williams who was the pioneer NBA President from 1900-1915, Sir Kitoyi Ajasa 1915-1937, Eric Olawale Moore 1937-1944 and the other eminent gentlemen who made every effort to make NBA what it is.
One wishes the newly elected National Officers of the Bar a successful tenure while urging all members of the Bar to eschew bitterness and support the new National Executive Committee. May The Almighty guide and protect Anthony Olumide Akpata, Esq as he leads the Nigerian Bar Association. May he lead this exclusive and supreme entity to a higher and higher plain.
Now that the Nigerian Bar Association 2020 election has taken place and a winner has emerged, it is time for all to let the Bar be.
Culled: The Leadership