NBA Looming Crisis – The Undisclosed Facts in the Face-Off Between the General Secretary and the President

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Following some very gravious accusation of financial imprudence and usurpation of the office of the General Secretary levelled against the outgoing NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro by the NBA General Secretary, Mr. Jonathan Taidi, DNL Legal & Style in her usual quest for a balanced reporting devoid of unnecessary sentiment present the following findings:

In the morning of Friday, 28th August, 2020, the legal community woke up with a screaming headline published by one of the legal news platforms with the caption: “Exclusive: Crisis Rocks NBA, As General Secretary Accuses Usoro Of N119 Million ‘Scam’”. Attached to the publication was an email from the NBA General Secretary to President Usoro with some of the staff of the NBA secretariat and Executives in copy.

Mr. Taidi’s email in summary accused Mr. Usoro of undermining the office of the General Secretary of the Bar by recalling a staff of the NBA secretariat one Ayodeji Oni who was earlier suspended by the General Secretary. An action Mr. Taidi attributed to his refusal to approve payments he considered unlawful. DNL Legal & Style further placed a call through to the Mr. Taidi who confirmed that the email was sent to the President and was leaked as same was not meant for public consumption. He suggested that same may have been leaked by one of the persons who were copied in the email.

Having read Mr. Taidi’s email, DNL Legal & Style sort to hear from Mr. Usoro on the allegations contained in the email. Mr. Usoro in his clarification responded seriatim to all the allegations raised by Mr. Taidi.

In summary, Mr. Usoro stated that the fact of the query and suspension of the NBA staff  Ayodeji Oni was brought to his attention by the GS via a phone call.  He stated that having reviewed the circumstances of the alleged insubordination, he had in a private email informed the GS of his findings and the reason why the said line of action should be abandoned. On the allegation of misappropriation of fund, Mr. Usoro gave clarification with specific details. According to Mr. Usoro, “not a kobo in the allegations was ever spent.”

As always, DNL Legal & Style would seek to hear from all sides. We have obtained all the email exchanges that would help with a clearer picture of the  issues in dispute.

Read with an OPEN MIND

Mr. Taidi’s Email and Usoro’s Response (in red highlights)

From: Jonathan Gunu Taidi <taidi.jonathan@nigerianbar.org.ng>
Date: Thursday, August 27, 2020 at 9:44 AM
To: “Paul Usoro, SAN” <paul.usoro@nigerianbar.org.ng>
Cc: OLAGBEGI-OLOBA VICTORIA BANKE ESQ <banke.oloba@nigerianbar.org.ng>, Salamatu Sidi <salamatu.sidi@nigerianbar.org.ng>, “abayomi.o.ogunola@pwc.com” <abayomi.o.ogunola@pwc.com>, Ursula Agbamuche <ursula.agbamuche@nigerianbar.org.ng>, Ayodeji Oni <ayodeji.oni@nigerianbar.org.ng>
Subject: Re: Query and Suspension from Duties without Pay

My President,

I have read your email below and surprised at your interference in MATTERS OF DISCIPLINE in the National Secretariat of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) occasioned by your PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with AYODEJI ONI who was suspended on 25th August, 2020 for acts of gross insubordination. Personal Relationship?  What Personal Relationship”  Exactly what do you have in mind?  I have absolutely no such relationship with Ayodeji Oni.  In any case, that was not the thrust of my mail to you; it would’ve been a lot more helpful for you to address the factual issues in my mail.

Ayodeji Oni was at my instance issued with a query dated 21st August, 2020 to explain why as Head of Bar Services the attendance sheet of the National Executive Committee (NEC) Meeting of 5th December, 2019 was used in place of the attendance of 12th March, 2020.  She did not respond to the query, but challenged my authority to authorize the issuance of the said query and stated as follows:

                                “1.  On the 21st August, 2020 at about 11.58pm, you sent me a “Query” to which I responded only out of professional courtesy.”

  1. Secondly, I responded to you in order to facilitate the smooth transition of the current administration.”

The response confirms the planned NEW JOB PLACEMENT AND DESCRIPTION which you intend to present to the Annual General Meeting of the NBA wherein Ayodeji Oni will be ELEVETED TO OCCUPY THE MOST SENIOR POSITION IN THE NATIONAL SECRETARIAT even though she is unable to justify her qualification on the current job description. I would’ve thought that you, as GS, are aware of the fact that only matters on the agenda of an AGM can be placed before the AGM.  Is there any matter like “New Job Placement and Description” on the agenda of the 2020 AGM?  Is there any such Paper that has been prepared by me or you or anyone else and distributed to members?  I’m not aware of any such Paper or agenda item.  If you are, please, let me know. Piece of advice: sometimes, it’s wise not to advertise one’s ignorance and incompetence.

Your directive to Ayodeji Oni to resume work today is aimed at undermining my office for refusing to recommend payment to a private company for a contract you awarded to the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company for the printing of 2019/2020 practice license in the sum of Twenty Million Naira (N20,000,000.00) which I consider to be unlawful.   But you should’ve told me and also let me know what makes the contract unlawful.  By the way, as you know, NSPMC in their letter expressly recommended the third party Company that you’re referring to and for your information, I neither know the Company or any person connected therewith nor do I know anybody whomsoever in NSPMC. I recall that sometime in September, 2019 you sent me an invoice in the sum of One Hundred and Four Million Naira (N104,000,000.00) purportedly meant for purchase of a new elevator for the NBA House.  That invoice was from Otis Lifts and I was in talks with them, to your knowledge when we considered the option of replacing the single lift that was working epileptically.  For your information, I discussed the planned purchase with the Chairman of the Company and our respected professional colleague, Gbenga Oyebode, and he facilitated some discount for us.  That plan was abandoned when President Augustine Alegeh, SAN reached me (and I was copying all past Presidents with my correspondence in this regard and that’s how he knew) and informed me that the Contractor confirmed that the 3 lifts in the building were in place and power source was all that needed to be fixed for them to work.  I blocked the attempt to fleece the NBA and I know you have not forgiven me.  There was really nothing to forgive here because there was no attempt at fleecing the NBA by me or anyone else.  Recently, you caused Ayodeji Oni to send an invoice to pay Fifteen Million Naira (N15,000,000.00) to a female staff of the Supreme Court for services not rendered to the NBA which I refused to recommend and many more. Actually, it was a payment for N10m (not N15m) for the compilation of the Roll for the NBA website.  Yes, you spoke with me about that payment and so did the National Treasurer who actually sent me a private mail on it and the payment was dropped without any fuss whatsoever.   

I will resist your attempt to undermine the office of the General Secretary, uphold the confidence reposed in me by our members and will not hesitate to dismiss Ayodeji Oni for gross insubordination if she resumes work in violation of the suspension order.  Hmmm!  This is rather interesting.  Even though the NBA Constitution makes the NBA President the final authority in and for the management of the National Secretariat, I won’t press this point seeing as I’m out of office, happily, and out of the National Secretariat in a matter of hours.  You may wish to stay back to guard the gates.

On the Query, Suspension and Recall of Ayodeji Oni – The Story

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It all started when it was discovered that the minutes of NBA NEC meeting held in March 2020 had a wrong attendance sheet attached thereto. The above was observed by some members of NEC who saw this as a gross negligence on the part of the NBA National Secretariat.  Following the above, a query was issued to Ayodeji Oni who is the Head Membership and Bar Services by Mrs. Salamatu Sidi, the Head of Admin and Finance at the instance of the GS. The query sought Ayodeji’s response to the reason the attendance register annexed to the NEC minutes held in March, 2020 was wrong.

Ayodeji responded to the query and further clarified that from her end, the correct attendance was sent out. She also noted that the query was wrongly issued and ought to have gone to the office of the GS. The above was not well received as the said Ayodeji was subsequently suspended without pay.

The President of the NBA intervened folllowing a phone conversation with the General Secretary wherein he notified Mr. Usoro of the said suspension. Mr. Usoro’s intervention led to a finding which was made available to the GS by the below emails.

 Emails from NBA President to the GS On Findings In respect of the Suspension  of Ayodeji Oni

From: “Paul Usoro, SAN” <paul.usoro@nigerianbar.org.ng>
Date: Thursday, 27 August 2020 at 06:04
To: Jonathan Gunu Taidi <taidi.jonathan@nigerianbar.org.ng>
Cc: OLAGBEGI-OLOBA VICTORIA BANKE ESQ <banke.oloba@nigerianbar.org.ng>, Salamatu Sidi <salamatu.sidi@nigerianbar.org.ng>, “abayomi.o.ogunola@pwc.com” <abayomi.o.ogunola@pwc.com>, Ursula Agbamuche <ursula.agbamuche@nigerianbar.org.ng>, Ayodeji Oni <ayodeji.oni@nigerianbar.org.ng>
Subject: Query and Suspension from Duties without Pay

My GS

Further to my various discussions with you (Taidi/Usoro) in the last two days on the above subject matter, I am by this e-mail directing Ayodeji Oni to resume her duties at the Secretariat with immediate effect this morning.  I had in the morning of Tuesday, 25 August 2020 when you first discussed Ayodeji’s alleged insubordination over the phone with me requested that you avail me with all the documents thereon and followed up with an oral reminder of that request in the evening of that Tuesday when we spoke again on the matter. 

Inexplicably, you have, up till this moment, failed, neglected and/or refused to send those documents to me.  Not having any option, I requested for those documents yesterday evening from Ayodeji and she has availed me all of them, right from the query up to the suspension letter and I having reviewed them all, I have arrived at the conclusion that this was a totally needless and unrequired incident.  We truly did not and do not need this incident in the days if not hours leading up to our exist from the Secretariat as National Officers. 

I will in a separate follow-up e-mail address the substance of the query and give reasons for my afore-stated conclusions. In the meantime and without prejudice to those final conclusions, I am by this mail directing Miss Oni, as she resumes work this morning, to orally apologize to you and Salamatu Sidi for her rather truculent and impertinent mail of 24 August 2020 attached hereto and which was in response to Salamatu’s mail of the same date (directly below Ayodeji’s mail in the same e-mail trail).  I have told her in very clear terms that not only did her response not address Salamatu’s issues (again, this is without prejudice to my final conclusion which I’ll communicate in a follow-up mail), it was, more importantly, saucy in style and took no note of the fact that, in age, she and Salamatu are not age mates. 

In our respective cultures, age counts literally for everything in terms of decorum and respect and I cannot condone Ayodeji being rude or saucy towards you and/or Salamatu. She claims, however, not to have known that Salamatu’s mail was written at your instance.  I do not believe her, but even if that was correct, Salamatu did not deserve the tone of her response and it is on this account that I have directed her to orally apologize directly to Salamatu and you for while resuming work this morning.  I expect that to put an end to this unfortunate incident, albeit, without prejudice, I must repeat, to my mail which would communicate the reasons for my earlier conclusion on the nature of this needless incident and distraction.

Meanwhile, I am also by this e-mail directing the Finance Unit to re-prepare the salary schedule and include Ayodeji’s full salary and entitlements for the month of August 2020.  This is also based on my full review of the substance of the query that Salamatu at your instance issued to Ayodeji and which I would, for the records, address in my follow-up mail.  I would expect to receive the reviewed salary schedule as soon as possible so I can authorize the payments this morning. 

On a related note, there are lots of Bar Services-related matters that need to be tidied up today and tomorrow, ahead of our exit as National Officers, and we need all hands on deck therefor, including but not limited to the Head of that Unit. That fact, in addition to the conclusions that I’ve reached on the substance of the query which I’ll communicate to you anon, informs my decision to immediately recall Ayodeji back to work.  Please, My dear GS, let’s put this entire issue behind us and focus on organizing a most befitting final AGM and send-forth for our administration.

Best 

Paul Usoro, SAN

On the Findings that Led to the reinstatement

From: “Paul Usoro, SAN” <paul.usoro@nigerianbar.org.ng>
Date: Thursday, August 27, 2020 at 7:52 AM
To: Jonathan Gunu Taidi <taidi.jonathan@nigerianbar.org.ng>
Cc: OLAGBEGI-OLOBA VICTORIA BANKE ESQ <banke.oloba@nigerianbar.org.ng>, Salamatu Sidi <salamatu.sidi@nigerianbar.org.ng>, Ayodeji Oni <ayodeji.oni@nigerianbar.org.ng>
Subject: Re: Query and Suspension from Duties without Pay

My GS

Further to my mail below, I now provide below the reason for my conclusion that this Ayodeji imbroglio was and is an entirely unrequired and unnecessary incident and distraction. But first, I must list out the documents that have been availed to me by Ayodeji all of which are attached hereto and on which basis I arrived at my afore-stated conclusion, viz:

  1. Salamatu Sidi’s Query to Ayodeji Oni dated 21 August 2020 (the “Query”) which had as an attachment the Branch Chairmen’s Complaints in Item (ii) below;
  2. Complaints by Branch Chairmen over the Attendance List for the 2020 Q1 NEC Meeting that was held on 12 March 2020, as contained and set out in the Minutes of the said Meeting which was considered at the recent Pre-AGC NEC Meeting that was held on 20 August 2020 (“Branch Chairmen’s Complaints”). I am the one who sent these complaints to you and, my understanding is that there were subsequent collated together and formed the attachment to the Query;
  3. Ayodeji Oni’s response to the Query dated 24 August 2020 to which had as an attachment her Investigation Report – Item (iv) below;
  4. Ayodeji’s Investigation Report of 24 August 2020 (“Ayodeji’s Investigation Report”) which was an attachment to her response to the Query – Item (iii) above;
  5. Ezekiel David’s e-mail of 22 June 2020 with which he forwarded to you “the attendance for NEC meeting March 12th, 2020”. That e-mail was copied to Ayodeji Oni and your Secretary, Glory Lawrence;
  6. The Attendance List in respect of the Q1 NEC Meeting that was attached to Ezekiel David’s e-mail of 22 June 2020 to you;
  7. Your e-mail of 17 August 2020 to David Ezekiel forwarding to him my tracked amended version of the Q1 NEC Meeting Minutes. That e-mail was not copied to Ayodeji howsoever.

The substance of the Query is that the Q1 NEC Meeting Minutes reflected a wrong Attendance List which gave rise to the Branch Chairmen’s Complaints; the Query sought to unravel the genesis of that fatal error. Stripped of the verbiage and prolixity in Ayodeji’s response to the Query, she sought to state that (a) Ezekiel David, by his e-mail of 22 June 2020, had, to her knowledge (because she was copied in that mail) forwarded the correct Attendance List to you, based on your request; (b) she was not privy to nor responsible for the final preparation and finalization of the Q1 NEC Meeting Minutes as evidenced by your e-mail of 17 August 2020 to Ezekiel David (which was not copied to her) forwarding my tracked amended version of the Minutes for further action and your follow-up telcon with Ezekiel David of the same date.

If Ayodeji’s explanation, as captured by me in the preceding paragraph is correct – and I have absolutely no document from you that asserts to the contrary – then she is totally without blame for this particular snafu. Except it is shown to me that the Attendance List that was forwarded to you by Ezekiel David vide his e-mail of 22 June 2020, which was copied to Ayodeji, was not the right one, I truly cannot see how or why Bar Services and in particular Ayodeji Oni should be held responsible or liable howsoever for the faux pas that resulted in insetting the wrong Attendance List in the Q1 NEC Meeting. My quarrel with Ayodeji is that her response to the query, including her Investigation Report, were unduly confrontational and turgid. She could have said what she needed to say in as few and non-confrontational words, as summarized by me in this paragraph. But, that is one more reason she must apologize to you and Salamatu this morning in order to lay the entire issue to rest.

On the substantive issue, does this matter deserve the Query that was issued to Ayodeji and her subsequent suspension from work without pay? I truly do not think so. She was not responsible howsoever for the wrong Attendance List in the Minutes. However, as earlier stated, the contents of her response deserve a reprimand and that, I have already administered to her both orally and by virtue of this mail and the immediate one below. It is on the basis of that reprimand that she must apologize both to you and Salamatu. However, based on the facts and documents before me, I restate that she was not responsible for the grave error in the Attendance List that was recorded in the Q1 NEC Meeting and she ought not be the one to take the fall therefor. Her full entitlements are therefore restored and I am directing her to return to the office immediately in the terms of my mail below. I truly expect this matter to be closed while we all work harmoniously to the end of our tenure as National Officers in a couple of hours from now.

Best

Paul Usoro, SAN
President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)

We leave you to be the judge

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…DNL Legal & Style 

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