BY Dele Adesina, SAN, FCI Arb.
In my Petition dated August 2nd, 2020 to the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Nigerian Bar Association, I drew attention to the flawed, illegal and unconstitutional process leading to the NBA Election of 29th – 30th of July, 2020 and the electronic fraud that characterised the Election proper. In that Petition, I stated inter alia that as a past Chairman of NBA Ikeja Branch, past General Secretary of the Association, a Life Member of the National Executive Committee and a Life Member of the Distinguished Body of Benchers in addition to other areas of responsibility that I have had the privilege to serve, I can lay claim to being one of the builders of the Association. Consequently, I will hate to see the Association destroyed or destabilised in any way or form. I also stated in that Petition that my participation in the affairs of the NBA is driven purely and absolutely by the desire to advance the interest and aspirations of the Association in particular and our beloved Profession in general.
In drawing attention to the serial violation of the provisions of the NBA Constitution, the cyber fraud perpetrated and the misuse and abuse of powers which I submitted characterised the election, I called for the cancellation of the Election. Recognising that if the election process is wrongful, illegal and unconstitutional, the product must suffer the same fate.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES – FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
In a letter authored by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, dated 19th of August 2020, it was stated that: “although you have petitioned to us, we must be clear that we have no judicial authority to give direction to the NBA, our position in the circumstance is at best advisory. Nonetheless, we have read your Petition and noted that it raises many general and specific allegations in relation to the Elections…. The Trustees have given careful consideration and deeply reflected on your Petition and all the responses, in particular that of ECNBA. We note that the Elections were not perfect. We reviewed your Petition and note that it raises serious issues. Nonetheless our advice would be that the overall interest of the Bar should be paramount on the mind of every Nigerian Lawyer and to that extent, we urge that all Lawyers and no less the Candidates be mindful of the need to promote a cohesive, united and strong Bar. We regret that we are unable to advise that the election should be cancelled in the overall interest of the Bar.” The Trustees further noted that “our elections continue to present challenges going back to 2016 and strongly recommend that a major transformation of our electoral process and framework must be undertaking and we are happy to be assigned this very important responsibility…”
In an earlier letter dated 17th of August, 2020 (an unsigned letter which I received via my email from the Chairman) the Trustees stated that “Nonetheless, we have read your Petition and admit that it is not frivolous. The NBA 2020 Election was marred by irregularities. The ECNBA admitted that the election platform failed which is why they had to engage another I.T. Consultant. The ECNBA admitted that over 14,000 members could not vote which is an extremely high number. The ECNBA should have made provision to enable everyone to vote. This is an omission on their part. You have requested that the NBA 2020 Election be cancelled, but this will be unfair to those who have voted.”
The Letter continued: “the Trustees have given careful consideration and deeply reflected on the nature of advice to give. Our advice will be that the Bar should be paramount on the mind of every Nigerian Lawyer and to that extent, we urge that all Lawyers and no less the Candidates and in particular your good-self accept the Election with its inadequacies in good faith. We are very mindful in our advisory on the need to keep the Bar cohesive, united and strong.” The letter went further to state that “the Trustees are however disappointed that our Elections continue to present challenges going back to 2016 and strongly recommend that major transformation of our Electoral process and framework must be undertaken and we are happy to be assigned this very important responsibility.”
The following are evident from the decision of the Board of Trustees: First, the Petition was not frivolous; Second, the Petition raised serious general and specific allegations; Third, the ECNBA had no defence to the serious issues raised in the Petition; Four, since 2016, NBA Elections have been the subject of serious disputations for which they the Trustees were disappointed; Five, that a strong recommendation for a major transformation of our electoral process and framework should be undertaken; and Six, that the Board of Trustees are willing to undertake the job of electoral transformation of the NBA.
I know as a fact that all the members of the Board of Trustees agreed and were united on the specific findings that the Election was flawed and imperfect. All of them were also united in their desire to terminate the narrative of sham elections in the NBA since 2016, hence their willingness to undertake the responsibility of carrying out electoral transformation for the Association. They only differ on the consequences of their findings which is whether to direct an outright cancellation and order a fresh election, or direct a bye-election for the 14,000 voters that were disenfranchised, or allow the election to stand as it is.
I believe it is an attempt to marry these different outcomes that the Board of Trustees came to the advice that the overall interest of the Bar should be paramount on the mind of every Nigerian Lawyer. That the Board of Trustees urged all Lawyers including the Candidates of the need to promote a cohesive, united and strong Bar and that “the Board of Trustees regretted their inability to advice that the election be cancelled in the overall interest of the Bar.”
THE PETITION SUCCEEDED
If my Petition will lead to the transformation of NBA electoral process that will free it from lawlessness, corrupt practices and other forms of cyber-crime for which NBA has become notably reputed since 2016 as promised by the Trustees, I will be satisfied. If my Petition will bring about a definite stop to a manipulated bi-annual electoral process with evidence of producing an appointed President or securing the election of a pre-determined President for the NBA and make votes count in future NBA Elections, I will be satisfied. If my Petition will enthrone respect for Rule of Law, respect for Due Process and stop misuse and abuse of power by a few individuals who believe that they must get what they want for the NBA and not what the NBA wants, I will be satisfied. If this Petition will inculcate and restore the glory, honour, honesty, dignity, integrity, moral and ethical principles on NBA leadership particularly its Presidents and make them do things right to re-establish the NBA as the conscience of the Nation once again, I will be more than satisfied.
As a Legal Practitioner of 38 years post-call and as a matter of practice and experience, I know that when allegation of facts succeeds in a civil claim and defence is held to have no probative value, granting of relief is automatic. When allegations of crime are proved in a criminal matter and defence is rejected, conviction also follows. In an Election Petition, where Grounds of Petition succeeds, such as it has been held by four (4) Trustees out of six (6) in this matter, setting aside of that election is a necessary consequence of the findings. However, in this case, the Board of Trustees have advised in spite of the seriousness of their findings that we accept the election in good faith because of the “need to keep the Bar cohesive, united and strong” in a typical Nigerian mentality.
Notwithstanding that the Board of Trustees of the NBA did not go the whole hog according to them “in the interest of the Association;” I nevertheless want to thank the four (4) members out of the six (6) for standing and upholding the truth on this matter. If I were to be the product of the election that has now been adjudged to be fatally flawed, I would have honourably stepped-aside and call for a re-election. This is because character, honour and integrity are the hallmarks of leadership. It must be particularly noted that we raised serious reservations in our letter of 7th of July, 2020 to the Electoral Committee against the serial breach of the provisions of the Constitution relating to the electoral process and the hap-hazard manner of handling the process, the secrecy surrounding the appointment of the I.T Consultant and the failure to demonstrate the process in order to ascertain the vulnerability and the integrity of the technology to be deployed for the election.
Similarly, Mr. Olumide Akpata also in a most vehement manner raised serious reservations in his letter of 20th of July, 2020, to the Electoral Committee. Both letters were sturdily disregarded and ignored by the ECNBA. Legitimacy is not only a product of popular acceptability, but it is also a product of legality and constitutionality. Indeed, popular acceptability will stand on nothing if there is no legal and constitutional legitimacy as you cannot build something on nothing and expect it to stand.
NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION AND CULTURE OF IMPUNITY
The motto of NBA as enshrined in the Constitution of the Association is Promoting the Rule of Law. In his address to the Annual General Meeting of the NBA on 28th of August, 2020, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, said surprisingly “Whatever one may say about those elections, one thing that cannot be taken away from it is that that was the first ever of our National Elections where everyone was turned into Election monitors as well as electoral and returning officers all rolled into one …. For most of our members and based on the comments I have received, this was an exhilarating experience in transparency. The transparency was unparallel and we are expecting that subsequent Bar Elections will build on that quality of transparency.” My friend Mr. Paul Usoro certainly did not see what many others saw. He failed to realize that election is a process culminating with voting. He ought not to have directed his mind only to the voting process to the exclusion of the other various stages leading to the voting process.
Rule of Law in all its ramification presupposes that the Law is supreme and that everything must be done according to law and the law in this instance include the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association, 2015, as amended. It includes recognised practices and conventions that enthrone and guarantee Due Process as against arbitrariness, impunity, lawlessness, abuse of office and misuse of power as clearly demonstrated in the conduct of the just concluded 2020 National Officers Election. Transparency in relation to the just concluded Election exists only in the fertile imagination of the out-gone President.
The leaders of the Bar must come together and take decisive steps in other to restore the lost glory, honour and integrity of the Association. If we are complacent in doing this, life in its own way will force decisions on us. In 2016, they superintended over a rigged election which ended in Court. In 2018, they superintended over an election which ended in both civil suit and criminal charges in Court. The fact that the Court cases failed to achieve any success emboldened the perpetrators to go to higher levels of brazen impunity as witnessed in the 2020 Election.
The result of these reckless actions on the part of the few who have vowed to secure the appointment of NBA President through sham elections may be delayed but is never lost. However, it must be recognised by all our members that the character of any leader determines the character of the organisation that he leads and that everything rises and falls with leadership. It is not surprising that Nigerian Bar Association has contributed nothing to nation-building in the last few years. The Association has been stuck at the zero-ground level of low public esteem – in the words of a concerned member of the Bar. After all, anyone who will move the world must first move himself.
Like I said in my Statement of Tuesday, 25th August, 2020 and in my characteristic manner, “I was already planning to stop talking about what the devil has done regarding this election and begin to talk about what God will do in response to the uncountable appeals and persuasions from highly respected members of the Profession” including some of the members of the Board of Trustees that I hold in very high esteem. I am a builder and a peace-maker. I am never desperate about anything neither do I pursue anything at all cost. I have always allowed God to have His way and establish His will concerning me. My Christian faith teaches me the virtue not to cry behind a closed door to deprive myself the opportunity of seeing the seven doors that are wide open.
I want to plead with all sense of responsibility to all my friends, colleagues and supporters who worked so hard with me nationwide during the electioneering process, those whose votes were either diverted, suppressed, stolen or who were out rightly disenfranchised, and all fair-minded members of the Association who believe that enough is enough and that this Bi-Annual show of shame must stop by pursuing this case to its logical conclusion to please, let us put the July 2020 Presidential Election of the NBA behind us. I have strongly stood against going to Court in this matter despite serious pressure even though I am fully persuaded that simple Originating Summons will set aside this Election, judging by the faulty process that lead to the Election.
Like I have said several times, for me, the Presidency of the NBA is not an end in itself but a means to an end to secure the future of our Profession by strengthening the Association’s relevance to its members, by vigorously pursuing the defence and promotion of the Rule of Law in our Nation, by protecting, promoting and defending the independence of the Legal Profession in general and in particular the independence of Lawyers and Judges in the practice of their Profession and by taking pro-active efforts to change the negative perception about the Legal Profession by members of the public. This is the whole reason for my involvement in the process. It is to give service and I believe this does not warrant my going to court so that I can give. After all, despite the effort of the aggrieved members to the election fraud of 2018 which resulted in filing both civil suits and criminal charges in Court, the beneficiary of the election has just handed over few days ago. My decision to rest the case here is a product of a very careful consideration of all that I have stated above including in particular the fact that I am a peace maker and one of the builders of the Association with a view to preserving whatever is left of the Nigerian Bar Association. After all, “a living Dog is better than a dead Lion.”
EXPRESSION OF GRATITUDE
To all my colleagues both at the inner Bar and outer Bar, friends, members of various DASAN Committees, dedicated supporters and followers on various social media platforms, l once again wish to express my heartfelt gratitude and profound appreciation to each and everyone of you for the wonderful role you played in our attempt to re-position the Association by making it a positive catalyst for the Legal Profession and the development of our Nation. We were going there to change the ways and show the path to follow, to demonstrate the meaning of true leadership in purity, honesty of purpose and integrity.
Please note that we have built a strong bond of friendship, brotherhood and sisterhood thereby creating relationships and connections throughout the Nation. I urge you all to continue in this spirit of friendship and keep our connections active as we are all together in this journey of life and career fulfilment in the true spirit of being “our brother’s keeper.” Remember, love never gives up. It never loses faith. It is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance. Let us remain in love by keeping in touch with one another.
Let me conclude with the statement made by Barack Obama, former President of the United States of America, when he visited Japan. He got to Hiroshima and remembered the events of World War II and the destruction and devastation wrought on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and said: “We have a responsibility to look directly into history and ask: What must we do differently to achieve a better result?” I do hope that the Board of Trustees appreciates the need to do things differently henceforth in NBA; hence, their promise and willingness to accept responsibility for electoral transformation. I shall continue to join well-meaning members of the Association where I can on this restoration effort to rebuild our Association and repackage the image of our beloved Profession.
Dele Adesina, SAN, FCI Arb.
Dated Monday 31st August, 2020.