When I was congratulating the winners and commending those who could not make it for displaying high sense of sportsmanship in the just concluded 2020 NBA elections on the social media, a very respected senior woman lawyer, Mrs Olubunmi Fowora asked me by saying : “ I wonder why you did not contest this time around, my learned friend.” My response was that : “Thank you ,Ma, it is the discriminatory nature of the NBA Constitution that will disallow people like you and me as well as majority of lawyers in Nigeria to contest. For you to be able to contest at the National level. you must have served either as the Chairman or Secretary of any branch or NBA Section or must have been co-opted NOT elected to the NBA NEC at national level .If you have served in any other capacity at branch level including branch Vice Chairman but not co-opted into the NEC you cannot contest any substantive position at national level except the position of assistant.” The senior learned colleague marvelled and remarked: “Is that so? Then lawyers should resist and change such rules in order to created level playing field for well-meaning contestants like yourself, let the new NBA in place now move for a meaningful change in this direction for posterity sake…”
Mrs Fowora was not the first to ask me such question, many lawyers have asked and my response has always been the same. The 2020 NBA elections of National Officers will for a very long remain one of the most interesting elections in the history of NBA for the fact that an attempt was made to unfortunately pitch the Inner Bar against the Outer Bar. I must confess that it sadden my heart when Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN)’s private letter to the Chairman of the Body of the Senior Advocates linked to the public. The controversies that followed it was not good enough for the bar. I was of the view that with the great role played by Chief Awomolo in reviving the NBA at national level when it went to comma in the 1990s, it was not proper for the learned Senior Advocate to have expressed such personal view. I called it person view because it did not represent the view of the entire Inner Bar. I do not have any doubt that Chief Awomolo’s view was one of the factors that boosted the support, sympathy and the emergence of Mr. Olumode Akpata as the winner of the Presidential race. One of the lessons to be learnt from this is that we should always engage in deep thought before we act or speak, so that our actions and words will not be used against us when the situation arises. Another lesson is that this event has given credence to the saying that : “While the minority will have their saying , the majority will have their way”. In anything that has to do with elections, those in the minority needs the assistance and co-operation of the majority to have their own way through concession by the majority.This may be a cold fact to believe, but that is the reality.
This reminds me of an incident during my under graduate years at the Faculty of Law of Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto. The practice or convention then was that the President of Law Students Association (LAWSA) used to come from the 500 level students, but there was a particular year that 500 level Students were said to have transgressed their limit and as such a coup was hatched by the 400 level students against the 500 levels students. During the LAWSA elections of that year, the 400 level students put one of the own forward to contest against the candidate presented by the 500 level students for the LAWSA Presidency. In the vigorous election campaigns on the two sides, 400 level students mobilized students from 100 level to-300 level to support their candidate for that position.When the ballot was eventually counted, 400 level students’ candidate carried the day and the coup succeeded against the 500 level students for that year LAWSA leadership.The minority learnt their lesson in a very hard way. While we must not see the last NBA elections as a battle between the Inner Bar and the Outer Bar in view of the fact that it was not only the members of the outer bar that voted for Mr. Olumide Akpata, the votes for him cut across both the Inner Bar and the Outer Bar as it could be seen that even before the elections he was overwhelmingly endorsed by several members of the Inner Bar despite the linkage of Chief Awomolo’s private letter to the public.We must all in the future guide against statements that may likely divide the profession.We must always strive for a united bar.
Except we want to continue deceiving ourselves, a lot needs to be done to reform or revolutionize the NBA. From various remarks made by lawyers both young and old particularly before the elections, there was an indication that many lawyers have given up on the NBA long time ago. One particular remark that comes to mind was the one made by Mrs. Hairat Ade-Balogun, the first female General Secretary of the NBA, first female Attorney General of Lagos State and the first female Chairman of the Body of benchers, when she said:
“In my almost 60 years of law practice in Nigeria, I have witnessed different types of leaders of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). I have also been privileged to watch our profession rise and unfortunately, I have also seen its decline. However, I have always kept hope alive that a time will come, possibly in my lifetime, when the institutional shortcomings that culminated in our present situation would be redressed by the right kind of leadership at the NBA. The emergence of Olumide Akpata as a front-line candidate for the NBA presidency suddenly brings that hope to bear. In Olumide Akpata, I see the hope for the required reforms. In him, I see the chance for a compassionate and competent NBA leadership .In Olumide Akpata, I believe hope for redemption of our profession is not far-fetched .I have decided to pitch my tent where the future lies , and I dare say that the advent of that future is now! To this end , I encourage all lawyers regardless of your posturing (inner or outer bar) to support Olumide Akpata for the position of the President of the NBA. Our collective future belongs to the younger generation. The elders rose and shone and have left their legacies in various parts of the profession.It is sunrise time for the younger ones ,let us give them a chance with the confidence that they have learnt from the elders.May I add that the inner and outer bar dichotomy should never be a consideration in deciding the next NBA President. The consideration in deciding the NBA president should be candidate that possesses the credentials, the unquenchable drive and the passion for the job.I have watched Olumide Akpata closely in his most 30 years of successful practice. Olumide is selfless and skillful in managing the affairs of men . He is the kind of candidate that our profession urgently needs at a time like this…”
Will the President-elect live up to the expectations? This is the question to be answered by Akpata and his new team. The kind of endorsements that followed various candidates in this last election was very overwhelming and unprecedented. There were equally various adoptions by different groups including seemingly regional groups. I have on occasions expressed the view that since the NBA Presidency has zoned to various regions, those regions do not necessarily need to adopt a particular candidate in their midst as doing so will be like a father telling his children that he prefers one child to the other. The consequence of such father’s act may not be palatable. The historians can testify to this fact. It may not be a bad idea for the region whose turn is to produce the zoned position to encourage all the aspirants in their midst to meet on their own to agree if they can step down for one another. The region does not need to make a tyrannical decision or choice usually called “adoption”.
There are lot of required reforms in NBA that the successive regimes including the out going one under the leadership of Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), have not taken serious. For instance, PUSAN promised an all inclusive NBA but there was nothing on the ground till date to show that even within his executive members. His 2nd Vice President, Dr. Foluke Dada accused PUSAN of playing the role of “Sole Administrator” without carrying his executive members along. In the words of the woman Vice President to PUSAN:
“…Little did it surprise anyone that you sought to include into the recently amended Constitution of the NBA, the clause (which was honourably expunged by members at the AGM of 2019), that persons seeking an election into offices at the Bar should be men and women of ‘mean!’…Throughout an almost two year tenure that the affairs of the national body has been SOLELY stages-manage by you as a ‘Sole Administrator’,so to speak ,and in addition, all the affairs have been personally handled to the EXCLUSION of the members of exco by you to the detriment of all .This is a clear assault to the intentions of the drafters of the Constitution of our great body ,the Nigerian Bar Association… Recall as well, that even the appointment of members of over 100 Co-opted NEC has been conducted by you to the detriment of the interests of the majority of the National Officers and the Bar , particularly, those you perceive as having voted for your opposition during the election at the bar. Mr. President, vital decisions have been taken without the input of any member of the executive, save yourself sir. We seem to be the administration that thrived on NEC ratification after the fact. This is no surprise as the bulk of the co-opted membership of NEC was selected by you sir! Would I be right to assume that this was done for a purpose? Why were officers made redundant and despised?”
Is this PUSAN’s scorecard? When I read Dr. Folake Dada’s letter on the social media, I had expected to read a rebuttal from PUSAN but I am yet not see anything of such. But the question I began to ask myself was that when lawyers voted about two years ago for PUSAN, did they vote for him as NBA President or NBA Sole Administrator? Speaking from experience, this is one of the major problems confronting the NBA both at national and branch level. No sooner than elections are conducted and the new executives emerged, some Presidents/Chairmen convert themselves to the Sole Administrators. I have dwelt on this extensively in the past and there is no need for the repetition here. It is the kind of behaviours that usually lead to crisis in some branches or even at national level but most time some executive members pretend as if everything is well so as not to wreck the ship while the contrary is the reality. In some situations, you hear new regime claiming inheriting debits and liabilities rather than assets from the previous regime. How accountable are our NBA leaders of their stewardship after leaving the office?
NBA Constitution to some extent is very discriminatory and not interdem with the spirit of the rule of law. In my recent article titled: APPOINTMENT OF CHIEF JUDGES: ANY CONSPIRACY AGAINST WOMEN? . I warned on the danger of making tyranny or godfatherism of leadership at all levels as well as decrying the incessant attitude of trying to marginalize women when it comes to their turn to be appointed as Chief Judges or elevated to the appellate courts. I had said :
“NBA by its discriminatory constitution confers on all its local branches chairmen the powers to behave like godfathers in the conventional politics. A branch chairman has the absolute power to give and not to give a letter of good standing to any aspirant aspiring to run for elections at the NBA national level. If the local chairman does not like the face of an aspirant, he can withhold the letter and that will be the end of the matter. In the Ikeja Branch of the NBA for example, Mr. Dele Oloke as Chairman and his predecessor Mr. Adesina Ogunlana are not best of friends with their attitudes of cat and mouse towards each other. When Ogunlana decided to run for the 2020 NBA Presidential election at the national level, Oloke refused him the letter of good standing and the rest is now history. Unfortunately, the fate of an aspirant in an election that should be left in the hands of the generality of lawyers who are the electorates is made a one man show under the NBA political system. I think from this narrative, we can all deduce the danger in making tyranny of those at the helm of affairs. Perhaps, the National Judicial Council (NJC) in the course of its operation had in the past seen the handwriting on the wall and decided to change tactics…”
From the above discussion so far, any rational mind would have been able to see some of the lapses in the NBA Constitution that require necessary review and reforms as suggested by Mrs Ade-Balogun. On the NBA reforms, I am on the same page with the life bencher and we hope Mr. Akpata and his new team will make this a reality. On the serious note those provisions that disenfranchise majority of lawyer from vying for positions at national level need to be reviewed to accommodate them in the participation of the NBA political system. It is very unjust, unfair and unreasonable to disfranchise financial members with adequate qualifications and requirements from taking part in the NBA politics. There is need to again look into the composition of the NEC membership as I personally do not see the reason why some lawyers will remain in NEC for over 10 or 20 years. Allowing the President with the absolute power to co-opt 100 lawyers who are not elected into the NEC is not democratic enough as it can be easily abused as being presently done. The composition of NEC need to be made representative in nature wherein members are elected through there various branches as it is done to the National Assembly or State House of Assembly. The idea of making the chairman of a branch the sole giver of Letter of Good of Standing is equally not good enough as that can also be easily abused.
It is a good the President-elect has reached to Mr. Dele Adesina (SAN) and Dr. Babatunde Ajibade (SAN), his co-contestants by extending hands of friendship to them and they have equally congratulated him. The duo needs to do more by embrace him and accept his leadership. No matter how perfect an election is there is bound to be winner and loser. A loser today may be a winner tomorrow. President Muhammad Buhari is a living example having contested many times for the Presidency without success before he eventually made it 2015. Mr. Akpata must commence immediately to unite all members of the profession together and that the victory belongs to all. He must not allow himself to be carried away by the victory song but should rather hit the ground running to make his promise of “a United Bar that works for all” a reality. He will need to re-awake the hope and confidence of lawyers who have given up on the NBA.
While I must here again congratulate all those that emerged winners in the just concluded elections, I equally commend the courage and the spirit of sportsmanship displayed by all those who could not make it this time around. 2022 is another NBA election year. I also commend the good fight given by the women among men in the race. While Joyce Oduah stepped into history as the 2nd female elected General Secretary after the position was last occupied by Mrs Hairat Ade-Balogun about four decades ago, Ganiat Siyanbola Adetutu also gave a good fight in the midst of men to place 2nd for the position of 1st Vice President in the race. The 2020 NBA elections having come and gone, the question still remains: Will Akpata and his new team revolutionize the NBA?
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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2nd August 2020