Looming NBA Crisis: General Secretary Reacts to President’s Directives

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The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) General Secretary, Joyce Oduah, has reacted to the directive by the NBA President Olumide Akpata to members of the Association to disregard her notice withdrawal the Proposed Amendment to the NBA Constitution 2015 (as Amended)

In a statement titled Setting the Record Straight, Mrs. Odua noted that

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT

Dear Learned Silks, Benchers and Distinguished colleagues,

Ordinarily, I would not have responded to the Disclaimer issued by the President on the 13th of August, 2022, but I am constrained to do so. It is important that I set the record straight as I have received numerous calls from concerned members asking me to state my side of the story. Let me begin by saying that my loyalty goes to the generality of the members of our great profession; and so, in carrying out my responsibilities as the General Secretary [GS] of the Association, I will uphold, dispatch my responsibilities by working within the ambit of the NBA Constitutional provisions whilst respectfully carrying out legal directives and instructions from the National Executive Council [NEC] and the President.

1. As the President stated in paragraph 1 of the Notice, the NBA National Executive Council (NBA-NEC) at the last meeting held in Ilorin on the 9th of June, 2022 resolved that some amendments be made to the NBA Constitution. These amendments include the ‘Increment of the amount from the Bar Practicing remitted to the Branches from 10% to 20%, and other non-contentious issues.’ The Constitution Review Committee and other interested persons could, thus propose amendments to the constitution in line with the conditions stipulated in the NBA Constitution 2015 (as amended in 2021).

2. The condition for amendment of the constitution is stated in Section 25 (1) of the NBA Constitution, thus: “The constitution shall not be amended or repealed or re-enacted except at the Annual General Meeting of the Association and two-third of the branches of the Association are represented and provided further that at least sixty (60) days’ notice of the proposed amendment shall have been given to the General Secretary who shall have circulated same to delegates at least thirty (30) days before the proposed amendment is tabled for discussion at the Annual General Meeting.”.

3. In line with the above provision, the office of the General Secretary received a Notice of Proposed Amendment on the 14th day of June, signed by the Chairmen of the Branches for the amendment of Section 23 (8) of the NBA Constitution to read “Twenty percent of the BPF paid by members of each Branch shall be remitted to the Branch in the month of April and December of each year.” The said letter which complies with Section 25 of the constitution is attached herewith.

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4. The Constitution Review Committee was also to send in their proposed amendments but it was not forthcoming. In the National Executive Committee (Exco) meeting held on the 30th day of June, 2022, I informed the President and Excos that the Constitution Review Committee was out of the constitutionally stipulated time to forward the said amendment. Prior to this time, I had called the Chairman of the Committee on several occasions to send in the Committees proposed amendment as they were almost out of time. I had also called the President to persuade the committee to send in their report in time but to no avail. The Notice of the proposed amendment was eventually sent by the Constitution Review Committee to the office of the General Secretary on the 26th of July 2022 via email – 30 days behind the stipulated time required by the constitution. Receipt of the email is attached.

5. The President instructed that a Notice of proposed Constitutional Amendment be sent to members for the AGM, and it was in compliance with his directive and observance of the rule of law which guides the Nigerian Bar Association that I sent out the said Notice on the 27th of July 2022 containing only the proposal by the Branch Chairmen which met the requirement of Section 25 (1) of the Constitution.

6. When this matter was brought up at the National Executive Committee (Exco) meeting on the same day, I informed the meeting that the amendment by the Constitution Review Committee was omitted because of their non-compliance with section 25(1) of the Constitution.

The President and excos canvassed that we could conveniently bypass the requirement of the constitution, but I informed them that the requirement of Notice was not a mere procedural matter but a substantive issue which could not be sidestepped without meaningful consequences. The President and other excos resorted to using several tactics to bully me into conforming with their position to overlook the Constitutional requirement. I informed them that I swore to uphold the Constitution of the NBA and that I will do.

7. The President indicated that it was irrelevant whether I amended the notice or not as he had the power to request any member of the Exco to perform any duties including that of the General Secretary. To my surprise, the next day, 28th of July, 2022, the Assistant Secretary sent out a second notice of proposed amendment to the constitution and attached the proposal sent by the Constitution Review Committee that did not meet the 60 days requirement of Section 25 (1). This was a failed attempt to usurp the constitutional duties of the office of the General Secretary and countermand the notice issued by the office of the General Secretary the previous day; which was infact resisted by the good members of the Association.

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8. On the 29th of July, the president and exco members left the executive group chat because of my insistence on upholding the rule of law. Since then, I have received no notice or information of Exco meetings. On arriving at my office on the 13th of August, 2022, I discovered that the President had transferred my secretary who had worked with me for 2 years without consulting, informing or giving me reasons. This action by the President to move my personal Secretary, at a critical time of preparing documentation for the Pre-Conference NEC and AGM demonstrates his well-established unilateral control and command leadership style. Also, I was informed that the members of staff of the Secretariat had been directed by the President not to take instruction from my office but directly from him – a Secretariat which the General Secretary is in charge of. This action by the President clearly denigrates my person and office, making it impossible to be accountable to members of the Association, National Executive Council and AGM.

9. On the 10th of August, 2022, on getting to the office of the Head, Admin and Finance Department, I saw the Treasurer recommending memos for the Annual General Conference to the President. This is usually a responsibility reserved for the office of the General Secretary who is the second signatory to the account, and customarily the officer to vet and recommend memos to the president for his approval – a fact which was affirmed by the President in the last Annual General Meeting of 2021. This is a duty which I have carried out since the inception of the administration to ensure that the monies of the Association are judiciously utilized. I believe, all these were done by the President in a bid to intimidate me and to undermine my office.

10. I received letters from some members of our Association asking for the notices to be withdrawn or we face court action. These letters were forwarded to the President by me, but he did not respond. I made several calls to the President to enable us discuss the way forward or to call for an emergency meeting to discuss the issues raised in the letters, but he neither picked nor returned any of the calls. I also sent the Pre-Conference NEC Notice to him, but he failed to acknowledge same, and I had no choice but to send it to members because we were running out of time.

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11. On the 11th of August, 2022, I went to see the President in his office and to my astonishment his secretary informed me that the President had given instruction that she should not let me in whenever I come to see him. When I found my way into his office, I saw and heard a vicious president screaming at the top of his voice that I should leave his office. I had no choice than to leave his office without being able to discuss the threat of a law suit and other issues.

12. It was imperative that I withdrew the notices to save the NBA any negative publicity and preventable litigation cost from any potential lawsuits. I sent the Notice of withdrawal to the IT Support staff to disseminate to members, and he neglected/ failed to do so despite several calls and chats to him. This uncharacteristic behaviour of the IT staff is, I believe, based on the instruction of the President to the members of staff. Hence, my sending the withdrawal notice through my private email and at my cost.

13. For the avoidance of doubt;
a. I am unaware of any meeting where it was decided that the two notices; one issued by the General Secretary on the 27th of July, 2022 and the other issued by the Assistant Secretary on the 28th of July, 2022 would be presented to the Annual General Meeting for a resolution of which should be discussed at the meeting.

b. I have nothing against the proposed amendments by the Constitution Review Committee. However, my stance as I told the President and other members of Exco is that the Proposed Amendment did not meet the sixty (60) days requirement of the Constitution.

I will always stand for the truth and the best interest of the Association even if it means standing alone. I am not a political appointee; I contested for the office of the General Secretary and won by your votes and God’s mercies. The duties of my office are well defined, and I will uphold the provisions of the Constitution which I swore to uphold.

Thank you.

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