Law

NBA: Cracks as 1,000 lawyers push for new Bar

Lawyers: No to divided NBA

 

AKEEM NAFIU writes that agitation by some sections of the Bar for the formation of a splinter NBA known as ‘New Bar Initiative’ following controversies trailing the emergence of Mr. Olumide Akpata as the 30th NBA President in the recently held national elections has further polarized the lawyers’ umbrella body

 

Allegations of rigging and irregularities dogging the NBA 2020 elections which produced Mr. Olumide Akpata as Presidentelect seem to be tearing the lawyers’ umbrella body apart with some aggrieved members pushing for a splinter NBA known as ‘New Bar Initiative’.

 

In the social media platform announcing their intention, proponents of the ‘New Bar Initiative’ provided a link through which interested lawyers could join the body. Information on the ‘New Bar Initiative’ reads: “Dear Learned Silk/Bencher/ Colleague Here Comes The New Bar Association “If you crave a Nigerian Lawyers’ Association that will truly serve its members and the society by: *.

 

Promoting and protecting the welfare and wellbeing of its members; *. Protecting and projecting the dignity of the Legal Profession; *. Ensuring the protection of the rights of the citizens; *

 

Serveing as the vanguard for the emancipation of the citizens and the resistance of all oppressive tendencies by promoting the rule of law; *Upholding the dignity and integrity of the legal profession; and 6. Facilitating professional growth and economic development of its members; Please fill out the form in the link below to become a member.”

 

And within 48 hours of its introduction, over 1, 000 lawyers were reported to have filled forms signifying their intention to become members of the ‘New Bar Initiative’ within two days of its introduction.

 

1992 debacle

 

The latest agitation for the formation of a splinter NBA is coming about 26 years after similar plans by some group of lawyers was hatched. Sometimes in 1992, a group of lawyers made moves to register another association known as Law Society of Nigeria (LSN). The move was followed a court injunction which put NBA activities in limbo for about six years.

 

The problem arose from the botched 1992 NBA Conference in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. A group led by a lawyer, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu, came up with plans, to at all cost, wrestle power from Chief Priscilla Kuye, who became the NBA President following the appointment of Chief Clement Obiora Akpamgbo as the Attorney-General of the Federation by former President Ibrahim Babangida in 1991.

 

After serving out Akpamgbo’s oneyear tenure, Mrs. Kuye contested again for the position of NBA president at the Bar’s conference in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in 1992.

 

The Dalhatu’s group said to be receiving the backings of the then Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, were opposed to Kuye’s candidacy. The crisis later became a subject of litigation with another group consisting mainly of young lawyers, who approached a Port Harcourt High Court and got an interim injunction restraining the NBA to continue with the conference.

 

The conference was forced to adjourn indefinitely, putting the entire NBA in limbo until 1998. But midway in 1994, moves were made by some lawyers to register LSN. The society was eventually registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and a Board of Trustees was put in place.

 

However, LSN was put aside when Association of Branch Chairmen and Secretaries began meetings on how to resuscitate the NBA.

 

The Association of Chairmen and Secretaries of NBA branches under the leadership of Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) and Chief Richard Oma Ahuonaruogho as Chairman and Secretary respectively, later resuscitated the NBA and held an election in 1998 which produced Chief Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN) as president. Rigging allegations Twenty-six years after, some groups of lawyers are calling for the cancellation of the NBA 2020 elections over alleged rigging. Foremost among them is a co-contestant for the post of NBA president, Deacon Dele Adesina (SAN).

 

He had equally petitioned the Chairman of NBA’s Board of Trustees, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) to express his grievances. In his petition, Adesina alleged that the exercise conducted by the Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA) was carried out in violation of the rule of law and NBA Constitution saying an association that cannot and has not obeyed its own Constitution or honoured mandatory provisions of the Constitution relating to the conduct of its own election cannot pretend under any guise to defend or protect the rule of law in the country.

 

He said his complaint was not only about the election itself but also the process leading to the election which showed instances of lawlessness and gross violation of the NBA Constitution. He also alleged that the incumbent NBA president, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN) unduly interfered in the conduct of the election as if it was his personal show or project.

 

The petition reads: “Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the Board of Trustees, with the greatest respect to the ECNBA and the NBA President, this election has been in violation of the rule of law and what the NBA stands for: it has breached the fundamental provisions of the NBA Constitution itself in material particulars; in areas where the constitution of our association applies the use of the words “must” and “shall” to what must be done, including but not limited to publication of the Voters Register 28 days before election and appointment of Service Provider by ECNBA.

 

“The main objective of the NBA as entrenched in our Constitution is to uphold and defend the rule of law.

 

Most humbly, an association that cannot and has not obeyed its own constitution or honoured mandatory provisions of the constitution relating to the conduct of its own election cannot pretend under any guise to defend or protect the rule of law in the country, or act as the bulwark against the breach of the rule of law or the nation’s ground norm – the Constitution. “The ECNBA is expected to be an independent body.

 

Representations made by me to the ECNBA were very strangely responded to personally by the NBA President without any such response from the ECNBA which was the primary addressee of the complaints.

 

The entire election looked like it was a personal show or project of the incumbent President including selection/appointment of service providers et al. “Mr. Chairman, sir, what the NBA  President did by comparison can be likened to a situation where the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria conducts a presidential election, hijacked the constitutional responsibilities by assuming the duties and responsibilities of INEC, appointing service providers, nominating and paying those who would print ballot papers, warehousing the ballot boxes, providing INEC server etc.

 

“Mr. Chairman, sir, this petition is not about Dele Adesina SAN; it is about protecting the heritage of our forebears and progenitors, the great founders and leaders of our association, including your humble self. It is often said that one cannot give what he does not have (nemo dat quod non habet).

 

“In this connection, NBA will never be taken serious by Nigeria and Nigerians as well as other law associations outside our shores, including the International Bar Association (IBA) if these crass, abnormalities, illegalities and deliberate wholesale breach of our constitution are not redressed.

 

Our dear association must not be allowed to descend to opprobrium. We must not be made or subjected to a laughing stock. “I have herein complained of both the process leading to the election and the election itself which showed instances of lawlessness and gross violation of the NBA Constitution. Disregarding thelawis worsethancorruption.

The end product of lawlessnessiscondemnationanddestruction. I urge the members of the Board of Trusteesof theNBA tointerveneandright these wrongs and save the NBA from condemnation and destruction. I believe that leadersmustdothingsrightand/orensure that things are done right. “It is needless to say, Mr. Chairman and other members of the Board of Trustees of the NBA, that if the process is wrong, the product cannot be right. If the election process is wrongful and unconstitutional, theoutcomemustsufferthesamefateand becancelled. Since2016whenthiselectronic voting system started, there have been consistent allegations of system manipulation and rigging which has resulted in litigations over NBA elections.

 

“As at today, a criminal action arising from the NBA election of 2018 is still pending at the Federal High Court. This is a shame to all of us without exception. Patriotism must guide our aspirations and our conscience must always be our companion.

 

The time has come to regain the integrity of the Nigerian Bar Association by putting an end to unconstitutional and fraudulent elections in our association”. ECNBA tackles Adesina However, in his response to Adesina’s petition, the Chairman, Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA), Prof. Tawo Tawo (SAN), faulted allegations of fraud in the elections saying all constitutional provisions guiding the exercise were complied with.

 

The ECNBA chairman also acquitted the incumbent NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN) of any wrongdoing saying he neither usurped the powers, nor influence the work of his committee. While insisting that the exercise was neither subverted nor manipulated against or in favour of anybody by any person, the ECNBA chairman said allegations by Adesina that illegal, inaccurate and flawed Voters Register was used for the elections were false.

“Every single voter in the 2020 national officers’ election is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association with record of payment of Bar Practising Fees and Branch Dues as stipulated by the NBA Constitution. The electronic voting platform is designed in such a manner that a post-election audit can identify every voter and his choices at the election.

 

“The members of the ECNBA are very mindful of their duties to control, conduct and manage the elections for which they were appointed and did not abdicate their duties. No complaint of violation of the NBA Constitution or Elections Guidelines issued by the ECNBA was received from the petitioner or any one which the Committee failed to address.

 

At no time did the petitioner complain of breach of electoral rules by any Candidate throughout the electioneering process. “There is no gainsaying the fact that there is room for improvement in the NBA electoral process, especially in the manner members’ data are maintained at the branches and the need for lawyers to optimize their digital skills to enable the e-voting system to be user friendly cannot be over-emphasized.

 

The Committee intends to give more details on these and some other issues in its final report to the NBA NEC,” he said. Lawyers on splinter NBA Some senior lawyers have in the meantime been speaking on the push by some sections of the Bar for the formation of a splinter NBA known as ‘New Bar Initiative’.

 

The lawyers while speaking on the issue at the weekend could not speak with one voice as to the desirability of a splinter NBA at a time the Bar is facing series of problems in the area conduct of elections and other vices.

While some of them believed the problem bedeviling the NBA will be escalated by the floating of a new body for the Bar, others in support of the move opined that it will engender a greater sense of responsibility and commitment among those aspiring to lead the Bar. Speaking on the issue, a Bencher, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) expressed concerns over the call for the floating of a splinter NBA, saying it was defeatist. He said: “We just have to reform the NBA. Idonotsubscribeto the ideaof floating a newbodyforthe Bar.

 

The best option is to interrogate what has happened. Admittedly, a lot of people have issues with the way the last couple of elections of the body have been conducted. “It would appear as if some forces outside the Bar are interested in the elections and covertly manipulating them.

 

We cannot solve the problem by creating a parallel body. That is defeatist.” Adedipe was echoedbyanothermember of the inner Bar, Dr. Biodun Layonu, who also faulted plans for a splinter NBA. Headvisedthosedissatisfiedwiththe2020 elections to seek legal redress. “Let those who have good grounds to challenge the election head to court or the appropriate forum to ventilate their grievances.

 

No one should contemplate or threaten a breakup of the NBA. The damage will be irreparable. The election was flawed no doubt but to what extent and with what resultant consequences can only be determined by a full trial. “Personally, I was one of those disenfranchised and I also think an electoral system that allows live streaming of results is unfair and manipulative. But if a candidate agreed to that before the election then he/she may not be heard to complain about that particular issue.

 

“Subject to the right of anyone who feels aggrieved going to court and abiding by whatever decision is given, the election is over and the President-elect has a major job of unifying the Bar and ensuring necessary electoral reform. I will not be part of any initiative to break the Bar”, the silk said. A former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani, was also against the setting up of a splinter NBA saying it is not advisable. He said: “I am in favour of reforms not splitting. Not advisable”.

 

Dr. Fassy Yusuf said the agitations for the floating of a splinter NBA would do monumental damage to the legal profession. Yusuf said:”ThepurportedsplinterNBA group,’New BarInitiative’ isa needlessgroup designed to polarise the legal profession. If legalpractitionerscannotovercomeirregularities and rigging in their elections, then there is no hope for the country.

 

“Historytellsusthatthemovecoulddo monumental damage to the profession. Issues arising from the election should be expeditiously brought before our courts for determination and future guidance.

 

“All we need is a rig-free electoral process. We need a process that will guarantee a level playing ground and bring out our claim to unassailable ethical conduct. Perhaps, the current situation should be able to engender a review of our Constitution to allow for ascendancy from 2nd Vice-President to 1st Vice-President and to the office of the President. Controversial elections do no honour to the credibility of the association.”

 

However, while throwing his weight behind the floating of a splinter NBA, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Seyi Sowemimo, said the move is not only legal but also constitutional. He said: “This issue of election rigging has been a recurring problem and unless it is satisfactorily resolved it will split the NBA. I personally think that it is possible to have more than one association especially as the Constitution provides for freedom of association.

 

The competitiveness which will then ensue will engender a greater sense of responsibility and commitment among those aspiring to lead the Bar”. A rights activist, Mr. Kabir Akingbolu, believed the birth of a splinter NBA will right the wrongs currently ravaging the Bar.

 

“The truth of the matter is that cutting off the head is not the treatment for headaches. However, he who makes peaceful change impossible makes anarchy inevitable. For crying out loud, the NBA should be a role model body for all institutions in Nigeria by conducting its affairs legitimately, and in line with its constitution and moral uprightness.

 

“Thus, where the NBA becomes a lawless body by electing its leaders through flawed elections characterised by rigging and manouverings of some kind, it calls for worry.

 

Unfortunately, the dramatis personaes who perpetrated these silly acts together with the beneficiaries are unrepentant and unremorseful, so much so that the last three elections of the NBA were nothing to write home about; yet the leadership refused to do anything.

 

“Apart from the rigging issue, there are other terrible corruption bedevilling the body, like people paying for conferences without getting conference materials and myriad of corrupt practices. “So, it is possible that things will change if there is an alternative group and there is nothing illegal about it.

 

Take for instance, when ICAN became too oppressive in its affairs, a rival body emerged and heavens did not fall. And what are we even saying? We also have National Association of Democracy Lawyers. Personally, am not against another body of lawyers. Probably when this is done, the NBA may call itself to order,” he said.

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