Law

NBA presidency: Our expectations, by lawyers

‘Our expectations of Akpata’s presidency’

Less than 48 hours after the emergence of Mr. Olumide Akpata as the 30th President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), his colleagues, both at the inner and outer Bar have set an agenda for the newly elected NBA President. AKEEM NAFIU reports

 

A new President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) finally emerged at the weekend following the conclusion of the national elections of the lawyers’ umbrella body which for the first time elected a non-Senior Advocate of Nigeria as its number one lawyer in the country. He is Mr. Olumide Akpata.

 

However, the emergence of Olumide Akpata as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) was unique in the sense that he had succeeded in breaking the jinx of having silk as head of the Bar, a tradition that had spanned over four decades. Against all odds, he defeated two members of the inner Bar, Deacon Dele Adesina and Dr. Babatunde Ajibade, to emerge winner of the contentious election. Announcing the results of the election, Chairman of the Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA), Prof. Tawo Tawo (SAN), said Akpata scored the highest number of votes cast and satisfied the provisions of the NBA constitution.

 

He said: “I, Tawo Tawo, the Chairman, Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA), as the electoral officer for the 2020 National Officers’ Election, hereby declare Akpata Olumide Anthony, having scored the highest number of votes cast and satisfied the provisions of the Constitution of the NBA 2015 (as amended), the winner of the election into the office of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association.”

 

The election which was conducted via electronic voting began at 11p.m. on Wednesday and ran through 11p.m. the following day. At the end of the exercise, Akpata, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law, polled 9,891 votes out of a total of 18,256 votes cast in the election, representing 54.3 per cent of total votes cast.

 

He defeated Dr. Babatunde Ajibade (SAN), who scored 4,328 in second position and Dele Adesina (SAN) with 3,982 in third position. Other winners who emerged in the elections are John O Aikpokpo-Martins as 1st Vice-President with 6,010 votes and Adeyemo Kazeem Debo as 2nd Vice-President with 8,794.

 

Others are Joyce Oduah as General Secretary; Nwadialo Esther Uchenna as Assistant Secretary; Mercy Ijato Agada as Treasurer and Edun Olukunle as Welfare Secretary. Anagor Raphael Nnamdi emerged as Financial Secretary; Dr. Nduka Rapuluchukwu Ernest as Publicity Secretary while Naza Ferdinand Afam equally emerged as Assistant Publicity Secretary.

 

The newly elected officers are expected to be sworn in at the forthcoming 60th Annual General Conference of the NBA holding virtually from 26th to 29th August, 2020.

 

Akpata’s victory Reacting to his victory at the election, Akpata promised to lead a Bar that would stand tall as an unwavering bastion of the rule of law, an advocate for the sanctity and independence of the judiciary and a bulwark against tyranny and oppression.

 

In a statement entitled “Let us secure the future through a united bar that works for all,” addressed to all lawyers, the NBA President-elect assured his colleagues that the NBA under him would work for his members. The statement reads: “Distinguished Learned Colleagues and Friends,

 

On Wednesday 27 May 2020, I submitted my nomination form to signify the formal expression of my intent to contest for the office of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the foremost and oldest professional membership association in Nigeria and the most influential network of legal practitioners in Africa.

 

“Alongside the nomination form, I submitted a document embodying my leadership programme of Action for the NBA, if elected President. In that document, I pledged to use what I consider as my greatest personal attribute: discipline of execution, in carrying out the undertakings that I had given to the members; and I also promised to lay the foundation for the future profession that we all desire.

 

“On the strength of the foregoing pledge, I asked you to give me your mandate and join me in bringing about an Association that works for the majority of its members.

 

“Last night, you answered that call in an overwhelming and unequivocal manner when, at the end of a long and intriguing process, you made me the President-elect of the NBA (2020 to 2022).

 

“I write to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Let me assure you that I do not take for granted the hard work, passion and commitment that you all invested into the process that has now culminated in my emergence as President-elect.

 

“When I decided to throw my hat in the ring, I was certain that the election was really not about me. I was driven by the passion to use my time, talent and resources to improve our Association by making it fit-for-purpose, beneficial to all members and responsive to the needs of the society.

 

“Throughout the electioneering process, I saw many Nigerian lawyers who had either lost faith, or never been interested, in the NBA participate with utmost enthusiasm in the hope that things would become better. This further goes to show that the extraordinary movement that heralded this electoral victory was not, and could never have been about me.

 

“The victory of last night is for our young lawyers who have become disillusioned with the way the NBA has been run over the years and how the profession appears to be disconnected from the challenges that face them and their future. It is for the progressive senior lawyer who refused to accept the status quo and took firm steps to ensure that things are done better.

 

“It is for the corporate counsel, law officers, law teachers, the police and military lawyers, and lawyers in all components of the profession who for long have been treated as unequal members of an Association that ought to be the umbrella body for all legal practitioners.

 

“The victory of last night is for the lawyer with disability who has long suffered neglect and indignity by the profession.

 

Above all, our victory is for non-lawyers and the general populace who took an unusual, but a special, interest in the conduct of our elections, thus lending credence to my long- held belief that the Nigerian society has always yearned for a legal profession and indeed a Bar that stands tall as an unwavering bastion of the rule of law, an advocate for the sanctity and independence of the judiciary, and a bulwark against tyranny and oppression.

 

“It is therefore with immense respect for you, a deep understanding of the value of your mandate, a demonstrable appreciation of the factors that have bedevilled our noble Association and with humility to the will of God, that I wholeheartedly accept this mandate from you.

 

“The outpouring of support is only indicative of the amount of work that needs to be done. The greatest appreciation that I can show to all of you is

to keep to the various promises that I made, and this, I assure you that I would do. “Regarding the electoral process, I am not unaware of the complaints by at least one of the Presidential candidates about the administrative issues surrounding the elections.

 

As members of the legal profession, our electoral process ought to be and remain a standard for others to follow.

 

“I said this much in my second letter dated 29th July, 2020 to the Chairman of the Electoral Committee of the NBA. I strongly believe that there is plenty room for improvement in our electoral process, and I commit to making this possible.

 

“In closing, I congratulate all the contestants for the various offices in the Association for the hard work that they put in, and for the successful outing that they had.

 

The expectations are high and together we have a duty to devise measures to tackle the problems of our noble Association.

 

“We need to hit the ground running. I also particularly appreciate my friends and learned seniors, Deacon Dele Adesina SAN and Dr. Babatunde Ajibade SAN, against whom I had the privilege of contesting for the office of President of the NBA.

 

One thing that remained unshaken throughout the election process was my utmost respect for these distinguished and respectable gentlemen. May I humbly assure them that my respect remains intact. “The election is over but the work ahead of us is immense.

 

We must now unite in order to achieve our common goal of revitalising the Bar and ensuring that our voice is firm and unshaken when we speak. I obviously cannot do this alone and will be counting on their support and counsel as we work towards securing the future through a United Bar that Works for All.

 

“I thank you, once again, for the confidence that you have reposed in me, and reassure you that I shall do my best to deliver on your mandate. May God bless you all and the Nigerian Bar Association.”

Lawyers speak

Despite the promises made by the NBA President-elect, a cross-section of lawyers, including the inner and outer Bar have been speaking on their expectations, insisting that their agenda for the newly elected NBA president centred on the need for him to unite the Bar, among other issues. Speaking on his expectations from Akpata, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN), noted that the just concluded election has polarized the Bar and as such there is a need for the President-elect to set machinery in motion for unification.

 

He said: “I think his first priority should be on how to unite the Bar. Let him unify the Bar because I can see the Bar being divided now.” Another silk, Mr. Yemi Candide- Johnson, wanted the President-elect to rebuild the Bar’s broken pillars of integrity and professional responsibility.

 

“His historic election has exploded the presumption of many unproductive tendencies in the Association. His opportunity now, is to move with speed to rebuild the broken pillars of integrity and professional responsibility which the bar owes to the public and which it has neglected recently,” the silk said.

 

A former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Adekunle Ojo, asked the President-elect to restore the Bar’s lost glory. He said: “The Nigerian Bar Association as a body of lawyers have become endangered specie and it appeared that lawyers are no longer being respected.

 

“Yes, several factors have contributed to that. But, the NBA is in the best position to bring everybody back on track, so that our respect is restored. So, the concern of the President-elect should be how to restore this lost glory. I hope he understand what it was, so that he will know what it should be. He must also tap from the experience of others before him. This is the way to go and I wish him good luck”. Dr. Fassy Yusuf wanted Akpata to anchor his administration on four issues.

 

These according to him are; “Restoration of the dignity of the legal profession; Pursuing the relevance of the third arm of government, the judiciary/ judicature in the polity including its independence and sanctity; Ensuring the welfare and common good of legal practitioners in the country and Institutionalisation of good governance, transparency, probity and total quality management in the affairs of the association”.

 

He added that the march of progress and development should be with the Olumide Akpata and his team. The Editor of the Nigerian Weekly Law Reports, Mr. Oluwole Kehinde, said Akpata’s actions must reflect positively in the live of junior lawyers. He said: “I congratulate him. His election is a confirmation that majority of junior lawyers are not satisfied with the status quo. He should strive to make a difference. The profession requires a leap to the next level of law practice as done in other climes.

 

This must ultimately rub off on the wellbeing of legal practitioners, the justice sector, and legal education. I wish him the best”. To Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, the President-elect, should among other things come up with a clear-cut strategy of fostering obedience, respect for rule of law and compliance with court orders in accordance with Section 287 of the Constitution.

 

His words: “Granted and mindful that your question is on my agenda for the incoming President of NBA, I opt, in the first instance, to put on record my observations and considered views that the emergence of Olumide Akpata Esq. as the 30th President of NBA is both revolutionary and a protest heralding a new dawn that is filled with hopes and expectations. It’s a paradigm shift in every material particular.

 

“A deeply committed “Bar man” who had shown sufficient capacity in the areas of assigned responsibilities; a lawyer of almost three decades, a non-litigation legal practitioner with immense success in his chosen areas of practice, a relatively young man without the title of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria whose co-contestants were respectable Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

“In these regards, our hopes are rekindled, once again, on the following issues and concerns which I humbly set as agenda for the Akpata-led administration: “A clear cut strategy of fostering obedience, respect for rule of law and compliance with court orders in accordance with Section 287 of the 1999 Constitution.

 

“Closely related to that is to quickly develop and deepen a robust collaboration with the Executive, law enforcement agencies and the justice sectors across board towards a functional, effective and seamless judgment enforcement processes and procedures “Head on confrontation against corruption in both the judicial and the legal profession, improved discipline and disciplinary processes for members, active, proactive, visible, critical and principled interventions in the affairs of the Nigerian State.

 

“Professional supports and assistances to deserving agencies of government and individuals in the society. “A more proactive participation in the law making and the legislative activities of this country, conscious and deliberate protection of members and citizens against any form of abuse and rights violations

“Welfare of junior lawyers, training, further training and possible specialisation agenda in the profession, promotion and the embrace of ICT in the conduct and interactions within the legal profession”.

 

A rights activist, Mr. Kabir Akingbolu, was also concerned about the welfare of junior lawyers. He urged the President-elect to institutionalize standard of welfare and treatment for junior lawyers.

 

“The new president should reposition the Bar to a lofty heights befitting for noble men of the honourable profession. He should endeavor to ensure that lawyers are more professional than ever before so much so that all sort of interesting conducts linking lawyers with criminality and underhand dealings should stop. “He should be ready to bring the desired or needed change in the Bar. Many troubles are bedevilling legal practitioners but the younger ones are suffering untold hardships and ill treatment in the hands of seniors.

 

Many use their juniors like slave without care for years and if they later want to leave, some of the so called bosses will be harassing them, collecting their cars and withholding their salaries, I think there should be some standard of welfare and treatment for junior lawyers.

 

“More importantly, the NBA we have today is like a toothless bulldog in that, they condone a lot of inadequacies among the rank and file of the profession, they condone indiscipline and unprofessionalism of lawyers.

 

“There is also a serious fall in the standard of legal practitioners in Nigeria today and this needs to be addressed for improvement. He should tell the truth to the powers that be and above all, he should not use the platform of the NBA to enrich himself, witch-hunt people or seek political office for relevance or prosperity”, he said. A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Chris Ekemezie, asked the President-elect to promote cordial relationship between the Bar and the Bench.

 

He said: “First and foremost, the NBA President-elect has broken the jinx in NBA where since the Babangida’s days, the chairmanship was seen as exclusive right of the members of inner bar.

 

“We expect him look into the relationship between the bar and the bench by establishing a forum where the bar and bench can meet like in a common ground conference and air views and opinions on how the justice system can be run. Every judge was first a lawyer but now some see themselves as if they were imported from the outer space.

 

“The President-elect should look into the role of NJC. The NJC has taken the position of the Court of Appeal. Lawyers now find it most convenient to petition the NBA than go on appeal. NJC should entertain only those petitions that are meritorious especially fraud or misconduct founded on breach of oath of office. “NBA should make petitioners deposed to their allegations against counsel to be under oath and not merely by verifying affidavit. This will stop frivolous petitions against counsel and give counsel right to charge for perjury”.

 

Mr. Ige Asemudara urged the President- elect to abide by his manifesto in order to make NBA a better professional body. He said: “Yes, the president-elect had a Manifesto. If he follows it religiously, then, NBA will be a better professional association.

The problem with us many times is that there is always a huge gap between our manifestos and governance. So, I urge Mr. Olumide Akpata to make good his electoral promises. I wish him well.”

 

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