he umbrella body of lawyers in Nigeria – The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) – may again be treading an unusual terrain reminiscent of the 1992 crisis, which put the 87-year-old association in limbo, if the drums of ‘war’ being beaten among members over an election held a fortnight ago, which produced Olumide Akpata as the 30th president of the association, is not halted.
Akpata became NBA president-elect in an e-election conducted between 29th and 30th July, 2020, where no fewer than 30,000 lawyers cast their votes in accordance with the Association’s constitution, for candidates of their choice.
Two Senior Advocates of Nigeria – Mr. Dele Adesina and Dr. Babatunde Ajibade – contested the NBA’s coveted position with Akpata, a former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law for the position.
But, against all odds, Akpata defeated Adesina and Ajibade to emerge winner of the contentious election, breaking the jinx of having silk as head of the Bar; a tradition, which spanned decades.
Akpata, according to Chairman of the Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA), Prof. Tawo Tawo (SAN), scored the highest number of votes cast and satisfied the provisions of the NBA constitution.
He polled 9,891 votes to defeat Ajibade, who came second with 4,328 votes, while Adesina came third, polling 3,982 votes.
But weeks after the election, protests, drums of ‘war’ and discordant tune had trailed the success of the election and Akpata’s presidency, albeit its president-elect as both senior lawyers and junior lawyers now trade words over the conduct of the election.
While the seniors believed the election was marred by irregularities, the opposite is the case among young lawyers who believed Akpata’s presidency had heralded a new dawn for the Bar.
While we are not pitching our tent with either of the parties, we believe that NBA as an umbrella body of the learned men should not be an harbinger for an association, which had not only pulled its weight well in the recent past, but served Nigeria better and stood in the gap for citizens who are already bewildered by the impunity of government.
The brewing crisis, which had already polarized the association is, to us, needless at a time we believe NBA should pull its acts together to rescue Nigeria from sharks, hawks and gale of insecurity bedevilling it rather than throwing the association into turmoil by a few with selfish interest.
It is sad that NBA, with a membership strength of not more than 500,000, could not conduct an election that would be adjudged credible, transparent, free and fair by all and sundry.
The mantra of ‘he who must come to equity must come with clean hands’ is aptly captured by NBA and its July election as its members would be morally incompetent to address any perceived flawed election by the nation’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) if it’s unable to conduct election that would be generally acceptable to members.
Sadly, the on-going divide across members is reminiscent of the 1992 leadership crisis, which put the association in limbo for six years.
We believe it is time members of the learned institution put behind them wrangling and unnecessary bickering capable of putting the association on the inglorious past it once treaded.
NBA should look inward, resolve its internal problems and think outside the box on how to reignite the public confidence in the justice institutions, which is probably at an all-time low and the unflattering international references being made to the stature of Nigeria’s justice institutions.
No doubt, NBA has daunting challenges before it. We urge the Bar to rise to the occasion of elevating its role in defining the delivery of justice in contemporary Nigeria and stand in the gap for citizens who are already bewildered by the impunity of government.
Also, it is our hope that the association will refurbish and rejuvenate its role in shaping how justice would be delivered in Nigeria as well as rebuild confidence in nation’s justice institutions rather than glutting over election, which had already produced an acceptable result though. We need a united Bar, especially at a time like this in the annals of the country.
Akpata has 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. We share in his vision that the Bar should not be a bit-part player in the scheme of things, but an important lever in shaping policy, both national and judicial, in things affecting the administration of justice and the rule of law.
Nigerians know that the country is on the edge of a precipice and it is time we rallied round NBA as a voice of the voiceless to raise its influence in resisting tyranny and abuse, safeguarding human rights and resisting a government’s oft push towards authoritarianism and despotism.
NBA should lead Nigerians to seek constitutional reforms that would put citizens, their dignity and welfare, not just that of political office holders and their cronies, at the centre of governance. It should also be at the forefront of strengthening the fiscal independence of the judiciary and ensure that Nigeria’s judiciary and the legal professionals are always concerned about the delivery of efficient and effective judicial and legal services.