By Fatiullah Tiamiyu
The Nigerian Bar Association held elections into her National Offices on 29th July, 2020 featuring inter-alia, three contesants for the office of the President of the NBA viz; Dele Adesina SAN, Babatunde Ajibade SAN and Olumide Akpata. It is needless to state that elections have been held and ‘’winners’’ have emerged but the election outcome has far more reaching implications than the election itself.
The Nigerian Bar Association, a foremost professional body that prides itself in the promotion of rule of law is embroiled in crises before, during and after elections. Weeks preceding the elections, there were adoptions/endorsements of candidates as well as counter-adoptions/endorsements from top Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
Going down memory lane, Asiwaju Awomolo’s Letter to the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria and precisely to Chief Okpoko has far more reaching implications that it was intended. The letter no doubt caused dissatisfaction and disaffection within the legal community. The Learned Senior Advocate submits therein thus ‘’What I hear is unannounced but powerful and potent revolutionary move by our junior colleagues who are very much larger in numbers to wrestle the office of NBA from the rank of SAN. That in my view will be unfortunate for the rank. To the members of the public a ridicule of the rank and office of the President of the NBA…’’.
Since election is a game of numbers coupled with the fact that members of the Outer Bar are in overwhelming majority, the expected political consequence of the distaste attached to Chief Awomolo’s Letter is the support of the members of the Outer Bar for one of their own, in this context, Olumide Akpata, who, out of the three contestants, has not taken silk, being a transactional lawyer with no interest in litigation and advocacy.
Then came another letter from eminent Nigerian Jurist, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Past President of the NBA, Chief JB Daudu barely forty eighth hours to the election. The gist of the letter no doubt captures the fear of the members of the inner bar about the adequacy of numbers of the members of the outer bar coupled with the adoption of universal suffrage system that gives each member to exercise its franchise. To put it in the words of the learned silk, ‘’Since 2018, the dynamics of the NBA elections was altered from a delegate based one to universal suffrage-meaning all eligible members of the Bar can vote or be voted for as prescribed in the NBA Constitution. That is where the conundrum arises.’’ (Underlining mine for emphasis)
Chief Daodu’s letter sought to cure the mischief created by Asiwaju Awomolo’s letter when he postulated thus:
‘’….That is why I think that those who narrow the narration between SAN’s and Non SAN’s may have missed the mark. It is really about tested ability to lead learned colleagues acquired from the grassroot…..’’
It is my humble opinion that Chief JB Daudu’s effort in curbing the angst among the members of the Outer Bar was belated and did not come in the nick of time.
It is against facts and background that I shall state in seriatim the factors that affect the 2020 NBA elections especially in relation to victory of Mr. Olumide Akpata.
First, the Usoro administration in the NBA makes nonsense of the reverence with which the members of the Outer Bar hold the silk in reverence especially regarding the coveted office of the NBA. First in its history, the NBA Presidency symbolised by its holder is facing criminal charges in court. This does not imply that there are not responsible Senior Advocates.
Second, The Asiwaju Awomolo letter did not go down well with the members of the Outer Bar, hence protest votes held sway.
Third, the Asiwaju Awomolo’s letter was directed to the wrong person. Chief Okpoko is the leader of the Mid West Bar, which Olumide Akpata also belongs to, Chief Okpoko built his practise in Warri, the same city Olumide Akpata started his career and the learned Senior Advocate ought to have known that Chief Okpoko would not sacrifice silk camaraderie and solidarity for ancestral and natal love that bind him and the non-silk in the contest, in person of Olumide Akpata. It also stands to reason that Chief Okpoko would not want to risk anger of his kinsmen and people at the twilight of his career.
Fourth, the Covid-19 effect also changed the dynamics of politics. Interfacing between the contestants and the electorates was only done electronically in contrast to physical interactions of the Pre-New Normal.
Fifth, the election was a credible mess. We have been made to believe that the most popular candidate won election to the office of the President of the NBA. Various voters were disenfranchised. The credibility of the election is very low, even the declared winner,Olumide Akpata about few days to the election, engaged his own forensic experts and the outcome was that going by the electronic platform provided by the NBA, the election is susceptible to manipulation and indeed manipulated. Ghost names appear on the voters’ register, more laughable is the caption ‘’Diaspora Branch’’ among the branches of the NBA while in actual fact such does not exist. The voting platform was not test-run before the actual voting, no mock voting is organised and in the end we were told the winners.
Beyond the agitation for Non SAN to lead the Bar, electoral sanity and integrity should be restored to the NBA, otherwise anarchy may loom in the NBA. This object, should be paramount to the President-Elect of the NBA.
• Fatiullah Tiamiyu Esq writes in his personal capacity from Iwo, Osun State