By A.B Nasir- Ibrahim
Yesterday, In a Lawyers whatsapp group I saw the statement of the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos Branch announcing that the friends of Olumide Akpata,a Presidential candidate in the forthcoming Nigerian Bar Association Election has donated food packs worth five million Naira to Lawyers in Lagos.
Arguments have been canvassed for and against the donation. On one part,the supporters of Mr Akpata have argued that the gift was not politically motivated ,on the other side of the divide,lawyers have canvassed that it was not motivated by generosity.
Conscience they say is an open wound and only the truth can heal it.In all these arguments, nothing has changed the truth that the donation was deliberate towards achieving a political advantage in the forthcoming elections. That is the simple and clear truth.
Yes,we are in desperate times and many lawyers are vulnerable at this time. Of course many lawyers will support the gesture even when it is obvious that the donation makes a jest of their vulnerability.
In that vulnerable condition,some members I spoke with have expressed their desire not to access the food packs even if they were dying of hunger. They expressed concerns bordering on the stigma that will likely follow.
Putting one’s name out as a needy person is what many people still find very difficult to do. It is worse for lawyers considering the kind of proud profession we found ourselves.
In the United States Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that distributes food stamps,one of the biggest challenges according to information freely available is that it is haunted by stigma.
In our tradition, reference to when someone was needy for food is usually a big stigma even if the person has become successful.
There are reasons to believe that the food pack will backfire on the needy beneficiaries even from those who actually gave it out and who will remain with the list of needy lawyers for a long time.
The Chairman of the branch whose body language is clear about who he is supporting said in his release that the names of beneficiaries will be confidential. The question is, Confidential to who? The Exco,the donors or the branch?
According to a member of the Lagos branch who is my call mate, she said one day, the beneficiaries of the food pack will be made open and will definitely be used as insult in future. The NBA politics is very dirty and unstable. After every election, there is always a new alignment and those in the same camp previously will find themselves in different camps.
According to her, she would not want to be running an election or having a quarrel with someone and she will be reminded that she once lived on food stamps. “I will hate myself. Even if i am indigent,must i show it?” she asked.
Another person in Lagos branch who said he will not advice anyone to access the food pack because of the attitude of some people behind the gift. According to him, these people( not Olumide himself) are mostly people who thrive in NBA politics by saying condescending things about other lawyers in the branch. What will then happen if you submit your name to be given a pack of rice, stew and groundnut oil? They will use it as the affirmation of the narrative that Lagos Bar is made up of hungry lawyers who can be controlled with rice and stew.
A proverb has it that a drowning man will take hold of a sword to stay afloat even when the sword is cutting him. That is the situation many lawyers who will access the food will find themselves. They are hungry at the moment, they know that it will hurt in the future but they need to stay alive. That is sad.
Whether the food packs will convert to votes at the polls is another thing. There are reasons to believe that it will not. Those who benefitted from the food pack and other degrading largesse by some candidates in the NBA election may end up voting against those candidates to prove a point that they are not as cheap as the candidates thought.
If that happens,it will be good for the bar and all of us.
I must say that another thing that puts off lawyers about the donation is the presentation. The packaging looks like they were trying to serve a delicious meal to a dog.
However we see it,it is important that we all tell ourselves the truth bearing in mind that what goes around comes around. NBA elections will come and go but the choices we make will remain with us for a long time.