By Sylvester Udemezue
In this commentary, the author dispassionately examines the origin, essence and operation of the concept of presidential power-rotation within the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) as well as recent developments and efforts made by the leadership of the NBA to ensure sustenance of the concept, and then makes recommendations to the Electoral Committee of the NBA (the ECNBA 2022) on the way forward, especially in view of the ECNBA’s own acknowledgement that “the duties of the ECNBA are governed by the statutory instruments of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)” and the ECNBA’s own assurance that “the ECNBA will administer the applicable rules fairly and firmly at all times”. Please note that, although the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association, 2015 was amended in 2021, this author considers it inappropriate to refer to the (amended) Constitution in this manner: “The Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association, as amended in 2021”. This author believes that the proper citation (short title) in line with universally accepted legislative language and drafting patterns, usage, trends, and practice,as well as in compliance with Legal English (English for Lawyers) and the rule of law, is this: “The Constitution of the Nigerian bar Association, 2015”.
Background: Presidential Rotation As the Bedrock National Integration, Social Justice and Fairness
As part of events lined up to observe the 85th birthday of Chief Olusegun Obasango, this breaking news headline surfaced on 6 March 2022: “Why we must not toy with power rotation, federal character – Obasanjo; Says no region has monopoly of leaders”. Obasanjo’s warning came during an international symposium in Abeokuta to mark his 85th birthday. According to OBJ, federal character, power-rotation and “such other measures are meant to help our nation-building process and more sure-footedly move Nigeria forward; “riding over these measures rudely, shoddily and roughly cannot augur well for our nation-building process and progress.” the ex president continued:
“… there is no substitute for steady and uncompromised process of nation-building …. God is not to blame if we fail. It would appear that we are not getting our priorities right, and that can spell doom on our country if we fail to do what we should do for nation-building in terms of fundamentals of equity, justice, common ideals …mutual respect and equality of opportunity anchored and propelled by leaders across the board … with the fear of God…. Voting for me by other Nigerians in 1999, when Afenifere and the Yoruba substantially voted against me strengthened our nation-building process. As continuation of that process, PDP adopted rotation and sharing formula for six key party political offices and government offices among the six geopolitical zones, which stood the country and the party in good stead. It was the PDP policy that made it inadvisable to have candidate from the South to succeed me after my eight years in office as President. I was succeeded by Umaru Yar’Adua from the North… if we derail from nation-building process with solid principles, Nigeria will be shipwrecked. I will, at this juncture, leave it to fair-minded Nigerians who believe in the continuation of the process of nation-building to decide which way Nigeria should go. I have always maintained that ….no region or zone should claim to have monopoly of Nigerians that can lead us along the path of nation-building on the basis of justice, fast economic development, inclusive growth, shared value and our rightful place in the global division of labour and decision making process. If we are going fault finding zonally or regionally, no region or zone can claim absolute innocence. And federal character is a very important and perfect instrument of nation-building in our Constitution. When we have adequately taken care of nation-building measures, especially management of our unity … then we must zero on personalities”.
- We Ignore Power-Rotation At Our own Peril
As OBJ himself has recalled, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) under the Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) Presidency (1999-2007) had reached an agreement for an 8-year-rotation of the presidency of Nigeria, within the party, between the northern and southern segments of Nigeria. OBJ (from the South-West) kept the agreement by ensuring that Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’ardua (from the North West) succeeded him in 2007. Unfortunately, President Yar’ardu died in early 2010 and was succeeded by his Vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, Ph.D. In line with the Party’s standing agreement, and following the death of President Yar’adua, PDP was supposed to nominate another northerner to replace Alhaji Yar’ardu as the party’s presidential candidate for the 2011 elections. To cut a long story short, it was the party’s failure to keep to this agreement, which most northern stakeholders saw both as a short-changing of the region and an affront on the north, that led to PDP’s painful ouster in the 2015 elections. PDP at all levels is yet to recover fully from that debilitating defeat.
2. Any Lessons From Past Self-Experiences?
Ironically, the same political party appears to not have learnt any lessons from its past mistakes; up to today, March 11, 2022, the party is yet to make its position known on whether it would respect the presidential zoning formula in nominating its presidential flag-bearer for the 2023 general elections. George Santayana said, those who forget the past are most likely to repeat the mistakes of the past. If you keep doing the same thing all the time, you will keep getting the same result; this is a reality of life. On the other hand, the APC (All Progressives’ Congress) has since taken a decision to zone the presidential ticket of the party to southern Nigeria. Speaking to ChannelsTV’s Politics Today on Wednesday, 9 March 2022, the Governor of Kaduna State (Mallam Nasiru El Rufai, speaking for his colleagues) disclosed that the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the 2023 election is expected to come from the southern region of the country. Again on Thursday, 10 March 2022, while speaking to Journalists at a Media briefing organized by the Presidential Media team, at the Presidential Villa, the same Governor said, “I want to clarify that the APC zoning arrangements that we announced are the zoning arrangements for the party… it is not zoned to any particular place in the South…”, meaning that the ticket is still open to all contestants in the South West, South East and South-South.
3. Learning by Observation versus Learning by Self-Experience
This brief introduction is not to discuss PDP or APC, but to illustrate how, failure to adhere to its own agreement on presidential power-rotation had ruined PDP’s chances in the past, with the same past mistake trying to repeat itself unless the party acts fast and wisely. Further, it is to illustrate how the APC, having learnt by observation (by observing PDP’s past mistakes) has quickly taken a decision to respect Presidential Rotation by zoning the party’s ticket to the South in 2023, since Mr. President Buhari (from North-West) would have spent 8 years in office by May 29 2023. “Ut est rerum omnium magister usus” (self-experience is the best teacher) is a quote attributed to Julius Caesar in De Bello Civili: the commentaries of the Civil War. The phrase has become a common saying regarding learning and leadership. Many believe that it means you will learn more from things that happen to you in real life (self-experience) than you will from hearing about or studying things that happen to other people (other people’s experience). I respectfully disagree with this! Experience is a good teacher only on very few occasions. Check this out! From the way PDP is going about its decisions of rotational presidency, could it be said that the party has learnt any good lessons from its past harsh self-experiences as illustrated in its debilitating defeat in the hands of the APC in 2015? APC on the other appears to be learning good lessons too fast, by observation. Thus, learning by observation is far better than waiting to learn by harsh (sometimes harrowing) self-experience. Observation is a better teacher; we learn more and happily from the experiences of others. One does not have to throw oneself on a highway to be run over by a fast-moving car before one learns that vehicles could kill, because one may not even live to tell the story. Accordingly, man learns better and happier by observation, than by experience. Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under your observation in life. “To acquire true knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe”. Just sit back and observe smartly; you’d learn more that way. What has the Nigerian Bar Association learn from PDP’s experiences in 2015 and from all what has happened to Nigeria as a result of the disruption in 2011, of the presidential power-rotation arrangement? Has Nigeria not suffered immensely from that experience? Have the instability and insecurity foisted upon Nigeria and Nigerians (as a result of the disruption of the presidential-rotation arrangement) abated? Honestly, we are still suffering from that singular mistake!
4. Why the Federal Character to Ensure Power-Rotation?
The reason for introduction of the Federal Character provisions in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, is to promote oneness, national integration and a feeling of sense of belonging. Feeling of a sense of belonging is arguably the most important precondition for genuine peace, strong unity and accelerated progress in Nigeria. In an earlier pierce published on October 04, 2021, and titled, “Rotational Presidency Is A Mandatory Requirement of The Nigerian Constitution And A Necessary Pre-condition For Stability And National Integration” this had referred to the preamble to the Nigerian Constitution, to explain that Nigeria is a nation founded “on the principles of freedom, equality and justice”, which are necessary “for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people”. To this end, section 13(1) of the Constitution commands that “it shall be the duty and responsibility of … government, and of all authorities and persons… to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of Chapter Two of this Constitution”, while section 14(1) provides that “the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on … social justice”. On its part, section 15(2) states that “National integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited”. Further, according to section 15(4), “the State shall foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various people of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.” And, to achieve national integration, eschew discrimination foster a sense of belonging and ensure social justice, section 14(3) directs that “the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies”.
5. Introduction of Federal Character into the NBA Constitution
In recognition of the need to respect the federal character of Nigeria and to promote peace, unity, and oneness within the NBA, the Nigerian Bar Association keyed into the rotational presidency principle in the larger society. However, the concept of rotational presidency did not start (for the first time) with the NBA Constitution of 2015, although that was when it got constitutionally provided for. The initiators of the concept of power-rotation within the NBA had thought that “the practice of rotational access to the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, presidency has the capacity for maintaining peaceful political order”. Thus, as reported TheLoyalNigeriaLawyer, by an informal arrangement the NBA in the year 2000, election into the office of NBA President began to rotate among (1) Northern Nigeria; (2) Western Nigeria and (3) Eastern Nigeria . The formula had begun with the Eastern Nigeria in the year 2000, followed by the West in 2002, and North in 2004. It continued that way,operating smoothly, until the arrangement got formally provided for in the NBA Constitution, 2015, which was later amended in 2019 and again in 2021. This view is supported by a respected learned friend, Mr. Orji Uka, who in 2020 stated thus:
“The rotational presidency policy, albeit not expressly provided for under the NBA Constitution until 2015, was resorted to as part of the panacea for the crisis that engulfed the Association between 1992-1998 when NBA had no President and was run at the Branch level only. …the rotational presidency policy of the NBA has been successful, at least in the sense of being respected for the last two decades.”
Section 10 (5) of the NBA Constitution (this used to be in section 9(3)) provides that that “for the purpose of election into National Offices, the country shall be divided into zones as set out in the Second Schedule to this Constitution.” Part 2.1 (a) and (d) of the Second Schedule to the Constitution to the NBA Constitution provides that “(a) The Association shall for the purpose of elections of National Officers be divided into three geographical zones namely – Northern zone, Eastern zone and Western zone. (d) Where a position is zoned to any particular geographical zone, the position shall be rotated and held in turn by the different groups and/or sections in the geographical zone.” Part 2.1 (e) of the Second Schedule of the Constitution then provides a list of the states that make up each of the zones: (i) The Northern Zone — Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe, Zamfara and Abuja; (ii) The Eastern Zone – Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Enugu, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Cross River, Imo, and Rivers; and (iii) The Western Zone – Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo.
6. NBA Presidential Power-Rotation within the Zones and the Sub-Zones.
6.1. The Western Zone: Within the Western Zone, at present, there are two major sub-zones/blocs/section/groups, namely, (a) the Mid-West (comprising Edo and Delta States) and (b) the South-West (comprising Ondo, Ogun, Oyo , Osun, Ekiti, and Lagos States). Efforts in the past to renegotiate these groupings to in view of the fact that the South-west has six states as against the Mid-West that has only two, have not yielded much success. Ironically, such efforts to renegotiate the sub-grouping or sub-zones in the Western Region have mostly been spearheaded/championed by stakeholders in the Midwest and usually but unfortunately rebuffed by the South-West which usually thought it (the south-west) could out-number the mid-west during elections with its (south-west’s) majority votes and teeming number of lawyers. This thinking has more often than not, backfired leading to the mid-west sub-zone winning the western slot each time it came to the turn of the Western Region/Zone, at least in the last two occasions — 2014-2016 (Austin Alegeh, SAN) and 2020-2022 (Olumide Akpata). I urge our learned friends and stakeholders in the South-West to embrace the repeated overtures by their counterparts in the Mid-West, towards an amicable resolution of their differences in this respect, to ensure that the Western Region has a more balanced and equitable sub-grouping or sub-zoning. It is the view of this author that the proposed renegotiation would work in the interest of the south west; it might lead a sub-dividing of the south-west into two or more smaller sub-zones, to add to the Mid-west sub-zone. At the end of the day, the Western Zone might have three or more sub-zones with the power rotating equally and equitably among them. However, the renegotiation cannot and should not be done by the South-West alone, to the exclusion of the Mid-West, as has been attempted in the past. All stakeholders within the larger Western Zone must come together on a round-table, to resolve the issues; it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. A situation in which some members of the South-West Sub-Zone had met under the aegis of Egbe Amofin O’dua, and tried to resolve or indeed resolved that “Ekiti-Ondo” Sub-zone would produce the NBA president in 2020, the “Oyo-Osun” sub-zone would produce the president in 2026 while “Lagos-Ogun”sub-zone would produce in 2032, was inimical to progress in the Western Zone, because such an arrangement failed to recognize that Mid-West was a bona fide part of the Western Zone. That meeting (of Egbe Amofin) ought to have invited stakeholders from the Mid-West for a robust discussion on how to ensure an equitable internal rotation within the Western Zone. Perhaps it was the errors of that very meeting (of Egbe Amofin) that once again led to the debilitating defeat suffered in 2020 by South-West sub-zone’s multiple Candidates in the hands of the sole candidate from the Mid-West sub-zone. However, it was (and remains) my view that since the NBA President in 2014-2016 was from the Mid-West sub-zone, equity demanded that the South-West sub-zone should produce the NBA President in 2020; this guided whom this author supported in the 2020 NBA national elections, this author being a long-standing diehard promoter and campaigner for power-rotation in line with the federal character of Nigeria to ensure a sense of belonging and to promote national integration. However, that singular error (highlighted above) on the part of stakeholders in the South-West sub-zone who arbitrarily ans autocratically distributed the internal-rotation among only the six states in the South-West to the exclusion of the states of the Mid-West sub-zone, could be what had spurred the Mid-West sub-zone into a no-hold-barred fight-for-survival that saw it (mid-west) again beating the South-West to it in 2020. South-West should learn from its past self-experiences and quickly go into a parley with their counterparts in the mid-west. To be fore-warned is to be fore-armed; a stitch in time saves nine.And as I keep saying, this who forget the past are most likely to continue to repeat past mistakes. Although it is believed in some quarters that “giving advice is a useless exercise”, yet, as Anne Tyler said, “It is very difficult to live among the people you love and still hold back from offering them good advice“. I end this segment with these words from Mohith Agadi: “when one sees good advice, one should not only listen to it, but should also take it”.
6.2. The Eastern Zone: Within the Eastern Zone, there are two major evenly-balanced blocs/sections/grouping/sub-zones, namely: (a) the South-east (comprising Anambra, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo states) and (b) the eastern part of South-South (comprising Bayelsa, Rivers,Cross-River and Akwa-Ibom States). The division in the Eastern Zone is somehow balanced, equitable. And if stakeholders in the NBA could maintain it and ensure that power rotates between the two major sub-zones whenever it gets to the turn of the Eastern Region/Zone, that is fairness, rule of law and transparency.
6.3. The Northern Zone: Perhaps, there is no Zone which has a more evenly-balanced and equitably divided sub-grouping than the Northern Zone of the NBA. The Zone has three crystal-clear sub-zones:
6.3.1. The North-West Sub-Zone/Bloc/Section/Group (comprising Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara States). This sub-Zone/Group/Section produced an NBA President (2016-2018) in the person of A.B Mahmoud, SAN.
6.3.2. The North-Central Sub-Zone/Bloc/Section/Group (comprising Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau States and the FCT Abuja). This sub- Zone/Group/Section produced two NBA Presidents: (i) Bayo Ojo, SAN (2004- 2006) and (ii) J.B. Daudu (2010-2012).
6.3.3. The North-East Sub-Zone/Bloc/Section/Group (comprising Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe States). This sub-zone/Group/Section appears to have never produced any NBA President.
7. Further Developments on NBA Presidential Power-Rotation
In his inaugural address, shortly after taking over as the NBA President on August 29, 2020, Mr. Olumide Akpata had declared as follows:
“The consensus is that there is need to urgently review the 2020 elections and to institute urgent reforms of our electoral systems. Indeed, the Board of Trustees of the NBA in their letter of 19 August 2020 to Deacon Dele Adesina, SAN called for a major transformation of our electoral process and framework. Let me repeat what I said to the Board of Trustees in my letter to them in response to the petition of Deacon Dele Adesina, SAN; “as an Association that prides itself as Nigeria’s foremost and oldest professional membership organisation, we need to manage our electoral processes better…. I am immediately constituting an Electoral Audit and Reforms Committee, comprising distinguished practitioners of the highest standards to audit our 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections and recommend reforms for our electoral systems and processes…. I pledge to implement whatever recommendations they come up with well ahead of time to ensure that the 2022 election is devoid of those glitches that we noticed in the 2020 election and that we truly set a standard that others will aspire to.
The Electoral Audit and Reform Committee constituted by the NBA President on 29 August 2020 was chaired by Ayodele Akintunde, SAN. Below were/are the recommendations of the Committee on rotational NBA presidency:
“Non-implementation of the rotational policy as it relates to the different groups and/or sections in a geographical zone as stated in the constitution as a major stumbling block towards free and fair NBA elections. The rotational presidency of the NBA was initially an informal arrangement until it was formalized by its incorporation into the NBA Constitution. Sadly, what started out as an arrangement geared toward promoting an all-inclusive bar is now posing a threat to the unity of the Bar. The provisions of Section 9 (d) and Paragraph 2.2 (d) of the Second Schedule to the NBA Constitution should be strictly adhered to in order to ensure that no group and/or section in a geographical zone is marginalized and the unity of the bar is preserved…. different groups and/or sections do not appear to mean a state within the geographical zone. The ECNBA in its preliminary notice for the election of National Officers of the NBA should specify which group and/or section in a geographical zone the position is rotated to as a measure to ensure adherence to Section 9 (d) and Paragraph 2.2 (d) of the Second Schedule of the NBA Constitution. The Committee is of the firm view that if the recommendations contained in this Final Report are implemented, future elections of National Officers of the NBA by electronic voting will be devoid of the controversies which have plagued past elections”
NBA-NEC Unanimously Approves Recommendations of the Electoral Audit and Reform Committee on Presidential Power-Rotation:
The National Executive Council (NBA-NEC) is the second-highest decision-making organ of the NBA after the Annual General Meeting (AGM). At the meeting of the NBA-NEC, held on 18 March 2021 in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State, the NBA-NEC had unanimously accepted/adopted the report of the Electoral Audit and Reform Committee as submitted. The Annual General Meeting that held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in October 2021, did not reverse the decision of NEC. Accordingly, the NBA-NEC’s decision stands, while the provisions of the NBA Constitution on Power-Rotation remains binding on the NBA and the Electoral Committee of the NBA 2022. The communique issued after the NEC meeting reads as follows (at paragraph 2.10):
“That the final report of the NBA Electoral Reform and Audit Committee, as presented to NEC by the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Ayo Akintunde SAN, be adopted and that the recommendations contained therein be carefully considered for implementation by the NBA”.
NBA President enjoins the ECNBA to Implement Provisions of the NBA Constitution on Power-Rotation
At the Annual General Meeting of the NBA held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on Thursday, the 28 October 2021, and Friday, 29 October 2021, the NBA resolved and adopted some radical issues in the new provisions of the then proposed (but now effected) amendments to the NBA Constitution, 2015. And, in response to a suggestion made by Dr. Monday Onyekachi Ubani (Chairman, NBA-SPIDEL) stressing/on the seriousness of ensuring that the provisions of the NBA Constitution on Presidential Power-Rotation was discussed to ensure that it would always be strictly adhered to, the NBA President (Mr. Olumide Akpata) told the AGM that implementation of all provisions of the NBA Constitution relating to NBA National election and power-rotation should be left for the ECNBA 2022 (Electoral Committee of the NBA), and that he (the president) believed that the ECNB 2022 being an independent body, under no one’s control, would do the right thing at the right time.
Electoral Committee of the NBA Is Obliged to Implement the provisions of the NBA Constitution, 2015 on Rotational Presidency
The Electoral Committee of the NBA 2020 was inaugurated on 24 January 2022 by the NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata. The ECNBA has as members Mr. Ayodele Richard. Akintunde SAN (Chairman); Mabel Ekeke (Secretary); Prof. Chidi Odinkalu (human rights activist); Aisha Ado-Abdulahi (former NBA Treasurer); and Mr. Basil Udotai (leading ICT expert). The ECNBA 2022 is charged with the responsibility of conducting elections into the NBA’s National Executive Committee (national officers). The election is slated to hold in July 2022. Section 10(1) of the NBA Constitution provides that “There shall be established an independent body to be known as the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (hereinafter called “the ECNBA”) to conduct elections into National Offices of the Association and election of the representatives of the Association in the General Council of the Bar”. Section 10(4) of the Constitution specifically provides that “… the rules governing the conduct of election to national offices and election of the representatives of the Association in the General Council of the Bar, and disqualification of candidates from the election shall be as set out in the Second Schedule to this Constitution.” As explained above, the provisions of Section 10 (5) of the NBA Constitution and Part 2.1 (a), (d) and (e) of the Second Schedule to the Constitution to the NBA Constitution leave no one in doubt about the way the power rotation ought to go in 2022, since it is the turn of the Northern Zone to produce the President of the NBA in 2022-2024.
NBA Election 2022: Mr. Olasupo Ojo writes ECNBA 2022, Seeks Interpret ion of Section 9 (3) of NBA Constitution on Zoning
In a letter dated 25 January 2022 and addressed to the ECNBA 2022, a lawyer, Mr.Olasupo Ojo had sought clarifications on the ECNB 2022’s stance regarding the provisions of the NBA Constitution on power-rotation. The lawyer wrote:
“I seek the clarification and/or confirmation of the ECNBA as to the import of section 9(3) [that is now section 10(5) in the amended constitution] of the NBA Constitution and paragraph 2.2(d) of the second schedule of the NBA Constitution on the 2022 NBA general election in the determination of the issue as to the eligibility status of aspirants emerging from the sub-zones from the North, West and East geopolitical zones respectively with respect to the offices zoned to them.. In my humble view the need for this clarification now is germane to the transparency and fairness of the electoral process and clearly represents the clear and mandatory provision of the just amended NBA Constitution and should ideally therefore be expressly indicated in the guidelines that will be issued and published by the ECNBA in due course. In the circumstances, I seek the required clarification as it relates to the rotation amongst the various sections/groups within the respective zones that are to produce the next NBA President, General Secretary and Vice Presidents in order to be properly guided as a voter and key stakeholder of the Bar. This is more so as consultations are ongoing and I intend to possibly contest or play key roles in the electioneering process at the appropriate time. I humbly entreat you to treat this matter with utmost fairness, transparency, justice and strict adherence to the rule of law as it is a sensitive issue touching on the future of the Nigerian Bar. I await your prompt response on this matter so that I can be guided accordingly.”
ECNBA Replies Ojo, Vows to Enforce NBA Constitution on Sub-Zoning of NBA National Offices
ECNBA 2022’s response to Mr. Ojo is contained in a letter dated February 01, 2022, and signed by Mr. Ayodele Richard Akintunde SAN and Ms. Mabel Ekeke, its Chairman and Secretary respectively. The ECNBA assured Mr. Ojo that Mr Ojo’s observation was duly noted and that the ECNBA would “administer the applicable rules fairly and firmly at all times.” ECNBA’s letter reads:
“We thank you for your letter, Ref: OO/ECNBA/ABJ/ECNBA/02/22 of the 25th January 2022 in respect of the above. The Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) has carefully reviewed the contents of your letter and note your request. The duties of the ECNBA are governed by the statutory instruments of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and does not, regrettably at the moment, extend to providing advisory opinions. You can nevertheless be rest assured that the ECNBA will administer the applicable rules fairly and firmly at all times…”.
8. The ECNBA Is Bound to Observe the Rule of Law in the 2022 NBA National Elections
The Coast is Now Clear for Rule of Law to Prevail, without fear or favour
The provisions of Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (especially sections 13, 14 and 15), of section 10 (5) of the NBA Constitution and of Part 2.1 (a), (d) and (e) of the Second Schedule to the Constitution to the NBA Constitution, as well as the the recommendations of the Electoral Audit and Reform Committee, the resolution of the NBA-NEC on 18 march 2021, the advice of the NBA President during the NBA AGM 2021, the provisions of the section 10(1) and (4) of the NBA Constitution requiring the ECNBA to get guided by the Second Schedule to the NBA Constitution and the ECNBA’s own assurance that “The duties of the ECNBA are governed by the statutory instruments of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and …. You can nevertheless be rest assured that the ECNBA will administer the applicable rules fairly and firmly at all times”, all these point to one direction, namely: that the ECNBA 2022 is poised to implement the NBA Constitution to the letter by ensuring strict compliance with the provisions on Power-Rotation, in order to save the future of the NBA, and to promote rule of law, peace, oneness and a sense of belonging, national integration and social justice, all of which are prerequisites for progress.
Which Sub-Zone/Section/Group in the North Should Produce the NBA president in 2022?
“Section” as used in the NBA Constitution has its plain meaning: “any of the more or less distinct parts into which something is or may be divided or from which it is made up”. Synonyms for “section” include segment, part, component, division, portion, unit, constituent, fraction, fragment. According to Collins Dictionary, a section of something is one of the parts into which it is divided or from which it is formed. It is the turn of the Northern Zone to produce the next president of the NBA. The North has three crystal clear sub-zones/groups/section: The North-West has produced an NBA President int he person of Mr. A.B. Mahmoud, SAN (2016-2018); the North-Central has produced NBA President on two occasions — Mr. Bayo Ojo (2004-2006) and Mr. J.B. Daudu (2010-2012). The North-East has never produced nor tasted the NBA Presidency. As the the duties of the ECNBA 2022 are governed by the statutory instruments of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the ECNBA is in duty bound to administer the applicable rules fairly and firmly at all times by ensuring that only candidates from the North-East Zone are cleared stand for the NBA Presidential Election in 2022. This is the only way to exhibit fairness and transparency, and comply with the provisions of the NBA Constitution, the advice of the NBA President, the resolution of the NBA-NEC and the assurances given and undertaken made by the ECNBA 2022 itself. Interestingly, section 10(4) of the NBA Constitution empowers the ECNBA 2022 as an independent body, to do the needful in this respect. In a well researched commentary titled, “A Place For Rule Of Law In The Choice Of The Next President Of The NBA: Options Before Nigerian Lawyers In the 2020 NBA National Elections”, a respected learned friend, Oreofe Adewole Esq had taken time to set out and analyse the provisions of the NBA Constitution, 2015 on presidential power-rotation and then concluded as follows, and I agree with her:
I urge Nigerian lawyers to please respect and uphold the concept of Rotational Presidency [in] the NBA Constitution…. I refer to the wise counsel by Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain: “Being democratic is not enough, a majority cannot turn what is wrong into right. In order to be considered truly free, countries must also have a deep love of liberty and an abiding respect for the rule of law.” And I conclude by begging all Nigerian lawyers to recognize that only respect for Rule of Law within the NBA would preserve, maintain and further strengthen the basic structures of our internal democracy. Ensuring that every section and strata of the Bar is carried along would afford each and all a sense of belonging, promote unity, good followership and peace within the NBA, and quicken progress by the Nigerian Bar and its members.
What is more? The ECNBA 2022, the NBA leadership and all NBA organs and members have an obligation to keep their words and respect the NBA Constitution and other instruments cited above by ensuring that they work to ensure that leadership of the NBA is based entirely on the principles of social justice, and distributed in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote unity and oneness among NBA members, and also to command broad loyalty from lawyers from all segments of the country. Learned Adebayo Orekoya once wrote that “if we have adopted rotation for ourselves in the NBA, we have a duty to be careful to ensure an equitable rotation of NBA presidency across all inner blocs within the bigger blocs in the NBA, so as to ensure equity, to give everyone section a sense of belonging, and ensure that there’s no predominance or people from one inner-bloc to the detriment of others.” Those who introduced Rotational Presidency into the NBA affairs knew that there was also merit; they knew that there’s no section of this country that doesn’t have capable hands to lead the NBA; they understood and appreciate the practical implications of the diversity of Nigeria; they wanted to ensure that every section and corner of the country is carried along in the leadership of, and running of the affairs of, the NBA. This is what the concept of rotation stands for.
Today, in Nigeria, noticeably, there’s so much hate and unprecedented acrimony, because some sections of the country feel that the present government at the centre does not respect federal character. Today, Nigeria is in quandary, in a huge mess. Any right-thinking Nigerian should know that the current unfortunate situation is directly or remotely traceable to the failure or refusal of the leaders to respect the federal character provisions of the Constitution. And until Nigerian politicians return to running the affairs of Nigeria in line with Federal Character Provisions in chapter 2 of the country’s constitution, there might never be any hope for Nigeria’s redemption or survival. To avoid a repeat of such ugly situation within the NBA, it is hereby recommended that the NBA should learn by observation (like the APC has done) by observing the rotational presidency concept, as discussed above. Section 3(11) of the NBA Constitution provides that “The aims and objects of the Association shall be the Promotion and protection of the principles of the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights, human rights, and people’s rights”. It is no doubt the right and turn of NBA members from the states that make up the North-East (that is, Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe) to have a taste of NBA national leadership by occupying the position of the NBA President in 2022-2024.
9. The Person Who Made the Recommendations Is Now Called Upon to Implement His Own Recommendations
It is resolved to conclude this commentary by drawing attention to a very important aspect of the the ECNBA 2022. Has anyone noticed that the Chairman of the NBA Electoral Audit and Reform Committee which recommended that the provisions of the NBA Constitution on presidential power-rotation should be strictly adhered to, is also the same legal luminary appointed the Chairman of the Electoral Committee of the NBA (the ECNBA 2022)?
Below were/are the recommendation of the Electoral Audit and Reform Committee, headed by Mr. Ayodele Richard Akintunde, SAN:
“The rotational presidency of the NBA was initially an informal arrangement until it was formalized by its incorporation into the NBA Constitution… . The provisions of Section 9 (d) and Paragraph 2.2 (d) of the Second Schedule to the NBA Constitution should be strictly adhered to in order to ensure that no group and/or section in a geographical zone is marginalized and the unity of the bar is preserved…. different groups and/or sections do not appear to mean a state within the geographical zone. The ECNBA in its preliminary notice for the election of National Officers of the NBA should specify which group and/or section in a geographical zone the position is rotated to as a measure to ensure adherence to Section 9 (d) and Paragraph 2.2 (d) of the Second Schedule of the NBA Constitution. The Committee is of the firm view that if the recommendations contained in this Final Report are implemented, future elections of National Officers of the NBA by electronic voting will be devoid of the controversies which have plagued past elections”
Below were/are the assurances given by the Electoral Committee of the NBA (the ECNBA 2022) headed by Mr. Ayodele Richard Akintunde, SAN:
“The duties of the ECNBA are governed by the statutory instruments of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and does not, regrettably at the moment, extend to providing advisory opinions. You can nevertheless be rest assured that the ECNBA will administer the applicable rules fairly and firmly at all times”
Firm & Strict Adherence to Rule of Law is Fairness and Equity
In the present instance, it is respectfully submitted that the only reasonable way to “administer the applicable rules fairly and firmly at all times” is to ensure that “Paragraph 2.2 (d) of the Second Schedule to the NBA Constitution should be strictly adhered to in order to ensure that no group and/or section in a geographical zone is marginalized and the unity of the bar is preserved”. “Fairly and firmly” means to to Administer Applicable Rules Strictly and Firmly in Line with Rule of Law. Rule of law requires that all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the state itself, must be accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law and avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency. Finally, as the present author once said, rule of law requires that “the people should be ruled by the law and obey it …; that all persons and organizations including are subject, and accountable to, ordinary laws; that everything must be done according to law. Under a rule of law regime, in a constitutional democracy, justice must be done according to the dictates of rule of law and the constitution of the land, and not vice versa. Any violation of rule of law or the supremacy of the constitution amounts to injustice or a desecration of justice.
10. Why Respect the NBA Constitution and Rule of Law?
The Constitution of a Country or of any organisation is the supreme law of the country or organisation, and its provisions have a binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the country or the organisation. Just as it is with the Nigerian Constitution, the NBA shall not be governed, nor shall any persons or group of persons take any action except in accordance with the provisions of the NBA Constitution. According to George Washington, the Constitution is the ultimate guide which we must never abandon. As A.E. Samaan put it, “The U.S. didn’t achieve its liberty or prosperity by mistake. It was by design, and the architects were the Founding Fathers. Rights given by fad and fashion are just as easily taken away. Let no one mess with the Constitution. The Constitution matters”. Abraham Lincoln put it more aptly:“Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.” It is important at this juncture to make a brief reference to the present author’s earlier commentary on the imperatives of observing the Federal Character Concept as embodied in the power-rotation provisions and principles:
Leaders with [sterling] qualities exist and can be found in every part of Nigeria; there is no state or segment that has a monopoly of men and women of integrity, fair-mindedness or foresight … . Besides, sauce for the goose is sause for the gander!…Federal Character [was introduced into the Constitution] to lessen acrimony and friction, and to create and give a sense of belonging to all parts of Nigeria thereby engendering genuine cooperation, unity and progress among Nigerians…one thing that must never be pushed aside without fatally injuring the fabrics of the peace, security, unity and oneness .. is the idea of power-rotation among the various segments of Nigeria. The high-heterogeneous nature of Nigeria makes power-shift a necessity in Nigeria; running away from it is like trying to run away from one’s shadows; one would ultimately come back to face reality in the interest of order, peace, justice, unity, political stability, and national integration. Power-rotation is aimed to address the problems of instability, hegemonies, marginalisation, and domination by one segment or region over the others.
End of discussion! The ball is now in the ECNBA’s court to do the right thing at the right time.
Congratulations once again, and best wishes to the ECNBA 2022.
Long live the NBA President, Olumide Akpata!
Long live the NBA!
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Sylvester Udemezue (udems)
Law Teacher, Public Legal Affairs Analyst; Member, NBA Lagos Branch, and
member, Association of Urban Legal Scholars (an international community of scholars dedicated to sharing and developing research in the field of urban law).
email@example.com. (13 March 2022)