On the 25th of February 2016 about seven thousand Lawyers came out in Nairobi to vote for their candidates in the Law society of Kenya elections. Mr Isaac Okero won the election in a hotly contested election where he garnered 1,581 votes against James Aggrey Mwamu’s 1,378 and Allen Gichuhi’s 1,371. After the elections, all eyes turned to the Nigerian bar association whose election was due in six months.

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)prides itself as the biggest bar association in Africa .Indeed it is.

With more than a hundred branches of the association scattered across the 923 Square Kilometres of Nigeria, the country boasts of about a hundred thousand Lawyers called to its bar since inception in 1962

In a report released by the International Bar Association in 2012, Nigerian Lawyers alone make up about almost a quarter of all annual conference attendance of the IBA though the adverse economic situation in the country is changing all that.

In 1992,the Nigerian Bar association experienced one of the saddest moments of its history. An election slated to be held in the oil city of Port Harcourt became chaotic and inconclusive leaving the association moribund and without leadership for six years .

In 1998, the association was resuscitated and a delegate system of election for National officers was introduced. This continued until 2015 when the regime of Augustine Alegeh succumbed to the popular agitation to introduce universal suffrage for Lawyers.

On the 27th of August,2015, a new constitution was adopted harmonising the affairs of all its branches,officially recognising the universal suffrage and unfortunately including section 16 which will turn back to haunt lawyers.

The new constitution did not need to wait for too long to be tested. In harmonising the affairs of the branches,some regulations were to operate retroactively.Before then,the different branches held elections at different times and even had different deadlines for payment of branch dues but the new constitution changed all that.

Austine Unachukwu was the first Lawyer to challenge the NBA in Court over his disqualification to contest the 2016 election.He sought to stop the election but was unsuccessful. Section 16 has provided that a member cannot sue the NBA .That is unfortunate owing to the fact that Lawyers earn their living when people go to court.

In June 2016,the Ikeja branch of the NBA,which is the fourth biggest branch after Lagos,Abuja and Port Harcourt held an election.

Adeshina Ogunlana won the election as the chairman, however, some sections of the constitution that were retroactive worked against him and in Benin at the meeting of the National Executive committee,the President of the NBA annulled his election and appointed a committee to organise a fresh election forthe position of the Chairman.Dele Oloke contested and was returned unopposed in the fresh elections. That lit the fire consuming the branch presently.

Mr Ogunlana came back from the meeting and filed a suit in court against the NBA and Dele Oloke.He sought an order to restrain the swearing in of Dele Oloke as Chairman.He got the order but unfortunately,the order was disregarded and the swearing in took place.

After the swearing in,the once strong and formidable Tiger branch as they are called collapsed and two parallel leadership and fellowship fighting to take control of the Tiger house emerged .

The conflict got messy on the 10th of August 2016 when Mr Adeshina received an invitation from the Nigerian police force Area F on a complaint purportedly written by the  President of the NBA in favour of Dele Oloke accusing Adeshina of breach of peace.It was almost midnight before his bail was secured by his faction. That is a dark patch on the image of the bar.

On the 30th and 31st of July 2016, the Nigerian Bar association held its first inclusive elections since 1990 by electronic voting. A.B Mahmoud and J.K Gadzama contested for the position of the President in an election which was highly divisive. A.B Mahmoud won the election. However, before the elections, the J.K group had raised concerns on the conduct and preparations of the elections.They also raised concerns on what they called an apparent partisanship of the incumbent president in favour of AB Mahmoud.

The J.K Gadzama group rejected the results as soon as it was announced. They were unequivocal about it. They vowed to fight for the mandate they believe was stolen from them and stop the swearing in of AB Mahmoud as the new president.

The swearing in will be at the annual general conference in Port Harcourt where the association collapsed 24 years ago as a result of elections, where the constitutional amendment crises happened in 2011.As the date draws closer, the tension among lawyers is visible as they fasten their seat belts anxiously looking at the seat belt light hoping that it will go off in yet another trip to Portharcourt.

(This article was edited.We erroneously wrote that Adesina Ogunlana contested with Dele Oloke in the same election .They indeed contested in two different elections)

Anthony Atata

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