J.S. Okutepa, SAN has warned that any lawyer who buys voters’ conscience, is not fit to lead the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).

Okutepa spoke with reference to the forthcoming NBA elections this year which will usher in new national officers to pilot the association’s affairs for the next two years.

The Paul Usoro (SAN)-led Exco will complete its tenure in August and a new Exco will be sworn in same month.

Okutepa said: “Even though campaign has not been lifted, we see those aspiring to lead greeting us and issuing periodic statements to be seen as good candidates.

“Even those who were not vocal before have suddenly become vocal.

“Many seasonal experts in NBA elections are back on the field. Many lawyers consider NBA election as period of money making time.

“So many not too good and popular lawyers before or those who have nothing to offer the profession in terms of ethical standards of conduct, believe they can win NBA election using money and other inducements.”

He noted that the election was being commercialised and many NBA branches were extending invitations to aspirants in the hope of making money off them.

“Money answers all things they say. But should the Bar election be commercialised? I think not. But the reality on the ground is that it is more costly to run for NBA elections than some conventional political offices in Nigeria,” Okutepa said.

He said he respected the electorate’s right to pitch tent with any lawyer they wish to lead the Bar, but had “no respect for any lawyer who commercialised his or her choice.

“Therefore, I feel terribly ashamed to see lawyers making demands of those aspiring to lead the Bar.

“Any aspirant that buys the consciences of lawyers to lead is not fit to lead the Bar. Why do we accept those who pay to get our votes? Are lawyers now cheap commodities to be bought for votes.

“We must as lawyers point out these things and discuss them with a view to finding solutions to them.”

According to him, if lawyers “condone these evils, what moral justification do we have to speak to those in power who do less evil than us? It is now accepted conduct for lawyers to be making demands of aspirants or candidates.

“That is why year in year out, we pay humongous fees for our conferences and we are treated as sub-humans and no consequences follow.

“Go to NEC meetings of the NBA, nothing reasonable is discussed and issues are rubber-stamped.”

Okutepa lamented that if lawyers become corrupt and condone corruption, they would  “lose the right to be addressed as learned gentlemen’’.

He stated that lawyers should be the light of the society. But they had “allowed darkness to overwhelm and overshadow our profession in Nigeria.

“This is directly traceable to the type of leaders we chose or that forced their ways to the positions of leadership in the profession.”

He advised lawyers to do all they can to resist money bags and elect leaders that are responsible and ethically balanced in this year’s election.

He added: “We must avoid electing those with baggage. NBA members must go all out to elect leaders who can challenge violations of rule of law and due process with fear of any repercussions from any quarters’’.

“That is why the Tawo E. Tawo SAN led ECNBA (Electoral Committtee of the NBA) must, this time, wield the big stick against any aspirant caught violating the rules of professional conduct in the legal profession in his or her aspirations to lead the Bar.

“We have paid enough lip services to discipline in our profession. Let those to lead us  be above board.”

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