My initial plan for this week was to borrow a book title from one of my literary heroes, the late Professor Chinua Achebe, the Master Story Teller who wrote the book: THINGS FALL APART, which is one of the world bestsellers. I want to use it to write and ask: IS NBA FALLEN APART? In view of the crises that have engulfed some branches of the NBA which made the President of Association, Mr Mahmud Abubakar, SAN to set up Elections Monitoring Committees for the NBA zones. While some branches have successfully conducted elections and now have new Executives at the helm of affairs, some branches like Badagry, Ikorodu, Oturpo, Isiokpo, Owerri, Bwari ,Gusau, Ikeja and Nnewi according to the President’s press are still in dispute. While I want to congratulate all those who have successfully conducted elections well as all those duly elected, I want to urge all those who are still in dispute to embrace peace and imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship.
Sometime in the month of April this year after the Electoral Committee of Nigerian Bar Association (ECNAB), released guidelines for the 2018 elections into the National Offices, I declared to the world on this platform my intention to join the race to contest for the position of the National Publicity Secretary of our great and noble Association. I subsequently obtained the nomination form and did all the needful. On 14th June 2018 I got a letter signed by the Chairman and Secretary of ECNBA that I am not qualified to run in the race on the ground that I and the seconder to my nomination were or are not members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the NBA. The Committee said if I am dissatisfied with the decision I may appeal it. Since the disqualification or non clearance was made public, many lawyers and non lawyers that know me called on phone, sent messages through phone whatsapp and facebook to express their shock, surprise and solidarity. While many lawyers shared my grievance and identified with the struggle, a particular lawyer colleague has this to say on a whatsapp platform:
“The NBA you want to lead has its rules & regulations embodies in its constitution, which you knew before purchasing the form for election .Your case if you ask me is a self inflicted injury which cannot be cured with your appeal! So don’t waste the time of NBA! Wishing you best of luck in your future NBA involvement.”
What was my reply to this lawyer colleague? I said:
“I want to thank you for your view as you are entitled to it .I urge to wait to see my appeal then we can talk”
From various reactions, many curious questions were asked by some lawyers and non lawyers. I believe personally that my Letter of Appeal may have provided answers to some of these while more answers may still be provided by those in position to do so. The ball is now in the court of the ECNAB whether to reverse the decision or not as I believe those in the Committee are lawyers who are very Honourable. I call this my 4-page Letter of Appeal to the Committee: SO LONG A LETTER which requires enough patience to read. Some people have observed that most time I write long essay which some people may not be interested in reading. My response has been that it is my character following the crowd or writing for the crowd. I write for those who are avid and interested in reading and learning as well as those who want to be inspired and learnt lessons from history. If I don’t read, I will have nothing to write about. It is not in my principle to do something because I saw other people doing it. I wish you happy reading:
15th June 2018
Electoral Committee of Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA)
Plot 1101 Cadastral Zone,
Central Business District
RE: DETERMINATION ON QUALIFICATION TO CONTEST FOR NATIONAL OFFICE
I write to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated 14th June 2018 sent to me through my email address same day with the above caption wherein your committee (ECNBA) expressed regrets to inform me that my screening for qualification to contest for the national office of Publicity Secretary was unsuccessful for the reason that there was no evidence to show that myself as well as the Seconder to my nomination were NEC members for two years.
In as much as I concede to the fact that I and my Seconder were not NEC members, I must state here that I was a member of the Branch Executive Committee between 2013 and 2015 prior to my nomination while my Seconder served as the Financial Secretary of my Lagos Branch between 2015 and 2017 and he is presently serving as the Provost in the Executive Committee of the Branch whose tenure runs from 2017 to 2019. I want to say with due respect that my disqualification on the ground that we were not members of the NEC is grossly unjust, unfair and discriminatory having actively served at the branch level.
I want to state that Section 8 (3) (c) of the NBA Constitution qualifies a member who has served in the Branch Executive Committee to hold a National Office .The interpretation resorted to by your Committee (ECNBA) to arrive at the decision to disqualify me under the same Section on the ground that there was no evidence to show that I was a NEC member will with due respect is of no moment as the question that will arise is that, of all the positions listed under Sub (C) (ii) of the same Section i.e. General Secretary ,Treasurer, Financial Secretary, PUBLICITY SECRETARY (which I filed nomination form to contest) ,Legal Adviser and Welfare Secretary, is it ONLY former members of the National Executive Committee, Chairmen and Secretaries who were or are by virtue of their positions automatic members of NEC and those member who are not elected but co-opted into the NEC that can qualify to contest for those positions as National Officers?
If the above question is in affirmative, the implication of this is that no any financial member of the Association including those who have served as Branch Executives will be eligible to contest for the positions listed under the said Sub (C) (ii) except those who have served as Chairmen and Secretaries in their various branches because of their automatic membership of NEC while serving in that capacities. Even a Vice-Chairman who was or is not unfortunate to be co-opted into the NEC cannot contest for National Offices such as General Secretary, Treasurer, Financial Secretary, Publicity Secretary, Legal Adviser and Welfare Secretary which in my view is discriminatory. This kind of things must not be allowed to operate in the Nigerian Bar Association if its aims and objectives as provided for under Section 3 of its Constitution are to be meaningful.
I said discriminatory in the sense that it is very clear within the NBA Constitution that as far as elections into the Branch Executives are concerned, the Chairman and Vice Chairman are placed on the same pedestal as far as qualifications to contest for that positions are concerned while the Secretary, Treasurer, Financial Secretary, Social Secretary, Publicity Secretary, Welfare Secretary, Legal Adviser and Provost are also on the same Pedestal. In the elections into the National Offices, the contestants for the offices of President and all the three Vice Presidents are placed on the same pedestal as far as qualifications to contest are concerned while the contestants for the positions of General Secretary, Treasurer, Financial Secretary, Publicity Secretary, Legal Adviser and Welfare Secretary at National level are also placed on the same pedestal.
The question now is that , if the contestants in each group mentioned in the preceding paragraph are to possess the same qualifications such as post enrolment years, payment of the same Bar Practicing Fees and Branch Dues to qualify to contest, will it not be a discrimination of the highest order to single out only the Chairman and Secretary from their respective groups illustrated above from the Branch Executives as those only qualified to contest for the National Offices of the General Secretary, Treasurer, Financial Secretary, Publicity Secretary, Legal Adviser and Welfare Secretary to the exclusion of other Branch Executives in that group? If the real intention of the drafters of the NBA Constitution is to be so, is there anything more discriminatory than this? To me this will be nothing but promoting the George Orwell’s concept in the ANIMAL FARM where: All animal are equal but some animal are more equal than the others.
If the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which is the supreme law in the land does not irrationally disenfranchised her citizens from vying for any elective positions ,why must NBA whose motto is PROMOTING THE RULE OF LAW will allow that. I wonder what will be the reaction of all lawyers today if the National Assembly decides to amend the constitution to say that “For any Nigerian Citizen to now be eligible to contest for the position of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, such citizen must have held a position as a Governor of any state in Nigeria or must have been a member of the National Assembly.” Will Nigerian lawyers accept such amendment?
To insist that for any financial member of NBA to be eligible to contest for any National Office must be a NEC member is like saying only those who have served as judicial officers in the Magistrate Courts that can be elevated as judges to the High Court bench. Will those lawyers in private practice and Ministries of Justice accept that? If we cannot accept this, can we accept the decision that any financial member of the NBA must be or must have been a NEC member before he can contest for a National Office? The impression one gets from this is that the NBA belongs only to the members of National Executive Committee (NEC) and not all those duly called to the Nigeria Bar and have been discharging their obligations to the Association? If one may even ask how democratic is the composition of NEC? Although some may argue that NBA is not a political party, and if that is so, must things be done undemocratically? When our country was about returning to the present democratic government, an attempt was made to restrict the rights of Nigerian Citizens to form political parties to exercise their to vote and be voted. This was challenged in court and it was eventually ruled in the case of INEC Vs. Musa (2003) 3 NWLR (Pt.806) 72 that INEC has not power to restrict the rights of Nigerian Citizens to form political parties to exercise their rights to vote and be voted for. Can NBA Constitution be allowed to unjustly and unfairly restrict the rights of its financial members to vote and be voted for?
Sir my appeal to the Honourable members of your Committee (ECNBA) is to reconsider your decision not clearing me, as I expect the ECNBA to be fair, just and considerate the assignment given to it. Everyone is making history by whatever decision he or she takes whether positively or negatively which will determine his or her appropriate place in history. A situation where the Committee is selective on whom to clear and not to clear does not meet the standard of what is just and fair. One of the rules of the game is that those who sponsored and seconded a contestant must be as qualified as the contestant. We have instances where the ECNBA cleared some candidates that did not meet this requirement. On this we shall cross the bridge when we reach there. My disqualification by the Committee merely on the ground that I and my seconder were not NEC members is unacceptable. What this has gone to show me is that in NBA national election screening or aptitude test, scoring from 50% to 99% marks or points are not pass mark. If a candidate that scored 99% cannot be given distinction then who else will get it? This is a question for thought for those that have conscience as “conscience is an open wound only the truth can heal it”.
It will not be out of place to state here that since I was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2002, I have actively been in private law practice which I combine with law publishing which to the glory of God I have published two books namely LAW PRACTICE KIT and LEGAL LUMINARIES which have been rated by great men in our noble profession as very novel and well-researched. Being a prolific, I have written numerous articles promoting the positive image of our noble profession and published in many newspapers and magazines. My desire to contest for the National Publicity Secretary is to selflessly contribute more to the profession.
My appeal again to the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) is to reconsider its decision disqualifying me from contesting in the forthcoming elections which decision to me is grossly unfair, unjust and discriminatory considering the fact that I have been a member of the Lagos Branch of the Association since 2002 and even served the branch as Publicity Secretary between 2013 and 2015. If this decision is not reversed, I may review my membership of the Association by writing to the appropriate authorities to discharge me from certain duties and obligations to the Association as I cannot comprehend a situation where having been paying all the necessary fees, dues and discharging other obligations expected of me only now be discriminatorily disqualified from taking part in what I consider am entitled to.
Alternatively, if the ECNA’s decision is not reversed, I may proceed to the court of law to ventilate my grievance against the decision I consider unjust unfair, and discriminatory to me and this letter should be taken as my NOTICE OF INTENTION TO SUE .This is not about one is trying to be desperate to be a National Officer, but a call to duty that “Stand up for what is right even if you are alone” to quote the immortal words of the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, GCON. I trust the Honourable members of the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association will urgently without further delay do the needful by clearing me to contest for the position of the National Publicity Secretary in the forthcoming elections.
ABDULRASHEED IBRAHIM, LL.M
Former Publicity Secretary NBA Lagos Branch
Nominated Candidate for the position of National Publicity Secretary
NOTE: It should be noted that I have attached evidence of payment for my stamp and seal to this letter.
I want to thank you for your patience in reading this SO LONG A LETTER which I have submitted to the ECNBA on 16th June 2018. I was given 7 days within which to do that and I have complied having received the their letter on 14th June 2018 .I am now waiting for the response of the Honourable members of the Committee to treat my appeal and make their pronouncement for me to know my next line of action. I prefer to be allowed to run the race and lose out rather than being unjustly, unfairly and discriminately disallowed from running in the race. I believe from this letter of appeal I have to some extent been able to answer some curious questions asked by some lawyers and none lawyers. I equally believe I have answered the lawyer that said the situation I found myself is “Self-Inflicted injury as the NBA has his rules and regulations”. I think I can now talk to the likes of that lawyer colleague if they have been very objective enough to read this my letter of appeal to the ECNBA. I want to thank all those who have called to express their solidarity and identified with this struggle, their expressions and show of love ,admiration and prayers have sharpen my desire to continue to stand for what is right. Those who have been following this my weekly column should pardon me that I did not produce REMARKABLE PRONOUNCEMENT and THE SETTLED PRINCIPLE OF LAW this week. As we await the response of ECNBA, I wish you all a wonderful week ahead. I indeed believe we all enjoyed the Muslim Festival of EID -EL- FITR marking the end of the Ramadan fasting. May the Almighty God continue to give all of us the spirit to continue live and relate together in peace and unity. God bless NBA! God bless Nigeria!