By Sylvester Udemezue
My attention was drawn to a news story on elomba.com under the title, “Commotion at NBA P/H Branch Post-Election Party.” I have carefully followed comments on social media platforms since the news came out. I read also a comment made on Legal Practice Discourse (LPD) by respected Kayode Enitan, SAN as follows: “I hope the senior counsel reported to have been manhandled will step forward and speak out if this report is true. I most sincerely hope so for the sake of the Bar.” I saw the response (to the learned silk) by an ex-Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Port Harcourt Branch, Mr Omubo Victor Frank-Briggs who wrote as follows: “I was at the celebration and was present when Mr. Tonye Krukrubo of Aluko & Oyebode and the Campaign Coordinator of Tunde Ajibade SAN made videos of Olu and was asked by another lawyer to delete the videos. Mr. Krukrubo apolozised for making the videos and deleted them. Mr. Tonye Krukrubo was not threatened or manhandled and there no physical confrontation.” I read learned silk Kayode Enitan
s further reactions to Mr Frank-Briggss said comment. Mr Enitan had posed the following questions to Mr Frank-Briggs: “Could you kindly explain to us the reason why that other lawyer, Mr Krukrubo, was asked to delete the videos made of Olu? Could you also kindly share with us what Olu was doing when the video was being made? You may also wish to enlighten us on why there was a need to ensure there was no pictorial or video evidence of Olu’s presence. Please do not be annoyed that I have asked so many questions; it
s simply because you are the only one who has owned up to being present at the event which we had earlier been told never happened and did not have Olu present therein. Thank you sir." Further, this was Mr Wale Olajides reaction to Mr Omubo Victor Frank-Briggs`s comment: “Oga Victor, you owe the Profession a higher duty than the one you owed to your friends. You will be doing the Profession a lot of good by laying bare the true facts of what Olumide Akpata was doing when the lawyer made the recordings, why was the recordings and other pictorial evidence deleted and whether the lawyer who made the recordings was assaulted or not. If we all complain of the rot in the system, then we must be ready to be part of the effort to bring about the necessary sanity into the system.”
I have seen several other comments on the matter. Now, I think I agree with both Mr Kayode Enitan, SAN, and Mr Wale Olajide on this; in my opinion, some of our colleagues are just being evasive. We ought to stop being evasive, leave irrelevant sentiments and address the real issues in the best interest of the legal profession. It is a known fact that Mr Olumide Akpata who is a current NBA Presidential aspirant, resides in Lagos. That Olumide Akpata traveled to Port Harcourt on 25 June 2020 and was present at an NBA members’ victory celebration/party in Port Harcourt, are not in doubt. The NBA Port Harcourt expressly admitted this. Mr Victor Omubo Frank-Briggs (Port Harcourt NBA Chairman: 2016-2018) was the first to confirm it on Legal Practice Discourse, as shown above, on 27 June 2020. It was the several reactions that trailed Mr Frank-Briggs`s admissions above, that made both Mr Frank-Briggs and the NBA, Port Harcourt Branch to issue separate statements on the issue, in attempt to make “clarifications.” In other words, the statement Mr Frank-Briggs later issued was a direct response to reactions that followed his said LPD statement.The statement was titled,”Aluko And Oyebode Partner Wasn’t Manhandled At NBA Porthacourt Event Says Fmr. Chair, Frank-Briggs” (and published in the TheNigeriaLawyer.com). The statement by NBA, Port Harcourt Branch was titled “Re: Commotion at the NBA Port Harcourt Post Election Party: The True Story” (And Published In Elomba.Com).
Now, to face the real issues objectively, devoid of sentiments, we all were/are aware that the Nigerian Federal Government’s Covid-19 Regulations, as signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in March 2020 forbid inter-state travels.The Regulations were still in force as at 25 June 2020, when the incident in Port Harcourt reportedly happened. ▪️We are aware that all Governors in Nigeria had also placed a ban on Inter-state travels, which had not been lifted as at 25/06/2020? The comments and later statements by both Mr. Frank-Briggs and the NBA, Port Harcourt Branch, each has confirmed/admitted the following facts: (1) Mr Olumide Akpata was in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on 25 June 2020, and attended a party/celebration, organized by PH NBA or PH NBA-members; (2) Videos of Mr Olumide Akpata were taken (with phone), while he was addressing the gathering, by a senior member of the Port Harcourt Branch; (3) The said senior member (whose name is given as Mr Tonye Krukubo) was “asked to delete” the videos.
The relevant questions to ask now are: Do the facts so far admitted not show there was indeed a violation of FG’s COVID-19 Regulations, a disobedience of the Nigerian Governor’s Forum and disrespect for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which had, in a nationwide broadcast by the President on 27 April 2020, placed an indefinite “ban on inter-state travels until further notice?” What are the legal, moral and professional implications of such actions by an aspirant to NBA`s highest office? If, as admitted, all that was being done at the event in PH, which had Olumide AKPATA in attendance, was a “victory celebration/party by friends of the current Chairman of the PH Branch,” why was recording of videos or taking of photos banned? Why were videos recorded of Olumide Akpata (who was only “celebrating victory” and DOING NOTHING MORE) ordered to be deleted? Why were the videos forcibly deleted? Why didn’t people want evidence that they were in Port Harcourt on that day, and in a party that had very many persons in attendance? Why? How many persons attended the after-victory party or celebrations? ▪️What is the provision of FG’s Regulations on Social Distancing? ▪️What does it say on number of persons permitted at any public gathering during this time? How many persons were there at the victory party/celebration that had Olu Akpata in attendance in Port Harcourt on 25 June 2020?
And then, there is the ban by ECNBA (Electoral Committee of the NBA) Guidelines which was clearly flouted on 25/06/2020 in Port Harcourt when an aspirant traveled from Lagos to attend an NBA, Port Harcourt members` party/event, just about one month to the NBA national elections in which he is a candidate. How many after-victory parties had he attended outside Lagos, in the past when he was not a candidate for a national office in the NBA?▪️ Why this year, in breach of ECNBA GUIDELINES and the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Nigerian Governor’s Forum and the office of the President of Nigeria?
Recall that the Electoral Committee for the Nigerian Bar Association (2020 ECNBA) had on 21 April 2020, issued the “Guidelines for the 2020 Nigerian Bar Association National Officers Elections,” to regulate the conduct of the 2020 national elections of the association. Paragraph 6.1 (7) of the 2020 ECNBA GUIDELINES, signed by Mr Tawo Tawo, SAN (ECNBA Chairman) and Mrs. Cordelia Ekeh (ECNBA Secretary) provides as follows:
“Pursuant to Section 8(4) and Paragraph 1.6 of the Second Schedule of the Constitution of the Nigeria Bar Association 2015 (as amended), a Nominee/Aspirant shall be disqualified from holding any National Office of the Association if any of the following is established against him/her: Traveling across the country or to the Branches of the NBA to canvass for votes in whatever form or guise from the date Nominations are declared open for interested aspirants, is prohibited. PROVIDED THAT campaigns can only be done by publication of campaign materials supplied to the ECNBA by the candidates on the designated website. Any candidate who is proven to have engaged in any activities to the contrary, shall be disqualified. “
See “REMINDER ON 2020 ELECTIONS: Travel Across The Country Or To NBA Branches To Canvass For Votes, Get Disqualified — ECNBA Warns Aspirants” (published in on www.lawandjustice.ng). ▪️Above are the real issues that we ought to focus our attention on, please. ▪️Let’s leave sentiments and face the truth. Conscience is an open wound; only the truth can heal it.
Rule 1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners in Nigeria, (RPC), 2007, requires all lawyers in Nigeria to promote the Rule of Law and not engage in conducts unbecoming of legal practitioners. ▪️Section 3 of the NBA Constitution as amended says that the aims/objectives of the NBA include promotion of rule of law. ▪️Recall that a few days ago, INEC had called out the NBA to deal with some senior members of the legal profession who “bring the name of the profession into disrepute.” (see “Conflicting Court Orders: INEC Enjoins The NBA To Call Culpable Lawyers To Order In The Interest Of Rule Of Law & The Legal Profession” (Published On www.lawandjustice.ng)
▪️In view of the above, it is my humble opinion that the Port Harcourt incident needs to be investigated. ▪️If anyone should be seen flouting Federal Government’s COVID-19 Regulations, such conduct should never come from an aspirant to the highest office in the NBA. ▪️If anyone should disobey the Nigerian Governor’s Forum’ s ban on Inter-state travels, such conduct should never come from an aspirant to the highest office in the NBA.▪️If anyone should disobey the Social Distancing Guidelines set by the Federal Government, such conduct should never come from an aspirant to the highest office in the NBA. ▪️If anyone should flout the directives of President Buhari (given on 27/04/2020) banning inter-state travels, such conduct should never come from an aspirant to the highest office in the NBA. ▪️NBA cannot be blaming Governments in Nigeria and their agencies for desecrating Rule of Law, while itself condoning NBA its members who have NO regard for rule of law and who have NO regard for constituted authorities. ▪️That would send a wrong signal to the other members of the society. People are watching. Non lawyers who witnessed the party or celebrations in PH, must have been asking, What manner of Profession is this? ▪️Further, that an aspirant to the office of the NBA President could be present in an event that had very many persons in attendance, thus endangering people’s lives at the peak of COVID-19 pandemic, speaks volumes in itself!
Sylvester Udemezue (udems)
(28 June 2020)”