By Geoffrey Nwokolo
The Nigerian Bar Association arguably Africa’s largest professional gathering of lawyers has gotten to a historical junction in its progression as a union where old medicine can’t cure new and emerging ills. The build up to this year’s NBA election has generated interests and momentum beyond the usual norm and the reason isn’t far-fetched as we enter a season where the body needs to reform itself from within or see its members become lukewarm and generally involved in its affairs by professional compulsion. Institutional memory will serve us well in recalling that the Nigerian Bar association in the glorious past served as a beacon of home for the common Nigerian man and worked in unison with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) of blessed “’energetic’’ memory to hold the government to account, ensure the upholding of the rule of law which is the association’s key objective and strengthen our national democratic credentials.
It is very clear at the moment that the Nigerian Bar association wasn’t immune from the long years of democratic suppression in Nigeria and is currently in a state of self-survival, struggle packaging while seeking to retool itself to meet the growing needs of its members and by extension, the Nigerian people. The Success spoken about the NBA is echoed in past tense. The question begging for accurate answers is what the association is doing about the present and most importantly its future. The elections set to hold in July afford the NBA a new platform and opportunity to reconnect with the spirit of its founding philosophy and get back to the path of coordinated yet aggressive growth. The presidential candidates in this election activate hope in all respects. Olumide Akpata has shown through previous service to the Bar as Chairman of the Section of Business Law amongst others to be the very standard for quality. Ajibade Babatunde SAN has through years of great good left no one in doubt of his commendable credentials. Dele Adesina SAN has through previous leadership of the Bar as General Secretary made it clear that he will prefer to return the bar to its ‘’glory days’’. Adesina Ogulana through his activism personae if his disqualification by the electoral body of the bar is transformed to qualification raises hope in the Nigerian labour community by his vow to return the NBA to its national tiger ways. The profile, personality and positioning of all the candidates has made the elections go beyond the lawyering circles to trend on popular social networking sites such as twitter and Facebook while non-lawyers have joined the wish mix of who they expect to emerge as Bar leader. Non practising lawyers who have turned their other lifelong talents to commercial treasures have spoken out on who they prefer to become the new president while Dr Joe Abah who does great development work has been vocal on his preference for the Akpata mandate and has vowed to register with the NBA once again after being called to the bar thirty four years ago. There is currently a digital disruption in the NBA as the elections are set to hold through electronic voting. This has been the norm in recent time since the amendment of the NBA constitution from the previous delegate voting system to a technical universal suffrage arrangement that allows lawyers who have paid the relevant financial dues and are in good standing in the Bar to join up in the selection of the NBA president. There is renewed vigour on the part of young lawyers who form the majority bulk of NBA membership to resist every strategy to make them mere pawns in the bar chessboard but use their voting powers to select and direct the leadership wheel of the association and ensure the NBA works for the benefit of all as opposed to a privileged few. This awakening has triggered a lot of ‘’old bar’’ preservation actions, the latest of which rattled the very fabric upon which the NBA is built and operates.
In a letter to fellow members of the body of senior advocates of Nigeria which was planned to be a correspondence of private privilege but through the conspiracy of great good made it to public legal space, respected learned silk Solomon Awomolo made it clear that the presidency of the Nigerian Bar should remain the exclusive preserve of Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
In his words filled with ownership energy , he says ‘’I hear about a powerful and potent revolutionary move by junior colleagues who are very much in larger numbers to wrestle the office of the NBA President from the rank of SAN. That in my view will be unfortunate for the rank and to the members of the public, a ridicule of the rank and office of the President of the NBA’’
It is being argued in many quarters that the learned silk simply placed on paper the heart held views of a sizeable entitled class that believe the leadership of the Bar is theirs in the most permanent placed ways. This position has raised a lot of dust as learned silks who are contesting for the position of the President of the Bar have through the force of leadership ambition or perhaps personal opinion stated the obvious which is that the position of President belongs to the most qualified, competent, available, strong and forward looking candidate, SAN or not.
We are now at a point where we need to choose whether to keep the bar in its recent capsules of captured seniority or release it to serve the needs of not just its members but the Nigerian people. Democracy is the rule of the majority and shouldn’t be given an opposite description in the NBA. One of the best years of the NBA was when it was piloted by a Non silk Alao Aka- Bashorun. It’s time for young lawyers to clearly select the candidate who will protect their interest, see to their welfare and liberalize the leadership of the bar as opposed to seeing young lawyers as bulk due paying numbers only.
Thankfully, progressive Senior Advocates of Nigeria have gone public with their position that the best candidate (SAN or non SAN) or as some put it, the most competent Inner or outer bar member should indeed lead the NBA and have gone ahead to endorse candidates across the divide. A lot of trust has been reposed in members of the NBA electoral body to deliver results which reflect the wishes of voters and not one that looks like the wider Nigerian ‘’server’’ experience as that will lead to a rushed burial of our professional association in spirit, form and truth.
It’s time for the power of the NBA to be broadly distributed and one candidate is clear in speech, action, experience and track record to deliver same in the most profound successful way. It’s time to make the Bar work for ALL! Nigerians are watching.
I rest my case.
Geoffrey Nwokolo is a lawyer and founder of Clever Communications.