Elections in Nigeria can be likened to the process of recycling. Our worn-out past is put in a glistening wrapping paper which we reuse; simultaneously complaining that we deserve better. Thankfully, this article is not about elections into executive office but about the upcoming elections of the Nigerian Bar Association; the umbrella body for lawyers in the country tasked with the responsibility of catering to the general welfare of lawyers, maintaining the integrity of the legal profession and promoting justice and rule of law.
The election trail has not been without its hitches; from controversies surrounding zoning, which is the use of geographic locations such as East, West, and North to primarily determine candidates who can run in the first instance – as enshrined in the NBA Constitution – to statements made by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria implying that the position of the President should be the exclusive preserve of a SAN. It is no surprise that as Africa’s largest body of lawyers, the NBA wields undeniable influence both in Nigeria and Internationally. It is charged with the maintenance and defence of the integrity of the judiciary, and with this role comes the incidental position of a shadow watchdog and pressure point to the executive and legislative arm of government. It has observer status with the African Commission on Human and People’s Right and has partnered with a host of national and international non- governmental organizations. The culmination of this influence was witnessed on the 6thof March 2006, when the then NBA president, Lanke Odogiyan announced a court boycott to draw attention to the contempt and ridicule of the Judiciary by persistent disobedience of court orders and violation of fundamental human rights of citizens by all tiers of government. This boycott lasted for two days, effectively embarrassed the government, and served as a landmark in democracy as the government through the Attorney General of the Federation made a commitment to comply with court judgments brought to its attention and to forward evidence of compliance to the NBA.
There is no doubt that the position of President looks good on paper. The role tends to increase the visibility and profile of the holder. The last two holders of the office currently sit on the board of blue-chip organizations like MTN, Access Bank, PZ Cussons, Dangote Foundation, and Stanbic IBTC Pensions. Like all positions of such nature, it can be abused for personal or selfish gains which would result in a lack of value to the country and its members. Thus, the need to offer an insight into the aspirants and their proposals.
Julius Oladele Adesina SAN
As a former Chairman of the NBA Ikeja branch, Oladele Adesina highlights that the reason he chose the NBA platform was/ is to make his contribution towards nation building- first to the country and then the profession. He envisions the bar to have a Professional Practice Support Trust Fund for junior lawyers to set up their own practice as well as funding for the Young Lawyers Forum. He also intends to support and collaborate with state authorities to fight corruption within the context of the rule of law, due process, and strict obedience to constitutional provisions.
Dr Babatunde Ajibade, PH.D, SAN, FCIARB
Having served in several committees of the NBA, Dr. Babatunde Ajibade sees the position of the President as a platform to bridge the dividing gaps in the body between the Bench and the Bar, corporate/commercial lawyers and advocates, young lawyers and senior lawyers and even divisions between ethnicities. He plans to restore dignity to the profession especially in the sphere of remuneration for work done through engagement with the Attorney- General of the Federation and the Attorney Generals at state level so that a meeting of the Legal Practitioners Remuneration Committee can be organized for the purpose of establishing and where applicable, reviewing the scale of charges for legal work. For the smooth running of the judicial system, he also aims to engage with the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the heads of court in several levels of government so that cases will be scheduled into a date and time period to enable counsel to utilize time allocated irrespective of seniority. While lawyers in several parts of the country still earn below the minimum wage and courts still remain heavily congested; we certainly do hope that these plans are given serious attention to after the sweet talk of the elections.
Olumide Akpata is the only non-SAN in the presidential race and has had his share of service to the Nigerian Bar Association especially with leading two Section of Business Law Conferences which he defines as world-class. He acclaims himself to be the one with recent and most relevant experience to lead the bar and is confident that he is the President who will hit the ground running without having to learn on the job. He believes that currently, the NBA has little or no utilitarian value and that many of the members have remained members simply out of compulsion. He intends to institutionalize recommendations of the Bar with regards to minimum remuneration for lawyers as well as leverage on the membership strength of the NBA to provide affordable health insurance scheme to its members. Akpata is particularly popular with young lawyers who have either benefited from his mentorship at the progressive Templars law firm or during his spell leading the Section of Business Law. His plans to institute a competitive scholarship scheme based on very transparent criteria for six young lawyers to be drawn from NBA branches in each of the geo-political zones to attend conferences/training abroad for the two years of his administration also reflecting his popularity.
Unlike the old system where delegates vote, all registered members of the Bar have a vote so it is best to carefully scrutinize each candidate because Ideas are always grandiose, and like wrapping paper, they glisten. All members of the Bar can do is pray that whoever emerges president is not a “recycled worn-out past” of the NBA who leaves it in the position that it is met in.