SOME senior lawyers on Friday asked aggrieved Northern members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to stop their bid to pull out of the association over allegations that the lawyers’ body is biased.
Some Northern lawyers had on Thursday claimed that they had formed a new Bar association called New Nigerian Bar Association (NNBA). Malam Yusuf Ali (SAN) told Saturday Tribune on Friday that aggrieved members of the NBA should imbibe the spirit of forgiveness and save the association from fragmentation.
“I want to appeal to our colleagues that an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. The spirit of forgiveness is not just a religious issue, it permeates all human affairs. Two wrongs can never make a right. The solution does not lie in balkanising the NBA.
The Bar association commands respect because of the strength and size of its membership. Creating a parallel structure is not the solution. I just want to appeal. If we balkanise the NBA, each part becomes weaker. “We should allow reason to prevail. This is a matter that should be sorted out. We should not behave like Nigerian politicians who jump ship at the slightest disagreement to create new platforms. The result is the large number of weak political parties in the country,” the Senior Advocate pleaded.
However, speaking with Saturday Tribune, Abuja-based human rights activist and constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), described the move as a wrong venture which is dead on arrival. “It is wrong and dead on arrival. They have no reason to attempt ethnicising and religionising an innocuous dis-invitation of Malam Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State. He was invited not as a Muslim or northerner but as a governor.
And NBA NEC bowed to popular pressure about his bad governance style, especially the daily slaughter of Southern Kaduna Christians and disinvited him,” Ozekhome said. Also speaking, Special Counsel to the Oyo State Governor, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN), described the action of the northern lawyers as one that is not feasible because they do not have the support of other lawyers.
It is not feasible. I think it is just a few individuals and they do not have the support of the members of the Bar,” he said. Chief Yomi Aliu (SAN) said the dis-invitation of El-Rufai, in the first place, was an indication that the NBA had been taken over by politicians.
He said the withdrawal of the invitation to the governor was an unnecessary political move that has caused dissension among members. Chief Aliu said: “The NBA has been hijacked by political lawyers to the disaffection of real practitioners of law. “Elections from 2016 or so vide e-voting had been manipulated to favour members of this class.
They often engage in class wars as could be seen from the dis-invitation of El-Rufai. “One may ask what crime El-Rufai had committed that Obasanjo or Wike had not committed. Or what do we say of Iraqi warmonger, British ex-prime minister, Tony Blair?
Before the northern lawyers’ resolution, disenfranchised and cheated members of the Bar from the last election that produced Olumide Akpata had perfected schism of NBA and have over 10,000 lawyers across the country on its roll. “In fact, the last election had produced a Rehoboam and as such, a Jeroboam must arise to save the Bar from the biennial rape of majority decisions by the over-rich minority spending billions on professional elections as in the Israel of old.
The NBA has failed woefully, neglected and refused to protect the interest of the majority of its members. It has refused to speak to power but rather it hobnobs with power, albeit in a beggar-like manner. “The ship is filled with filth and any occupant not used to dirt is free to disembark and join or form another organisation that will protect his interest.
Law Society of Nigeria was incorporated in 1994 as a fallout of the Port Harcourt conference imbroglio of 1992. Today, we have in the offing New Nigerian Bar Association, Nigerian Bar Society and Northern lawyers should stop bid to real NBA —SANs Bar Society of Nigeria. Some members of the Board of Trustees that could save the NBA from imminent schism became partisan by congratulating the declared winner, even when a candidate had protested in the course of the election.
“They thereafter sat and decided the petition of the declared loser, thereby throwing away the avowed principle against bias. “Certainly, this cannot be the Bar of our dream and nobody can put the rope on the neck of any lawyer to join by force. Let there be the choice as obtainable in other civilised climes or accountancy profession that has ICAN and ANAN.”
Meanwhile, the 30th president of the NBA, Olumide Akpata, has called for a united Bar to take the legal profession to a greater height. Akpata, in his inaugural speech on Friday, said the mandate he had from Nigerian lawyers is to work for all members of the Bar, irrespective of who they voted for, saying that there is so much work to be done to revitalise the NBA and make it work for everyone without discrimination. “Ours is a noble profession that prides itself on a high sense of discipline, learning, respect for seniority and character, for which its members are reputed.
Let us, therefore, join hands to move the NBA forward. I am also not unaware of very recent events and agitations that have tended to divide our Bar along regional and religious lines. “This is rather unfortunate for an egalitarian association like ours. The Bar that I want to lead henceforth is one that is united on all fronts and that recognises that our diversity is perhaps our greatest strength. “I plead with all Nigerian lawyers to bear this philosophy of unity in mind as we commence a new journey together today,” he declared.
According to the new NBA boss, the enormous task cannot be achieved if lawyers continue to fan the embers of division at a time when they desperately need to unite and speak with one firm voice. “We must be kind, magnanimous, respectful, and sensitive in our words and actions, as doing otherwise would be a great disservice to our vision of building a stronger and formidable Bar.
Now is the time to come together because a divided Bar is a defeated Bar,” he said. Akpata said the 2020 NBA election, the voting and result of which were monitored live by a significant proportion of Nigerian lawyers and non-lawyers
alike, was ultimately free and fair and the result was, by all estimation, truly reflective of the will of Nigerian lawyers.
He added: “The above notwithstanding, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that there were several glitches in the build up to the election. “As Nigeria’s foremost professional Association, our electoral process ought to be the standard for others to follow and should, to the extent humanly possible, be devoid of the glitches that we witnessed.
It was with this in mind that I personally wrote two separate letters to the ECNBA Chairman on 20th July 2020 and 29th July 2020 to highlight the issues that threatened the conduct of a credible election and to recommend measures to immediately address those concerns.
“The consensus is that there is need to urgently review the 2020 elections and to institute urgent reforms of our electoral systems.” He constituted a 12 member committee which he pledged to implement whatever recommendations they come up with well ahead of time to ensure that the 2022 election is devoid of those glitches noticed in the 2020 election and to set a standard that others will aspire to.
The forming of the NNBA was announced through a statement on Thursday, signed by the conveners of the new group, Mr Nuhu Ibrahim and Mr Abdulbasit Suleiman. The aggrieved Northern lawyers insisted that their action was based on Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution which provides that “every person shall be entitled to assembly freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any association for the protection of his interests.”
The statement reads: “The New Nigerian Bar Association members, gleaning from the above constitutional provision, feel that their interests are no longer taken into consideration in major decisions of the NBA hence the formation of this association.
“What has been happening recently has exposed the inability of the NBA to manage and contain the heterogeneity of its embers as well as their various interests. Its penal powers have been deployed discriminatively on the basis of ethnicity and regionalism.
“As a body of lawyers who have undergone training towards ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights and liberties, the NBA is supposed to live above sentiments, regionalism and discrimination on any basis and of any kind.
“Therefore, the NBA cannot afford to be seen not to be upholding the rights and freedom of its own members, if at all it should be seen to be practising what it preaches. “As the Hausa saying goes: Idan Kura tana magainin Zhao, ta yi ma kanta (if hyena has cure for diarrhea, let her use it for herself).
The New Nigerian Bar Association has been watching the activities of the NBA, an association we all looked forward to joining with high hopes before being called to the Nigerian Bar, forcing idiosyncrasies of a few on the majority of its members, especially in recent times. “No wonder NBA NEC, which is the highest decision-making organ of the association failed to uphold the fundamental principles of fair hearing which, in itself, is the fundamental aspect of the rule of law on the allegations against the Executive Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, as contained in a petition by Chidi Odinkalu Esq., a longtime foe of His Excellency and a lawyer of the eastern extraction.
“But the NBA failed to extend the same treatment to Southern invitees who were also petitioned and are also alleged to have committed similar or more human rights abuses than those alleged against Malam El-Rufai. “It is pertinent to state that the NBA membership as currently constituted can be termed ‘Mandatory Membership Association’ which, for all intents and purposes, is against the provisions of the constitution since the ground norm recognises freedom of membership of every association.
“As Section 40 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria1999 provides as follows: ‘Every person shall be entitled to assembly freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any Association for the protection of his interests.
“The New Nigerian Bar Association members, gleaning from the above Constitutional provision feel that their interests are no longer taken into consideration in major decisions of the NBA hence the formation of this Association. “A cursory chronicle of the membership composition of major organs of the NBA would reveal lopsided representation despite having large numbers of lawyers from all parts of the country and especially Northern Nigeria who have diligently paid their Bar practising fees and have distinguished themselves in the legal profession.
The New Nigerian Bar Association feels that lawyers, as professionals like doctors and accountants, should have more than one association regulated by the General Council of the Bar. “The Legal Practitioners Act (LPA), which regulates the legal profession in Nigeria, did not establish the NBA. In fact, the NBA was established as an Incorporated Trustee by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
“It is no longer gainsaying that a group of lawyers can freely join any lawful association for the protection of their rights and interests as lawyers and citizens of Nigeria pursuant to the above-cited Section 40 of the constitution. “Even Section 1 of the Legal Practitioners Act, which seemingly conscripts all Lawyers in Nigeria to Mandatory Membership of NBA, is, for all intents and purposes, at loggerheads with Section 40 of the constitution which makes the former null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
“The constitution remains the supreme law of the land to which all other laws, including the LPA are subject. “Section 1(3) of the constitution states that: ‘If any other law is inconsistent with the provision of this constitution, this constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void’.
“On the basis of the foregoing, some lawyers of like mind and duly called to the Nigerian Bar have decided to form the New Nigerian Bar Association with the aim of protecting their interests as encapsulated under Section 40 of the constitution.
“Members of this Association have commenced consultations with very Senior Lawyers of Northern Nigeria extraction and those practising therein with the view to constituting the Trustees and for purposes of fixing a date for the formal inauguration of the Association. “The inaugural date of the association, Being apolitical and geared at taking and protecting the interests of lawyers of like minds, shall be communicated. Please watch out.”