Change Of Guard: Should The NBA Be Split? By: Abdulrasheed Ibrahim


With the exit of AB Mahmoud , SAN’s “Brave New Bar” in the just concluded 2018 NBA Annual Conference, the burden is now on Paul Usoro, SAN who has been sworn in as the new President to pilot the Association out of the controversy it presently finds itself.
Since PUSAN as he fondly called was declared as the winner of the NBA Presidency, Arthur Obi Okafor, SAN also fondly called AOO has refused to accept the election verdict. The followers of the two senior lawyers have engaged in what can be called a COLD WAR. AOO has gone further to file a suit in the law court challenging the victory of PUSAN. With this new development, only God knows when the CEASEFIRE will come.
Immediately PUSAN was announced as the winner of said election, some past NBA Presidents including Chiefs Olanipekun, Ojo and Alegeh amongst others did not hesitate to congratulate PUSAN, but Chief J.B Dawudu, SAN on his part asserted that:
“…I have found it difficult to congratulate all the national officers said to have been elected in this exercise. Once the exercise is concluded or I am proven to be wrong in the foregoing analysis. I will offer my hand of cooperation to all who have survived the ENBA”
I think the exercise being referred to by Chief J.B. Dawudu is the Post Election Audit called for by AOO and which the out-gone President promised would be carried out. But with the present AOO’s suit in court, it seems Chief J.B. Dawudu will now have to wait till the final determination of the suit to offer his hand of cooperation to the new NBA leadership. This is an election in which all those who (except AOO) lost out have accepted their fate and congratulated the winners. These same winners have also now been joined in the suit as defendants. Honestly, by the claims before the court, this is going to be another very interesting case. I just hope this will not be another “Long Walk to Justice”. Apology to Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”. Chief Joseph Gadzama, SAN’s suit challenging the 2016 NBA election victory of AB Mahmoud is still pending in court. Now the man is out-gone as NBA President and there is yet to be a judgment on the legality or otherwise of his victory being challenged by his opponent who was aggrieved by the outcome of that election.
With the team of lawyers presently consisting of not less than three Senior Advocates of Nigeria already engaged by AOO, while at the same time we await the number of lawyers that will form the PUSAN’s defence team as well as other defendants who may choose to defend the suit, But this only time will tell whether this new development will bring about the much desire quick dispensation of justice especially this time around when lawyers are the litigants before the court.
When AB Mahmoud came on board in 2016, I wrote in an article titled “Sustaining the NBA Revolution” published in the This Day Newspaper, wherein I advised that:
“With the emergence Abubakar Balarabe Mahmud, SAN as the NBA President, one must say that this is a new beginning for the Nigerian Bar Association. While one must commend the out-gone president for his laudable achievements and for living up to some of his electoral promises particularly that of the insurance scheme and making the electronic voting a reality. His regime may have not been devoid of any lapses, but his successor must identify those lapses, try his best to address them and build or consolidate his predecessor’s good achievements. One of these apparent lapses was the incessant failure of the successive regimes in the handling of the conference materials. It is not good enough for lawyers having paid through their noses, not to have best of conference materials to show for their money. Lessons should be learned from how international conferences are being organized.”
Whether the “Brave New Bar” was able to achieve those promises it came with and built on the legacy of its predecessor was now a serious debate among lawyers. While AB Mahmoud has scored his regime high and castigated those he said condemned the election organised by his regime that they did not make proper findings on what actually happened as if he was reacting to those who have scored his regime very low and described his regime as failure. According to a statement attributed to Professor Ernest Ojukwu who also ran for the Presidency in the election:
“AB Mahmoud’s greatest legacy for the Nigerian Bar Association and Legal Profession is that he came in as President under the controversy of a rigged election and leaves office under a great controversy of a more rigged election. Great legacy!”
With the change of guard from AB Mahmoud to Paul Usoro, SAN, the ball is now in court of PUSAN to properly steer the NBA’s boat which if care is not taken may be heading to the rock . It was not good enough completely disenfranchising about 3,631 lawyers out of about 16,115 said to have been verified and accredited to vote in the election. This is one of the problems that have to be address by PUSAN to avoid future occurrence. It is a good thing that the NBA Constitutional amendment undertook by AB Mahmoud was thrown overboard. This amendment should now be embarked upon by the new Executives under the leadership of PUSAN. The amendment must be made opened and all lawyers must be allowed to make recommendations and suggestions for the betterment of the Association. There must not be a back door constitutional amendment this time around.
The new regime must take steps to reform the NBA to be all inclusive. The irrational political inequality in NBA must be corrected as a Constitution that promotes discrimination will not be in the interest of all the members. An Association that claims promotion of the Rule of Law must do so both in theory and practice. It must be both internal and external as it will amount to hypocrisy preaching a particular principle while at the same time practicing the contrary. There is the need to have a second look at this electronic voting as it is being used presently in the NBA electoral system. Since the system now seems to be prone manipulation and fraud, there is the urgent need to find a way to address this and find a lasting solution to it. I have suggested somewhere else that future NBA electoral body must be made to be truly independent by being allowed to engage service provider by itself for the purpose of the election. It will not be a bad idea amending the NBA Constitution allowing an impeccable retired Supreme Court or Court of Appeal Justice to chair the NBA electoral committee at the national level while at the branch level an impeccable retired High Court Judge or Chief Magistrate can be chosen, for us have decent electoral processes. The composition of the electoral and its working should not be a fire brigade approach. There need to be a time frame within which any case challenging an electoral victory be determined within a very short time.
Among the promises and action plan given to lawyers by PUSAN are Institutional Development, Regulatory Reforms, Human Capital Development, Welfare Programme, Promotion of Rule of Law and Good Governance in Nigeria. Since the NBA’s change of guard has taken place, the burden is now on Paul Usoro, SAN and his gang of thirteen (13) to hit the ground running toward the actualisation of his action plan. In the next two (2) years if there is no wave of hand from the court of law in view of the pending suit challenging his victory, lawyers in Nigeria will produce the PUSAN’s GANG scorecard. The ball is now in the court of Paul Usoro, SAN to decide what he wants to be remembered for as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association.
If we deny the existence of divergent view in NBA, it means we are not honest in this our analysis. Many lawyers are not pleased with what is going on in the NBA and as such have been raising their voices very loud and clear. The monopoly of the NBA over the years is now being threatened. If care is not taken, funny things may soon start unfolding just like what you have been seen in the Nigerian political circles. Some lawyers may now begin to add an alphabet as prefix to the NBA. Do you remember how “N” was added to PDP to become “nPDP”? Do you remember how “R” was added to APC to become “rAPC” . The question now is SHOULD NBA BE SPLIT?
On this issue, one of the leading voices in this direction is no other person than Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, a former Chairman of the Nigeria Human Rights Commission who was reported on social media to have said that :
“Guys, the NBA is an NGO registered under Part C of CAMA. If it fails to meet with your values, don’t stand aside ..U can start ur own NGO or join another …AB and Yadudu have made it possible to evince something different. Don’t sit there and think anyone is created with mandate to be your mouthpiece. If you are a lawyer, you have a voice, use it.”
On social media some lawyers have started expressing their grievances suggesting names of parallel associations to be formed to break the NBA monopoly. This is the reason why there is a need for the new NBA leadership to swing into action to reunite the membership of the NBA by taking steps to reform the NBA by addressing the lawyers’ grievances. I am always of the view that NBA is better as one rather than being split into segments, but this can only be made possible where every member is given sense of belonging. Where some lawyers felt isolated from the scheme of things, there is every tendency of having the feeling of going their own different ways. There is no doubt that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the right of every citizen to the freedom of association, that is to say you have the right to belong or not to belong any particular association NBA inclusive, but the only way the NBA can avoid the split in its fold is to reform itself and embrace international practices. If we continue to have the NBA that belongs to some rather all of us, then you can be rest assured that one day there will be split in the NBA and its monopoly sends packing.
The best judge in trial proceedings is undoubtedly the trial judge. He sees it all because he closely watches the proceedings and all that. He feels the pinch when parties try to dilly-dally the proceedings or adopt tricks to overreach or outsmart the adverse party. If the trial judge fails to take a position in the light of the rules of court and takes or tows the line of sympathy, then he will have a plethora or load of cases in his cause list to the extent that he cannot get out of a mounting backlog of cases. That will reflect on him adversely, and in these days of continuous assessment of the performance of the judges he will be in for it. While a trial judge cannot throw away the constitutional provision that parties should be given a hearing in matter before the court because of repercussion of performance assessment, a judge owes the administration of justice a duty to facilitate and ensure the speedy hearing of a case before him. The notoriety that delayed justice attracts to the judiciary is such that judges must work towards the speedy dispensation of justice. Judge must do their best to facilitate the speedy hearing of cases.
Per TOBI, JSC in Banna Vs. Tele-Power (2006) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1001) Pg. 200 Paras B-E
On when objection to irregularity can be raised
The law is that the appropriate time at which a party to a proceeding should raise an objection based on procedural irregularity is at the commencement of the proceedings or at the time when the irregularity arises if the party sleeps on that right and allows the proceeding to continue on the irregularity, then the party cannot be heard to complain, at the concluding stage of the proceedings on an appeal thereafter, that there was a procedural irregularity which vitiated the proceedings. The only exception to this general rule is that the party would be allowed to complain on appeal if he can show that he had suffered a miscarriage of justice by reason of procedural irregularity.
See SAUDE Vs. ABDULLAHI (1989) 4 NWLR (Pt. 116) 387
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2nd September 2018