LAWYERS4CHANGE

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

ELECTIONS! ELECTIONS!! ELECTIONS!!! BUT WILL IT HOLD?


On Monday, June 2 2008, the ‘Bar Centre’ Secretariat of the Nigerian bar Association Ikeja branch will become a Mecca to hundreds of Nigerian lawyers in the afternoon of the day.

The ‘pilgrims’, members of the most radical and certainly the foremost branch of the Bar Association would be coming to their secretariat with one major purpose in their mind-to-participate in the general elections of the famous branch scheduled to hold on that day.

It is also a day that the Niyi Idowu led administration of the Ikeja bar would be vacating the seat of power, to join the growing tribe of past leaders of the Tigers’ Bar.

One of the questions uppermost in the minds of many Tigers now, is “who will be the next chairman of the Tiger Bar?” However, there is even a question of a more urgent dynamics-will the Elections itself hold?

In ordinary times, the latter question would have been unthinkable and quite preposterous to voice out. But these are not ordinary times with the Tiger Bar. As at press time, it can be fairly argued that the body the Tiger Branch has saddled with the conduct of the election is not prepared, or at least is not in a good shape to carry out the exercise.

It would be recalled that about three weeks ago, that the Squib had predicted that going by the contradictory tendencies in the 3 - man Electoral Committee, the Committee may split.

This exactly has happened. The Electoral Committee formerly headed by Taiwo Adeoluwa Esq has not only split but worse, disintegrated.
The first visible sign that the Electoral Committee was in serious trouble was when the chairman, Adeoluwa Esq, surreptitiously, without prior notice to his members, forwarded his letter of resignation from the Committee to the chairman of the branch, Niyi Idowu Esq, on the 26th May, 2008.

Adeoluwa’s action caught the other two members of the E.C (Rex Onobrakpaya Esq. and Gbenga Akingbehin Esq.) napping. Three days before 26th May, 2008, all the three men had jointly signed an interim report on the candidates where they made a sweeping declaration that the Committee had enough materials to disqualify all the candidates in the election (20 in all). This position was considered provocative and unjustifiable by some candidates, who went ahead to formally put down their objection on paper (See Cover Story Exhibit).

In his letter of resignation, which was void of any reason for the withdrawal from duty, Adeoluwa stated that he had handed over all properties of the branch in his custody to the care of the most senior member of the Committee” to wit: Rex Onobrakpeya.

Interestingly, Onobrakpeya interpreted the resignation of Adeoluwa Esq. from the membership of the Electoral Committee and the handing over to him of materials to mean that he automatically became the chairman of the Electoral Committee. He apparently did not avert his mind to the fact that under the Bye-Laws of the Ikeja Bar, a valid Electoral Committee must comprise of three members.

Without further ado, Onobrakpeya assumed the office of the chairman of the E.C and promptly set to work, taking very important but as event would later show, unilateral decisions, on behalf of the new “amputated” Electoral Committee which only comprised of himself and Gbenga Akingbehin.

Working very swiftly indeed, Onobrakpeya on the 26th May, 2008 the very day that Adeoluwa resigned, caused to be posted on the notice board of the Ikeja Bar Secretariat, a document, wherein he cleared all the contestants for the elections on the basis that “after due consultation with all interested parties, we are of the opinion that it will be morally wrong and reprehensible to exclude any one based on the records placed before us to conduct this elections as the records are manifestly unreliable.” (see cover story exhibit).

The Rex Onobrakpeya report excited certain contestants particularly those who were battling with eligibility, while it disturbed those contestants and their supporters who had no eligibility challenges.

On Tuesday 27th May, 2008, the self-appointed chairman of the Electoral Committee was sighted at the Bar Centre clutching some bags and files. He was seen, using his phones to summon all the candidates to a meeting with the E.C. But before the meeting could start, ‘chairman’ Onobrakpeya was openly challenged by Adesina Ogunlana Esq., a PBF chieftain as to the propriety of the Onobrakpeya report which Ogunlana claimed was unilateral and mischievous, a creation of Onobrakpeya to satisfy certain political interests. According to Ogunlana, Ononbrakpeya by his action had become a politician and would be treated as a political opponent by those opposed to his partisan position.

The confrontation even became more heated when Rex Onobrakpeya called upon an on-looker, a man he described as his bodyguard to come and protect him. The ‘body-guard’ however remained wisely quiescent and the storm blew over.

In the event, the meeting of the amputated Electoral Committee with candidates never took place again. This was because, when Mr. Gbenga Akingbehin, the secretary of the E.C showed up some ninety minutes later, he and Onobrakpeya disagreed on the report Onobrakpeya had put up. Akingbehin was heard by many people telling Onobrakpeya that he was not aware of his (Onobrakpeya’s) report and that Onobrakpeya was unfair to him.

On Wednesday, the 28th of May, 2008, Yinka Farounbi Esq. the financial secretary of the association put up the list of financial members of the Ikeja Bar for year 2007/2008, which in effect is the list of those eligible to vote in the June elections. The presence of the “Voters List” re-kindled hope in the hearts of watchers of the Ikeja Bar political scene that the elections would take place on June 2, 2008. But, on Friday 30th May, 2008, that hope suddenly vaporised, courtesy of an 11 page report posted up the notice board by Gbenga Akingbehin Esq.

The Akingbehin Report was not only a blistering denounciation of the Onobrakpeya Report, it was a radical departure from the direction of the Onobrakpeya Report in that it presented strong basis for the exclusion of some contestants from the race, including all but one of the candidates for chairman. The only chairmanship candidates who survived the Akingbehin axe is Dave Ajetomobi Esq. (Please see cover story exhibit.)
The Akingbehin report needless to say was sharply unpalatable to most of those it negatively affected.

Geckos told the Squib, that the Akingbehin Report sent the Niyi Idowu - Beckley Abioye group into a deep valley of anxiety and depression as virtually all the candidates of the group with the possible exception of S.O Omodara, publicity secretary aspirant, faced the dire threat of disqualification. For example Beckley Abioye, Chairmanship candidate was held disqualifiable for lack of moral integrity, Titi Osagie Secretaryship candidate was held disqualifiable for inadequate payment of branch dues, Charles Biyi Oguntuga 1st Vice Chairmanship candidate was held disqualifiable for insufficient attendance of branch meetings, A. Ahmed Welfare Secretaryship candidate was held disqualifiable for the possible ineligibility of his seconder, Biyi Oguntuga. Maimuna Esegine 2nd Vice - Chairmanship candidate was held disqualifiable for the possible ineligibility of her nominator A. Ahmed and for alleged insufficient attendance of branch meetings.

Abiola Oketoki Social Secretaryship candidate was held disqualifiable for alleged insufficient attendance of branch meetings.
As things stand, there are two reports emanating from the “headless” Electoral Committee, and sharply contradictory too. The obvious implication of this is that the Electoral Committee, if it can still be called that, is in disarray and as such is not fit to conduct the elections which going the length of the voters’ list holds the strong promise of attracting an unprecedented number of about a thousand strong voters.

Credible news reaching the Squib has it that some concerned elders of the branch are working hard behind the scenes to see that the succession crisis in the bar will not degenerate into the state of consuming the famous Tiger Bar. The maturity and sagacity of the elders on how to contain the situation will certainly be put to the test at the June 2 2008 meeting of the Tigers.

Inspite of the dark clouds on the horizon, there are still few optimists who believe that the Tigers will overcome their problems and hold a successful election come June 2, 2008, to usher in, new leaders of the Tiger Bar.
In the eventuality of such a proposition, the question: who becomes the “chief servant” of the Tigers becomes relevant. From the investigations and interactions of this magazine, Dave Ajetomobi Esq., remains, till date, the candidate most likely to emerge as the new chairman of the Tigers. It appears, that, thanks to the support of certain key associates and loyalists, all grass roots bar politicians, Ajetomobi enjoys a wide spread support base among members of the branch.

The immense goodwill of his associates has clearly rubbed off Ajetomobi’s image. Backed by a highly mobile political machine, Ajetomobi, appears also to be the most personally improved chairmanship candidate, in terms of dress sense, carriage and comportment. While some of his rivals have lost their shine to the stress and toils of the campaigns, Ajetomobi conversely looks more and more burnished by the day and looking the part of a chairman already.

The formidability of his candidacy is revealed by the fact that unlike his rivals, whose campaign strength waned considerably in reaction to the constant uncertainties plaguing the electoral process. Ajemotobi’s campaign team is even working beyond full throttle the nearer June 2, 2008 looms.

In addition, he is a direct beneficiary of the recent political woes of Beckley Abioye, his nearest rival. Since about ten days ago, Abioye has been facing serious integrity challenges as all the three reports of the Electoral Committees, differing as they were, unanimously indicted Abioye, either directly or indirectly as being involved in the forgery of documents, specifically the doctoring of attendance registers of the Ikeja Bar in favour of certain candidates.

In the Interim Report of the Electoral Committee and signed by all the three members, the Committee had this to say of Beckley Abioye.
“The meeting attendance Records and minutes of meetings submitted by the General Secretary have been MANIPULATED in material particulars and DOCTORED in several respects and substantially unreliable for the purposes of our assignment.” (capital Squib’s). “For instance at the open meeting of Wednesday the 14th May 2008, the discrepancies between the actual meeting attendance records and the official minutes were brought to the attention of the General Secretary, he not only admitted the irregularities but also counseled the committee not to rely records submitted to us by his office”.

To make matters worse for Abioye, the allegation of doctoring and manipulation of financial records of the branch was also laid on his door-step by Yinka Farounbi the financial secretary who informed the Adeoluwa Electoral Committee (as it then was) that it was Abioye as General Secretary and Niyi Idowu the chairman who seized the financial records from his custody and tampered with them.

The consequence of all these credible allegations of fraudulent tampering with documents against Abioye is that it has seriously lowered his reputation in the minds of many right thinking members of the association, who no longer consider him a fit and proper person to lead the bar. One aggrieved member told the Squib that “one man who should not be allowed to participate in the election is Beckley Abioye. Even if everybody else is allowed to contest, Abioye should be disallowed. The electoral committee said that they could not rely on the records presented by the man to screen candidates because the records have been tampered with and doctored. Abioye, from the facts at hand is heavily involved in the dirty act, so why should such a person be given the opportunity to lead the bar? As secretary General he has been proved to be a forger you can be sure that if he becomes chairman he will steal the bar blind. In fact the appropriate political sanction against Abioye is to ban him for life from holding any office again in the NBA”.

Invariably in the last one week, the embattled Beckely Abioye has lost a lot of grounds making his challenge to Ajetomobi’s lead considerably weaker.

As for the duo of Niyi Akinmola Esq. and Dele Oloke Esq, even if cleared to run in the elections, their chances of success do not appear too bright. Both have no visible and viable political machinery behind them, relying essentially therefore on the weight of their individual influence and clout to get the top job. This is very doubtful because neither of the duo has enough personal influence to match, not to talk of over whelming the widespread good will the leading candidate Dave Ajetomobi enjoys, courtesy of his group’s extensive networks.

In all the uncertainties of the electoral process and dynamics, and the consequent anxiety two things are however certain, June 2 2008 will come and go, the Heavens will not fall and the Tiger Bar will still remain.

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