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Saturday, June 14, 2008

THE GREAT ASSIGNMENT




SQUIB COVER STORY

2nd June 2008 started as an ordinary day for Nike Onasanya, a young lady lawyer and member of the famous Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association. The day however ended for her on an extra-ordinary note.

The young lawyer, like about eight hundred other members of the Tiger Bar came to the branch secretariat for the Annual General Meeting of the branch last Monday with the main aim of participating in the elections that would provide new executives for the branch but ended up becoming the secretary of the newly constituted Electoral Committee of the branch saddled with the responsibility of conducting the now postponed elections.

As secretary, Onasanya is walking and working with ‘giants’. The chairman of the reconstituted Electoral Committee is Mr. Layi Babatunde S.A.N, the publisher of the well known Supreme Court Reports, while the only other member is none other than Barrister Femi “Authority Falana, the famous human rights campaigner.

Very early in the day (June 2 2008) the portents indicated that the scheduled elections might not take place after-all. Quite unlike all previous Annual General Meetings, of June 2 2008 did not start in time. In fact the meeting was called to order around 2:40p.m, a hundred minutes after schedule.
The delay was inevitable. Niyi Idowu Esq. as well as Mr. Rex Onobrakpeya and Mr. Gbenga Akingbehin the surviving members of the Original Electoral Committee were at different times locked up with elders of the branch, on the best way to get out of the log-jam created by the disintegration of the Taiwo Adeoluwa Electoral Committee and which was not in any shape to conduct elections.

The Adeoluwa Electoral Committee in practical terms came to grief on 26th May 2008, when the Chairman of the Committee, unprecedentedly resigned from the Committee. As it turned out, the other two members (Onobrakpeya and Akingbehin) maintained sharply opposing views on what to do about the contestants. While Onobrakpeya cleared all the candidates on the ground that the records to be used for the screening was manifestly unreliable, Akingbehin relied on the same records to prescribe for the disqualification of close to 75% percent of the contestants.

The dilemma, the Ikeja branch of the NBA faced on June 2 2008 was what to do in the face of the contradictory positions of the self decapitated Taiwo Adeoluwa Electoral Committee.
The singular question was whether in the circumstances, it was proper hold her elections on June 2 2008. Ordinarily the resolution of this question would not have proved so knotty, if the leadership of the bar, specifically Niyi Idowu Esq, the out-going (out-gone?) chairman was disposed to having the elections rescheduled.

The gentle-man however was of a contrary disposition. In fact he was firmly committed to the position that willy-nilly the elections must hold on the June 2 2008.
Credible information reaching the Squib had it that despite meeting with the elders first on Friday the 30th May 2008 and on June 2 2008 before the A.G.M started, Idowu was still bent on seeing that elections took place on that day, even though he could not openly disagree with the elders, the clear majority of whom wanted the elections postponed for two weeks to allow for proper screening of the candidates to be conducted by a new electoral committee.
In the two weeks of the postponed elections, the Council of Elders, a body recognised under the constitution would take over from the Idowu administration.
Idowu was opposed to this proposition for two reasons:
The first one was personal – if his administration was succeeded by a care-taker committee, called by whatever appellation, it is a clear indication that his administration ended up in crisis, a situation if perceived to be a stain on his political record.
The second reason was political – if elections were postponed and a new electoral committee setup, with the mandate as the elders wanted it, to follow the bye-laws in the conduct of the elections, most, if not all of the candidates sponsored by Idowu stand very good chances of being disqualified as their opponents had raised strong petitions against them before the now defunct Adeoluwa Committee.
The conduct of the A.G.M by Idowu had no problems except a few hiccups in the one instance, where he and the General Secretary, Beckley Abioye in their reports were shockingly parsimonious with praises and acknowledgement due to the Lagos State Government which had given to the branch a brand new 32 sealer coaster bus.
This rather curious posture generated a negative reception from many members, because even the very devil it is said deserve his dues; not to talk of a benefactor of the branch like the Lagos State Government.

All the same at the end of his seven page speech, the traditional standing ovation was given to the chairman while the elders and leading lights of the branch moved to the high-table to congratulate Idowu for a “successful two year tenure” in office as chairman.
The next stage in the proceedings ordinarily was for the out-going executives to vacate the high- table for the Electoral Committee, which would set to the task of conducting elections immediately.
Unfortunately, there was no electoral committee to be called upon, for reasons earlier on stated in this report. Consequently, the chairman and the secretary retained their sets on the high-table.
The chairman proceeded to address the house and immediately showed that he had an agenda different from his agreement with the elders, to wit, to get the house to dissolve the decapitated Adeoluwa Committee, set up a new electoral committee, set up a care-taker committee and fix a date for the elections (not later than two or three weeks).

In his speech, the chairman gave a sharply edited version of the condition of the Taiwo Adeoluwa committee. According to Idowu, all what the Adeoluwa committee had done was to forward to him two proposals as regard the elections for two weeks or to conduct the election on June 2 2008 with all the contestants being allowed to vie, courtesy of a jettisoning of the branch’s bye-laws.

Idowu, clearly for reasons best known to him, refused to inform the house that the committee chairman, Taiwo Adeoluwa had resigned his appointment and that the other two members were not in agreement on how to go about the conduct of the elections.

Even before he finished his speech, the elders realised that Idowu had departed from their agreement and swiftly though their leader, Chief V.A Odunaiya, tried to get the meeting onto the course of their preference - postponed elections and conformity with the branch’s bye-laws in conduct of the elections.

Chief Odunaiya however had only the floor for a few minutes before hecklers started to interject him. Chief Odunaiya’s interjectors’ main cry was that they wanted the elections “now!” About two hours before then, the Niyi Idowu – Beckley Abioye group had circulated many copies of the report of the 2002 Electoral Committee of the NBA Ikeja, headed by Chief V.A Odunaiya to member present. The purpose was to show that six years ago, the Ikeja bar actually suspended her bye-laws in the screening of all candidates for that year’s election and allowed all contestants to vie.

Unfortunately for the vendors of the Odunaiya Electoral Committee Report, many people saw it as inappropriate comparison with the 2008 situation and a cheap blackmail of Chief V.A Odunaiya.
In the confused atmosphere that the lingering hot debates whether the election should hold that day or not, it was clear that to all discerning minds that for reasons of the obvious division of the Adeoluwa Electoral Committee, absence of Election materials and the passage of time, (it was already 4:30p.m in the evening) that the elections could not hold, yet the Niyi Idowu – Beckley Abioye group supported by their junior political partners, the slight camp of Niyi Akinmola continued to shout that the elections must hold.

But at the end of the day all the cacophonous exertions of the “Elections Today, Today” hawks came to naught. Their resolve to continue with their agitations broke when Dele Adesina S.A.N, took the floor. The silk wove logic round oration to convince the agitators that the only reasonable path to take in the circumstances was to disband the Adeoluwa Committee, set up a new one and postpone the elections. Adesina made an unimpeachable distinction between the Electoral situation of the bar in 2002 and the present situation; to the effect that while the 2008 Electoral Committee was in shambles and presented two conflicting reports, the 2002 Electoral Committee of Chief V.A Odunaiya was not only united and presented a single report, it actually screened candidates and only requested for the permission of the full house that the result of the screening exercise be not followed, to allow elections into all the offices. There was also no allegation of doctoring of qualification records in 2002, unlike 2008.
When the house accepted the Dele Adesina reasoning, the next task dissolving - the Adeoluwa Committee was quickly done. But setting up a new Electoral Committee proved not that easy. The problem was that Idowu wanted to control the nomination of the members of the Electoral Committee.
This move was stoutly resisted by Idowu’s opponents. At the end of the day, eight nominators were recognised; who each called out their nominees out of which only three were chosen by the house.

The first nominee was Mr. Layi Babatunde S.A.N and his nominator was Adesina Ogunlana. It was an impeccable nomination. Everybody automatically knew that Babatunde S.A.N with his huge reputation for legality and thoroughness will not make the Committee but become the chairman on account of his seniority.

Later when Femi Falana was also nominated by another person, it was also clear that Falana would make the committee. And so it was. The third member of the new committee was Nike Onasanya, the only lady among the eight nominees, and who was more or less unilaterally made the secretary of the committee by Dele Adesina S.A.N who told the house to accept her as member and secretary. And so it was.

Not long after the constitution of the Layi Babatunde (SAN) Electoral Committee, the meeting came to an end, but the Niyi Idowu Executive Committee was not dissolved. The AGM was adjourned for two weeks and for the elections to hold then.

From all indications, the Layi Babatunde (SAN) Electoral Committee is poised to use the Bye-Laws in the conduct of the elections and it has started working already.
In a statement dated 4th June 2008, the committee expressed its desire to do a thorough job and solicited the support of all members of the branch, including the candidates, in the discharge of their duties. Please see cover story exhibit.

Given the bitter wrangling and deep suspicions that have attended the issue of elections in the Tiger Bar, the past six weeks, the Layi Babatunde (SAN) Electoral Committee will need all the good luck and goodwill it can muster to succeed in their task more so as some candidates, fearing disqualification have been heard muttering in some quarters that:
“We will not allow the elections to take place
if any candidate is disqualified from the elections
by the Electoral Committee.”

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