“Come and see
Come and see
The ‘wonder’ that the crowd had come to see was right in the middle of the centre - a headless human body, yet talking¸ with hands and legs very much alive and active.
In those days, in our climes magicians were regarded as supermen, truly capable in fact of achieving feats as having a headless being eating and talking. Only a few realised that the so called headless wonders are nothing than a jiggery-pokery created strictly to entertain a naive crowd and transfer the contents of their pockets to the supermen’s.
In the political affairs of the Nigerian Bar Association, specifidcally the approaching general elections taking place on Thursday 28th August 2008, what is on ground presently can, in a light-hearted manner be said to be a case of a “bodyless wonder” as opposed to the “headless wonder” of the magical tricks of yore afore-mentioned.
Watchers and followers of the issues and trends in the political currents of the NBA will easily appreciate the ‘bodyless wonder’ label. There are fourteen offices in the Executive Committee of the Association to wit President, Vice-President(s) (3), General Secretary, 1st Assistant Secretary, 2nd Assistant Secretary, 2nd Assistant Secretary, Treasurer, Financial Secretary, Publicity Secretary, Assistant publicity Secretary, Welfare Secretary.
Incidentally, in the 2008 General elections, only ten out of these fourteen offices are open to contest, as four have been filled by candidates who returned unopposed.
These four offices are President (Oluwarotimi Akeredolu S.A.N), Legal Adviser (Linda Rose Bala) and Assistant Publicity Secretary (Gbolahan Gbadamosi) and Welfare Secretary (Ganiyu Ajape). So, as the situation is, the apex leadership of the association is already determined, sans contest.
The story of how Akeredolu S.A.N attained the presidency of the NBA in 2008 without contest and the implications of this “strange development” will take quite a while to tell and absorb. So, we will not let it detain us here.
Clearly, the absence of a presidential contest in the forthcoming elections has lessened the quality of excitement in the politics of the association. But it has by no means extinguished the heat thereof, at least in the contest in the following offices: 1st Vice-President, 2nd Vice-President, 3rd Vice-President, General Secretary, and Publicity Secretary.
Infact, the contest in some of the afore-mentioned offices, as our analysis will show are not only very keen but intriguing.
THE 1ST VICE-PRESIDENCY
There are only two contestants in this race – Ikeazor Akaraiwe and Blessing Ukiri. Both men are called to the bar the same year, in 1985. They are also from Delta State of Nigeria and both practice in Southern Nigeria. While Akaraiwe, who at 46 is the younger man by two years, practices in Enugu, Ukiri practices in Port-Harcourt.
The two contestants are hinging their electability on various strengths. For example, Ukiri who definitely leads in terms of years of cognate experience and exposure at the leadership cadre of the NBA at the national level (was a Former National Financial Secretary, 1998-2000, 3rd National Vice-President, 2002-2004, 2nd National Vice-President, 2006-2008) boasts of having the proper and adequate grooming and pedigree to successfully serve as the association’s 1st Vice-President. On the other hand, Akaraiwe the relative “green horn” at national level leadership, but who had served commendably well as a Former Chairman of the Enugu branch of the NBA, and who wears urbanity suavely as a well-fitted suit is challenging the Ukiri’s presence with a call for “fresh blood and fresh vision” in the running of the affairs of the NBA, parading himself as a man with a better vision and greater integrity than his rival.
Akaraiwe’s posturing may have struck a chord with some voters who contend that Ukiri has stayed too long in the corridor of power and should yield ground to a new face.
However attractive, even seductive as the Akaraiwe persona maybe, the question is whether, he is strong enough to stop Ukiri from becoming the 1st Vice-President of the NBA? No doubt a veteran bar man, Ukiri is easily one of the best known faces in the NBA. A ready mixer, who has crawled with the lowly and flown with the mighty, for years in the corridor of power in the NBA, it is not out of place to dub Ukiri “Mr. Contacts.” Ukiri’s history of electoral contest in the NBA show that, Akaraiwe, despite the alleged official support of the Eastern Bar Forum for him, will have an uphill task in upstaging.
In the three previous elections he had participated in, at the national level, Ukiri had only lost one, and this very narrowly (by two votes) to D.D Azura of the Yola branch in 2004 in his quest to become the 2nd Vice-President.
In 2006, Ukiri overcame a very stiff challenge from his only rival, Adekunle Ojo Esq, the famous chairman of the prominent Ikeja branch to become the 2nd Vice-President of the Association.
A veteran of NBA politicking, Ukiri comes armed with a big campaign chest, to ensure that delegates sympathetic to his cause and even those who are undecided cast their ballots for him.
Except something dramatic and drastic happens, especially in the last three days before the election debonair, Akaraiwe may find himself on the ground gasping for breath. His radiant flower may not survive the harsh, hot breath of the political opposition.
There are five contestants for the office of the second Vice-Presidency. They are as follows C.A.C Uzoegwu (Owerri), Reuben James (Kaduna), Iniabasi Udobong (Uyo), Adekunle Ojo (Ikeja) and N.H Nwakwo (Owerri).
A realistic appraisal of the strength of these contestants show that only three are in serious contention - Adekunle Ojo, Reuben James and Iniabsi Udobong. While C.A.C Uzoegwu is virtually unknown at the national level of the NBA and N.H Nwankwo who is better known appears to be in the race, either for the sheer fun of it or merely to be known, as an also run considering the fact that his campaign so far has the energy of a snoring ox. Of the three “serious candidates”, as at press time, the odds appear to favour Adekunle Ojo, who has been quite energetic in his cross-country campaigns.
The former leader of the famous Ikeja leader of the NBA who did extremely well as the chairman of the Tiger branch between year 2004-2006 is not only well respected and accepted in the Southwest, his immediate Constituency, but he has, by his relentless campaigns to many branches of the NBA in the Eastern, Midwestern and Northern parts of the country in the last four weeks, gained serious in-roads in all these areas, where his big theme and visions may be translated thus:-
“A Vice-president is the President of his zone and his the connection of the central leadership with the branches” who.
Bold, assertive without being aggressive, Ojo could be an arresting, even scintillating public speaker. This ability was on display at the Onitsha NEC meeting where he completely out-shone his opponents during the speech-making programme of the candidates in the elections.
Inspite of his strengths and present advantages on the field, it is not yet a done deal that Ojo will get the 2nd Vice-Presidency.
Also in contention is Reuben James, the Kaduna based incumbent 3rd Vice-Chairman of the NBA. Inspite of the height of the political stakes, it is curious that James is relying only on a singular weapon and system to become the next 2nd Vice-President of the NBA. This weapon is called “block votes” or regional anointing.” James hopes to gain massive support from Northern branches who are his immediate constituency, not by direct approach and campaign to these branches but by re-jigging the Northern tribal counterpart of the West’s “Egbe Amofin Yoruba” and the East’s “Eastern Bar Forum” known as the Arewa Lawyers Forum, in a way such that forum will no longer be open to any Northern based legal practitioner but only to practitioners who ethnically or regionally are from the North.
Fortunately or unfortunately, this move is causing strong winds of disaffection amongst legal practitioners in the North, as those who are not of northern extraction but practice there, feel alienated and as such are prepared to refuse Reuben James and any of his co-travelers any electoral support.
Another complaint against James is that he appears rather complacent in his attitude of minimal physical campaign, even in the North the man hardly stepped out of his Kaduna base. But interestingly, this tepid and regular candidate appears to be acceptable to certain chieftains of the Western Yoruba irredentist lawyers group (Egbe Amofin Yoruba) ahead of Adekunle Ojo, on the ‘wonderful’ ground that no Yoruba ought to hold any vice-presidential posts since the presidency is occupied by a Yoruba.
In the East, conventional wisdom is that James has little support but that may change, if he enjoys favourable horse-trading in Abuja. Such an ‘if’ appears doubtful however in the face of the candidacy of Iniabasi Udobong of Uyo branch who is said to be the anointed candidate of the Eastern Bar Forum.
The possibility of Udobong succeeding in the race exist but appears very slim. Even less colourful that the rather passive James, Abasi has no known pedigree in the NBA, at least beyond his Uyo enclave and as such should not trouble the two front runners, Ojo and James, particularly the former, particularly since he like James, has not done much in terms of road campaigns like Ojo.
Of the three contestants in this category-Bode Makinde, Barth Okoye-Aniche and Sir Edike Ike Adoh-Ogbuta, only one name does not ring a bell-Adoh Ogbuta’s.
Except for lawyers in Agbor and its immediate environs Adoh-Ogbuta could well have been a Martian, so much for the completeness of his anonymity.
The other two candidates are by no means Messers Anonymous, as both are incumbent national officers. Arguably the better known of the duo is Barth Aniche-Okoye, who between 2004 and 2006 was NBA’s publicity secretary and has been the Welfare Secretary since 2006.
Bode Makinde, is the outgoing Financial Secretary of the association and has become fairly well known too in the association.
It is either of these two men who will become the third vice-president. The question is who? Because Makinde is a westerner based in far North (Yola) Makinde might just beat Aniche Okoye to it, since he has enough pleasant political character to collect votes easily in the west, by reasons of consanguinity and substantially too in the North by reasons of affinity, leaving Aniche only votes from the Eastern part of the country and some parts of the Midwest.
Bode Makinde, despite certain resentment against Anichie-Okoye for having stayed too long a stay in the corridor of power in the NBA and becoming one of the so called and much derided. “NBA practitioners” would be naïve to think that the contest is already won. Far from it!
This is because in Aniche-Okoye, lies a formidable rival who is a shrewd political animal, gifted with a warm, friendly personality. Very personable, Aniche-Okoye has lots of contacts in the NBA, and quite good at one-on-one political persuasion tactics. A serious contender that he is, Anichie-Okoye even carried his campaigns to the west, quietly making new contacts and renewing old friendship.
That means that Makinde cannot take all the votes in the west for granted and for that matter, even those in the very North where he, practice wise, comes from.
From all indications, the two contestants may end the race, neck to neck. For now, it is rather too close to call.
In the tradition of the NBA, only the presidency is coveted more than the office of the General Secretary. The reason is not far fetched-the office of the General Secretary under the NBA constitution is central to the administration of the association and has rightfully earned the appellation the “engine room”.
Now, (2008) like in the past, there is quite a crowd of candidates out there, six in fact, contending for this office which however can only accommodate only one of them. The six are as follows: Anthony Oka (Abakaliki), Carol Ajie (Lagos), Ibrahim Eddy Mark (Maiduguri), Chidi Nworka (Owerri), Okey Ohwonda (Port-Harcourt) and G.C. Igbokwe (Benin).
Clearly this is a very well stretched field, with as many opponents, as diverse abilities, strengths and weaknesses. None, on individual basis is a push over, but in political skills and weights, some are, for certain factors more formidable than others.
In terms of sheer visibility, but not necessarily popularity or acceptability, the foremost candidate is Carol Ajie, the former Secretary of the Lagos Branch and who holds the record of being the most consistent (some say perennial or perpetual) same office - contestant in the NBA.
Ajie is contesting the General Secretary position for a record of fifth time. In year 2000, when she first came out, the race went to Chief Phillip Umeh of the same Lagos Branch. In 2002, she and others lost to Dele Adesina S.A.N. In 2004, she was again in the losers’ corner when, Nimi Walson Jack of Port-Harcourt carried the day. In 2006, when she had her best outing till date, by coming second in a four cornered race, the medal went to Rafiu Lawal-Rabana of the Ilorin branch.
In this year’s contest, can the self dubbed Abraham Lincoln of the NBA gain her heart desire? If the contest were only among her and G.C. Igbokwe, Anthony Oka and Chidi Nworka, the answer might be an easy YES.
As far as the Squib can see, Igbokwe, Oka and Nworka have slim chances of clinching the post. Igbokwe who is contesting the secretary for the third time simply lacks the colour and clout to generate massive sympathy from voters. Even in his immediate constituency Edo State and by extension Delta State, a more vigorous and compelling campaigner in the person of Carol Ajie appears to have gained the upper hand. Probably for lack of adequate campaign funds and delayed take-offs, Igbokwe does not possess enough stature to come out tops.
As for Anthony Oka, his chances do not appear too bright inspite of his personal brightness and strong self-will. A strong contender for the post of General Secretary must campaign-wise be very mobile, and touching base with as many branches of the association as possible, in addition to having a welter of contacts, and a dependable network of allies.
However since Oka appears to be lacking in direct campaign mobility and has to jostle from the rear for space in the Eastern Bar Forum against Okey Ohwonda, it will be a miracle if he comes within the first three in the contest.
This year, in all probability will not be Chidi Nworka’s year. Sadly, not for reasons of ability. At the Onitsha NEC meeting, Nworka had one of the best presentations of all the candidates in their speech-making. Tall, calm and collected, Nworka came across as a knowledgeable person who can responsibly discharge the duties of the NBA general secretary. But mere ability is not enough to gain a candidate the big office of a general secretary of the NBA.
The hottest names in the race belong to Okey Ohwonda and Ibrahim Eddy Mark. Incidentally both of them are Ikwerre indigenes of River State. Also both of them have links to O.C.J Okocha S.A.N,the godfather of NBA politics in the South East, although Okocha is said to have pitched his political tent over Ohwonda.
Ohwonda also officially has the blessing of the Eastern Bar Forum, although as at press time other candidates like Oka, Nworka who are from the East have kicked against the adoption of Ohwonda by the EBF and are refusing to back down from the race.
Ohwonda has carried his campaign well beyond the Eastern Bar forum, into many parts of the country. He went deeply into the North, not forgetting the West and the Mid-Western parts.
Armed with an impressive campaign chest, which is the envy of his rivals, Ohwonda is certainly a big-contender in this race. But formidable too is Ibrahim Eddy Mark. A veteran bar man just like Ohwonda, he has the added advantage of having the right to claim multiple constituencies, being a South-Southerner but having his practice base in Maiduguri (Far North) meaning that he is by birth and ethnicity, a Southerner but by practice location, a Northerner.
Pleasant and a ready mixer, Mark is being touted as the ready-made candidate of the Arewa Bar Forum. Nothing however in this regard is certain for the moment, as other candidates particularly Ohwonda has repeatedly crossed the Niger to fish for votes. On his part Ibrahim has sailed down the Benue to hunt for votes too in the South generally.
At the end of the day, the fate of these two may be determined one way or the other by one factor:- last minute horse trading between their respective god-fathers and caucuses.
Interestingly, both of them are in danger of canceling out each other and giving opportunity for Carol ‘Abe Lincolin’ Ajie to come-in from the cold, after eight long years, to become the General Secretary of the NBA.
This is how the possibility can come to pass. Troubled in the South-East by Nworka, Oka and also by Mark in the East, Ohwonda will manage only about 60% of the votes, instead of an emphatic 80% or 90%. In return Ohwonda, Nworka and possibly Igbokwe and Oka will disturb Mark in the North, leaving him with maybe 55% of the votes. Now if both Mark and Ohwonda do poorly in Lagos and the West, with Carol in emphatic domination of the Mid-West, coupled with her steals in the East and the North, the trophy might just go to her.
This scenario may not be far fetched as it seems. In her last time out, Ajie came second, albeit a distant one, but that was only because there was no candidate strong enough in the race in 2006 to substantially weaken or affect the front runner, Lawal-Rabana.This year, the Ajie candidacy is particularly dangerous to rivals. She has adopted a seemingly potent strategy of advocating herself as the best candidate for the job on merit but also lacing same with appeals for support on the basis of gender balance and reward for persistent re-applications to get the job of General Secretary. Infact, but for the inability of Ajie to shake-off the rather vote-scaring stigma of not being a comfortably conventional persona, the chances of both Mark and Ohwonda would have been in serious danger. Nonetheless, Carol Ajie might just swing it but the odds favour Ohwonda and Mark the more with Ohwonda having a slight upper hand at least as at press time.
There are only two contestants here - Ike Uko of Lagos branch and Tersis Morris- Okeke. Morris Okeke had to overcome disqualification battles mounted by Uko to be in the race. Being somewhat more visible than Uko and having the support of some big fish in the NBA, as well as the blessing of the ‘large’ Port-Harcourt branch and the Eastern Bar forum, Morris Okeke seems to have a greater chance of winning Uko, who is not too well known, outside his Lagos branch.
Already Morris-Okeke is being addressed as Madam Treasurer. Is this a sign of things to come? Most likely than not is the answer, particularly as Uko appears lacking in the necessary fire power to overwhelm his opponent, in practical terms.
There are three main contenders here – Dennis Agbaga (who has been dubbed, rather uncharitably by his opponents as the “weeping candidate”, Ikechi Ogbonna Nwanunu (Isiala Ngwa) and Murtala Oladimeji Abdul-Rasheed (Kaduna) Agbaga of the Warri branch is contesting the Publicity Secretary for the third consecutive time. In 2004, he lost understandably to Barth Aniche - Okoye, in 2006, he lost shockingly to Linda Rose Bala. Will he lose again this year?
From all the readings on the ground so far, Agbaga will have to really work hard to realise his ambition. The graver threat to his success lies in the person of Abdul-Rasheed a.k.a Murray. As a rule, Northern based, South Westerner candidates are often difficult to beat, moreso as Murray is the out-going Assistant Publicity Secretary, by virtue of which post, the size of the toga of his anonymity at the national level of the NBA has substantially reduced.
To Murray’s credit, he has campaigned the hardest of the trio, even though he could have done better. As for Ikechi Nwanunu, very well known in his Isiaka Ngwa branch, it is doubtful whether his name rings a bell substantially anywhere else outside his branch or State as a bar man or activist. His campaign so far has been low-profile, with virtually non existent road campaigns, with the unfortunate consequence that this otherwise god hand is to many voters at best a disembodied voice.
However, if Nwanunu gets block votes from the Eastern Bar Forum and some string friendly votes in other parts of the country, he might just be in contention.
As for Agbaga, he got the appellation “weeping candidate” on account of his speech to the attendees of the Onitsha NEC meeting. Agbaga spent his time reminding his listeners that he was contesting consecutively for the post as if that in itself was a virtue!
Nonetheless, Agbaga’s “have mercy on me, cry-cry baby” tactics may bring additional votes to his collection, but his case would have been made much better by far and wide ranging campaigns (and on issues) and not being merely dependant on “block votes” from the Mid-Western lawyers’ Forum. As things stand today, Murtala- Abdul Rasheed Oladimeji seems to be the man to beat.
1ST ASSISTANT SECRETARY
This is a three cornered contest, that is Joe Egwu of Agbor branch, a former two time Executive office holder, actually participates. At the Onitsha NEC meeting, Egwu popularly known in the past as a “secretariat boy” did not participate in the speech making programme for candidates and he has not been seen or heard, except maybe in Agbor, Delta state, campaigning.
The other two contestants in the race - Asafa Olalekan Sanusi (Oshogbo), Francis Ekwere (Eket) also seen to have taken a joint vow not to do any form of campaigning aside distributing hand-bills during NEC meetings.
Consequently, none of the contestants has brought any zest or colour to the election. The basis of comparative analysis of their chances at the polls hardly exist then. The race may go to any of the dull trio.
2ND ASSISTANT SECRETARY
This is another seeming innocuous posts, with all the contestants virtual unknowns. With the exception of Jonathan Ainerua, the candidates have restricted their campaigns to their door steps and backyards.
Moheeb I. Komolafe of the Abuja branch is a contender and also contesting is Paul O. Abiala of Calabar branch.
If political hardwork pays, Jonathan Ainerua, a calm and collected youngman, should get the voters’ nod to occupy the office.
ASSISTANT FINANCIAL SECRETARY
There are three contestants in this category, and all of them, not so well known outside their branches. They are Mathisis Aondokemba (Bauchi), Prince Adekunle Ajasa (Ikeja) and Steve Onoye (Onitsha). Because of their unanimous anonymity, it is difficult to say who of them will emerge victorious. However, at the Onitsha NEC meeting, during the speech making event only two of the contestants showed up. They are Ajasa of Ikeja and Onoye of Onitsha. Ajasa easily stood out, partly because of his great height (6ft 4”) and his impressive credentials as a “tested and experienced banker, chartered accountant and finance expert.” He stands a good chance of getting elected.
There are only two contestants in this category – Adetutu Siyanbola of the Lagos branch and Marc Enamhe of Ogoja. Marc Enamhe (of the rural branches fame) is the better known of the two, notwithstanding that Siyanbola in 2002-2004 was a national officer under the Chief Wole Olanipekun S.A.N administration.
Curiously, both candidates have decided to go on minimal campaigns. The race however should go in favour of Enamhe considering his popularity vis-a-vis Siyanbola’s