This was the case at the recently concluded meeting of the NBA in Sokoto (14th – 15th May 2009). The stormiest debate at the meeting was over the Report of the Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim Committee on inclusion.
The report dated 5th December 2007 was presented by the chairman of Inclusion Committee, after an introduction by the president of the bar Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu S.A.N. After Alhaji Ibrahim, popularly known as the first Northern Nigerian to became a legal practitioner, went through the report, the president of the Bar called for free and vigorious debates on the document.
Chief Mamman Mike Osumon S.A.N a member of the 25 man committee on Inclusion was the first to respond. Osuman spoke in favour of the report and urged the NEC to consider accepting it in the interest of justice and fair play to all concerned.
The next speaker, Emeka Ngige S.A.N first praised the document before shooting it down rather brutally. According to the learned silk, the report and the views it projected (reserving exclusively five key offices in the National Executive Council to wit presidency, 1st, 2nd, 3rd vice-presidencies, General Secretary to each of six geographical zones to wit, South West, North Central, South East, North East, South South and North North in any election year. The reserved positions are to be rotated in an anti clock wise fashion among the afore-mentioned zones). [See Cover Story Exhibit] are beautiful but regretted that they were suitable only for political parties like APGA, PDP, e.t.c but grossly unsuitable for a professional body like the NBA where merit, competence and popular acceptance should be the determining factors of getting elected into offices. Ngige ended by recommending the rejection of the report saying it was only fit for the dust-bin. Ngige’s conclusion generated great heat in the breasts of those in support of the report of the Inclusion Committee.
It was Agbo Madaki’s turn to make his contributions and he spoke vehemently against Emeka Ngige’s position, claiming that “the North feels cheated” under the present arrangement of minimalist zoning system where the North as big and disparate as it is, is just treated as one zone while the South has two zones (East and West))
An obviously angry Madaki threatened that there might be untoward consequences for the NBA, should the Abdullai Ibrahim Committee Report be rejected.
Once again Mike Osuman SAN was given an opportunity to speak and he condemned Emeka Ngige’s suggestion that the Inclusion Committee Report be thrown into the dustbin as rude and disparaging of the committee. He thereafter called for a vote on the acceptance or otherwise of the report.
The president of the NBA, Rotimi Akeredolu SAN, who was presiding, appeared to be giving the Osuman suggestion some consideration when the likes of O.C.J Okocha SAN came with a counter suggestion that a decision should not be taken either way on the matter until NEC members, had had opportunity to discuss with their branches on it.
In that vein O.C.J Okocha SAN suggested that voting be suspended until the next NEC meeting which takes place between July 15 and 16 2009 at Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The president approving of this advice, which appeared popular on the floor accepted it and ruled accordingly.
But to the surprise of many, supporters of inclusion report staged a walk-out. The walk-out however did not come as surprise to the Squib.
Much earlier, credible news had reached us that “Northern Elements” had mobilised “seriously” to the Sokoto NEC meeting with the sole intent of getting the Inclusion Report accepted by the NEC or in the alternative, pull out of the NBA, to create a Northern Nigerian States Bar (NNSB) to cater for the interests of Northern Nigerian lawyers.”
According to our sources, the main grouse of those pushing for the adoption of the Inclusion Committee’s Report is the alleged marginalisation of lawyers of Northern origin from the upper echelons of the national leadership of the NBA which they claim has been dominated unfairly by Southern Nigerians, particularly the Yoruba.
According to the “Northern Elements” before the re-birth of the Bar in 1998, the South had dominated the leadership of the Bar and even since the re-birth, no Northerner has become the president of the bar.
In all since 1998, there have been seven presidents of the NBA in the following order:
Chief Okpoko SAN - 1998-2000
O.C.J Okocha SAN - 2000-2002
Wole Olanipekun SAN - 2002-2004
Bayo Ojo SAN - 2004- 2005
Lanke Odogiyon - 2005-2006
Olisa Agbakoba SAN - 2006- 2008
Rotimi Akeredolu SAN - 2008-2009
All are silks excepting Odogiyon) and are Southern Nigerians (except Bayo Ojo SAN, although a Yoruba).
A careful and informed look into the emergence of these leaders however show their emergence was not as a result of any deliberate exclusion of Northerners from ruling the NBA.
In 1998, Chief Okpoko contested in a presidential field without any Northern presence. Ditto for O.C.J Okocha in year 2000. Nobody prevented Northern participation.
In 2002 when the application of the informed arrangement of zoning presidency of the NBA began, Olanipekun SAN then an Ilorin based lawyer won election, beating a fellow Yoruba man, Segun Onakoya, a Lagos based practitioner.
In 2004, when the presidency was zoned to the North, Bayo Ojo SAN, a Northern (Kogi State) Yoruba defeated J.B Dawodu SAN (Kogi State, Kaduna based lawyer) A.B Mahmond S.A.N) (Kano State born and based lawyer) and Phillips Umeh (South East Nigeria).
The next president, Lanke Odogiyon, a former 1st Vice-President to Bayo Ojo S.A.N, is Yoruba but Kaduna based lawyer. He was not elected to the post but got the prime post by way of promotion, as it were. So Odogiyon could be regarded as an accidental President of the NBA.
Olisa Agbakoba SAN, the next president contested at a time the presidency was zoned to the East. Agbakoba though based in Lagos, is Igbo and so contested against Chris Uche SAN another Igbo, but based in Abuja and Funke Adekoya SAN, a Yoruba.
Rotimi Akeredolu SAN, a Yoruba contested in an empty field even though the presidency was zoned to the West.
In the coming election year 2010, the informal zoning system in the NBA has given the presidency to the North.
This fact baffles many bar men and women from the South. To them why should elements from a zone that would produce the next president of the bar be complaining of exclusion and even threatening to pull out of the NBA, if the Ibrahim Abdullahi Committee Report is not accepted by the NEC. The Squib learnt authoritatively that if the vote had been taken on the Inclusion Report at the Sokoto NEC and same was rejected, certain lawyers of Northern Region were prepared to call a press conference to announce the birth of a separatist bar organization to be called “NBA 2” to cater exclusively for the interests of lawyers of Northern Origin.