The special attraction was the intense desire in the hearts of many to witness as well as participate in the resolution of the crisis occasioned by the crisis of confidence that had pitted the president and the General Secretary two most prominent members of the 14-man National Executive Committee leadership of the NBA against themselves.
Since about six weeks ago, the simmering row between the President Rotimi Akeredolu S.A.N and Ibrahim Eddy Mark boiled over into the public domain courtesy of the newspapers.
The two officers were unsparing in their attacks on each other and naturally split the – ‘EXCO’ into two. Ranged between the president were two of the vice-presidents Ikeazor Akaraiwe (1st V.P) and Adekunle Ojo (2nd V.P) as well as the Publicity Secretary conspicuous behind the General Secretary were Barth Anichie-Okoye (3rd V.P) Ganiyu Ajape welfare Secretary and Steve Ononye (Assistant Financial Secretary. Less conspicuous member of this faction include Linda Bala the Legal Secretary.
By the 1st of December 2009, the rift had opened so much that members of the NEC had received two motions for impeachment of both the president and the General Secretary.
The first motion was sponsored by the top lists of the General Secretary to wit:- Barth Okoye-Aniche, Ganiyu Ajape and Steve Ononye. They alleged that (a) the president had awarded a contract of the Association worth three million naira to a company owned by himself and members of his family.
(b) that the president had collected from two state governors, a total sum of 8 million naira as donations to the NBA and pocketed same curiously the said motion left out an earlier accusation against the president, that he exceeded his authority as president and over reached the NEC by intimating the Chief Justice of Nigeria Legbo Kutigi of the strident calls from some quarters in the NBA for the abolition of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria award.
The second motion for impeachment was from the President’s Camp. Signed by the Publicity Secretary of the Association Abdulrasheed Oladimeji Esq, the motion asked for the head of the General Secretary of litany of offences to wit (i) accompanying the attorney General and Minister of Justice, of the Federation in the name of thee NBA without lawful authority. (ii) countermanding the president as chief spokesman of the Association (iii) unauthorised letter of Apology to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (iv) illegal collection of imprest/monthly salary from the NBA by the General Secretary (v) Conversion of 20,000 dollars collected from the NBA by the General Secretary for personal use (vi) conversion of #500,000.00 from Sokoto State Government to NBA.
In the light of these two motions keen observers of the NBA knew that the December 10 2009 NEC meeting would prove decisive as regards the determination or resolution of the allegations and counter allegations:
A very careful and perspicacious perusal and evaluation of the materials and other information pertaining to the scandalous off between Rotimi Akeredolu SAN the NBA president and Ibrahim Eddy Mark, the General Secretary painted the picture of the NBA as an organization in the grip of self-willed, ill-disciplined capricious and self-promoting Executive leaders, with little or feeble institutional or system c control and checks
An indications that this assessment may not be wide off the mark was how the NEC meeting of the NBA on Thursday played out vis a vis the two afore-said motions calling for the impeachment of both the president and the General Secretary.
What happened right in the open was a blatant and indeed tragic usurpation and rape of the powers of the National Executive Council to properly and constitutionally determine the fate of the two motions for impeachment.
Rather what is being presented to the whole world as a resolution of the crisis was nothing more than the full adoption and parcticalisation of the infamous “Family Affair” method of the nation’s ruling party the PEOPLES DEMOCRATIC PARTY GOVERNMENT, whose various government and the very party, the NBA ironically likes to take on issues of probity and all other vital aspects of the RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT.
As is well known, when the “family affair” method of dealing with issues of probity in government and in public, unvariable the issues at stakes are sidelined and steps interests are taken and nobody, no matter the grievous extent of guilt gets punished or sanctioned in the name of “peace and progress”.
This inglorious, indeed despicable path was the one chosen by the mutually indicted leadership of the NBA at the ENUGU NEC of 10th December 2009, this magazine reports.
This was how everything pertaining to the matter was handled.
STAGE 1- Oluwarotimi Akeredolu at about 11.00am read his 11 pages address-entitled “WE MUST REMAIN STEAD FAST”, wherein he touched on the leadership crisis in his executive.
The usual bold thundering voice of presentation, the muscular emphatic delivery was also present but there was an ill-fitting cap of restraint typing the man, from the logical crushing finish of the opposition.
The performance was a kin to watching a well oiled soccer team, repeatedly building scintillating moves perfectly from the rear only to deliberately shoot amiss in front of goal. (see cover story Exhibit)
STAGE 2: After fnishing his address, the President asked for discussions of the address, the president asked for discussions of the address, but then, asked for the NEC indulgence to allow T.J. Okpoko S.A.N, a past president of the association (1998-2000) revealed what some NEC members had already known, that he and other past president of the association whom he did not name being elders and leaders of the association anxious to avoid the break-up of the association, just as it happened in 1992 at Port-Harcourt had come together to wade into the dispute between the president and the General Secretary.
Okpoko SAN was quick in disclosing that the speech of the president which holds barbed condeminations in the direction of the General Secretary was out of time with the agreement, the Okpoko body had reached with the fending National leader of the officers.
Okpoko then went on to say his self-appointed body of peace-makers had investigated and found out that the president did not act improperly in his communications with the Chief Justice of Nigeria on the abolition of SAN issue, likewise, the peace-makers had also found out that as regarding the award of contract to AKT ventures to address NEC on certain issues in the address.
STAGE 3: (It was, as events shortly proved, a shy tactical maneuver to attain an objective already predicted as highly possible by this magazine in its 7th December 2009 edition a compromise squelching of the public determination of the motions for impeachments). Chief T.J. Okpoko came on to podium (instead of remaining on the floor) to make his speech.
The chief hunted, Akeredoolu’s company, the president did not act fraudulently and that indeed “the president had no contract to award anyway”.
However Okpoko kept quiet over the findings of his Body of Peace makers as regards the allegation that the President had pocketed the whopping sum of 8 million naira donation meant for the NBA! It was even a much worse situation for Ibrahim Eddy mark as the spokesman of the ‘Peace Makers’ failed, neglected or otherwise refused to say anything at all about the findings of his body vis a vis the allegations against Mark. Rounding up T.J. Okpoko appealed to NEC members to allow the settlement of his body and put the crisis behind them.
STAGE 4: This appeal was obviously part of a rehearsed strategy for hardly was it said that the president of the NBA after taking over from Okpoko now enquired from the attendees of the NEC meetings, members and observers alike, whether they were in support of Okpoko’s “let by gone be bygone” appeal.
Immediately a loud acclaim from the left of the centre of the hall came the president very hurriedly declared it as the position of the NEC on the matter!
Even before Okpoko finished his almost thirty minutes long speech this reporter a NEC member himself and one or two other fellows-waved their hands frantically for recognition, but it was all in vain as it appeared that the harder they tried, the more invisible they appeared to the president!
And so “just like that” a shame and ignoble determination of the deep-seated disputes was foisted. This false and indeed artificial settlement went the whole nauseating farcical log when the General Secretary to the immediate left of the president sidled very closely to the president for a mirthful “we-are-friends-once-again shots”.
The hollowness of this “Okpokoised” settlement which was hailed by its proponets as “mature intervention necessary to prevent another break-up of the bar” was rudely exposed barely an hour after it was ‘contrapted’
This happened when reacting to the speech of the president who was emphasizing that he, not the Attorney General of the Federation, is the leader of the Nigerian Bar, and that his office would not be sub servant to the A.G’s office, the General Secretary rose to remark that “this is not what er are told by the elders (referring to the meeting of the Executive with the peace makers group of Okpoko). What they told us is that where there is disagreement with the Attorney-General, we should go to him and sort out our differences”!
In our last edition, this magazine in its cover posed a question WHOSE HEAD WILL ROLL? With regards to the impeachment motions against President Akeredolu and General Secretary Ibrahim Eddy Mark?
As it turned out neither of the two men got impeached. For the discerining, this reality is not necessarily a healthy one for the two men or even the NBA itself.
For the NBA, the ENUGU NEC meeting was a mile-stone. One it demonstrates the weakness of the NEC, the vainted parliament and the supreme congress of the association, for being so vulnerable cheaply to incredible usurpation of role and reduction to mere rubber stamp by a small group of elders working in concert with the Executive.
Two the meeting has set a precedent of shying away from an honest, open popular and robust investigation and determination of allegations of corruption and sundry abuse of office against its leaders.
Any thieving or unscrupulous leader at any level of authority in the NBA can always learn from the recent event and copy the modus operandi of escape of indictment to wit,
(a) steal as much as possible or grossly misconduct himself or her-self otherwise
(b) heat up the bar-polity by attacking and blackmailing opponents on the pages of newspapers
(c) trump up charges for the impeachment or suspension of rivals from office
(d) then draw in a few so called “leaders of thought” and “elders and leaders of the bar” to effect a hastily settlement in order to prevent “a break-up of our noble association”
(e) cite the December 10 2009 NEC meeting as authority and precedent for seeking an amicable settlement of the impasse”!
Of course it should be realized that by the December 10 2009 NEC meeting, the NBA has lost the moral pedestal to demand for accountability and probity from government and public officials. And thus is true, if the NBA an association of professionals, would in the interest of so called “harmony and unity” shy away from conducting probes into allegations Okpoko-ised solutions is an indication that he is not in good, firm and natural control of his administration but needs the help of god-fathers not only to put his regime as one but even for him to retain his primacy.
At any rate the unfortunate impression was given that the god-fathers and not the proper legal body, the NEC that vindicated him and saved his job.
Furthermore the partial nature of the vindication, which did not extend to of massive corruption and abuse of office against its two top-most officers, why should the governments or government bodies, with much more at stake lauch into such perilous probes?
As for the men in the Centre of the supposedly donsed storm, it is the considered view of this magazine that the manner mid ways they have chosen to resolve their differences, has not heightened their reputation, but rather however it.
For the president, the embezzlement of alleged 8 million naira donation to the NBA, and the fact that the partial vindication was as a result of a secret and authorized investigation, gave only an exoneration of dubious and unsatisfactory character in the minds of right thinking and well informed members of the association.
The question to ask is what is the main reason why a main such as Akeredolu would keep quiet and not thoroughly and adequately challenge libelous accusations that he embezzled 8 million naira funds of the NBA?
If the answer is “for the sake of the peace and progress of the NBA? Then one can reasonably ask “but what type of peace is that”? and then further ask “or could it be that the allegation is after all not as specious as it seems?
Ibrahim Edward Mark, is equally a loser courtesy of the Okpoko-ised solution and this magazine suspects that the main knows it himself.
Prior to the December 10 2009 NEC meeting, the General Secretary had lost out in the press war between him and the president, as he had been made to look like a thieving rapacious, insolent, self serving General Secretary who in addition was a traitor who is bent on selling the association for a mess of porridge to the Attorney General of the Federation.
Thus if any officer needed a public and open investigations of the charges against him for a proper vindication that would be the General Secretary.
But like his boss, the president, he embraced the Okpoko-ised solution. In the event he was made to look like a small errant and misguided boy.
Whereas the president had a chance of at least partially stating his case, he the secretary could only look on. And to make matters much worse, the Body of Peace Makers which openly vindicated the president at least partially, kept completely mum about the General Secretary’s side of the case, thus witting or unwittingly giving the impression that the scribe’s matter had no merit at all and was so messy as to be unspeakable.
The consequence of this is that General Secretary Mark has been so badly tarred that he is more or less permantly branded in the negative light of a greedy official and a quisling. His years in office would certainly be remembered for this crisis and the lingering public perception of him.
As for Chief T.J. Okpoko and his co-travelers in the boat of the Elders Peace Makers Body, this magazine rates their role low for offering a false healing balm (as time will sooner or later show) and having the temerity to usurp the roles of the National Executive Committee.
I offer them this song
Cover up, Cover up,
was what you just did,
in Enugu, in Enugu,
was what you did!
was what you did
singing peace! Singing peace!
you bury Justice
singing peace! singing peace!
you shun probity
oh what a shame!
N:B In case these elders are unhappy about this song and wants to take me up, they should realise that their reaction and my counter-reaction would heat up the NBA polity and put the association to a the grave danger of a break-up.
And, pray who wants that? Certainly not Okopoko S.A.N., et al.
SQUIB COVERSTORY EXHIBIT
SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT, NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION TO THE NEC MEETING AT ENUGU ON 9TH DECEMBER 2009
WE MUST REMAIN STEADFAST
Distinguished colleagues, I welcome you all to this NEC meeting which appears to have attracted extensive interest among our members and the generality of Nigerians. The choice of the venue for this gathering, in this historically significant city of Enugu, although fortuitous, has its own socio-political merit. Here was the seat of government of the defunct Eastern Region. The city was also reputed as bearing in its bowels large deposits of the finest coal which compared favourably with other types found in other parts of the world. Above all, the people of this great land are widely known for their unique sense of hospitality. It should, therefore, not be construed as merely coincidental that this haven of peace is playing host to the greatest assemblage of the best material any profession can offer. No time can be more auspicious than now when our association faces dire challenges in its quest to ensure that the rule of law reigns supreme in the affairs of the nation.
As a body of legal practitioners, our common values have been brought to test in the last few months and the challenge to us as a body is to reinvent and re-establish these common values that makes the role of a lawyer critical in our current socio-political experience, and our ethical values our distinctive mark as men of honour. Values like courage, integrity, selflessness, commitment, objectivity of intent, and sacrifice are not optional for us as lawyers, nor as leaders of the Bar, but these are essential attributes deserving of leadership anywhere. In the last few months, our individual and collective beliefs in these values have been tested.
You are all aware of the unfortunate developments in the last few months which appeared to have polarized our ranks within the leadership of the NBA, notably acts and statements seeking to divert us from our noble and constructive courses, into fruitless controversies and petty strife. I call it unfortunate because when I was elected into office in August 2007, my oath of office was to defend the independence and integrity of the Bar at whatever cost. This I captured with my pledge to "prosecute our convictions with courage”. It was not an idle slogan for campaign purposes, it was a commitment I made to God, to myself and to you, my colleagues, and this I have strived to do with all my ability and resources since assuming office.
As you all know I have always fought for what I believe regardless of consequences to myself. I have rendered such selfless service to our great association in the past 15months which Bar historians, coming generation of lawyers and nay, Nigerians generally will certainly regard as Landmark achievements. In the course of serving, I have expectedly attracted to myself a sizeable crop of detractors and adversaries in the main because I have committed myself to courageous leadership of the Bar, and perhaps additionally in my quest to reverse the accountability deficit from which we suffer as an Association.
I must observe at this point that. It was my resolve to demand a high powered committee of this NEC to be set up to investigate the claims made against me alongside allegations made against other officers to find out the truth or spuriousness of these claims. However, as President of the NBA, It is my responsibility in my role of a leader to consider the larger interest of the NBA. This is because of the intervention of leaders at the Bar, Past Presidents and NEC members who recently met with me and the executive with the objective of a wholesome resolution of the issues that have plagued our association in the last few months. Following this intervention, I have accepted to take what has happened with equanimity, but with the hope that this experience will further strengthen our resolve to uphold our own constitution of the NBA and advise us all as to the quality of leadership the NBA deserves at all levels.
While I have endeavoured to ensure this executive follows strictly the constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association without fear or favour, it had always been my opinion that as officers of the NBA, we are merely privileged to lead the bar and our role is not to bring it to a state of ridicule, nor engage in acts that question our independence as a Bar association, and our role as custodians of the people's hopes. Certainly my position as President is not to plunder the resources of the Bar, and I will be failing in my responsibilities and my oath of office if I should allow any other person, officer or member to do the same.
Nevertheless, after the meetings of the last few weeks with Bar Leaders, it is my belief that the issues that generated the simmering crisis that sought to engulf the NBA have hopefully been put to rest. Now that we are gathered to ruminate on the problems facing our dear country and, more importantly, to consider the issues which threaten to tear us apart, we must cast aside bitter recriminations and destructive anger. This will afford us the opportunity of deliberating in an atmosphere devoid of rancour. The immediate result will be found in the reasoned decisions emanating from robust and frank discussions. The end result will be a message that will issue forth to all and sundry that we are united in confronting bad governance in whatever shade. I use this opportunity to express my appreciation to all the past Presidents, Bar leaders and colleagues who played a role in the resolution of the simmering crisis that sought to engulf our association.
As you know, it is not easy to resist the temptation of being dragged into a press war, especially when your hard earned and built reputation is being deliberately disparaged with untruths. Restrain as we tried to, we have fallen into this temptation on a few occasions admittedly to the discomfiture of most of our members. I also take responsibility for this and on behalf of members of the executive, apologize.
As lawyers, our disagreements must be based on issues affecting the welfare of our members primarily and the country in general. We must resist the temptation of permitting considerations extraneous to the association's interests to dictate our cause of action, or derail us in the pursuit of the noble cause which our forbears bequeathed to us. For me and members of this Executive, the interest of our members will continue to be paramount in our minds to encourage professional excellence as lawyers and ensure we remain accountable to you as members of the NBA.
ANNUAL GENERAL CONFERENCE 2009
It is with delight I wish to congratulate members of the Nigerian Bar Association on the overwhelming success of the last Annual General Conference tagged Lagos 2009. Hosting a successful conference was one of my commitments, made to the Bar upon assumption of office as President and I am particularly delighted at the overwhelming positive reports I have received from a wide spectrum of persons, of a very successful conference in terms of organization, content, quality and participation. We have the 2009 Conference Planning Committee to thank for putting together a wonderful event. Indeed it is now touted not just as the conference to beat, but the conference to match. My charge to the CPC on their inauguration was to actualize my vision for a truly successful conference and establish such a standard for the NBA for its future conferences. I commend the purposeful leadership of Funke Adekoya SAN and all the members of the CPC in this regard and challenge them to exceed their best as they plan the 2010 conference. While there might be grey areas requiring some attention in our planning, I am assured that with the caliber of persons on the CPC the next conference should be even better. May I take this opportunity to encourage branches who are interested in hosting the annual conference to urgently respond to the request for expression of interest already forwarded to branches since the conclusion of the last conference. It is my intention to ensure the NBA creates a culture of excellence for its programmes for which early preparation is essential.
STATE OF THE NATION
Our nation continues to trudge on slowly but surely. We have witnessed unconstitutional practices, abuse of office, human right violations, and unabating degrees of corruption in public and private service, which has contributed to our growing disparaging in the international community. Our position on the transparency index continues to slide while relevant public officers responsible for the enforcement of our anti-corruption laws attempt to cast the blame for this international dent on the private sector rather than at the feet of those who have failed in their public duty to arrest this scourge either in public or private life.
We must rise in unison to support the people of this country in whatever legitimate way possible to free them from the shackles of oppression. Their muffled voices must be strengthened by knowledgeable inputs from us. Our training places us in good stead to provide the necessary leadership for the country. Our professional ancestors laboured for the development of this country. We have received the baton of responsibility from them. Let it not be said of us that we are miserable clones, imperfect and pitiable caricatures incapable of rising to the occasion to provide leadership for the country mired in corruption and ineptitude.
Corruption continues to thrive in high places despite the tenuous gestures which proclaim the contrary. No country survives with the attitude of impunity encouraged by functionaries of the government. Until we are able to confront this problem headlong, the citizens of this country will never earn the respect they deserve from the international community.
Gentlemen of the Bar, we cannot shirk from our responsibility as experts in the knowledge of the law, to comment on the current happenings in our polity. We have bluntly refused to join those who choose to play politics with anything, including the lives of their fellow beings. We reject the temptation to reduce events of serious national import to primordial politics. We are not unaware of the permutation of political jobbers waiting in the wings to see where the pendulum of state affairs swings. We must not, however, fail to add our reasoned voice to the current national discourse on the health of the president of the country. Those who derive immense benefits from the current state of things can elect to prevaricate while pontificating on when it is appropriate to comment on the health of the Commander -in- Chief of the armed forces when no one appears to be in charge in any manner. We cannot afford such hedonistic indulgence at this crucial moment of our national life.
While we join other well-meaning Nigerians to wish the President a speedy recovery, we should enjoin the Vice President of the country to take full charge of the country until the president returns. May we also hasten to add that should the president consider his condition serious enough as to warrant his stepping aside to attend to his health, he should disregard those who urge him to stay against all increasingly evident reasons which support his stepping down. These super patriots, holders of mendacious mandates, are not interested in the well-being of the president or the country. Our Constitution, as imperfect as the document may be, possesses sufficient provisions on the issue of succession in case of voluntary abdication of office or vacancy engendered by natural causes. Let no one pretend to understand the health of a patient more than the doctor. Our people cannot hang their hopes on happenstance.
Talking about the socio-economic problems bedeviling the country is superfluous when the people are not sure of who is in charge. Our country and people deserve a better deal from its leaders.
I have made observations on behalf of the NBA on the on-going amnesty offered 'repentant militants' in the Niger Delta to the effect that while the intent may be laudable, its generalized application to all manner of criminal gangs may not have been well thought out. I was therefore surprised to read various seemingly deliberate misinterpretations and innuendoes to my remarks now claiming that the NBA does not support the amnesty. If there was any doubt as to the reasoning behind my cautionary words on the Subject, current events on the hijack of the program by the political machinery of government has indeed proved that the Amnesty programme was clearly not thoroughly appraised, neither has government demonstrated its sincerity to the program. Admittedly, one of the repentant militants, Henry Okar publicly acknowledged not all so called repentant militants are freedom fighters. If 'repentant militants' can unleash an orgy of rape and violence on innocent students in the University of Port Harcourt, then we should ask ourselves if amnesty ought to be a blanket for all. More disturbing is the fact that neither the Police, nor the Joint Task Force has charged anybody to court for the despicable acts committed during this assault.
The offer of amnesty must not only be seen to be sincere, but must be matched with corresponding developmental action in the region. We again call on all parties that a proper and sincere appraisal of the Amnesty programme be conducted and implemented.
APPOINTMENT OF SENIOR ADVOCATES OF NIGERIA
Perhaps more than any other singular issue among lawyers, the elevation of Lawyers to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) has generated a great deal of interest among us and indeed among members of the public. It is in my opinion a result of our playing the ostrich over the years in spite of continuous complaints about the transparency of such appointments.
The leadership of the association, prompted by the sustained agitation by a sizeable portion of our distinguished membership, wrote to the office of the CJN on the raging controversy on the award of the highest honour to our members who have excelled in practice and in the academia. The complaints of these members presented at the last Annual Bar Conference require an urgent attention. Regrettably, my well intended efforts at creating a platform for appropriately articulating our views on the observed imperfections by my letter to His Lordship, the Chief Justice of Nigeria was perhaps not brought to his attention by those who received it, but clearly deliberately misinterpreted with some of our members ignorant of its intent jumping into the fray. The uncultured response of the Secretary of the LPPC to my letter in the now characteristic tone of choosing to avoid the uncomfortable comments of the NBA by referring to well intended observations as the personal views of Akeredolu clearly confirms a need to remove our heads from the sand for a better view and objective review of the process.
We cannot continue to pretend that the issue can be wished away by any other means other than a realistic appraisal of the extant rules guiding the award of the rank of Senior Advocate. This matter was adjourned till the meeting of this august gathering. We must allow the overall interest of the association, dictated by our undying passion for merit and the sustenance of the best traditions of the Bar, to guide our deliberations in regard to this issue. We must rise from this meeting with one voice and be resolute to see our decisions on the matter implemented.
The minute details can be worked out easily. What we are to address is the propriety of having quality representation in the body which selects our members for the distinguished award. We have reiterated our position at every relevant forum of the need for the Bar to have elected representatives in the screening committee. The Bar knows its members. The current process whereby lawyers are just appointed into the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee without an input from the NBA is, to say the least, not acceptable. Those who seek to represent us must have our clear mandate for that purpose. They must be answerable to us and it is from us they ought to be briefed on the decision of our association on the award. Practitioners who merit the award must not be denied because they have no godfathers. Those who deserve the coveted elevation must not suffer any disabilities on account of ethnic, gender and political affiliations. The criteria, once set, must be objective to such an extent that barring all other extenuating circumstances, practitioners will reasonably determine those who merit the award, prima facie. This is the only path of honour. Should we decide to cling to the old method from which majority of our members feel alienated, they in turn will be left with no option than to withdraw their respect to it.
Let me however say at this point that the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria is not alien in the commonwealth, neither should controversies about the choice of the Privileges committee divide us so brazenly. I urge this NEC meeting and all our members to approach this matter with maturity and objectivity during discussions on it.
STATE OF THE BAR
In spite of the devious machinations from various quarters to silence the Bar and misrepresent its views to the public, the NBA will under my watch as president continue to be in the forefront as one of the few institutions in this country that has refused to be soiled with the spirit of destructive compromise and two faced politicking. Lawyers are the bastion of the people's constitutional rights and the voice for many abused citizens of this country. This executive will therefore remain forthright, focused and courageous in the face of these challenges.
The NBA has had to make necessary pronouncements, in respect of several issues that have arisen in our polity, social and professional spheres. We have commended genuine visionary and laudable efforts of Government, criticized without mincing words acts of abuse, unconstitutionality and disreputable actions of government and/or its appointees, and made observations on matters relating to our professional calling. May I say at this point that at each time I have made any statement, I did so as President of the Nigerian Bar Association and never in my personal capacity. I am not unaware of regrettably discordant tunes that have emanated from ill advised actions in the heat of our recent crisis. Nevertheless our constitution remains sacrosanct on this matter and should not be flouted flagrantly in a manner that clearly taints our collective image as a body of lawyers. This NEC meeting should therefore take a position on this unfortunate development.
Equally disturbing are the deliberate acts of misrepresentation, and misinterpretation of official statements of the NBA, by persons who we should ordinarily assume to be better informed. This appears to be calculated to malign the office of the President of the NBA and prejudice the objectivity of such statements in respect of the relevant subject matters to which I directed those comments as President. The official texts of every NBA Release are available at the secretariat for our members to see and understand the true intent of our comments and interventions.
It is unfortunate that the unauthorized countermanding comments that emanated from the executive has now become the fuel for strangers to the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association to now begin to publish in newspapers what 'comfortable comments' of the NBA President should be treated as official, and what 'uncomfortable comments' about them should be regarded as the personal opinion of Akeredolu. Again, I urge this NEC meeting to address this matter objectively and dispassionately. The leadership of the NBA, and indeed the Bar in any other politically challenged environment is not for the timid, nor for compromisers, or opportunists. It is for forthright and courageous leadership, and this was my pledge to you in my quest for presidency. I therefore assure all our members that I will not fail in your mandate to me as President, to confront the injustice, corrupt leadership, abuse of office and other forms of threats to our constitutional liberties in this country.
OUR URGENT GOALS
I would like to mention that recent events although most unfortunate did not distract us from taking forward several initiatives which we are convinced will further enhance the status of the legal profession. I did mention at the Bar Conference that there is a need for the NBA to recognise members who continue to dedicate themselves selflessly to the upliftment of the Bar. Quite apart from the professional recognition, there is no other avenue to recognize members who have contributed to the development of the Association. I therefore want to propose a recognition scheme which I have aptly titled NBA HONORS LIST. This list will be compiled yearly and no more than 5 members will be identified from this list. To ensure transparency and openness, an Honors List Committee will be established to oversee nominations, propose criteria and ensure that only deserving members make the list.
Another initiative that I wish to place before you is the NBA Telephone Directory project. The idea behind this project is to enable and publish a telephone directory of lawyers in Nigeria. To achieve this in concrete terms we have initiated preliminary talks with a GSM service provider. We have been offered an initial 10,000 easily identifiable lines. Under a closed user group solution scheme members who subscribe for a minimal fee will be able to benefit from unlimited free calls within the group. Relatedly, we are working on the modalities for the establishment of communication desks in high courts across Nigeria. We propose to start in six pilot states. The benefit of this is that lawyers and court registrars will be able to interact specifically as regards the state of cases in court. We envisage that this initiative will greatly reduce instances of lawyers traveling long distances for cases only to be told on arrival in Court that the matter will not go on.
With respect to other specific activities, you may be aware of the tremendous work that the legislative advocacy Committee of the Bar has done specifically with respect to issues of constitutional and electoral reform. I wish to propose that we go further. The view of the Bar on the constitutional and electoral matters needs to be properly articulated. We should not be caught in the circle of responding to proposals by politicians. The NBA should as a matter of urgency develop a model constitution for the Nigeria. It is my humble view that the business of drafting a constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria is too serious an endeavor to be left exclusively to politicians. It is my view that we need to create an opportunity for the 88 branches of the Bar to participate in the national discuss on constitutional reform. If you agree, I propose we further empower the legislative Advocacy Committee to urgently work out modalities for the implementation of this activity.
In the New Year, and in addition to other activities, I will be proposing a retreat for the staff of the secretariat. It is my considered view that there is need for added professionalism of the NBA secretariat. In 2010 and beyond, our vision must be that of a secretariat that is able to compete favorably with those of the American Bar Association or the Law society of England. Following from this is a need to develop a human resources policy that ensures high professionalism and competence in the recruitment of staff.
Further, following from the very successful Conference of the Human Rights Institute, it is obvious to me that the Legal Profession needs to be more active in its advocacy for reforms in our criminal justice system. Issues of bail, state of our prisons, state of police and in general the administration of criminal justice requires leadership by the NBA. We must not allow ourselves to be led. It is for this reason that I hope to convene an NBA Consultative Forum on Criminal Justice reform. While we will be making demands of other structures within the criminal justice regime, it is also important that we agree on what is expected of the legal profession. We must strive to be seen to be part of the solution.
Our people look up to us for leadership. This assertion should not be misconstrued as an expression of arrogant pride. Our training beckons that we speak straight to power when it is necessary. Our reputation demands that we must be seen to abhor the growing culture of impunity in the land. We must be resolute until our people are set free from the shackles of oppression and bad governance.
Ladies and gentlemen, the time to act is now.
OLUWAROTIMI O. AKEREDOLU ESQ. SAN
President, Nigerian Bar Association