LAWYERS4CHANGE

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

MY TEAM AND I HAVE DONE OUR BEST FOR THE BAR...DAVE AJETOMOBI ESQ.

Until he became the chairman of the most potent branch of the Nigerian Bar Association in 2008, Dave Ajetomobi Esq., a 1990 graduate of the Nigerian Law School, was not a very well known figure in the legal community. And there were doubts in some quarters about his capacity to creditably lead the great Ikeja Bar, that had shone like a million stars four years earlier under the chairmanship of Adekunle Ojo Esq.
Now two years later, only few critical observers of theBar would disagree on the point that Ajetomobi has provided such great leadership to the Tiger Bar that her present mark in the horizon had hitherto not been reached.
If the Adekunle Ojo years (2004-2006) in the life of the Ikeja Bar was a golden era, could the times of the Dave Ajetomobi leadership (2008-2010) not be hailed as the ‘diamond years?’
SQUIB: Your branch the NBA Ikeja is popularly known as the ‘Tiger Bar;’ why the appellation ‘Tiger?’ some say it is an unsavoury cognomen, what’s your view?
AJETOMOBI: We are called Tigers because of our forthrightness, dynamism and promptitude in reacting positively to issues. We are not called Tigers because of any unreasonable aggression or any destructive tendency but because you can count on us to be bold, intrepid and principled in our stands.
Our branch from the onset, is a natural habitat for Bar activism and national patriotism. Little wonder it was home to late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the one-man army against military dictatorship and oppression. It is home to the likes of Femi Falana, Bamidele Aturu, etc. and it is only in a branch like Ikeja, that a magazine like yours (the Squib) could have been born.
SQUIB: As the leaderof the bar in Lagos State, kindly appraise the judiciary in Nigeria and Lagos in particular?
AJETOMOBI: Our courts have intervened on some occasions at critical points to save the country from tragic consequences. However by and large the judiciary has performed below expectation. There have been strange judgements, contradictory judgementsw and the situation is now pathetic in the Court of Appeal. The various divisions of the court give conflicting decisions on the same issues of law.
Also none of the cases of corruption against high officials of state like governors, ministers, legislators, have taken off at all after arraignment n the Federal High Courts; except in few cases where charges are struck off like Ibori or where ridiculous plea bargains have been entered.
Cases against ex-governors Fayose, Orji Uzor Kalu and Nnamani have not taken off at all. On the other hand a court has given perpetual injunction against the EFCC not to move against Peter Odili, former governor of Rivers State.
The only possible exception is the Olabode George case, where the defendants received speedy trial and judgement and are currently serving their terms. Another disheartening development is what obtains at the Federal High Court when drug barons and couriers are given light sentences in the name of plea bargain. Everybody would remember the case of the actress caught with cocaine at the airport a few years ago and given a slap-on-the-wrist judgement.
The Lagos State Judiciary comparatively has done well. However there have been several complaints from members of the Bar that in Lagos courts, the phrase ‘definite hearing’ actually means ‘adjournment sine die’ due to the attitude of some of our judges of not diligently tackling cases.
For example there are some cases which have been at the pre-trial stage for 2, 3 even 4 years contrary to the provisions of the 2004 Civil Procedure Rules. One major issue that affects the judiciary in Nigeria is that of appointment. Many times, those appointed are those who ought not to be appointed at all. These are people appointed due to family connection.
How do you explain for example a situation where you file a FHR matter before a high court and at any hearing of the matter, the court treats the applicant like an accused person and orders him into the dock, because according to the judge, her court is of the criminal division and all who appear before her are accused persons!
If high court judges are like this you can imagine the caliber of many magistrates. Many of the magistrates appear to be against the ideas and ideals of freedom, thus giving harsh and virtually impossible conditions of bail to accused persons.
Many departments in the judiciary here in Lagos: Sherriff, Probate, Registries are manned by disgruntled staff prone to bribery and extortion, thus hampering the smooth running of the institution. As a Bar we have reported the situation to the Chief Judge. The Chief Judge has adopted an open door policy with us in Ikeja and we find it much easier than in the past to work with the leadership of the judiciary.
Yet a lot still has to be done. Even there is labour unrest in the judiciary. First it was judiciary workers, the non-lawyer cadres that have been going on strikes. Now the magistrates too are toeing that line. This is not good for the image of the judiciary for it portrays it as an unstable and consequently ineffective sector.
SQUIB: You became the chairman of NBA Ikeja two years ago and your term will end in three weeks time; please describe your experience in power.
AJETOMOBI: It has been a wonderful experience. I want to point out that our tenure is the shortest. We took over in the last week of June 2008 and we shall be relinquishing the position in the first week of June 2010. However, the achievements are not measured by how long but how well. I can say with the help of the almighty God and the support of our members, we have achieved unprecedented success. Firstly, we were able to put in place a group life insurance scheme for our members who are required to contribute only five thousand naira per year as premium. And in the case of death or permanent incapacitation, the insured or the next of kin is entitled to one million naira from the insurance company. In case of accident, the insured will be given one thousand naira for treatment. The scheme has been on since 2006, with less than five members participating. But under this administration we have 200 members, participating in this scheme.
Under my watch the Ikeja branch led other branches to bid for and host the 2009 Annual Bar Conference successfully. The Lagos Conference is the most successful in recent times. The last conference which was held in 2008 in Abuja under President Olisa Agbakoba S.A.N ended with fifty million naira debt. That conference was an unmitigated disaster while the Lagos Conference ended with 75 million naira profit and it was a huge success. The LOC was pioneered and peopled mainly by the Ikeja Branch. On employment of junior lawyers, we were able to create an employment bureau under the office of the Welfare Secretary who donated a page in the Squib magazine for the listing of unemployed junior lawyers thus creating a pool of willing employees for the attention of potential employers. Also the Fawehinmiism programme took a turn for the better under this administration in terms of the quality of personalities invited as guest speakers. In 2009, we had Professor Dora Akunyili as the guest speaker while in 2010 we had the governor of Edo State, the person of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.

The quality of law week programmes and membership participation increase greatly in my regime. In the 2009 law week we enjoyed the participation of Governor Babatunde Fashola and Mr. Adeyemi Ikuforiji the Honourable Speaker Lagos House of Assembly and some slate commissioners. In 2010, the annual law dinner was attended by the governor of Rivers State, the representatives of Lagos and Kwara State governors, two former governors (Donald Duke and Orji Uzor Kalu) among other dignitaries. Also as part of 2010 law week, we introduce the Alao Aka Bashorun lecture series in honour of the late president of the NBA Mr. Alao Aka Bashorun who did so much for the Bar and the country. Another special feature of 2010 law week programme, is the book launch in honour of the governor of Lagos State. I must say that during my tenure, we enjoy excellent relationship with the Lagos State judiciary under the leadership of lion. Justice Inumidun Akande. We also enjoy a very cordial relationship with the executive under the leadership of Governor Fashola and also with the legislature under Honourable Adeyemi Ikuforiji. In the past two years, we have entrenched the NBA Ikeja in the consciousness of Nigerian lawyers as well as the government and people of this country. Thus, during the 2008 national election of the bar, my administration propelled the victory of Adekunle Ojo our former chairman, against all odds, as the 2nd vice president of National NBA, the highest position ever attained by any member of NBA Ikeja branch.
Also, we afforded members opportunity to serve the bar regardless of the part of the country they come from, as long as they have something to offer the Bar. Yet another of our achievements was the fact that the last strike of the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria Lagos State chapter was called off in January 2009 as a result of the intervention of the NBA Ikeja branch. When we came to office, our secretariat was still half wood, half block bungalow which we have been using for more than twenty years, we quickly inaugurated the Kemi Pinhero (S.A.N) Building Committee with the mandate to build a befitting secretariat for the branch.
Though, there was some initial delay as a result of some unfulfilled promises from some commercial bank to assist in the project. As at today, work is progressing seriously on the site. And the Lagos State Government has signaled her interest in assisting. We have had meetings with officials of the state government to discuss the modalities. For this, we are grateful the Governor of Lagos State, the honourable Attorney General Mr. Supo Shasore S.A.N. as well as the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice Lagos State and Solicitor General Mr. Lawal Pedro S.A.N. In the past two years, we have been very vocal on sensitive national issues. This has made an authoritative voice in national affairs. We have also put in place, laptop acquisition scheme whereby our members will pick a laptop of their choice and pay over a period of twelve months. We have also ensured that we participate in the social functions of our members as much as possible, whether within or outside Lagos. Also, as a result of our cordial relationship with the judiciary, the Honourable Chief Judge obliged us the use of our present temporary secretariat within the Ikeja High Court Complex which has saved us the cost and inconvenience of renting a place for our meetings and other activites.
SQUIB: I must say that the list of the achievements of your administration appears quite intimidating but there are critics who are not impressed at all with your regime. Some of these critics say that your administration is tribalistic, discriminatory and even corrupt. There claims is that your regime has raised more than fifty million, which has been diverted into private pockets of some of your exco members. What is your reaction?
AJETOMOBI: My reaction is that it is natural for small minded people to be envious of great achievements and will say or do anything to rubbish it. Let me address the issue of tribalism. When we were elected, the cabinet was not full so we co opted six members into the executive committee. Out of these six, three were south westerners-Adesina Ogunlana, Tutu Adebayo and Akinjide Bakare. The other three are Mrs. Gloria Nweze, .Mrs Joy Nwadike and Shehu Gado. -Nweze and Nwadike are from the South eastern Nigeria while Gado is from the North.
Of course it is open knowledge that the chairman of the Law Week Committee for our two years, Mr. Monday Ubani is not Yoruba. Also the Co-chairman of the Disciplinary Committee Mr. Kingsley Essien is not Yoruba. What of Mr. Okey Ogbu chairman of the sports committee? Accusing me of tribalism is funny. My wife is a south easterner.
So those who are going about saying we are tribalists arc merely out for mischief. So there is no basis for the allegation of discrimination and tribalism. My administration encourages any of our members irrespective of tribe, sex or religion to serve. On the issue of allegation of corruption, I even heard that members of exco have bought new jeeps and we are now using bowties as a symbol of our new found affluence. What silly talk and blatant lies! The truth is that our funds are intact and nobody has tampered with it. My office in Ikeja got burnt in 2008 while I was on NBA assignment outside Lagos. I could not afford a new office in Ikeja, so I moved to Shomolu where I can afford an office because I have to replace everything that got burnt in the office so if I have been using NBA money for personal needs, I would have been able to secure an office in Ikeja. I am still using my old Mercedes Benz car which one of my co-contestants then in 2008 dismissed contemptuously as a jalopy that was worth nothing more than 150 thousand naira. These funny critics are fond of telling false stories so as to lead members astray.
When Adekunle Ojo finished his term in 2006 this same set of people started the false stories that he used NBA money to vehicles for himself and junior counsel. They are still the ones going about now saying that after the 2009 conference of the NBA that the national body gave Ikeja Bar twenty million naira!
The truth is that what the national body gave was 20% of the 75million naira profit of the 2009 conference to the three branches of the bar in Lagos State which co-hosted the very successful conference. Of course that meant 15 million naira for Ikorodu, Lagos and Ikeja Bars. So we here in Ikeja only got five million naira and this has been announced to the general house.
So where did our friends get their twenty million naira figure from. Even more ridiculous is their new claim that we have sunk thirty million naira into the new Bar center project. What a huge lie! They should please tell the world where this thirty million naira came from.
Happily 1 am not bothered about all the smear campaigns. Our detractors are simply envious of our achievements. However, envy and malice never take away the sweetness of honey. Say whatever they like, our people know that, by the grace of God, my administration has greatly lifted our Bar beyond the mark we met it.
In 2008, during the election their campaign was that we were mere boys suffering from infantile radicalism, if not outright juvenile delinquency. They claimed they were the mature ones, the ones with right ideas and exposure and that we could never lead the Bar well. But how wrong to the glory of God we have proved them.
SQUIB: When General Ibrahim Babangida was military president of Nigeria he said while he did not know who would succeed him, he knew those who would not. Regarding the June 7 2010 election in your branch, are you of the Babangida persuasion?
AJETOMOBI: I am not like that at all. Why should any man play God? Of course I am interested in having a successor who would keep the flag of the Ikeja Bar flying higher still, but it goes no further than that. It is only the electorate that can decide who my successor in office will be.
We have set up an Electoral Committee made-up of three credible members of the branch who arc already at work. Personally I have no concern at all that the election will be anything less than free and fair. I wish all the contestants the very best of luck. The world is a stage, I have done my part, to the best of my abilities and now is the time to go.

No comments: