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Thursday, May 17, 2012

TIGER BAR ELECTION: KANGAROO ELECTION EQUALS TAINTED VICTORY

 
 
The drama, very high indeed started on Monday April 2nd 2012 at the monthly meeting of the NBA Ikeja and, interestingly, very intere
stingly the drama as it appears, has not ended.

The issue at hand that April afternoon was setting up the Electoral Committee that would conduct the election that would produce the next administration of the Tiger Bar, after the incumbent Adebamigbe Omole regime which took office in June 2010 and would ordinarily leave June 2012.

On paper, appointing the three member committee of the electoral Committee is simple. The Chairman calls members to make nominations and recognizes three nominators who, each, in turn announces his or her nominee.

In practice however, the Chairman has a hectic time performing the ordinarily simple task. This is because there would be too many potential nominators, overtly excited and desperate to get the nod of the Chairman to announce a preferred nominee.

Thus setting up the electoral committee of the Tiger Bar was always a hectic affair, and full of tension. The meeting of April 2nd 2012 lived fully to the billing.

The first nomination was that of Mr. Dosu Ogunniyi, former Chairman of the Branch in 1996 and a member of the Elder Committee of the Branch. His nominator was Dare Akande leader of the Progressive Caucus in the Tiger Bar.

Ogunniyi’s nomination fairly easily scaled through, though there were some shouts in opposition. Earlier on, Ogunniyi a near septuagenarian had taken a lot of time addressing the meeting on the need for the maintenance of decency, friendliness and orderliness in the conduct of the elections.

The second nomination was of Mrs. Nkechi Ojo. When the nominee came out to the front fierce and hostile shouts of “NO! NO!” rent the air, and the opposition came mainly from supporters of Monday Ubani one of the three candidates vying for the post of Chairman.

The Chairman ignored the shouts of opposition to Nkechi Ojo and called for the third nomination. The third nominee was Reginald Ugwuadu. There was a few opposition to Reginald’s nomination, which came from Alhaji Adegbenro.

Earlier on the Chairman had allowed another nomination, in the form of another Nkechi. Then the Chairman refusing calls that election be done between Nkechi Ojo and other Nkechi, canceled the nomination of both ladies and called for a fresh nomination but insisted that the nominee must be a lady. The Chairman then recognized Matthias Emeribe a staunch Monday Ubani supporter to make nomination. The gentleman after some dilly-dallying nominated Mrs. Funmi Falana.

Thus at the end of the day, the following persons Oladosu Ogunniyi, Reginald Ugwuadu and Funmi Falana became members of the Electoral Committee. As is the practice the oldest member of the committee at the Bar, Dosu Ogunniyi became the electoral Committee Chairman, while the youngest at the Bar, Funmi Falana, became the Secretary.

The first inkling that made observers fear that the 2012 election might go awry was the publication of the 1st Election Guidelines by the Ogunniyi Committee. The said guidelines were so draconian and unrealistic in its provisions that none of the sixteen candidates vying for positions in the elections, qualified to run in the elections. (See Cover Story Exhibit). Furthermore the guidelines introduced a strange rule: “registered voters would only be allowed to vote if they had paid practicing fees for year 2012”.

All the major contestants became dismayed at this development since the rule effectively ruled out more than half, the registered voters since only few practicing lawyers made it a point of duty to pay their practicing fees either at all or as at when due.

The immediate consequence of the outlandish guidelines was to heighten suspicion and tension between the two main groups in the election: the Ubani and the Farounbi groups. While the Farounbi group were bemused at the guidelines, the Ubani group spread the rumor that the Electoral Guidelines was targeted at them to slice off the group’s voting strength. According to the Ubani group, the Farounbi group also called the “Exco” had always known that payment of practicing fees would be made a pre-condition for voting and had accordingly instructed its supporters to pay practicing fees.

Even before this time, the two groups had locked horns on the issue of registration of voters. While the Ubani group, and the Niyi Akinmola group too, wanted what can be called a “free for all registration” the Farounbi group wanted restrictive registration, to prevent the registration of non lawyers or non members of the Ikeja Bar from participating in the election. The liberal position of the Ubani/Akinmola groups urged the registration of any one who claims he is a legal practitioner with office or home address within the Ikeja Judicial Division.

The Farounbi group on the other hand wanted prospective voters to identify themselves with their Call to Bar Certificates before they would be allowed to pay for branch dues. 

The insistence of the Executive Committee to prefer the Farounbi’s group perspective led to the inconveniencing of many otherwise genuine members of the branch who were forced to produce the Call to Bar certificates, before they could pay the branch dues, which receipt serves as the Voter’s Card.

The clash of interest over the use of the Call-to Bar certificate in the registration of members for voting eventually led to litigation and in the end sharply exposed the odd mentality of the Electoral Committee.

About three days to the Elections, slated to hold on Monday 7th May 2012, a group of seven members of the Branch, led by “Barrister (Chief) Victor Kolade, filled a suit in court asking for a stoppage of the scheduled election and invalidation of the voters list to be used for the election because according to the claimants, they had been unfairly prevented from getting duly registered.

The Electoral Committee’s immediate reaction was to state that it would not go on with the election on the face of the suit. On Friday May 5 2012, at a meeting with the candidates, a decision was reached that the seven disgruntled voters be invited to register and then be allowed to vote. The General Secretary of the bar was instructed to inform the claimant’s lawyer about this decision. The General Secretary complied and the claimant’s lawyer Debo Oduguwa was equally swift to reply that his clients were not interested in the offer that they should come forward to be registered for the election.

To the surprise of many, the Electoral Committee upon having knowledge of the unreasonable stance of the the disgruntled claimants continued to insist that it would not go on with the election except the pending suit was determined or withdrawn.

All arguments to the Electoral Committee that the refusal of the “group of 7” to register for the election was clear proof of mischief calculated to stall the election and that no reasonable court of tribunal of law would fault the holding of the election under the circumstances fell on deaf ears.

This was the main reason why 7th May 2012 came and went with no elections taking place even though no less than about eight hundred Tigers (NBA Ikeja members) showed up for the exercise and waited for no less than six hours for the election to commence.

It must be added though that the resolve of the Electoral Committee not to hold the election on 7th May 2012 was further hardened by Monday Ubani and Niyi Akinmola two of the three candidates vying for the chairmanship position.

At a closed door meeting of Elders with the chairmanship candidates, it was only Yinka Farounbi who expressed the view that despite the suit of the “Group of 7” the election should still hold on that day. His rivals Ubani and Akinmola on the other hand contended to the contrary claiming such an action would be contemptuous of court.

It would appear that the Dosu Ogunniyi Electoral Committee was only being selective in terms of being firm on issues and standing rigid on due processes and the law.

In considering the report of the General Secretary on all the aspirants as prescribed the Bye-Laws of the NBA Ikeja Branch, the Electoral Committee did not stand on the correctness of the Law.

The Committee decided to allow for example a candidate for the post of Auditor, Nkechi Pat Ume-Okechukwu, to contest the election even though the General Secretary’s damnifying finding on the said candidate and which sufficiently warranted her exclusion from the race was upheld by the Ogunniyi Committee.

In opening the door for Ume-Okechukwu, Dosu Ogunniyi now widely derided in Progressive circles of the Ikeja Bar as “Baba Ogunyehun!” said the allowance was made to allow for “professional harmony” in the Bar.

But the same attitude was not put on Monday 7th May 2012 when the Electoral Committee conveniently forgot any concern about “professional harmony” in insisting on not going on with the election to the detriment of close to a thousand members but the satisfaction of just seven.

The “Group of 7’s” calculated bid to thwart the holding of the election as at lasted only a day.

But what a day of glory it was in particular for Niyi Akinmola, who from all indications was the master-mind of the suit. While the resultant dead-lock lasted, given much fillip by the strange obduracy of the Electoral Committee not to proceed with the Election, Akinmola strutted like a peacock all over the Election Ground, where more than eight hundred lawyers lay scattered listlessly like a flock without shepherd; as far as the former progressive element was concerned he by throwing the spanner in the works, had proved his “mighty importance.”

It was however, as events would later prove, Akinmola’s last hurrah. It must again be noted that, Akinmola’s slimy manonevers was also quickly opportuned by the Ubani group, who made a volte face on the issue of the suit filed by the disgruntled claimant.

On Friday 4th May 2012, key Ubani supporters and Ubani himself were for the Elections to go on by Monday 7th May, even before any offer of registration was given to the seven claimants, but by Monday next, the Ubanites were all for the postponement of the election.

They were quick to remind anyone who cared to listen about the need not to run foul of the subjudice rule and were quick to cite the famous Ojukwu and Lagos State Government case out of context in support of their new position.

However by 10.00a.m, the next morning, the suit of the seven claimants was given short shrift in the court of law, as all its sting, poison and teeth were knocked down and out in an emergency terms of settlement which in essence was a mere repeat of the offer of registration to the 7 aggrieved claimants.

With the suit out of the way, courtesy of the strong behind-the-scene diplomatic negotiations and settlement of the elders of the Branch, the stage was finally set to hold the elections, on Wednesday the 9th May 2012.

On very important issue was still outstanding however, that of the practicing fees payment as a pre-condition for voting in the election.

On the surface, the matter appeared to have been resolved in favour of dropping its use in election. At least that was the undertaking the Elders Council thought it had extracted from the Ogunyehun Electoral Committee.

On the issue of the payment of practice fees, the Electoral Committee was at best, queer. The intransigence on the issue was certainly political since there was no cogent reason to command the stiff insistence on the illegal criterion by the Electoral Committee.

In two letters the branch chairman had had cause to counsel the Electoral Committee against making payment of practicing fees a pre-condition for voting in the election to avoid unnecessary controversy and crisis in the branch (see cover story Exhibit) Said Omole inter-alia in his second letter “By the special grace of God, being the official leader of the Branch I did not come to office in crisis and I certainly will not want to see my departure to be in crisis. Your committee accordingly was set-up to conduct elections and not to conduct Crisis. I desire for the sake of peace and progress of our dynamic branch that your committee re-think on its position on the issue herein raised”.

The branch chairman’s wise counsel was treated with scorn by the duo of Dosu Ogunniyi and Funmi Falana who rather complained to the chairman that his letter was unduly harsh on them.

Sources in the wood works of the Electoral Committee informed the Squib that the staunchest proponent of making practicing fee payment a pre-condition for voting was Mrs. Funmi Falana. Though the only female member of the Electoral Committee, her rather brash and aggressively opinionated personality and attitude easily over whelmed Ogunniyi the insipid chairman of the Electoral Committee who consequently was reduced pathetically to a glorified figure head and a ‘gbewudani’ rubber stamp.

Ironically Funmi Falana, called to the Bar only in 1997 lacked the moral credential to mount any high horse of professional propriety in the matter of the election. Firstly since about four years ago the woman hardly ever attended the meetings of the Ikeja Bar and indeed when she was nominated by Mr. Matthias Emeribe, she was not in attendance of the meeting. Secondly, the Squib can exclusively report that, Funmi Falana’s Chambers Falana & Falana at least for the year 2012 paid practicing fees only after March 31st 2012.

The third member of the Electoral Committee, Reginald Uguwadu is another interesting inclusion in the electoral committee. Almost immediately upon his appointment the gentleman left Lagos, never to be seen there again until Monday 7th May 2012 when the first attempt to hold the meeting failed.

Sources in the Electoral Committee told this magazine authoritatively that Ugwuadu was the one who sold the idea of using the payment of practicing fees a pre-condition to vote. However when Ugwuadu changed his mind on the controversial pre-condition, Ogunniyi and Falana became adamant on the issue.

On the Election day, Wednesday 9th March 2012, voting commenced just a few minutes after 11.00am. That was when it dawned on many prospective voters that the Electoral Committee would actually insist on using the controversial pre-condition.

In the first hour of voting, any one with his practicing fees tellers, whether the fee was paid as at when due (on or before 31st March 2012) or not was allowed to vote. Suddenly the Electoral Committee chairman announced that a voter would be eligible to vote, if his practicing fee was paid on or before 31st March 2012.

The practicing fee obstacle proved too high for many prospective voters to scale. Some did not know they had to produce it and so did not come with it to the venue. Some did not even pay it. Some others paid but after March 31st 2012. In this last category were counsel from Ministry of Justice, Lagos state who had a most humiliating day.

For several hours they waited in vain for a chance to vote after making a case for themselves that being not in control of payment of their practicing fees, they should not be sanctioned for paying after 31st of March 2012.

At a point, the Electoral Committee assured the state counsel that they would be allowed to vote because “yours is a special case.” However when it was 3.30p.m the Electoral Committee, now said the resolution of the question whether the state counsel should vote would be answered by the candidates in the election. So deliberately mischievous was the Electoral Committee that it shamelessly and abdicated her responsibility put the question to the candidates with one voice, the now badly shaken and jittery Ubani and Akinmola groups thundered a ‘NO’ and the “Work-to-Answer” Electoral Committee of Dosu Ogunniyi and Funmi Falana happily followed the dictates of their masters to rule out the participation of State counsel from the election. Feeling bitter and humiliated, the representatives of the state counsel asserted that no matter the outcome of the election, the Official Bar in Lagos State would have nothing to do with the Ikeja Bar again. However the representatives got an instant answer from Ubani group supporters who shouted “You can pocket your support. If you don’t support us, we will get support from Alaba and Onitsha!”

Before the Electoral Committee assembled the candidates together to ask them to make a decision for the committee, there had been an uproar that lasted about fifteen minutes at the voting centre.

At the centre of the uproar was this reporter who stormed the hall in anger to vehemently protest the highly suspicious interactions of known Ubani supporters inside the voting hall, with security officials manning the main entrance and the ad-hoc staff of the Electoral Committee, verifying prospective voters After ten minutes of mutual recriminations and explanations between the reporter and the Ubanites, the uproar subsided and voting continued.

With the exit of the large contingent of frustrated voters from the Ministry of Justice and others, like academics (University of Lagos and Lagos State University), corporate practice, etc the Ubani group and Akinmola group breathed a huge sigh of relief and became certain that the Progressives were in for a roasting.

When the first result of the day was announced the Ubani group was very happy- Meimuna Esegime with her 268 votes had thrashed Benjamin Arekameh the Progressive candidates, who had only 163 votes, to become Publicity Secretary elect.

But the next result went to the progressive camp as Nelly Silver Ajalaye, scored 240 to defeat Nkechi Pat Ume-Okechukuwu (200) to become the Auditor elect.

The result after this was for the post of Social Secretary and it really excited the Ubani group. Their Titi Osagie had just defeated Gbenga Ajayi of the Progressive caucus 225 votes – 175 votes.

However for the very important position of  General Secretary, victory was for the Progressives as their Adesina Adegbite with his 275 votes crushed Emmanuel Otobo (172 votes). For the post of 2nd Vice Chairman, it was Carol Ibeh again of the Progressives who won, polling 248 votes to spank Leye Omitola of the Ubani group who got 194 votes.

For the sensitive 1st Vice-Chairmanship post Adesina Ogunlana of the Progressive caucus came first in the contest with a whopping 240 votes making Terry Adeniji of the Ubani’s group a gallant loser with his 175 votes and Charles Biyi Oguntuga of the insignificant Akinmola’s group a paltry 31 votes. The Ogunlana win clearly distressed Funmi Falana the biased secretary of the Electoral Committee who was making all sorts of open uncomplimentary remarks about Ogunlana while the votes were being sorted and counted.

For the post of chairman, the winner was not easy to know between Ubani and Farounbi. It was a neck to neck race with Ubani polling 212 to Farounbi’s 209. A miserable 37 votes were cast for Akinmola, who immediately commenced the bitter and permanent winter of his political life in the NBA Ikeja Branch.

The Ubani win sent his camp to a delirious high and their excitement rose to high heavens. They pranced all over the election venue that night shouting and rejoicing over their win. Amazingly the redoubtable Progressive Caucus despite their shock loss of the chairmanship position still found the strength to rally their supporters and take them to the nearby POWA market for entertainment. Yinka Farounbi the chairmanship candidate of the Progressive Caucus that night said “there is no big deal in losing an election after all only one person can win but I mind losing unfairly. If Ubani had won this election fair and square you can be sure that I will be the first to congratulate him”

Will the joy of the Ubani group last? This question becomes necessary, because five days after the May 9 2012 ‘election’ the progressives headed for the law courts to challenge the propriety of the election that produced Monday Ubani, the Chairman-elect of the Branch.

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