2018 Bar Elections: A Triumvirate of Contestants

The Nigerian Bar Association elections into its various offices at the national level will hopefully come up soon as scheduled. Already, some people are doubtful of the legality of the said elections which they say ought to have been conducted in July as prescribed by the NBA Constitution.

However, some are also saying that there is a leeway as they point out that the same Constitution provides that this action outside the strict provisions of the Constitution could be ratified by the National Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association.

Let’s trust for the meantime, that when the NBA gets to the bridge, it will know how to cross it or what are lawyers for? What is of immediate concern is how Nigerian Lawyers would choose the right people from among their own ranks for the offices of their volatile Association now up for election.

The offices of the NBA are not a few. But for the constraint of time and space, we chose to concentrate on the most high profile and most prominent of the offices: that of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association. There are three contestants for this office, namely Paul Usoro, SAN who goes by the sobriquet of PUSAN; then Prof. Ernest Ojukwu, SAN who goes by the appellation of “Teacher” and Arthur Obi Okafor, SAN whose admirers have acronymised his initials to AOO, SAN.

The golden question is why should you vote for one instead of the other?

Paul Usoro, SAN

His supporters say he represents purity. We don’t know whether this tantamount to flattery. But on a serious note, we may take the following facts of or concerning PUSAN.

He is from Akwa Ibom State, born in 1958. He attended the University of Ife (UNIFE now Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife) and was called to the Bar in 1982. He was appointed a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2003. While a student of the University in Ife, he fought what may be regarded as a corrupt practice which the academic community is especially prone to, namely examination malpractice. His admirers said it was his protest that led to the famous case of Akintemi V. Onwumechili. They regard this conduct of his as an uncommon act of courage for a student.

Since becoming a lawyer, he has carved out for himself a venerable niche in the legal aspects of the communications sector. According to his camp, Paul Usoro was responsible for the crafting of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 which has been the Statute law for that sector since its coming into force. So, if you are reading this on your mobile device for instance, you are unconsciously operating under the legal influence of Paul Usoro, SAN.

Paul Usoro’s name came up in 2017 in the matter of giving money to a Judge of the National Industrial Court. He however explained that the payments to the Judge were personal gifts which were within acceptable limits of the Rules of Professional Conduct in the Legal Profession. In his explanation, even though his Chambers have cases before the NIC, he has not personally appeared in any of the cases before the Judge in question. We must note in addition that he has not been charged with any offence.

His supporters point out that his treatment of lawyers in his employ is most commendable. By Nigerian standards, paying your employees well is regarded as an act of benevolence. This is more so in an economic space where even the Government does not regard it as essential to give workers a take home pay which could take them home! Not so with PUSAN, say his admirers. They said he pays even his fresh associates a level of wages which would make some seniors of many years in other places go green with envy.

What are his promises for the NBA?

Should you vote for Paul Usoro, you would have voted for his “three thematic areas” to drive his reform plan. These, according to him are institutional development and regulatory reforms; human capital development and welfare programme and promotion of the Rule of Law and good governance in Nigeria. In order to achieve these goals, he promises sustained and constant stakeholder engagement and consultation and an open-door policy. He believes that every lawyer must have a voice in the affairs of the Association and in particular in matters that affect them. He will therefore ensure clear channels of communication that would make it easy for NBA members to have access to him and Bar leaders generally. He also promises “to lead by example in institutionalising transparency and accountability in the administration of the NBA.” According to him, he has a network of relationships in the corporate world which he would use in seeking to achieve these goals. He believes that these objectives are capable of making the association the envy of other professional associations in and outside Africa if he were given the chance of the NBA Presidency to implement them.

Prof. Ernest Ojukwu, SAN

Fondly called “Teacher” by his teeming supporters, Prof. Ernest Ojukwu, SAN was born in 1960. He hails from Abia State of Nigeria. He attended the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) after which he was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1984. He was a past Deputy Director-General and Head of Campus, Nigerian Law School, Enugu Campus between 2001 and 2013. He was appointed a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2014.

Prof. Ojukwu was for many years Chairman of the Eastern Bar Forum, from 2004 to 2011. He however is not the candidate endorsed by the EBF because he did not submit to the endorsement requirements of the Forum. His supporters said he refused to so submit because he does not approve of these regional endorsements.

Teacher has acknowledged and admirable pedigree in legal education, law reform, active legal practice and Bar leadership, from his local Branch level to the level of the National Executive Committee of the NBA. According to them, he has successfully carried out multifarious assignments on behalf of the Bar. It is for these very reasons that he is being touted as a man of diverse experience.

What does he have for the NBA?

Given its sheer extent and coverage, wading through Prof’s manifesto is a challenge in itself. His critics have raised a clamour for this, insisting that a two year tenure could not be sufficient to execute all the programmes and that the manifesto is a mere appeal to populism. But his promoters argue that the issues confronting the Nigerian Bar Association are challenging, so that a man like Teacher who had proved equal to previous daunting Bar assignments should be most suitable for the job. They add that the issues addressed by his manifesto are the normal things which a Bar Association should be doing so that the objectives are very achievable.

Teacher wants to set a new bar for the Nigerian Bar Association. Hence, his theme is “Setting a New bar for a Relevant NBA.” His Mission Statement is to “Re-create the NBA to serve our members, the legal profession and the nation.” In doing this, Prof. Ojukwu has mapped out four strategic areas, namely Welfare and Services; Ethics and Discipline; Governance of the Association; and Rule of Law.

Some of the contents of these major areas in specific terms are that Teacher wants to create more jobs for lawyers; take measures to enhance lawyers’ business; find measures to ensure that certain processes are reserved exclusively for lawyers; make it professional misconduct for lawyers to charge fees in certain matters below a minimum level; expand employment opportunities for lawyers in public institutions, including Local Governments and as prosecutors in the Magistrates’ Courts; free Mandatory Continuing Legal Education for young lawyers; life and health insurance for lawyers; low fees for Annual Bar Conferences; free digital stamps without expiration dates for lawyers; reform of legal education to become vocational training as opposed to content driven training; work to preserve the independence of the legal profession and the Judiciary and holding Government and its agencies accountable.

Chief Arthur Obi Okafor, SAN

He was born in Anambra State in 1965. He is an alumnus of the University of Calabar from where he graduated in 1990 before he was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1991. After many years of active legal practice, he was appointed a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2010.

Chief Obi Okafor is the adopted candidate of the Eastern Bar Forum. His admirers said clinching this block’s support shows him as a team player. Indeed, the theme of his campaign is to make the NBA an “All Inclusive Bar.” Arthur Obi Okafor is the Chairman of the Criminal Justice Reform Committee of the NBA. Under his leadership, the NBA organised theAdministration of Criminal Justice Conference in Asaba, Delta State. His supporters point out how the Conference was well organised to the admiration and appreciation of those who attended.

What has he promised?

In Arthur Obi Okafor’s All Inclusive Bar, lawyers who have paid their Bar Practising Fees may expect free issuance of Stamps. But he holds the position that the stamps must have expiry dates to protect against quacks and to ensure that only lawyers who possess current practising licence have the stamps.

Furthermore, he wants to deepen Bar and Bench cooperation; promote globalisation and specialisation in emerging areas of practice; improve welfare of lawyers; provide mentorship and create employment for young lawyers; pursue a vigorous criminal justice reform agenda; raise the bar on professional discipline, transparency and financial prudence; work against police brutality and hostility against lawyers; restructure and re-strengthen the NBA Human Rights Institute; to make the NBA act as the voice of the masses; to create a membership Directorate in pursuance of the All Inclusive Bar agenda and to ensure the participation of every lawyer, young, old, women and the physically challenged at the National Executive Committee and Branch Executive levels and at Bar Conferences and other events, including Committees and statutory appointments.

The purpose of these reviews is to afford voters the necessary information or data to enhance an informed choice. Which of the candidates’ agenda most represent the idea of the Bar Association closest to your heart?  Now that you know what each of them represents, prepare your fingers, pare your nails and you must find an internet connection. Go and vote accordingly.

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