Bar Elections not Inconclusive
The Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) did not declare this year’s NBA election as inconclusive. That is unlike the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in some other elections which are not the subject of this write-up. Therefore, as at today, the NBA President is Paul Usoro, SAN. He emerged the President after a keenly contested Bar election in August 2018 held finally after quite a few postponements.
Mr. Paul Usoro is from Akwa Ibom State, part of the NBA’s geographical East of Nigeria. You must remember that in the zonal rotation
arrangement of the NBA, the East is the Zone next eligible to produce the President of the NBA as the tenure of A. B. Mahmoud, SAN as President was winding down.
That Paul Usoro, SAN from Akwa Ibom State should emerge the winner of the election is something of a surprise. Not that he was not qualified, not that he did not campaign hard: we have said hitherto that the election was keenly contested. Or would that remark have been apposite except as a commentary on the spirit and energy which the contestants and their campaigners deployed in convincing the lawyer-electorates to vote for their preferred candidate?
Brothers at War
The other contestants were Prof. Ernest Ojukwu, SAN (Teacher) and Arthur Obi Okafor, SAN. They were popular candidates. They are Igbo and that is the majority group in the Eastern Zone where the President was being sought for. There was another popular aspirant in the person of Mazi Afam Osigwe. He however did not make it to the election because he was disqualified. He is also Igbo. Among all these, only Paul Usoro was not an Igbo, yet he won the election. This is not a lament that tribalism did not win or that one was expecting one of the Igbo candidates to win as if only Igbos would vote in the election. Far from that.
The hard statistics of the election shows that the winner scored 4509 while the two other contestants scored 4423 and 3313 respectively. A combination of the two losing figures would equal to 7736. It has therefore been pointed out that if the Igbo candidates had found a consensus and worked together, that candidate would have had 7736 votes, other things being equal.
Some pundits have observed an emerging trend to the NBA elections. Not the least among them is Adesina Ogunlana Esq., erstwhile Chairman of the Ikeja Branch of the NBA. He noted that the winners are lone contestants from their sub-zones while the opponents they contested against came from the same ethnic or sub-regional constituencies, meaning that those opponents divided the votes that would have gone to one of them. He concluded by saying that “when brothers brawl, strangers take away their crown.”
A similar pattern can be observed in the election of the 2nd Vice President. The contestants were Dr. Foluke Olayemi Dada of Ado Ekiti Branch; Ben Oji and John Aikpokpo-Martins. Dr. Foluke Dada won against the others both of whom are from Warri Branch. It was held that Dr. Dada’s win was helped by the withdrawal from the race of Dare Akande Esq., (leader) from Ikeja Branch. Likewise is the case of the General Secretary contested for by Ma’sud Alabelewe, Dr. Mobolaji Ojibara, Chief Rafiu Oyeyemi and Jonathan Gunu Taidi Esq. Gunu Taidi is now the General Secretary, winning against the three first mentioned who are all Yorubas. Dr. Ojibara and Chief Oyeyemi are both of Ilorin Branch.
This development was first noticed in the 2014 Bar elections when Augustine Alegeh, SAN unexpectedly emerged as the NBA President against the trio of Mrs. Funke Adekoya, SAN; Adeniyi Akintola, SAN and Dele Adesina, SAN. Then as now, the contest was equally spirited, the three Yoruba contestants popular and well respected. Their votes were divided and to Alegeh, the lone contestant from the sub-zone went the coveted price!
However, to some, the deciding factor is the election wisdom that says “It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.” To this category must belong Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, SAN who alleged rigging in the elections. According to him, writing for Sahara Reporters on August 28, 2018, the disqualification of Afam Osigwe was one of the steps preparatory to the skewing of the elections in a predetermined direction. He also alleged a massive disenfranchisement of eligible voters.
Afam Osigwe-Were we going to have a Macron?
You must remember Emmanuel Macron; he is currently the President of France. He was not among the veteran politicians in France. He couldn’t have been because he was young, even though he was a Minister in the Hollande government. Election was approaching in France for 2017. He formed a political party in 2016 and he wanted to be President. Somehow, he was able to connect with the electorates in France and whoa! he won the most votes in the first round of the election. He competed against the likes of Marine Le Pen, Francois Fillon and Benoit Hamon. He won the election in the run off against Marine Le Pen. He was 39 years old.
Afam Osigwe was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1999. Like Macron and Justin Trudeau of Canada, he too was born in the 70s. Considering that he wanted to compete among those who had been called to the Bar in the early 1980s and 1990s and he is not yet a Senior Advocate of Nigeria; it was clear that he had wanted to contest among giants. Already, he had been a Chairman of Abuja Branch, one of the largest Branches of the NBA in Nigeria. Not only that, he had gone to the National level, occupying the office of the General Secretary of the NBA from 2014 to 2016. Those were achievements of no mean consideration. If you consider this pedigree therefore, it appeared there was no stopping his emergence if he were allowed to compete. And he was popular among the younger generation of lawyers who probably are not impressed with the ways of the NBA led by the elders. But Afam Osigwe was disqualified to contest.
Why was he disqualified?
Part of the criteria for qualification is that a candidate must have paid his practising fees and Branch membership dues for three consecutive years before the election. According to the Electoral Committee of the NBA, Mazi Afam Osigwe did not meet the requirement of his membership dues and could not also clarify his payment of Bar fees. But Mazi Afam Osigwe’s position is that he became a member of the Nnewi Branch of the NBA in January 2018; that he paid his membership dues for this year to that Branch as and when due; that he could not have paid membership dues at Nnewi Branch for 2016 and 2017 when he was not a member of that Branch; that however he paid his membership dues at the Abuja Branch of which he was a member as due for 2016 and 2017. Those are the bare facts as claimed by both sides. We shall not comment much as the matter is now in Court. Only we don’t know how soon the matter may be decided as the action filed by J. K. Gadzama, SAN against the election of A. B. Mahmoud, SAN has not been decided. The two year tenure of A. B. Mahmoud, SAN as President of the NBA and his executive has just expired and this whole story is being told in the first place due to that fact.
New Perspectives on the Bar Association
Some people do not see the sense in having a single Bar Association. They wonder why, in view of freedom of Association guaranteed by the Constitution, lawyers cannot have more than one Bar Association? In such an event, they argued, lawyers would be free to join any Bar Association whose objectives agree with their views.
However, without necessarily dividing the Bar Association, Comrade Olasupo Ojo, a senior legal practitioner, former President of CDHR would want to see an Association run along true Federal lines. In his view, running the Nigerian Bar Association as is currently being done makes it unwieldy and cumbersome. According to him, what should happen is that the real contest for electoral offices should have been at the Branch level only. The Branches in a Zone would then elect a Zonal Vice President. For the office of the President of the NBA for instance, the Zonal Vice Presidents should then gather together and elect a person to be the President of the NBA. He posits that this approach is apt to reduce expenses of campaign, acrimony across the Association, save time and be more effective.