ADESINA OGUNLANA: SEEKING THE LEGACIES OF ALAO AKA-BASORUN – by Solomon Adeseun Esq

Seeing that many people in seeking office, power or some advantage, align with the legacies of an icon; but some of these people without scruples, no sooner had they achieved their purpose than they abandon those avowed ideals. It is therefore a legitimate enquiry to examine what claims or what background Adesina Ogunlana has in order to be taken seriously as one who could possibly succeed to and replicate the legacies of Alao Aka-Basorun?

Adesina Ademola Ogunlana is one of the aspirants to the office of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). Elections to the offices of the Association are due later in this year. Based on his own avowal, the legacies of late Alao Aka-Basorun are part of his inspirations, motivating him to have a go at the top leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association at this particular point in the life of Nigeria when the rule of law appears to be in need of committed and spirited defence.

Who is Alao Aka-Basorun?

Mr. Alao Aka-Basorun, late of 1st October 2005, was the 14th President of the Nigerian Bar Association. That was during the turbulent and anxious days of the military. Yes, Alao Aka-Basorun was a life-long Mister, notwithstanding that he was one of the leading legal practitioners in the Nigeria of his time. Mr. Kanmi Ishola Osobu, the people’s lawyer, was another of such temper. According to Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, Alao Aka-Basorun was arguably the NBA’s most effective President of all time.

As President of the Nigerian Bar Association in the late eighties (1987-1989), that was during military President Ibrahim Babangida’s unending transition to civil rule programme; it was Alao Aka-Basorun, to the best of this writer’s recollection, who first started raising the alarm that Babangida had a “hidden agenda”, meaning that his programme of transition to democracy was a charade, that the generals wanted to perpetuate themselves in power. The events of that period, which is now part of Nigeria’s history have since proved Alao Aka-Basorun right, since that transition programme failed or was made to fail to produce any transition to democracy.

In response to contemptuous treatment of the Courts by the military regime, Alao Aka-Basorun organised in 1988, a nation-wide and successful strike by lawyers in the form of boycott of Courts. Considering the cacophony of voices among lawyers even on the simplest of issues, getting such national compliance was not a mean feat.

When he became the President of the NBA, he inherited a Bar Secretariat under construction, which had been so for a long time. Under a contractor financed arrangement, he successfully constructed and completed the Secretariat, which he did not name after himself, but which a grateful NBA decided, many years later, to name after him. The building is said to be one of the best income generating sources for the NBA at present.

According to Richard Nwankwo, Aka-Basorun brought to the NBA a level of vibrancy and independence hitherto unknown. As a bridge builder, it was said that he was the architect of reconciliation between the NBA and Chief Gani Fawehinmi.

Alao Aka-Basorun was a student activist who was elected as President of the West African Student Union in 1957.

Adesina Ogunlana

Like Alao Aka-Basorun, Adesina Ogunlana had been an activist since his student days in the Lagos State University. Since becoming a lawyer, and pitching his legal practitioner’s tent in Lagos State, he had since found reasons aplenty to continue the troublesome vocation of an activist.

Since he could not stomach the tardiness and corruption that characterised the administration of justice in Nigeria in general and in Lagos State of the 1990s and early 2000s in particular, he started The Squib, a lawyer’s magazine with which he was exposing anomalies in the Courts. The Squib was unapologetic in its expose. Unlike the decorous, shy and reserved language of the legal profession, the Squib was unconventional in language and was not ready to observe any protocols. It was especially making life uncomfortable for those perceived to be corrupt, lazy or otherwise unfit for the high calling of the Bench. For such officials, the fear of the Squib became the beginning of wisdom.

Eventually, the publication and its publisher had a clash with the then Chief Judge of Lagos State, resulting in disciplinary proceedings against Adesina Ogunlana. According to his own account, Ogunlana remains eternally grateful to Chief G. O. K. Ajayi, SAN, now late, who rose to his defence in the face of this formidable challenge.

Fast track to 2016 when Adesina Ogunlana was elected the Chairman of the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association. The relentlessness of his activism came to a height when the Ambode Administration in Lagos State increased Land Use Charges by about 400% in 2018. Distress calls of the residents of Lagos State went to high heavens.

Instead of merely wringing his hands and making some few noises while the government would eventually have its way; Adesina Ogunlana mobilised the NBA Ikeja Branch, the people of Lagos State and in conjunction with other civil rights organisations, to rally against and protest the astronomical increases. The protests proved to be popular and it achieved its objective. A plank on which the protests rested was that the increases were illegal, since no public hearing was conducted before the law increasing the charges was passed. In the face of the popular protests, the Lagos State Government was forced to suspend the hike in the Land Use Charges. The Lagos State House of Assembly had to take up the matter, to conduct a public hearing to have the people’s input into the Law before it could become effective. Under Ogunlana’s leadership, the House of Assembly was kept on its toes so that it could not make a charade of the public hearing.

Eventually, the conclusion of the whole matter was that the hike in charges was cancelled and it has never been implemented. So using the platform of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja Branch, that was something Adesina Ogunlana achieved for the people of Lagos State. That achievement was based on the rule of law argument that the Lagos State Government ought to comply with the law before taking action that so much affected the people of Lagos State.

Alao Aka-Basorun’s platform was the Nigerian Bar Association with which he confronted the shenanigans of the military regime of his time. Adesina Ogunlana is now asking for the same platform with which he said he would be able to defend the interest of Nigerians, using the tool of the rule of law. Would he be faithful in keeping to that objective? Does he have the pedigree on which one may make a reasonable conjecture that he is the sort of person to lead the Nigerian Bar Association along the path of social activism, promoting the rule of law? If you are one who believes that the NBA is more than a mere professional association, that it has a necessary role in promoting the rule of law and that such promotion may be done, if necessary, using a social activist approach, can one say that we have such a man in Adesina Ogunlana?

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