Saturday, 30 May, 2020

OKUTEPA: ‘2020 NBA ELECTION IS DOOMED IF …’

Fiery Bar Leader and longstanding Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Chief Prosecutor at the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), Mr. Jibrin Okutepa SAN has predicted that the forthcoming Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) election is doomed to fail if certain challenges remain unresolved.

In an interview with CITY LAWYER, the rags-to-riches senior lawyer warned that unless the allegations that beset previous Bar elections are fully resolved, lawyers should not expect free and fair NBA elections.

Okutepa, who had initially declined to proffer any views on the elections, said making suggestions was an exercise in futility as the election managers “will not heed any suggestions.” His words: “Sorry I have no view. My view will not matter. And I don’t think I want to waste my time.” Prodded further, Okutepa hinted that the Bar and its leadership were not “honest and transparent,” adding that until there is a change of attitude, “no suggestion will matter.”

According to the vocal senior lawyer, “I do not see what we will do differently when the rigging that characterized the last election was not addressed.” Hinting that the election managers may tow a pre-determined line, Okutepa said: “Those who have the capacity to appoint the service providers will not heed any suggestions.”

Asked the way forward, he said: “Until the Bar and its leadership decide to be honest and transparent with our electoral processes no suggestion will matter.”

Okutepa has not hidden his disenchantment with NBA’s electoral system since the last election which threw up incumbent NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN against his preferred candidate, Chief Arthur Obi Okafor SAN.

In a searing and widely published post-mortem titled, “2018 Elections: I Weep for NBA,” Okutepa wrote: “I weep for those who sowed the seeds of this darkness that has completely shattered the hope of light. Nigeria lawyers deserve to think deeply and bring themselves out of the valley of darkness we are going through. This profession must not be brought to its knees completely. While those who have been declared ‘elected’ have every cause to celebrate and thank God, I wish they too can weep for the processes that threw them up.

“I think the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has lost the right to its motto: Promoting the Rule of Law. The facts emerging from the just ‘concluded’ elections of NBA, particularly with regards to the office of the president of this once noble association, showed how we have deteriorated in integrity and nobility. The Bar cannot for now speak on public issues such as bribery, corruption, electoral malfeasance and violation of the rule of law and due process. While in any electoral process there must be a winner and losers, it becomes very painful and unacceptable when the processes leading to these elections left many questions unanswered.

“Voting in any election should not and must not be a punishment. From day one, the processes for NBA elections 2018, apart from being founded on illegality and in breach of the NBA constitution, lacked transparency and accountability. How CHAMS was selected and chosen as the operator of the platform for electronic voting was kept in secret and in the hearts of those we trusted to lead us honestly. Only the outgoing president of the NBA can explain this to us. Then came allegations of the likelihood of bias for certain candidates, which were well founded. To give the semblance of credibility, they got CRENET to do verification but still handed over the voting portal to CHAMS, the already compromised IT company, whose chairperson sits on the same board of Access Bank Plc with the person they declared to lead the Bar.

“Apart from this, it was easier for a camel to go through the eyes of a needle than getting verification done through the company’s platform. Lawyers were denied the opportunity to vote. Those who decided to vote kept vigil for days. After the close of voting on August 20, 2018, at 6 a.m., was when thousands of lawyers were able to get their passwords to vote. This election cannot be described as credible and transparent. The NBA as a professional association of lawyers, like Caesar’ wife, must be above board. It is sad to see that the attributes of being above board were absent in the processes leading to this outcome. It is sad. There are instances of the compromises being spoken of here. Those who wanted to vote were denied the right to do so by processes that were designed to produce a predetermined outcome. Those who wrote about this were ignored. Particulars of emails were in some cases changed, alongside phone numbers. Passwords generated through these dubious interference were used to the prejudice of credibility.”

Continuing, Okutepa said: “I weep for NBA. I weep for the legal profession. I weep for Nigeria. I weep for both young and old lawyers. I weep for those of us who saw this and stood by. I weep for those who allowed themselves to be used to produce the outcome we see now. I weep for those who preached transparency but engaged in a conduct that was less than honest. I weep for young lawyers who are copying bad examples from the senior ones.

“I honestly believe that the processes that throw up those who are to lead the Bar in the most populous black nation should be the concern of both the winners and losers of the elections. When you read the Rules of Professional Conduct in the legal profession you will appreciate that as lawyers we are supposed to be the light of the society. Light and dark tolerate not one another. They cannot cohabit. I was deeply involved in these elections to know that the outcomes were programmed to be what they are now, in a most embarrassing and non-transparent manner.

“The Bar which is supposed to be the light and the salt of the society ought to produce its leaders in the most peaceful and transparent manner. I am just not bothered about who was imposed, but I am bothered about the processes that led to the product called president of NBA. That we have chosen to look at the processes leading to the outcome of this election from purely partisan, primordial and parochial interests, without appreciating the ripple effects on the larger society worries me as a member of the legal profession. I weep for NBA. I weep for the legal profession. I weep for Nigeria. I weep for both young and old lawyers. I weep for those of us who saw this and stoodby. I weep for those who allowed themselves to be used to produce the outcome we see now. I weep for those who preached transparency but engaged in a conduct that was less than honest. I weep for young lawyers who are copying bad examples from the senior ones. I weep for those of us seniors who are not leading by example. I weep for us who preferred to stomach perversion of the due process on the ground that we must not scatter the NBA. I weep for for finding myself in the midst of this mess. I weep for the legal profession where light has been overtaken by darkness.

“I weep for those who sowed the seeds of this darkness that has completely shattered the hope of light. Nigeria lawyers deserve to think deeply and bring themselves out of the valley of darkness we are going through. This profession must not be brought to its knees completely. While those who have been declared “elected” have every cause to celebrate and thank God, I wish they too can weep for the processes that threw them up. What we have is certainly far from transparent. Those who participated in the processes have excruciating stories to tell. There is everything wrong with these elections. This is the time for us as lawyers to come together to show examples of light. Can we even say that this election was universal? Over 3,000 lawyers who were duly verified could not vote for no faults of theirs. Why do we spend humongous amounts of money to conduct flawed elections? Why can’t lawyers who have paid their branch dues and Bar Practising Fees line up in their branches and vote using the membership registers of their branches? There is no doubt that the e-voting system has provided us more opportunities to do what we ran away from. I really don’t think we have shown good examples to be on moral ground to speak about the ills going on in Nigeria. This is my observations on the 2018 NBA elections.”

The ECNBA recently released the Guidelines for the 2020 NBA Election. The election is scheduled to hold on Friday, 24th July and Saturday 25th July, 2020 via electronic voting. Among the aspirants jostling for the coveted presidency of the Bar are Mr. Dele Adesina SAN, Dr. Babatunde Ajibade SAN, Mr. Olumide Akpata and Mr. Adesina Ogunlana.

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