ELECTION DEBATES: ECNBA MAY HAMMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

BY EMEKA NWADIOKE
There are strong indications that the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) is viewing with serious concern the campaign practices of candidates for the 2020 NBA Elections.

A source who is familiar with the operations of the electoral committee told CITY LAWYER that the electoral umpire is concerned that most of its warnings on campaigning have been observed in breach.

Making reference to a presidential debate billed for tomorrow and organized by The Platform Nigeria, a popular public speaking programme with Pastor Poju Oyemade of Covenant Christian Centre as Convener/Visionary, the source told CITY LAWYER that the committee has decided to deal decisively with the matter, saying: “The committee will take a step to stop the recurrence of these issues. The committee is already working on something.

“The (ECNBA) Statement was very clear. Debates for purposes of Campaign are not allowed. I believe the candidates know the rules, even if organisers feign ignorance.”

Reminded that tomorrow’s event is billed as an “interactive session” and not a debate, the source queried: “But it is Presidential? For candidates in the election!”

Indications have however emerged that at least one presidential candidate may not participate in the debate. A ranking official in the candidate’s campaign organisation told CITY LAWYER that “this is due to the ECNBA Statement on the subject. The statement is clear enough. While I have not spoken to my candidate on his participation, I think the options are clear – get the ECNBA to rescind its statement or stay away.”

It is recalled that The Platform Nigeria has scheduled for tomorrow a virtual programme tagged “Interactive sessions with the Presidential Candidates of the NBA 2020 Elections on their vision and plans for the Nigerian Bar Association.” 

YLF_DEBATE

While the interactive session with Mr. Dele Adesina SAN is scheduled to kick off at 3 pm tomorrow, Mr. Olu Akpata will mount the podium at 5 pm. On his part, Dr. Babatunde Ajibade SAN is billed for the 7 pm slot. Prospective participants are billed to register for the programme.

The electoral committee had in its ECNBA Statement No. 014 warned the candidates against infringing the electoral guidelines, saying: “The Committee frowns at activities that detract from the objectives of an inclusive free, fair, and credible poll for our Association. The Constitution has prescribed the manner of and mode for campaigns for the elections; as such, any electioneering campaign activity outside of this is unacceptable to the Committee. The candidates, their supporters, as well as NBA Branches, are advised to take down all help desks, debate platforms (virtual or physical), and or voting desks set up for the purpose of the elections and which are capable of compromising the integrity of the process. The Committee will not hesitate to sanction any candidate who deliberately flouts the provisions of the Constitution and the ECNBA Guidelines for the elections.” 

Though the NBA Young Lawyers Forum (NBA-YLF) had scheduled a Presidential Debate to hold today, the event was abruptly shelved in deference to the ECNBA’s latest position. CITY LAWYER gathered that efforts to make the electoral committee shift its position have so far proved abortive.

A notice by the NBA-YLF Chairman, Mr. Tobi Adebowale announcing suspension of the presidential debate read: “The motivation behind the debate was and remains our belief that Young Lawyers constitute a large proportion of the prospective voters at the NBA Elections and their concerns have invariably dominated the conversations around the elections. As such, the YLF decided upon hosting a live TV debate with feedback via social media to provide an opportunity for a robust conversation with the candidates for the OPNBA.

“As you are aware, the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (“ECNBA”) recently issued a statement to the effect that ‘candidates, their supporters, as well as NBA Branches, are advised to take down all help desks, debate platforms (virtual or physical), and or voting desks set up for the purpose of the elections and which are capable of compromising the integrity of the process.’
“Further to the above, the YLF has come to a decision to put the Debate earlier scheduled for 6:15pm today, July 18, 2020 on hold. We have communicated the above decision to the NBA Presidential Candidates and our partners, Plus TV Africa. We will continue to engage the ECNBA and other stakeholders for the benefit of Young Lawyers and the Bar at large.”

Meanwhile, some Bar Leaders have berated the presidential candidates for allegedly agreeing to participate in tomorrow’s debate. Uploading the programme’s banner on “State of the Bar,” a WhatsApp group populated by Nigeria’s legal elite, a commentator said: “Ok so i just stumbled on this and I’m like what!!!??? Is this appropriate? What really is happening? We go from Channels to TVC to CNN to ITV to AiT and now Platform? How selfless is service in the NBA really?”

This led another prominent lawyer to state: “I am worried too. Can’t the NBA organise a debate for our candidates? Why should it be 3rd parties doing that? It is becoming to look like this is a governorship election rather than an NBA election.”

The NBA Election is scheduled to hold on July 29 and 30, 2020.

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AWOMOLO LETTER: WHAT SANs, BAR LEADERS, OTHERS ARE SAYING

Many Bar Leaders and lawyers have been weighing in on the recommendation by Chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN that the next president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) should be sourced from the rank of senior advocates.

Aside from the presidential aspirants, many lawyers have also joined the fray in reacting to the controversial letter.

Awomolo had in a letter to former NBA President, Chief Onomigbo Okpoko SAN stated that “It will be a great failure of leadership for the senior advocates to surrender leadership to the outer bar when there are willing and able senior advocates,” urging him to convene a meeting of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) to deliberate on the matter. Okpoko is yet to respond to the leaked letter.

Below are some of the views of Bar leaders, senior advocates and other lawyers on the letter.

KEMI PINHEIRO, SAN
Awomolo SAN expressed his personal opinion and conviction. That is a right guaranteed to everyone one. The NBA has had non SAN presidents before. So it is not going to be news if we have another pls. HEAVEN WILL NOT FALL. However those calling for a revolution should be reminded about what became of the movement to abolish the rank of SAN or the Revolution Now movement in the larger political space!!! A child who wants to become the head of the house while his father is still alive must first find out and understand how the house was built!!! More particularly those who say their candidate is opposed to parochialism must remember that the entire NBA constitution is anchored on parochialism by the zoning of offices to sections of the country and that by paying your branch dues you have subscribed to that constitution albeit parochialism!!

JIBRIN OKUTEPA, SAN
I do not think that anyone should be castigated for his or her views on an issue that the person feels too strong about. Prior to the views expressed in the letter of Chief A S Awomolo SAN on whether the position of the President of the Bar be reserved for SAN, many had expressed the views that the position should not be for only SAN. I think one of the hallmarks of democracy is the freedom of expression. There is no need for anybody to castigate Chief Awomolo SAN or those who hold contrary views. Chief Awomolo SAN has been playing leading role in bringing the members of the Bar together. As lawyers we are not bound to see things the same.

PROF. CHIDI ODINKALU
I have known and respected Asiwaju Gboyega Awomolo, SAN for long. This letter by him concerning #NBADecides2020 is at best ill-advised. The mind-set here inhabits a world of unearned privilege & entitlement with no sense of responsibility. I hope it no one takes it seriously. Any system in which a minority claim entitlement to rule over the majority has only 1 name: Apartheid.

OSAS ERHABOR
That statement by the learned Chief Awomolo is uncalled for both in terms of poor timing and context. It is very divisive and certainly not needed in the heat of campaign for the Presidency of the Bar. This also is my personal opinion.

TUNDE FAGBOHUNLU, SAN
A candidate’s qualification to lead the Bar should be a function of his/her competence and integrity. It is entirely immaterial whether he/she is or IS NOT a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

DAME CAROL AJIE
The position of Chief Awomolo SAN that the office of the President of NBA should be the exclusive reserve of SAN is impolite and disrespects the majority. As INEC counsel defending some democratic institutions Asiwaju ought to know that majority be respected. The duties and privileges of a SAN are clearly spelt out and restricted to the courts. Period! You have a distinct group known as Body of SANs? Only SANs should lead there not in NBA. I had thought you would deal with NBA constitutional issues of rotation within the sub-region. Why do you have such disdain for the NBA Constitution? It does not restrict the office of the President to SAN?

AHMED T. UWAIS
For me this is a game changer, some years ago my dear friend Afam was disqualified simply because he was not an SAN. Its not a provision in the NBA Constitution that in order to contest and be elected the NBA President you have to be an SAN. Though it has been long since any non SAN was elected the president of NBA, in my humble view this election is not about electing an SAN or not as the right person to lead our dear profession which has been declining in terms of integrity, respect and influence in our society.

CHUKWUKA IKWUAZOM
The decision to vote a candidate as President of the Bar should not be based on the titles that the candidates bear. It should be based on an objective assessment of the character, ability, track record and programmes of each candidate. In the same manner, I disapprove of any campaign to vote for a candidate because he/she is not a senior advocate, I disapprove of the statement allegedly issued by the very respected Silk, Chief Awomolo.

OLUKAYODE ENITAN, SAN
The forthcoming NBA elections should be made a revolution that we all should ensure succeeds in bringing forth the best of us in content of character, abundance of capacity and excellent antecedents devoid of parochial and pecuniary sentiments!

ANTHONY MALIK, SAN
Mr. Gboyega Awomolo, SAN is, by any parameter, a doyen of the Bar. I respect him and appreciate his overall contributions to the Bar and the enrichment of our body of laws. Regrettably, I am unable to navigate my way through the contents of his letter. In clear terms, his letter does not enjoy my endorsement in the least. We have a Constitution which has just been amended and it serves no good importing into it what is not contained therein. If it was the desire of the Association to make the Presidency of NBA the exclusive preserve of SANs, a provision along this line would have been inserted in the Constitution.

ADEMOLA ADEWALE
This statement credited to Highly respected member of BOSAN Chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN, is not only unfortunate but capable of boomeranging and destroying the chances of the very able and competent SANs who are in the race to become the next President of the NBA!!!!! To start with it comes across as arrogant and condescending!!!! Particularly when it is considered that most of the voting electorate is overwhelmingly non SAN!!!! So as we all await the NBA election that will lead to the emergence of the next President of the NBA, let our focus be on competence and vision of service to our great Association!!!! Not rank or status!!!!!

AFAM OSIGWE
I subscribe to the view that to attain leadership at the Bar, you do not have to be a Senior Advocate. If you are a Senior Advocate, that’s fine, if you are not, that’s also fine. If the NBA thought it was important for you to take the top job, you must be a senior Advocate, It would have put it in the NBA constitution. Since there’s no stipulation that one must be a Senior Advocate, then it’s a non-issue. To the question, “Is it imperative that one be a senior advocate to aspire to be president”, one must note that Dr Mudiaga Odjeh, Alao Aka Bashorun, Prince Bola Ajibola, Charles Idehen to name a few were NBA Presidents without taking Silk at the time of their election. And that tradition has continued to be maintained in our constitution.

GODWIN OMOAKA, SAN
I read with utter shock the letter by eminent Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo in which he argued that the office of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association should be reserved only for Senior Advocates of Nigeria. As a member of the inner bar, I strongly disagree with the views expressed by my respected leader and learned brother silk who appears to have lost touch with the current trend in the profession. The letter is, at the very least, discriminatory (it offends section 8 of the NBA Constitution), ill-thought out and clearly divisive. I see it as an attempt to pitch SANs against the majority of our colleagues in the outer bar.

AYULI JEMIDE
“It is a great failure of leadership for the Senior Advocates to surrender leadership to outer bar when there are willing and able senior advocates,” says Adegobyega Awomolo SAN. I consider this ‘inner vs outer’ notion as discriminatory.

SANNI ABBAS
The learned senior advocate has not written a letter as to the issue of welfare of lawyers, he has also not proffered an opinion on the minimum wage to be paid by senior advocates even when it is in public domain how much many senior lawyers pay lawyers (peanuts). It’s an open secret that some Silk do not even pay close to what non senior advocates are paying i.e he pays take home that is not even enough to take you home.

SILAS ONU
I was not surprised by the content, especially coming from Awomolo SAN. I must state for the sake of clarity, that I know as a fact, that so many Senior Advocates, properly so called, are not in support of the letter from Awomolo SAN and will never share his view on the NBA leadership. In the nearest future, the activism record of individual, public interest litigations and penchant for defending the right of person should be the core criteria for Bar leadership. Legal practice is different from leading the Bar. The Bar leadership requires a person who can jump in the mud with the masses to protest against abuse of human rights and unconstitutional actions of government.