NBA PRESIDENCY: AJIBADE JOINS THE RACE

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Leading corporate lawyer, Dr. Babatunde Ajibade has joined the race to succeed Mr. Paul Usoro SAN as Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, CITY LAWYER can authoritatively report.

The entry of the cerebral lawyer into the already crowded field has thrown spanner in the works, as many consider him a serious contender for the coveted seat. In fact, asked what Ajibade’s chances are to clinch the sought-after seat, a former NBA chieftain told CITY LAWYER that Ajibade is a “potential NBA President.”

Though seemingly a late entrant into the presidential race given that some of the aspirants have been making discreet moves for several months now to push their ambitions, CITY LAWYER gathered at the weekend that Ajibade is not leaving anything to chance in his quest to win the NBA Presidency.

A source close to the NBA Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) Advisor told CITY LAWYER that Ajibade has commenced aggressive consultations to intimate especially Bar Leaders on his ambition. Although a familiar face in the continuing legal education circuit where he is routinely engaged as a facilitator, there are strong indications that the recently concluded International Bar Association (IBA) conference in Seoul, South Korea may have offered Ajibade a platform to sell his candidacy.

To put the matter of his quest beyond debate, CITY LAWYER gathered from unimpeachable sources that the highly successful corporate lawyer has started telephoning and visiting key Bar Leaders to formally intimate them on his ambition. At least two Bar Leaders confirmed to CITY LAWYER that Ajibade spoke to them on his desire to lead the Bar while a former NBA chieftain said that Ajibade contacted him through a proxy.

In line with the NBA Constitution 2015 (as amended), the next NBA President will emerge from the South West Zone comprising. According to Article 2.2(b) of the Second Schedule to the amended NBA Constitution dealing with ‘Election of National Officers,’ “The positions of the President, 1st Vice President, 2nd Vice President, 3rd Vice President and General Secretary shall rotate among the three zones. In determining the eligibility of a candidate to contest for any of the rotated offices, regard shall be had to a candidate’s Geographical Zone of origin and not the geographical Zone where he/she carries on legal practice.” On the other hand, Article 2.2(e)(iii) lists the States under “Western Zone” as Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo.

Other aspirants who have been touted for the post of NBA President are another leading and successful corporate lawyer, Mr. Olumide Akpata; former presidential candidate and NBA General Secretary, Mr. Dele Adesina SAN and another erstwhile NBA General Secretary, Mr. Olumuyiwa Akinboro SAN.

Ajibade’s entry into the race has substantially altered the political dynamics for the NBA Presidency race. Aside from being a hugely successful corporate lawyer, Ajibade, like Akpata, is also from NBA Lagos Branch which has always had the largest bloc of votes in NBA elections. Though some question his credentials as a “Bar-man,” many view him as highly cerebral, self-effacing and not having any integrity deficit.

Several Bar Leaders who responded to CITY LAWYER enquiries on his candidacy stated that he is not only eminently qualified for the position but must be seen as a serious contender, adding that other aspirants would ignore him at their own political peril.

While Akpata was before now seen as perhaps the ‘anointed candidate’ of NBA House, impeccable sources told CITY LAWYER that his campaign may have suffered some reversals lately. CITY LAWYER reliably gathered that there is a major schism in Akpata’s camp, with speculations that a major power broker and backer may be having a serious rethink on his support for the highly successful corporate lawyer, immediate past Chairman of the NBA-SBL and Co-Chair of the recently concluded NBA Annual General Conference (AGC). Unless the rift which a source close to the power broker described as having “far reaching consequences” is resolved prior to the opening of ballot, it may eclipse a major support base for Akpata.

Like Alegeh, he is also from Edo State. This is seen as perhaps his biggest hurdle. What is more, Article 2.2(d) of the Second Schedule to the NBA Constitution provides that “Where a position is zoned to any particular geographical zone, the position shall be rotated and held in turn by the different groups and/or sections in the geographical zone.” Akpata is seen as having the brightest chance to wrestle the NBA Presidency from the rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria who have dominated the post for a long time. A similar potent quest by fiery former NBA General Secretary, Mr. Afam Osigwe was aborted midstream, as he was disqualified by the electoral body. He however blames his ‘political detractors’ for his fate.

Bar watchers told CITY LAWYER at the weekend that unless both Ajibade and Akpata are able to reach an understanding before the elections, they are bound to split their key support base – NBA Lagos Branch – down the middle. Usoro is a member of the branch. Ajibade’s emergence on the scene may have put him in a quandary, even as speculations are rife on whether the NBA President is privy to his quest.

Ajibade’s emergence has also seemingly torpedoed several permutations. A source close to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), Lagos Zone Chairman told CITY LAWYER thus: “You will know that he would not have resolved to run for NBA Presidency without the support of past and present Bar Leaders.”

Some analysts however argue that his entry into the race has only given additional boost to Akpata’s quest, adding that the Bar is set for a repeat of the 2014 NBA presidential race when three core South West candidates ran against former NBA President, Mr. Augustine Alegeh SAN. With the three candidates – Mrs. Funke Adekoya SAN, Chief Adeniyi Akintola SAN and Mr. Dele Adesina SAN – splitting the South West votes, Alegeh coasted to victory with a total of 691 votes. His runner-up, Adesina, SAN polled 370 votes, Adekoya garnered 255 votes, Akintola received 126 votes while Osas Erhabor brought the rear with 17 votes. The three core South West candidates polled 751 votes, 60 votes more than Alegeh’s.

Some analysts also argue that Ajibade is not a ‘Bar-man,’ adding that his candidacy is not materially different from Akpata’s since they are both successful commercial lawyers from the “Corporate Bloc” of the NBA. But his camp disagrees, saying that his litany of services to the Bar is there for all to see.

The advent of Alegeh has led to a string of successive NBA Presidents emerging from the corporate bloc or ‘big law firms.’ Feelers by CITY LAWYER at the weekend indicate that the face-off between the ‘corporate’ and ‘Bar-men’ blocs will continue and intensify in the forthcoming elections, as the ‘Bar-men’ are desperate to wrest power from their heavy spending corporate counterparts.

A veteran of sorts in the NBA Presidency race, Adesina has his major support base in Ikeja Branch where he held several posts. Ditto for Akinboro who is also a czar of sorts in the Abuja Bar circles. Both are seen as no push-overs in the forthcoming NBA Elections, though some Bar watchers contend that there are a few chinks in their armours which would become apparent as the campaigns heat up.

Ajibade is touted as a go-to lawyer by several international rating agencies including Who is Who Legal, Chambers Global and IFLR 1000. According to a biography by Who is Who Legal, Ajibade is the Managing Partner of SPA Ajibade & Co, a leading corporate and commercial law firm with offices in Lagos, Ibadan and Abuja, Nigeria.

“Babatunde is a dispute resolution specialist and has substantial expertise in international commercial arbitration, especially in the fields of company law, energy law, labour law, hospitality law and investment treaty law. He has acted as counsel in arbitration proceedings involving complicated shareholder disputes arising from alleged breaches of restrictive pre-emptive rights and damages claims arising from alleged breaches of hotel development and management contracts. He has also conducted several ad hoc references and is currently coordinating an investment treaty arbitration claim against a host state. Babatunde also sits as an arbitrator and is currently presiding as sole arbitrator in an international commercial arbitration with its seat in Lagos involving alleged breaches of the terms of an international executive employment contract and as a co-arbitrator in a complicated energy dispute involving crude oil handling, also with its seat in Lagos.

“Babatunde also has extensive experience in all aspects of corporate and commercial litigation. He has prosecuted and defended numerous claims relating to corporate disputes acting on the instructions of shareholders, directors or their companies. He has also prosecuted and defended several claims on behalf of and against banks and insurance companies. He has a firm grasp of the commercial issues involved in such litigation.

“Babatunde also has extensive experience in transactional corporate and commercial legal practice and has been involved in the formation, maintenance and regulation of all types of business entities in Nigeria. He has been involved in the Nigerian capital market as a solicitor in several public offers of securities and in mergers and acquisitions and was the pioneer secretary, vice chairman and is a past chairman of the Capital Market Solicitors Association. He was vice chairman of the rules and regulations sub-committee of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s capital markets committee, a member of council and vice chairman of the banking, finance and insolvency sub-committee of the Nigerian Bar Association’s section on business law.

“Babatunde is a vice president of the ICC Arbitration Commission’s steering committee, a member of the ICC’s Africa Commission, a director of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce International Arbitration Centre (LACIAC), a member of the LCIA’s African Users Council, a member of the Lagos Court of Arbitration and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK) Nigeria branch.

“Babatunde was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1989. He obtained a LLM degree in corporate and commercial law in 1990 and a PhD in private international law in 1996, both from King’s College London. He was elevated to the rank of senior advocate of Nigeria in December 2007. He was awarded the International Practice Fellowship of the International Bar Association in Madrid in October 2009 and he became a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators UK in January 2015.”

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Former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) General Secretary, Chief Emeka Obegolu has urged lawyers to elect Chief Arthur Obi Okafor SAN as the next NBA President.

In a statement made available to CITY LAWYER and titled “A New Bar Beckons,” Obegolu who is also the Vice President of Pan Africa Lawyers Union (PALU), said: Continue Reading