The election for a new leadership for Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Aba Branch could not hold yesterday due to disruptions done by appeals against the qualification of some candidates. The election was postponed to today.

Meanwhile, past and present NBA National Officers have come down hard on the  NBA Branch Elections Appeal Committee (East) for its decision to bar fiery General Council of the Bar (GCB) member, Mr. Chinonye Onwere from contesting today’s chairmanship election. The decision leaves only Mr. Charles Onuchukwu as the presumptive Branch Chairman-elect.

The incumbent chairman of the branch, Mr. Innocent Egwu told CITY LAWYER that challenges arising from late production of ballot papers due to the Appeal Committee decisions led to the postponement of the election.

The Appeal Committee had in a controversial decision barred Onwere from the chairmanship poll on the basis that he has allegedly held two elective offices before gunning for the position of branch chairman.

CITY LAWYER gathered that the committee had stated that “the said Victor Chinonye Onwere, Esq. is equally not qualified to contest the said election having held two elective positions which he is still holding one presently. He was elected the Vice Chairman of NBA Aba branch in 2020 to 2022 and was equally elected as a member of the General Council of the Bar which election took place in July 2022 and which office he is still occupying till date to expire in July 2024.”

But NBA First Vice President Linda Bala; her predecessor-in-office, Mr. John Aikpokpo-Martins; immediate past NBA Publicity Secretary Kunle Edun and Egwu sharply disagreed with the committee.

According to information obtained by CITY LAWYER, Aikpokpo-Martins had fired the first salvo when the matter trended on the exclusive “Present and Past National Officers” WhatsApp platform.

Responding to the committee’s decision, the estranged Chairman of NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL) wrote: “Wonderful! How can membership of a caretaker committee (by Onwere’s nominator) be deemed as holding office as a branch officer! How can a position held in 2009 come into reckoning in the determination of a 5-year period! The problem in the NBA is that almost no one is interested in the affairs of the association. So sad.”

On her part, Bala responded on her verified WhatsApp handle, saying: “Gentlemen Good Morning Sirs. The 5-year period is counted from the date you last relinquished the office. Being a Chairman of a caretaker committee is definitely not inclusive. For the purposes of Branch Elections only Branch held positions are in issue not National. For the National only Nationally held elections are counted & 10 years is calculated from the date you ceased to be a National Officer. My take, Sirs.”

Also expressing shock at the decision of the Appeal Committee, Edun wrote: “I cannot believe what I read that happened. Seriously, can this be true?”

Berating the Appeal Committee for the hammer that fell on his close associate at the GCB, Aikpokpo-Martins described the decision as “unacceptable and quite unfortunate. It smells more of a hatchet job.” While Aikpokpo-Martins is the Coordinator of the amorphous ‘Representatives of the NBA to the General Council of the Bar’ which is at loggerheads with NBA President, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau SAN, Onwere is the Secretary.

Aikpokpo-Martins also wrote: “However, I do not agree respectfully, sir, that a member of the General Council of the Bar is a national officer and should be barred from holding national office. A member of the General Council of the Bar is just like a member of the Body of Benchers. He is not a national officer. Great injustice has been occasioned by the Eastern Zone Appeals Committee.

“The appeals committee has no jurisdiction to sit over a petition except it is an appeal arising from a decision of the branch electoral committee from a petition made to the branch electoral committee by a known petitioner.

“We must not destroy the NBA for petty reasons and for the fact that you have an opportunity to sit in judgment over your colleagues.”

Egwu noted that Onwere “was not informed of any pending petition against him not to talk of being asked to respond to the petition. We were at a requisitioned Extra-Ordinary General Meeting of the branch when the WhatsApp message on the decision came in. Immediately I read it to the house, Onwere became very agitated; he could not believe it, he was in a kind of trance as to whether such was indeed happening in real life.

“Some have argued that it seems like a hatchet job. It is certainly a very disturbing development. The natural thing is to have given him an opportunity to respond to any petition against him. That he is holding a position at the national level is not one of the grounds for disqualification under the Uniform Bye-laws. In fact, the NBA Constitution did not list membership of the General Council of the Bar as one of the offices that constitute a bar even at the national level.

“Again, his nominator was merely a member of the Branch Caretaker Committee which was peopled by past officers of the branch and mandated to rescue the branch during its crisis period. The committee was in office for less than two years. How can his answering a call to rescue the branch as a past branch officer be held against him and his nominee?”

Onwere’s nominator, one E. E. Agwulonu, was alleged to have “held two elective offices within the last five 5 years is not qualified to stand election for the same office and as such not eligible to nominate any body for any elective office of the branch”.

Agwulonu denies the claim. His words: “For the avoidance of doubt, the last elected position I held in the Branch was the position of NEC REP(which ordinarily wasn’t even an elective position then) and this was between 2007 to 2009.
The position of member of caretaker committee which I held about Five years ago was never elective position and I was even appointed in absentia and it was at inaugural meeting of the said committee which comprised only past chairmen of the Branch and all former National officers of the Branch. As Victor Nwaugo pointed out the caretaker position lasted for less than one year and cannot by any stretch of the imagination translate into a tenure of office in NBA Aba Branch which is a complete two years. How can a period between 2009 to 2020 be interpreted to mean a period of Five years.”

The Appeal Committee had stated that the provision of Article 6(3) “is quite explicit” as it provides as a disqualifying factor thus : “No member of a branch shall occupy the same office for more than two (2) years and any member who has held elective offices as a branch officer for two (2) terms shall not be eligible to contest for a branch office until at least five (5) years after his /her tenure of office “.

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