Controversy is trailing the appointment of Mr. Dennis Okwakpam as the Alternate Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Branch Elections Appeal Committee (East).

CITY LAWYER recalls that the NBA leadership last week unveiled members of the branch and sections elections appeal committees.

No sooner had the news hit the legal community than some stakeholders query Okwakpam’s appointment, alleging that he is a Leader of the influential Integrity Group which is openly backing the candidacy of some candidates in the forthcoming NBA Port Harcourt Election scheduled for June 27, 2024.

As evidence, one of the stakeholders told CITY LAWYER that Okwakpam led the candidates to the General Meeting of Okrika Born Lawyers (OBL) on March 3, 2024 where “he not only presented kola on behalf of the select candidates but also campaigned vigorously for votes on their behalf.”

The stakeholders say that they cannot get justice against “Okwakpam candidates” if they are to appeal any decision of the Branch Electoral Committee. “Justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been manifestly done,” a stakeholder told CITY LAWYER. “We already know what the verdict will be if we are to come against any of Okwakpam’s candidates at the Appeal Committee. There is clearly no level playing field.”

The stakeholders urged NBA President, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau SAN to redress the situation by reconstituting the committee.

When contacted, Okwakpam stated that the appointment to the committee was made last year, saying those querying his appointment may have made u their mind to “scuttle” the election or appeal its outcome.

His words: “The appointment was made last year, not recently. Please find out how the panels work. Nobody participates in the resolution of any petition from his branch. Every member of the panel is from the zone and petitions can only challenge decisions of an Electoral committee. For anyone to complain about the membership of an Appeals Panel, means that they have resolved to go to the Appeals Panel no matter what happens.”

Pressed that the issue turns on fair hearing than whether a candidate decides to appeal, Okwakpam said: “That’s my point, do they have any petition before the Panel. What is the obsession with my membership of the Panel, when complaints do not go directly to the Panel. Note something, anybody who wants to scuttle an election will hang onto anything. They will do anything to win by default. I advise these people to focus on persuading voters to vote for them at the polls.”

Asked whether he is a Leader of the Integrity Group, he denied the claim, saying: “Absolutely not.” He sought the identity of the stakeholders, saying: “Who are these people really? You will be surprised that most members of the PH branch are actually members of the (Integrity) group.”

CITY LAWYER recalls that a similar controversy trailed the appointment of Ms. Huwaila Muhammad as the Secretary of the Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA) even as she has been cleared to contest the chairmanship of NBA Kano Branch.

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