Leading human rights activists and other lawyers have come down hard on Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau SAN over his clampdown on the activities of the NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL).

Meanwhile, a ranking member of the NBA Executive Committee told CITY LAWYER at the weekend that the clampdown was never discussed by the National Officers, even as at least one officer was said to have challenged the NBA President on the action during a recent meeting of the committee.

According to the Executive Committee member, “SPIDEL should disregard the directive and continue with its activities unimpeded. The directive has no constitutional backing. Having deliberated informally, I can assure you that over 90 percent of the National Officers are in support of SPIDEL and its activities.”

Maikyau had last Wednesday berated the leadership of NBA-SPIDEL for allegedly “undermining” his office, even as he summoned the entire Executive Committee to a meeting in Abuja. In an unprecedented move which has become the subject of heated debate among lawyers, the NBA President sensationally directed SPIDEL to pause all its activities including strategic lawsuits.

His words: “I further direct that you suspend all actions presently being undertaken by SPIDEL, particularly the matters stated above, until the scheduled meeting and further directives as may be approved by the National Executive Council. Also, henceforth, you shall not undertake any engagement with any third party without prior consultation and permission from me as President with the approval of the National Executive Council of the NBA.”

A major objective of SPIDEL is “to promote development and practice of public interest law and litigation and to ensure access to effective remedies for victims of violations of the law and abuse of power.” The section recently levied a flurry of lawsuits challenging some government policies while it warned security agencies to desist from maltreating lawyers in line of duty.

Reacting to the move by NBA President, foremost human rights activist and former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Anselm Odinkalu gave a thumbs down to the action.

In two tweets sighted by CITY LAWYER on his verified “X” handle, Odinkalu wrote: “Outgoing president of @NigBarAssoc, @YCMaikyauSAN, wants to hollow out @nba_spidel & mangle its mission. He’s “directing” the section to #StopWork. Where does he think he is – a military barracks? And who does he think he is – General Officer Commanding?!”

Hinting on the lawsuit by SPIDEL which urged the Federal High Court, Abuja to sack the Minister of Art, Culture and Creative Economy, Hannatu Musawa for allegedly violating the National Youth Service Corps Act, he tweeted: “The President of @NigBarAssoc shd be congratulating & encouraging @nba_spidel for taking steps to reinforce the @officialnyscng Act. Instead, he hides under nonsense to execute instructions of lawless enemies of the #NYSCAct. He’ll fail.”

Weighing in on the controversial move, fiery human rights activist, Mr. Inibehe Effiong told CITY LAWYER that “The public interest litigations and other actions undertaken so far by SPIDEL are entirely consistent with its mandate. My position is that SPIDEL should continue with its functions in the public interest. One would have thought that the NBA President will be leading the Association to challenge reckless government actions, but here we are debating whether SPIDEL is undermining a President of the Bar who has refused to fight reckless governmental actions. I support the need for an emergency meeting of SPIDEL.

“Unlike other Sections of the NBA, SPIDEL is unique. Before we query the public interest lawsuits filed by SPIDEL, let’s ask the President of the Bar to brief the association on the number of actions he has taken in the public interest or to defend the rule of law since he assumed office.

“Lawyers have been victims of brutality in recent times. We’re still waiting for the President of the Bar to take decisive actions.”

A ranking SPIDEL member and former Chairman of NBA Ota Branch, Mr. Isaac Ogbah queried Maikyau’s stance that SPIDEL must report its activities to him, saying: “I have been a member of NEC for many years. Sections of NBA report to National Executive Committee of NBA at its quarterly NEC meetings where the Sections present their Reports and not directly to the NBA President.”

According to him, “There is no constitutional provision in the NBA Constitution or Uniform Bylaws where the heads of the various Sections are mandated to report to the NBA President without which they cannot perform their sectional functions. Are the sections not promoting the interest of NBA, and to which the NBA President and his executive take the glory for their achievements?”

Ogbah told CITY LAWYER that “By the President’s actions it goes to show that he is playing the script of those actors who are aggrieved and are directly affected with the issues that NBA SPIDEL is seeking to correct and have thus used the NBA President to prevent them from being accountable.”

In an interview with CITY LAWYER, a leading digital and gender rights advocate, Mojirayo Ogunlana said: “The President has acted out of order. SPIDEL is a section of the NBA that is empowered to address issues of Rule of Law just as the NBA ‘s motto requires. However, the NBA itself has failed in fulfilling its mandate to the people as well as to lawyers. For the past 2 years, lawyers have been harassed by law enforcement agencies and additionally this kidnapping trend. Yet, the President did not deem it fit to engage the police on this, rather he comes back to SPIDEL for achieving excellent results for the good of the Nigerian lawyer and the public

“I was particularly taken aback when the President stated that the Police are refusing to address the issues of kidnapping because SPIDEL wrote the IGP on the issue of lawyers’ phones. What! That was a very significant opportunity for the President to reiterate that lawyers are not suspects and should never be made to leave their phones at the gate like some common thief! We go into police stations as professionals and we also work while on the move. To even think that Mr. President believed that SPIDEL is undermining his office is too laughable.

“First, he attempted to suspend SPIDEL unilaterally, without even consulting with the NEC or even his EXCO. Secondly, can the President suspend the activities of a Section? What does the Constitution say about that?

“The NBA motto states- protecting the rule of law . What rule of law has the NBA been protecting these days? Please what matter of national interest has the NBA undertaken as a body? I am terribly disappointed that the ordinary Nigerian politician and law enforcement agencies see the NBA as a toothless dog hence the manifest disregard and disrespect for justice in this country. We wouldn’t want to say that Mr. President is a politician if rather than applaud the SPIDEL for the amazing strides achieved in just one year, he goes into public space to bash the section and acts ultra vires to purport to suspend it.

“That is unacceptable and obviously dictatorial and unconstitutional! Every lawyer should oppose this move. It’s truly nauseating that the President of the NBA would succumb to pressures by the Police despite knowing how disrespectful that agency is to lawyers in Nigeria. They take laws into their hands! Not only do they torture suspects, they harass and torture lawyers too!

“SPIDEL functions as a public interest group for lawyers like myself who have chosen to take up public interest litigation as our practice. If the NBA chooses to be quiet on national issues, SPIDEL should not and will not! We will be courageous and stand for the rule of law and due process in this country wherever we are located. We are not cowards and we are not going to take cowardly steps.”

According to Mr. Mohammed Danjuma, Leader of NBA-SPIDEL in Nasarawa State, “The directive by NBA President Yakubu Maikyau SAN pausing activities of NBA-SPIDEL is hasty, inconsistent with fair hearing, unpopular, divisive and capable of undermining the unity of entire NBA. We hereby pass a vote of absolute confidence on our amiable NBA-SPIDEL Chairman.

“Halting or suspending activities of NBA-SPIDEL is tantamount to compromising the rights of entire lawyers in Nigeria as well as rights of well-meaning Nigerians who are at the receiving end of executive excesses in Nigeria.”

Speaking on the controversy, another NBA member, Mr. Damilola Mumuni said: “I feel that the President is being too hard on Spidel. Spidel is doing well. If there is a need to correct or rein in anything, it should be done with love and support for the good efforts.”

According to him, “As long as the actions taken fall in line with the expectations and duties of such a section or committee, then there is no issue. The President cannot say because he has been inundated with phone calls, he has to now suspend any action by Spidel. Whatever good Spidel does is a plus for his administration. So, I think Spidel has done well so far and should be allowed to do its best.”

On his part, a senior lawyer, Mr. Abraham Imoisili said: “I think that most of the activities of SPIDEL and the lawsuits are in the best interest of the public. This includes the letters (to the security agencies) and the one requesting the Inspector General of Police to discontinue the CMR for vehicles as well as the call on the Edo State Governor to swear in already appointed judges. I don’t think anybody is in doubt that they are in the best interest of the public.

“But I suspect that the NBA President will likely not have been carried along; because if you look at the activities of the SPIDEL Chairman, they are very major and far-reaching. So the NBA President would definitely be contacted by either these persons or their aides.”

“I personally feel that if the NBA President was carried along, it would be ludicrous for the NBA President to say that those activities should not be done or should be stopped. Whether he should approve those actions, we should leave that to debate.” He however warned that the NBA President “should not be in a hurry to suspend the activities of SPIDEL.”

Firmly throwing his weight behind Maikyau, a senior lawyer, Mr. Olajide Abiodun told CITY LAWYER that “it is my view that the letter written to the Spidel Chairman by the NBA President outlines specific instances where SPIDEL acted without prior authorization or consultation with the NBA President or the National Executive Council (NEC).

“The instances cited include investigations into alleged bribery, demands for the swearing-in of judges, and legal actions against government agencies. The President expressed dissatisfaction, stating that these actions undermined the office of the President and disregarded established procedures within the association.

“The President requested a meeting with the SPIDEL Executive Committee to discuss the matter and directed Mr. Aikpokpo-Martins to suspend all actions undertaken by SPIDEL until the scheduled meeting and further directives from the NEC. This underscores the President’s authority to implement policies and programs within the NBA.”

He noted the “hierarchical structure of authority within the NBA, where the President drives the association’s agenda, and all officers are expected to align with and support the President’s vision,” adding that “This also underscores the importance of maintaining cohesion within the association and respecting the President’s authority to implement policies and programs.

“In summary, the directive from the NBA President reflects his authority to ensure adherence to established procedures within the association, and the subsequent actions align with the hierarchical structure of authority within the NBA.”

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