Leading human rights advocate, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu has plotted a roadmap for the incoming Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) leadership, saying there are three defining issues it must confront and resolve.

The former National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairman also endorsed the disqualification of fiery NBA presidential aspirant and former Chairman of NBA Ikeja Branch, Mr. Adesina Ogunlana, urging him to face the hurdle of clearing his name in a financial embezzlement charge. Ogunlana has vowed to appeal his disqualification.

The full text of the statement is below:

The ECNBA has finally cleared the deck & the #NBADecides2020 campaign season is undeniably upon us.

I’m personally grateful that the ECNBA declined to present for the contest an aspirant who is presently undergoing prosecution on allegations of having misappropriated branch funds while he served as Chairman of his branch of the Bar. It would have been awful to do anything else. Obviously, that aspirant enjoys a presumption of innocence in accordance with law. While that persists, he will be well advised to focus on answering to those charges.

For reasons that are amply in the public domain, I have largely been on sabbatical from NBA affairs in the past two years. Events within & beyond Nigeria over that period – from Ethiopia to Kenya; Lesotho to Malawi & other places in which I have been personally involved – confirm me in the view, however, that an active Bar is an essential armour in a democracy.

#NBADecides2020 is an opportunity once more to attempt to give life to the NBA. The on-going campaigns are a window into what could happen thereafter.

I am taking an active interest in the campaigns because I intend to form an active view in the contests & to canvass for those I believe in.

These NBA elections matter life few in recent memory. We are at a generational inflection point institutionally, nationally & internationally. The president of the NBA who will be inaugurated in August 2020 will confront a pile-on of problems like none of his predecessors in recent memory. Young lawyers in particular, whose future is on the ballot in this contest have a duty to take sides & to do so actively.

All the cleared candidates have passed the threshold of Zoning. No one can claim to be more zonal than others who come from the same zone. The issue of zonal adoption must now be rested.

The issues do matter. In that respect, there are – for me – 3 defining issues:

#SkillsForAll: The #COVID19 pandemic has forced on our legal profession, an analogue-digital cross-over that had been begging for deployment. The needs unfurled by this imperative have no generational biases. There are very senior lawyers who can’t do SMS just as there are young lawyers who wonder what digital outsourcing means. The dichotomies between rural & urban branches have consequences in livelihoods & professional fulfilment. A leadership of NBA in 2020 must be willing & ambitious to invest in growing skills in our profession for the Post-COVID-19 world, without let or hinderance.

#NBAForAll : Our NBA is riven with all manner of debilitating, even antediluvian dichotomies that make no sense & make it easier for the rich & successful among us to capture the profession at the expense of the most, sometimes in ways that in themselves undermine value-for-money lawyering.

Every vocation deserves responsible seniors & elders. The dichotomies between Inner & Utter Bars, which should be a source of decent aspiration among desirous younger lawyers has become a free-for-all excuse in some cases for desperation.

Our female colleagues have a right to pursue the realisation of their fullest potentials without the patronising nonsense of being seen as “men in skirts”, a formulation that effectively calls them professional transvestites.

NBA deserves a leadership that can honour our past, be relevant to our present & have the capacity to prepare our younger lawyers for competition with Asian legal sweatshops of the immediate future. This means we need a Bar leadership with experience in building inter-generational institutions.

#NigeriaForAll : Over the past 2 years, while Nigeria has suffered, NBA has vegetated with our sights firmly fixed around our navel or below it. That is just not good enough.

Over the next decade & a half Nigeria will make a choice to prosper or perish. We will confront a unique mix of challenges like never before – fiscal insolvency, sclerotic or negative growth, demographic time-bomb, institutional melt-down, metastasis of nihilistic insecurity, energy exclusion, digital exclusion, hemispheric dissonance between north & south, & a sovereign crisis of demand of governance & supply of public goods.

The confluence of these issues will require deliberate & focused course-correction which only a centered leadership can evince. Absent that, our country will struggle to survive. If the country is imperilled, lawyers in the NBA can nary afford the pursuit of our vocation. An NBA of tribes & vibes will not be fit for purpose. A leadership for these times must see a country as bigger than the sum of its parts.

The defining issue will be Electoral Integrity . Any of the three cleared presidential candidates would be able to preside over a Bar. But this is not a season for an adequate leader. In 2020, a majority of our Bar should be willing to insist on an exceptional leader. NBA has struggled to survive two rigged national elections. It will not survive a third one. This ECNBA has a duty to ensure, like Caesar’s wife, that it is above reproach. It always easier to unite around a winner whose victory is above reproach.

These then are the issues around which we must find a leadership that can serve the NBA in these times. I am listening to the campaigns & consulting with my colleagues. I fully intend to take sides in #NBADecides2020 & will make my views public well before the vote because the issues have never been more urgent & being neutral – as Pontius Pilate taught us – is itself a position.

I remain City-Zen (Citizen) Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

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