MAKURDI ASSAULT: EFCC CHAIR SHUNS PARLEY, NBA MAY SUE

  • GBAGIR BRIEFS AKPATA

  • NBA MAY SUE EFCC

The Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa has boycotted a meeting initiated by the commission to resolve the furore over alleged assault on Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Makurdi Branch Chairman, Mr. Justin Gbagir.

In an “update” on the assault made available to CITY LAWYER by Gbagir, he stated that though Benue State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Benue State, Mr. Michael Gusa had contacted him to intimate him of a plan by the EFCC helmsman to meet him and the Attorney-General in Makurdi, Bawa never showed up for the meeting as scheduled. His words: “As at the time of going to press around 10pm of 8th July, 2021, I am not aware that the EFCC Chairman has come to Makurdi as hitherto promised.”

Indicating that he has briefed NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata on the development, Gbagir called on “all those who were willing to offer one form of support for this course in one way or the other that the time is now. We cannot move with EFCC at their own space (sic) and convenience.”

CITY LAWYER gathered that barring last-minute rapprochement, Gbagir may in collaboration with the NBA soon press charges against the EFCC operatives.

The full text of the update is below.

UPDATE ON THE ASSAULTS ON THE NBA CHAIRMAN, MAKURDI BRANCH JUSTIN GBAGIR, ESQ. BY THE OPERATIVES OF THE ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL CRIMES COMMISSION (EFCC) ON THE 8TH JUNE, 2021
On the 8th June, 2021, I was brutally assaulted by the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at their Zonal Office in Makurdi, Benue State. In the early hours of 9th June, 2021, I made a report to the President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Olumide Akpata from my hospital bed at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi and made the said report available on some social media platforms.

The NBA President immediately reach out to the Chairman of EFCC who promised to send a special investigator from Abuja to Makurdi for an investigation with a further commitment to ensure that the perpetrators of the dastardly act are brought to book and adequately punished. While the President was awaiting the outcome of the investigation, EFCC through Wilson Uwujaren, Head, Media and Publicity issued a statement denying the assault on me and further alleged that I was the aggressor who “led a gang of thugs to breach the security of the Makurdi office of the EFCC in an attempt to forcibly set free a suspect under interrogation by the EFCC”. The statement further accused me of “resorting to social media blackmail, posing in hospital bed and concocting a fantastic story of an imaginary assault by the EFCC.” The statement also alleged that my action was “indecorous and unbecoming of the leader of the bar” and that I “demonstrated embarrassing insensitivity to the delicate security situation of the state, and should be remorseful for my misguided action and not spew untruths in pliable sections of the media.”

Sequel to the said press release by the spoke person of the EFCC, Dr. Rapulu Nduka, Publicity Secretary of NBA issued a statement on behalf of the NBA President and the entire Bar wherein he stated the resolve of the Nigerian Bar Association to get to the root of the matter and ensure that the officers behind such brazen acts of inhumanity are brought to justice and that abhorrent acts do not reoccur.

The President of NBA, Mr Olumide Akpata in a letter to the Chairman of the EFCC dated 10th June, 2021 and made available to the media on the 15th June, 2021 raised sundry issues regarding harassment of lawyers and the general high level of unprofessionalism, crass abuse of power and inhumane treatment which EFCC have exhibited, and continue to exhibit at different times when dealing with lawyers at various offices of the EFCC across the country. The said letter which was titled “Assault of Official(s) of the Nigerian Bar Association by the Operatives of the EFCC and Related Incidents of Unprofessionalism against Lawyers: Demand for Investigation, Immediate Action and Cessation” concluded that “while I look forward to an expeditious investigation of the unjust treatment of Mr. Gbagir and a general refocusing of the approach of the EFCC in its dealings with lawyers, please accept, Mr. Chairman, the assurances of my highest consideration”. At the time of going to press, the EFCC Chairman to the best of my knowledge has not responded to this letter.

Suffice to state that on the 11th June, 2021 the NBA Makurdi Branch also issued a press statement wherein they stated that “we take very serious exception to the denigration of the legal profession by the EFCC and further contend that, this is one attack too many by the commission on legal practitioners and we shall vehemently and strongly stem and resist their excesses using all civil and legal means at our disposal.” The statement concluded that “…this matter without doubt shall be followed to its rightful, proper and judicious conclusion. The maxim is Úbi jus, ubi remedium’, which means that ‘where law has established a right, there should be a corresponding remedy.”

Meanwhile, the Director of Internal Affairs at the headquarters of EFCC was in Makurdi on the 10th and 11th June, 2021 where he took my oral and written statement at the office of the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice at the Ministry of Justice Headquarters, Makurdi. The Director of Internal Affairs who earlier in the interaction denied knowledge of the press release by the Head of Media and Publicity however, assured that after his report to the Chairman of EFCC, appropriate measures would be taken to bring the perpetrators to justice.

At the end of the quarterly National Executive Committee meeting of the NBA which held in Abuja on the 24th June, 2021, NEC resolved amongst others that “NEC reviles the circumstances leading to the brutalization of the Chairman of the Makurdi Branch of the NBA by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on 8th June, 2021.” NEC commended the efforts taken by the NBA President thus far, and further directed that the NBA President should take the opportunity of the unfortunate Makurdi incident to finally put an end to the epidemic of brutalization and harassment of legal practitioners by law enforcement agencies in the discharge of the lawyer’s professional duties.

Several other human rights organization also issued separate press statements in condemnation of the assault by the EFCC. One of such statement is from Legal Defence and Assistance Project, based in Lagos. They condemned the assault and urged “the EFCC to publish an apology to the victim, and demanded that the Attorney-General & Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN) should prosecute the errant officers and further urged the EFCC to henceforth treat all lawyers with respect in all legal dealings with them”.

On the 30th June, 2021, the learned Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Benue State, Mr Michael Gusa called to intimate me that the Director of Internal Affairs at the EFCC headquarters called him and indicated that the Chairman of the EFCC would like to meet with me and him this week, and Thursday, 8th June, 2021 was tentatively scheduled for the meeting. On Tuesday, 6th July, when I sought to know from the Attorney-General when specifically we were meeting with the EFCC Chairman, he promised to revert back to me after further consultation with the Director of Internal Affairs. The Attorney-General later in the evening of Tuesday, 6th July, 2021 called to intimate me that the Director of Internal Affairs told him that the Chairman of the EFCC preferred to visit Benue State to meet with us on the 8th July, 2021 instead of us going to Abuja. As at the time of going to press around 10pm of 8th July, 2021, I am not aware that the EFCC Chairman has come to Makurdi as hitherto promised.

Meanwhile, after my discharge from the Benue State University Teaching Hospital on the 9th June, 2021, I was booked to attend a check-up on the 5th July, 2021. As a result of the challenges I was having to see with my left eye and challenges to hear with my left ear, I decided to attend the Nigerian Air force Base Hospital, Makurdi also to seek further medical attention. On the 5th of July, 2021, I attended the BSUTH Makurdi as was requested to do and was examined but requested to come back for further check up on the 26th July, 2021. I am still having challenges with my left eye and left ear.

This evening, I sought leave from the NBA President to issue this press statement to provide an update and to mark one month Anniversary of the assault and brutalization by operatives of the EFCC, and Mr President graciously granted me leave.

I wish to use this opportunity to appreciate the NBA President and all members of the Bar and the general public for standing with me on this issue. The President has assured me and I am confident that this fight is not mine but that of the entire Bar. I am not the victim, it is the entire Bar that is the victim. Members of the Bar have demonstrated that an injury for one is actually an injury to all.

In the circumstances of the foregoing, I wish to request all those who were willing to offer one form of support for this course in one way or the other that the time is now. We cannot move with EFCC at their own space and convenience. In any case, they have serially exhibited conduct that they cannot be trusted. If after the assault, they have the audacity to deny and attempt to change the narrative to favour them, they are capable of doing anything.

In further consultation with the NBA President, we shall be coming up with our next line of action without further delay.

Thank you all and God bless.
Justin Gbagir, Esq.
Chairman, NBA Makurdi Branch

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ROTATIONAL PRESIDENCY: ELECTORAL REFORM C’TE WANTS NBA CONSTITUTION AMENDED

The Nigerian Bar Association Electoral Audit and Reform Committee (NBA-EARC) has called for the amendment of the NBA Constitution to clearly provide for rotational presidency.

In a 44-page report obtained by CITY LAWYER, the committee poked holes in the NBA Constitution as it relates to rotational presidency and recommended that “The NBA Constitution should be amended to specifically state/identify the different groups and/or sections in a geographical zone since different groups and/or sections do not appear to mean a state within the geographical zone.”

The committee “identified the issues that plagued the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections and classified them into three broad categories; namely: (i) Pre-election issues, (ii) Election Day issues and (iii) Post-Election issues.”

Specifically, it identified “Non-implementation of the rotational policy as it relates to the different groups and/or sections in a geographical zone as stated in the constitution” as a major stumbling block towards free and fair NBA elections.

Other challenges that hampered the elections were: Delay in appointment and appearance of lack of Independence of the ECNBA; Appearance of lack of transparency in the engagement of service providers; Negative impact of money driven campaigns on the election’s credibility; Involvement of the sitting NBA President in the electoral process; Non-implementation of the rotational policy as it relates to the different groups and/or sections in a geographical zone as stated in the constitution; Cumbersome verification process; Lack of integrity and late publication of the list of eligible voters; Lack of integrity of the NBA voting portal; Involvement of the NBA Secretariat in the electoral process; and Poor IT knowledge of some Lawyers.

Turning to the controversial issue of rotational presidency, the committee recommended that “The NBA Constitution should be amended to specifically state/identify the different groups and/or sections in a geographical zone.”

According to the committee which was chaired by respected senior lawyer and longstanding NBA Lagos Branch Electoral Committee Chairman, Mr. Ayodele Akintunde SAN, “The committee found that “Another area of concern is the interpretation of the constitutional provisions of zoning particularly with respect to the election to the office of the President.

“The rotational presidency of the NBA was initially an informal arrangement until it was formalized by its incorporation into the NBA Constitution. Sadly, what started out as an arrangement geared toward promoting an all-inclusive bar is now posing a threat to the unity of the Bar.

“The NBA is divided into three (3) geographical zones for the purpose of electing National Officers namely- Northern Zone, Eastern Zone and Western Zone. The list of states that make up the respective geographical zones are set out in Paragraph 1.2 (e) of the Second Schedule to the NBA Constitution.

“The Northern Zone is made up of the following states: Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe, Zamfara and Abuja. The Eastern Zone is made up of the following states: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Enugu, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Cross River, Imo, and Rivers while the Western Zone is made up of the following states: Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo.

“Since the amendment of the NBA Constitution in 2015, the geographical rotation of the position of President of the NBA has been complied with. In 2016, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN from the Northern Zone was elected as President while in 2018, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN from the Eastern Zone was elected and more recently in 2020, Mr. Olumide Akpata from the Western Zone was elected as President.

“In past elections, members of the NBA have alleged that some ethnic associations within the NBA amass support for candidates from select states within a geographical zone thereby marginalizing candidates from other states despite the provisions of paragraph 2.2 (d) of the Second Schedule to the NBA Constitution which provides for the rotation of a position in turn by the different groups and/or sections in the geographical zone.”

The committee therefore recommended that “The provisions of Section 9 (d) and Paragraph 2.2 (d) of the Second Schedule to the NBA Constitution should be strictly adhered to in order to ensure that no group and/or section in a geographical zone is marginalized and the unity of the bar is preserved.”

It also urged that “The NBA Constitution should be amended to specifically state/identify the different groups and/or sections in a geographical zone since different groups and/or sections do not appear to mean a state within the geographical zone,” adding that “The ECNBA in its preliminary notice for the election of National Officers of the NBA should specify which group and/or section in a geographical zone the position is rotated to as a measure to ensure adherence to Section 9 (d) and Paragraph 2.2 (d) of the Second Schedule of the NBA Constitution.”

The Committee stated that it “is of the firm view that if the recommendations contained in this Final Report are implemented, future elections of National Officers of the NBA by electronic voting will be devoid of the controversies which have plagued past elections,” while urging the Olumide Akpata led association to “commit to making the required changes to its electoral processes and reference point for conducting credible, free and fair elections in Nigeria and rebuild confidence in the electoral process for the overall good of all. NBA must be true to its motto which is “promoting the rule of law”.

It is recalled that Akpata had during his inaugural address promised to reform NBA’s electoral system to ensure that it is devoid of the controversies that had trailed its elections especially since the advent of electronic voting. The committee was on September 30, 2020. CITY LAWYER gathered that the NBA-EARC Report was presented to the NBA-NEC Meeting at Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

The full report is available at this link.
http://citylawyermag.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/FINAL-REPORT-EARC.pdf

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GADZAMA HOSTS NBA-NEC DELEGATES TODAY, HAILS AKPATA

Life Bencher, Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama, SAN has described the Nigerian Bar Association National Executive Committee (NBA-NEC) as the “engine room of the largest bar in Africa,” adding that it “bears on its members the burden of ensuring the legal profession in Nigeria progresses as expected.”

In a statement made available to CITY LAWYER, the leading litigator also commended NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata led Executive “for their tireless work at ensuring the Bar in Nigeria remains alive to its duties and obligation,” adding that “I believe a lot if not all lawyers share this sentiment with me.”

Meanwhile, Gadzama has invited the delegates to Welcome Barbeque Dinner/Dance and Departure Sunrise Breakfast. The notice reads:

Joe-Kyari Gadzama, SAN a former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Abuja Branch has invited NBA-NEC Members arriving today Wednesday, 23 June, 2021 for the NBA-NEC Meeting to a Welcome Barbeque Dinner & Dance this evening by 8:00 pm at the Pent Floor Terrence, 4th Floor, J-K Gadzama Court, Plot 1805, Damaturu Crescent by Kabo Way, Off Ahmadu Bello Way, Garki 2, Abuja.

The learned silk also invites the NEC Members to a Departure Sunrise Breakfast by 7:30 am on Friday, 25 June, 2021 at the same venue before they depart for their respective branches.

Dress Code: Smart Casual

Below is the full text of the Goodwill Message.

GOODWILL MESSAGE FROM JOE-KYARI GADZAMA, SAN TO THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (NBA) NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE (NEC) MEMBERS AS THEY HOLD THEIR ALL IMPORTANT NBA-NEC MEETING SCHEDULED FOR THURSDAY, 24 JUNE, 2021 AT THE NBA AUDITORIUM, NBA HOUSE IN ABUJA

It is with profound humility and utmost pleasure that I felicitate and welcome the distinguished and hallowed Members of NBA-NEC to another meeting of the body in Abuja, my own primary constituency.

The NBA-NEC being the engine room of the largest bar in Africa bears on its members the burden of ensuring the legal profession in Nigeria progresses as expected. Therefore, I commend every member of the NBA-NEC for your efforts and dedication in ensuring that the legal profession in Nigeria thrives and competes favorably with its counterparts around the world. Posterity will indeed recognize all of your sacrifices.

Furthermore, I must especially commend the leadership of the Olumide Akpata led Executive for their tireless work at ensuring the Bar in Nigeria remains alive to its duties and obligation. I believe a lot if not all lawyers share this sentiment with me.

Once more, I congratulate and welcome NBA-NEC Members and wish them journey mercies to Abuja, successful deliberations and safe travels back to your respective Branches.

God bless you all.

Thank you.

______________________________
JOE-KYARI GADZAMA, OFR, MFR, SAN
Fmr. Chairman, NBA Abuja Branch
Pioneer Chairman, NBA-SPIDEL
Fmr. Vice-Chairman, NBA-SLP

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GOODLUCK JONATHAN DELIVERS GADZAMA PUBLIC LECTURE TOMORROW

Nigeria’s former president, Dr. Goodluck Ebele will tomorrow deliver the 13th J-K Gadzama LLP Annual Public Lecture as Keynote Speaker.

Jonathan will speak on the topic, “Redefining democracy, yearnings of the minority in a democratic setting” at the lecture billed to hold between 3 pm and 6 pm.

Scheduled to hold at the law firm’s head office at Abuja, the public lecture has the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mohammed Musa Bello, as Chairman.

A statement made available to CITY LAWYER by the leading law firm listed Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Olumide Akpata; Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Hon. Onofiok Luke; TV personality, Mrs. Kadaria Ahmed, and Chairman of the NBA Young Lawyers Forum, Mr. Tobi Adebowale as discussants.

The moderators are Dr. Inya Ode and Mr. Lamar Joe-Kyari Gadzama while Life Bencher and leading arbitrator, Chief Joe-Kyari SAN is the Chief Host.

To register for the public lecture, click on https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAqdeypqD4pE9MI8kQB9yIPp9GchAB1d4pP

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AYORINDE WRITES CJN, WANTS JUDGES’ VACATION ‘SUSPENDED’

Leading senior lawyer and former Chairman of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde SAN has asked the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad to “kindly direct a suspension of the 2021 Annual Judges Vacation in order to save our justice system.”

In the four-page letter obtained by CITY LAWYER and titled “RE: THE NEED TO SUSPEND 2021 ANNUAL COURT VACATION,” Ayorinde cited the #ENDSARS Protests, coronavirus pandemic and the recent JUSUN Strike as events that adversely impacted the justice sector.

In what he termed “My humble request,” the Bar Leader said: “It is a well-known and acknowledged fact that, our Judges are hardworking and patriotic Nigerians and as such and in view of the highlighted circumstances that had paralyzed judicial activities across Nigeria, there is a glaring opportunity for the Judiciary to make a bold statement to rekindle the hope of the common man, as well as, renew investors’ confidence in Nigeria as an investment destination. I therefore most humbly accordingly, urge Your Lordship and all other heads of Courts in Nigeria to in the interest of persons who are languishing in detention and awaiting trial and those that their cases have suffered inordinate delay due to extraneous factors aforementioned, kindly direct a suspension of the 2021 Annual Judges Vacation in order to save our justice system.

“My Lord, such a direction will no doubt portray the Judiciary as a most responsive institution and third arm of government that is the last hope of the common man. Such a direction will also definitely and substantially clear most of the backlog of cases which have suffered delays in our Courts thereby making our Courts ‘fit for the purpose’ again.”

The letter was copied to all heads of courts, all chief judges of the various states and FCT, the Nigerian Bar Association President and the Secretary to the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN).

AYORINDE_LETTER TO C.J

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HARASSMENT: AKPATA WRITES EFCC CHAIR, ISSUES ‘CEASE AND DESIST’ DEMAND

Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Olumide Akpata has again risen in defence of Nigerian lawyers through a ‘cease and desist’ letter to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

In the searing letter obtained by CITY LAWYER and titled “ASSAULT OF OFFICIAL(S) OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION BY OPERATIVES OF THE EFCC AND RELATED INCIDENTS OF UNPROFESSIONALISM AGAINST LAWYERS: A DEMAND FOR INVESTIGATION, IMMEDIATE ACTION AND CESSATION,” Akpata stated that he was “constrained” to write the anti-graft Chairman over the alleged assault on NBA Makurdi Branch Chairman, Mr. Justin Gbagir and “the recurring unwholesome and unprofessional conducts by officers and operatives of the EFCC against members of the legal profession in Nigeria who are lawfully discharging their professional responsibilities.” The letter was copied to Attorney General of the Federation & Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN.

In the 15-paragraph long letter dated June 10, 2021 but received by the EFCC on 15th June, 2021, the NBA President noted that he was “credibly informed that Mr. Gbagir visited the Makurdi office of the EFCC on 8th June 2021 to facilitate the release of one Ms. Aver Shima (“Ms. Shima”), who is a law officer in the employ of the Benue State Ministry of Justice. Ms. Shima had apparently been detained by the EFCC on an allegation that she gave legal advice to the Chairman of the Benue State Universal Basic Education Board that allegedly culminated in the latter signing a document which is reportedly the subject of investigation by the EFCC. Since the merits of the detention of Ms. Shima for providing legal advice is now, as I understand it, already the subject of independent investigation, I shall refrain from commenting on Ms. Shima’s treatment.”

Turning to the alleged manhandling of Gbagir by EFCC operatives, Akpata said: “Infuriated by this turn of events, the Honorable Attorney-General, the Solicitor General and the Special Adviser to the Governor who had all come to intervene in the detention of Ms. Shima left the premises. Suffice to state that Mr. Gbagir who suffered severe hurt and sustained various degrees of injury had to be hospitalized at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi.”

In a damning indictment of the EFCC operatives, the NBA President described their conduct as “uncultured,” saying: “I assume that you will agree, Mr. Chairman, that if this level of uncultured behaviour could be exhibited by EFCC operatives in the presence of the strong delegation accompanying Mr. Gbagir, who in his own right is a Bar Leader, then the potential fate of other lawyers and citizens who interface with the EFCC in that zone is better imagined than experienced.”

Also in a veiled displeasure over the conduct of the EFCC leadership and its controversial press statement over the assault, Akpata said: “When we both spoke about this incident on 9th June 2021, you understandably expressed shock at this development and promised to investigate same. I have no cause yet to believe that you would personally renege on that promise. However, I have seen certain reports in the media credited to the EFCC Media and Publicity team which denied and largely distorted the facts. In fidelity to honesty and good order, I trust that you and I can agree that the statement credited to the EFCC media head, to the extent that it represents the official position of the EFCC, is premature and antithetic to your pledge to investigate the issue.

“It is pertinent to add that both before and after reading the EFCC statement, I spoke to the Attorney-General of Benue State and other well-meaning senior lawyers who witnessed the incident, and their narrative is entirely consistent with the position of Mr. Gbagir. I have no reason to doubt or disbelieve their narrative and it now behooves on the EFCC to show that it can rise above board and properly investigate the excesses of its own staff.

Turning to the issue of harassment of lawyers by EFCC operatives, Akpata lampooned the operatives for “the high level of unprofessionalism, crass abuse of power and inhumane treatment” which they “have exhibited, and continue to exhibit, at different times when dealing with lawyers at various offices of the EFCC across the country.” According to him, “Verifiable instances abound of lawyers who have been, or are being, harassed, arrested, and detained for either providing legal advice to, or preparing transaction documents for, their clients. There are also other instances, where lawyers are simply denied access to their clients in custody or continuously maltreated, frustrated, intimidated and demeaned by EFCC operatives. The NBA is more than willing to make further representations to you and provide proof of such unsavory developments including recent instances where we have had to intervene on behalf of our members who were unjustly harassed or detained by the EFCC.”

Noting however that this state of affairs precedes the current EFCC leadership, Akpata warned that the situation “is totally unacceptable and, if not checked, will increasingly paint the Commission in a negative light, raise serious concerns about the modus operandi of the Commission and undermine her relationship with critical stakeholders.”

He noted that “the current state of the relationship between lawyers and the Commission, which ordinarily ought to be harmonious, collaborative and symbiotic, is unhealthy and continues to deteriorate. For inexplicable reasons, the relationship is characterised by the wanton harassment and assault of members of the legal profession who, by their calling, are mandated to provide legal advisory and support services to suspects in the custody of the Commission or those who are otherwise under investigation.” Akpata then warned that “This debasing treatment must cease forthwith.”

In a three-point demand, the NBA President wrote: “It is in view of the foregoing that I therefore formally request you to use your good offices to investigate this complaint expeditiously and thoroughly in the interest of justice and ensure that all operatives complicit in the very unfortunate incident are disciplined in line with extant service rules and applicable laws. The NBA will be constantly following up with you in this respect, as we will no longer endure or tolerate the incessant harassment of our members by EFCC operatives while such lawyers are lawfully discharging their duties.

“You may recall that one of the cardinal pillars of your mandate upon your assumption of office was to reposition the Commission and make it a reputable anti-corruption agency that boasts of the finest of personnel. I dare say that achieving this laudable objective would necessarily include weaning the Commission of officers and personnel whose conduct, taken individually or in the aggregate, are bound to undermine the image of the Commission.

“As you continue to settle into office, I urge you to look into these issues carefully with a view to resolving them holistically and avoiding a recurrence. We are indeed expectant that there will be no repeat of incidences such as those complained about in this letter. Lawyers dealing with the Commission must and should be accorded the respect and dignity that they deserve when acting on behalf of their clients. Under your leadership, you must intervene and take steps to ensure that this is the case at all offices of the Commission across the country.”

Below is the full text of the letter:

10th June 2021

The Executive Chairman
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
EFCC Headquarters
Plot 301/302, Institution and Research Cadastral District
Jabi, Abuja

Attention: Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa

Dear Sir,

ASSAULT OF OFFICIAL(S) OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION BY OPERATIVES OF THE EFCC AND RELATED INCIDENTS OF UNPROFESSIONALISM AGAINST LAWYERS: A DEMAND FOR INVESTIGATION, IMMEDIATE ACTION AND CESSATION

  1. I am constrained to write to you over (a) an unfortunate incident which occurred on 8th June 2021 involving some operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (the “EFCC” or the “Commission”) at its Makurdi Zonal office, and Mr. Justin Gbagir (“Mr. Gbagir”), a senior member of the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) who is also the Chairman of the Makurdi Branch of NBA; and (b) the recuring unwholesome and unprofessional conducts by officers and operatives of the EFCC against members of the legal profession in Nigeria who are lawfully discharging their professional responsibilities.

The Unfortunate Makurdi Incident

  1. I have been credibly informed that Mr. Gbagir visited the Makurdi office of the EFCC on 8th June 2021 to facilitate the release of one Ms. Aver Shima (“ Shima”), who is a law officer in the employ of the Benue State Ministry of Justice. Ms. Shima had apparently been detained by the EFCC on an allegation that she gave legal advice to the Chairman of the Benue State Universal Basic Education Board that allegedly culminated in the latter signing a document which is reportedly the subject of investigation by the EFCC.   Since the merits of the detention of Ms. Shima for providing legal advice is now, as I understand it, already the subject of independent investigation, I shall refrain from commenting on Ms. Shima’s treatment.
  1. As we understand from the sequence of events, when Mr. Gbagir arrived at the EFCC zonal office in the company of other senior members of the Benue State Ministry of Justice, including the State Director of Public Prosecution, the delegation was refused entry into the offices of the EFCC and was subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment by the security operatives manning the gate of the EFCC on the rather specious ground that they were “agitators” who had come to protest. It took the intervention of the Senior Special Assistant to the State Governor and the arrival of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General of the State before the delegation was allowed access into the facility.
  1. It is our further understanding that when Mr. Gbagir was introduced to the EFCC zonal head (Mr. Kazeem Oseni) by the Solicitor-General of the State as the Chairman of the Makurdi Branch of the NBA, Mr. Gbagir was denied all courtesies on the ground that he was an “agitator”. Perplexed and embarrassed, Mr. Gbagir sought to excuse himself from the office of the zonal head only to be swarmed by an army of operatives of the EFCC, who brutally manhandled Mr. Gbagir and pushed him out of the premises. Of particular note and concern is the fact that eyewitness accounts confirm that the actions of the EFCC operatives were carried out with the tacit consent of the zonal head, at best, or based on his express instructions, at worst.
  1. Infuriated by this turn of events, the Honorable Attorney-General, the Solicitor General and the Special Adviser to the Governor who had all come to intervene in the detention of Ms. Shima left the premises. Suffice to state that Mr. Gbagir who suffered severe hurt and sustained various degrees of injury had to be hospitalized at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi.
  1. I assume that you will agree, Mr. Chairman, that if this level of uncultured behaviour could be exhibited by EFCC operatives in the presence of the strong delegation accompanying Mr. Gbagir, who in his own right is a Bar Leader, then the potential fate of other lawyers and citizens who interface with the EFCC in that zone is better imagined than experienced. 
  1. When we both spoke about this incident on 9th June 2021, you understandably expressed shock at this development and promised to investigate same. I have no cause yet to believe that you would personally renege on that promise. However, I have seen certain reports in the media credited to the EFCC Media and Publicity team which denied and largely distorted the facts.  In fidelity to honesty and good order, I trust that you and I can agree that the statement credited to the EFCC media head, to the extent that it represents the official position of the EFCC, is premature and antithetic to your pledge to investigate the issue.
  1. It is pertinent to add that both before and after reading the EFCC statement, I spoke to the Attorney-General of Benue State and other well-meaning senior lawyers who witnessed the incident, and their narrative is entirely consistent with the position of Mr. Gbagir. I have no reason to doubt or disbelieve their narrative and it now behooves on the EFCC to show that it can rise above board and properly investigate the excesses of its own staff.

Other egregious conducts of EFCC operatives against legal practitioners  

  1. Chairman, whilst the above represents the isolated experience of Mr. Gbagir, it is an opportune time to bring to your attention the high level of unprofessionalism, crass abuse of power and inhumane treatment that operatives of the EFCC have exhibited, and continue to exhibit, at different times when dealing with lawyers at various offices of the EFCC across the country. Verifiable instances abound of lawyers who have been, or are being, harassed, arrested, and detained for either providing legal advice to, or preparing transaction documents for, their clients. There are also other instances, where lawyers are simply denied access to their clients in custody or continuously maltreated, frustrated, intimidated and demeaned by EFCC operatives. The NBA is more than willing to make further representations to you and provide proof of such unsavory developments including recent instances where we have had to intervene on behalf of our members who were unjustly harassed or detained by the EFCC.
  1. This state of affairs, which admittedly precedes your appointment to superintend the EFCC, is totally unacceptable and, if not checked, will increasingly paint the Commission in a negative light, raise serious concerns about the modus operandi of the Commission and undermine her relationship with critical stakeholders. As you know, the role of lawyers is critical to the actualisation of the Commission’s foundational objectives. As a law enforcement agency that is established to be responsible and accountable to the citizenry, one would expect that lawyers will continue to be your partners in progress who should feel welcome and accommodated by the Commission and its operatives.
  1. Regrettably, the current state of the relationship between lawyers and the Commission, which ordinarily ought to be harmonious, collaborative and symbiotic, is unhealthy and continues to deteriorate. For inexplicable reasons, the relationship is characterised by the wanton harassment and assault of members of the legal profession who, by their calling, are mandated to provide legal advisory and support services to suspects in the custody of the Commission or those who are otherwise under investigation. This debasing treatment must cease forthwith.

Conclusion

  1. It is in view of the foregoing that I therefore formally request you to use your good offices to investigate this complaint expeditiously and thoroughly in the interest of justice and ensure that all operatives complicit in the very unfortunate incident are disciplined in line with extant service rules and applicable laws. The NBA will be constantly following up with you in this respect, as we will no longer endure or tolerate the incessant harassment of our members by EFCC operatives while such lawyers are lawfully discharging their duties. 
  1. You may recall that one of the cardinal pillars of your mandate upon your assumption of office was to reposition the Commission and make it a reputable anti-corruption agency that boasts of the finest of personnel. I dare say that achieving this laudable objective would necessarily include weaning the Commission of officers and personnel whose conduct, taken individually or in the aggregate, are bound to undermine the image of the Commission.
  2. As you continue to settle into office, I urge you to look into these issues carefully with a view to resolving them holistically and avoiding a recurrence. We are indeed expectant that there will be no repeat of incidences such as those complained about in this letter.  Lawyers dealing with the Commission must and should be accorded the respect and dignity that they deserve when acting on behalf of their clients.  Under your leadership, you must intervene and take steps to ensure that this is the case at all offices of the Commission across the country.
  1. While I look forward to an expeditious investigation of the unjust treatment of Mr. Gbagir and a general refocusing of the approach of the EFCC in its dealings with lawyers, please accept, Mr. Chairman, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Yours faithfully,

OLUMIDE AKPATA

President

Nigerian Bar Association

Cc:       The Honourable Attorney General of the Federation

Federal Ministry of Justice

Abuja

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BENUE ASSAULT: AKPATA TACKLES BAWA, EFCC DENIES CHARGE

  • AG, SOLICITOR-GENERAL CONFIRMED ASSAULT – SPIDEL CHAIR

Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Olumide Akpata has petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman, Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa over the battered NBA Makurdi Branch Chairman, Mr. Justin Gbagir, even as the anti-graft agency has denied that its operatives manhandled the Bar Leader.

Impeccable sources told CITY LAWYER that Akpata had engaged with the EFCC Chairman over the matter. Bawa was said to have requested time to investigate the matter and take necessary action.

The EFCC has now issued a statement denying the alleged assault. The anti-graft agency said that it was the Makurdi Branch Chairman who “was the aggressor as he led a gang of thugs to breach the security of the Makurdi office in an attempt to forcibly set free a suspect under interrogation by the EFCC.”

The statement added that the Bar Leader allegedly failed to identify himself and that “the EFCC Zonal Head had no option than to show him out of his office and refuse him further entry into the Commission’s premises.”

But fiery NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL) Chairman, Mr. Monday Ubani said that several sources confirmed the assault to him, even as the under-fire Zonal Head denied the allegation. His words: “I have spoken to the Chairman of Makurdi who confirmed the beating. He is back to hospital. I have also spoken to the Special Adviser to the Governor on Legal Matters who confirmed the incident. I eventually got the President of the Bar who affirmed that the AG confirmed the beating. Our President has spoken to the Chairman of EFCC who requested for time to investigate and take action.”

He however said the Zonal Head denied “that he never touched nor directed any of his operatives to touch our member. He denied the beating.” 

Narrating his ordeal, Gbagir said: “As I made to leave, the personnel of EFCC numbering between 7 and above pounced on me and started beating me. They broke my recommended reading eyeglasses in the process and pushed me out of the premises.

“Outside the premises, the threw out my footwears which I was dispossessed of in the course of the beating.”

Below is the full text of the EFCC statement.

EFCC Press Release

EFCC Denies Assaulting NBA Chairman

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC wishes to inform the public that claims by one Justin Gbagir, Chairman Makurdi Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, that he was assaulted and brutalized by operatives of the Makurdi Zonal Office of the Commission on June 8, 2021, leading to his being hospitalized at BUSTH is false, and orchestrated to portray the Commission as draconian and uncivil.

Contrary to the false narrative being promoted in the social media by Gbagir, he was the aggressor as he led a gang of thugs to breach the security of the Makurdi office in an attempt to forcibly set free a suspect under interrogation by the EFCC.

The standard procedure for effecting the release of suspects in detention is known to even rookie lawyers. But rather than follow due process, Gbagir opted for force, recruited thugs and stormed the EFCC office.

In spite of the provocation, operatives of the Commission handled him with restraint, bent backward by allowing him to meet with the Zonal Head. But rather than reciprocate, he still refused to identify himself, against all norms of civility. In the circumstance, the EFCC Zonal Head had no option than to show him out of his office and refuse him further entry into the Commission’s premises.

Regrettably, the seasoned lawyer resorted to social media blackmail, posing in hospital bed and concocting a fantastic story of an imaginary assault by EFCC operatives.

His action is to say the least indecorous and unbecoming of the leader of the bar in a state like Benue. He demonstrated embarrassing insensitivity to the delicate security situation of the state.

Gbagir should be remorseful for his misguided action and not spew untruths in pliable sections of the media.

Wilson Uwujaren
Head, Media & Publicity
9 June, 2021

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CAC ACCREDITATION: NBA MAKES U-TURN, ASKS LAWYERS TO COMPLY

  • SETS UP JOINT HELP DESK FOR CAC COMPLAINTS

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has reversed its hard stance on the ongoing re-accreditation exercise by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), asking lawyers to comply with the directive. It has also set up a joint help desk with the CAC to address lawyers’ complaints.

In a press statement signed by NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata, the association stated that “The CAC and the NBA have agreed that rather than require lawyers and accredited agents to pay the accreditation fee on an annual basis, the payment will be a one-off fee.”

The statement added that “The CAC and the NBA have also agreed that the payment and reaccreditation will not apply to lawyers who paid or were accredited by the CAC between 1st January 2020 and the date of the initial reaccreditation notice from the CAC in March 2021. The portion of the reminder notice from the CAC dated 1st June 2021 which exempted only those who procured their accreditation after 31st December 2020 was an error which will be withdrawn or clarified by the CAC.”

This is a sharp departure from the position of the lawyers’ body which had in a press statement on March 12, 2021 chided the corporate registry agency for the revalidation exercise, saying that “it is both insensitive and smacks of utter bad faith on the part of the CAC to proceed with this policy without due consultation with the NBA whose members make up over 80% of the customer base of the CAC.”

The NBA had also reasoned that “it is possible to achieve a clean database of accredited agents by requiring those who had been previously accredited by the CAC to simply update and revalidate their records on the CAC portal (at no cost) or lose their accreditation by the new deadline,” adding that “The obligatory charge imposed by the CAC should not apply to existing users but only to those customers who have never been accredited by the CAC and who now seek to be part of the system.”

The lawyers’ body had also based its opposition to the payment of the N10,000 revalidation fee on the harsh economic climate, saying: “The NBA strongly urges the CAC to reconsider its position with respect to the payment of the revalidation fee by existing users, and more importantly to continue to work assiduously towards improving customer experience by resolving the several complaints by users of the system and enhancing efficiency.” 

It was unclear at press time whether the NBA has secured any major shift from the CAC prior to altering its position on the issue, moreso as the CAC had since March 12, 2021 clarified in a tweet that the payment is a one-off. It had stated thus: “Dear esteemed Customers, please be informed that payment for re-validation of accreditation is one-off. And accreditation is not renewable annually. Furthermore, the timeline for re-validation of accreditation has been extended to June, 10 2021.”

Aside from merely stating that “The CAC maintains that the revalidation exercise is important to it for a proper administration of the CAC database especially as the CAC migrates to a process where most or all activities at, or dealings with, the CAC will be concluded on its online portal,” the NBA leadership has not provided any justification for its new stance on the revalidation fee.  

Below is the full text of the NBA statement.

3rd June 2021

To all Lawyers in Nigeria

CAC DIRECTIVE ON RE-VALIDATION OF ACCREDITED AGENTS: UPDATE FROM THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION

Members of the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) would have seen a notice dated 1st June 2021 from the Corporate Affairs Commission (“CAC”) reminding accredited agents of the CAC to revalidate their status as agents with the CAC. Accredited agents are required to pay for such revalidation on or before 10th June 2021 or risk a suspension of their accounts.

Kindly recall that when the news of this revalidation first broke out in March 2021, the NBA had issued a statement dated 12th March 2021 informing Nigerian lawyers that the NBA was engaging with the CAC on this process. Following the engagements, we wish to provide the update below:

1. The CAC maintains that the revalidation exercise is important to it for a proper administration of the CAC database especially as the CAC migrates to a process where most or all activities at, or dealings with, the CAC will be concluded on its online portal.

2. The CAC and the NBA have agreed that rather than require lawyers and accredited agents to pay the accreditation fee on an annual basis, the payment will be a one-off fee.

3. The CAC and the NBA have also agreed that the payment and reaccreditation will not apply to lawyers who paid or were accredited by the CAC between 1st January 2020 and the date of the initial reaccreditation notice from the CAC in March 2021. The portion of the reminder notice from the CAC dated 1st June 2021 which exempted only those who procured their accreditation after 31st December 2020 was an error which will be withdrawn or clarified by the CAC.

4. The CAC and the NBA have agreed that in order to enhance efficiency at the CAC and deal with service level complaints from lawyers who use the services of the CAC, an NBA help/support desk (manned by the NBA-CAC Task Force) will be set up at the CAC. Lawyers who have applications at the CAC that are not attended to within the designated timelines may escalate their complaints to the NBA support team which will liaise with the CAC with a view to resolving the issues. Such complaints should be sent to nbacac@nigerianbar.org.ng. Kindly note that only correspondence relating to delays and service inefficiency at the CAC will be entertained by this help/support desk.

5. The NBA is not oblivious of the challenges that lawyers have had to face with their clients on account of delayed processing of applications, and other service-related issues at the CAC. Accordingly, the NBA will continue to work with the CAC towards enhancing efficiency at the CAC and generally improving on the experience of our members when dealing with the CAC.

Yours sincerely,

OLUMIDE AKPATA
NBA President

NBA_CAC

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INTERNET VOTING VIOLATES NBA CONSTITUTION, SAYS GADZAMA

  • SEEKS INCLUSION OF YOUNG LAWYERS IN STANDING COMMITTEES

Former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) presidential candidate, Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama SAN has warned that a reform of the association’s electoral process has become “urgent,” adding that the NBA Constitution does not envisage internet voting as currently used for past NBA elections.

In a memorandum to the NBA Constitution Review Committee, Gadzama argued that “It is my humble but firm personal view that the electronic voting envisaged in the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Constitution is voting without the use of internet. Indeed, the universal suffrage stipulated by NBA Constitution is a welcome development and can be achieved transparently with strict adherence to electronic voting.”

According to the leading litigator and arbitrator, “Electronic voting will entail voting at all the branches of the NBA at their respective election centers and in the presence of the agents of the various candidates, through the use of dedicated computers or electronic voting machines for members to cast their votes. Upon casting of votes, there could be a paper backup to enhance the accountability, transparency and auditability of the election. Significantly, all these are not obtainable with internet voting. This electronic system has been adopted and used in the past by the NBA Abuja branch for its branch elections.”

Gadzama noted that current NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata “expressed initial concerns over the 2020 electoral process shortly before the election,” adding that “Mr. Dele Adesina, SAN who was a Presidential contestant at the said election rejected the outcome of the election which rejection almost tore the Bar apart but for the intervention of eminent members of our noble profession.”

Below is the full text of the memorandum.

MEMORANDUM TO THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (NBA) CONSTITUTION REVIEW COMMITTEE

BY

JOE-KYARI GADZAMA, OFR, MFR, SAN, FNIALS, FICMC, FCIArb, Chartered Arbitrator.
Chairman, Mentorship Committee of the Body of Benchers
Formerly: Pioneer Chairman, NBA – SPIDEL; Vice Chairman, NBA – SLP; Council Member, NBA – SBL & Chairman, NBA Abuja Branch.

1.0 INTRODUCTION:

1.1 This memorandum is in response to the call by the NBA Constitution Review Committee for submission of memoranda on further amendments to the provisions of the NBA Constitution 2015 (as amended). As a major stakeholder in the process, having contested the 2016 NBA National Officers’ election, this memorandum is my modest contribution to this genuine reform process. In the light of the foregoing; I hereby recommend some Constitutional amendments and other proposed reforms outlined hereunder for consideration by the Committee in line with your terms of reference.

2.0 YOUNG LAWYERS’ REPRESENTATION AT NEC:

2.1 It is my view that young lawyers ought to have constitutional representatives at the NEC meetings in order for them to feel a sense of responsibility and belonging in this noble profession and for them to realize that their interests are being protected. Section 7 (1) only provides for National Officers, All past Presidents and General secretaries, all chairmen and secretaries or registered branches, one other representative of each branch, chairmen and secretaries of sections and other deserving members of the Association which include Senior Advocates of Nigeria, senior members who are over 25 years post-call and special interest groups/active members who are over 10 years post-call.

2.2 It is my humble recommendation that the affairs of young lawyers can be statutorily represented at the NEC meetings by amendment of Section 7 (1) by the introduction of a new Section 7 (1) (f) to specifically list at least the Chairman of Young Lawyers’ Forum as statutory member of NEC. The current 7 (1) (f) can now be the new Section 7 (1) (g).

3.0 YOUNG LAWYERS’ MEMBERSHIPS AT STANDING COMMITTEES

3.1 By the interpretation of Section 12 (3) (b) under the membership of standing committees and Section 10 (10) of the third schedule of the Constitution, it states that the Chairman of each committee shall be a member of not less than 10 years post-call while the Secretary shall be a member of not less than 5 years post-call. There is no explicit involvement of young lawyers in the make-up and representation of the members in the standing committees.

3.2 It is my view that Young Lawyers can be statutorily represented in these committees by drafting them in various committees and thereby making sure that they are actively involved in the affairs of the NBA. Therefore there can be new Sections 12 (3) (c) & Section 10 (10) (c) of the third schedule of the Constitution which explicitly mention the involvement/representation of young lawyers from 0- 7 years post call in various standing committees. The current Sections 12 (3) (d) can now be 12 (3) (e) and Section 10 (10) (f) of the third schedule of the Constitution be changed to Section 10 (10) (g).

4.0 VOTING METHOD UNDER THE NBA CONSTITUTION:

4.1 It is my humble but firm personal view that the electronic voting envisaged in the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Constitution is voting without the use of internet. Indeed, the universal suffrage stipulated by NBA Constitution is a welcome development and can be achieved transparently with strict adherence to electronic voting. This view is fortified by the express provision of section 9(4) of the Nigerian Bar Association Constitution which states thus:

“Section 9(4) – Election into National Offices shall be by universal suffrage and electronic voting as set out in Second Schedule.”(Emphasis ours)
Paragraph 2.4(a) of the said Second Schedule of the NBA Constitution provides that;
“Voting at the election shall be by electronic means (E-voting).”(Emphasis mine)

4.2 The true intention of the Constitution, I humbly submit, for conduct of elections electronically without the use of the internet can further be discerned from paragraph 2.4 (c) of the second schedule which provides for verification of voters, place, time and platform to be utilized for electronic voting for each particular election year taking into consideration the state of available technology and information technology infrastructure of the branches in order to afford all registered voters the opportunity to vote.

4.3 Voting over the internet has proven to be non-transparent and problematic which has led to the challenge in Court of the outcome of the 2016 and 2018 NBA elections conducted using internet voting. The system of voting over the internet is highly susceptible to manipulations and experience has also shown that genuine cases of disenfranchisement of eligible voters keep recurring. Recall that the NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata, expressed initial concerns over the 2020 electoral process shortly before the election while Mr. Dele Adesina, SAN who was a Presidential contestant at the said election rejected the outcome of the election which rejection almost tore the Bar apart but for the intervention of eminent members of our noble profession. This dissatisfaction was a result of some of the inevitable challenges associated with internet voting.

4.4 As stated earlier, the electronic voting envisaged under the NBA Constitution is different from internet voting which was used to conduct the 2016, 2018 and 2020 NBA National Officers’ election as a result of the misinterpretation of the relevant sections. Internet by definition is a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardized communication protocols. Electronic, on the other hand, can be said to be a device having or operating with components such as microchips and transistors that control and direct electric currents.

4.5 It is clear that while internet voting requires the use of electronics, electronic voting does not require the use of internet. I-voting (which has been used over time by NBA at the National level) relies totally on the use of the internet, whereas E-voting, envisaged under the NBA Constitution, does not require the internet. E-voting envisages a situation where all the branches of the NBA at their respective election centers and in the presence of the monitoring agents of the various candidates, will use dedicated computers or electronic voting machines to cast their votes.

4.6 Electronic voting will entail voting at all the branches of the NBA at their respective election centers and in the presence of the agents of the various candidates, through the use of dedicated computers or electronic voting machines for members to cast their votes. Upon casting of votes, there could be a paper backup to enhance the accountability, transparency and auditability of the election. Significantly, all these are not obtainable with internet voting. This electronic system has been adopted and used in the past by the NBA Abuja branch for its branch elections.

5.0 POSSIBLE AMENDMENT OF NBA CONSTITUTION:

5.1 Although it is my interpretation that the NBA Constitution envisages electronic voting (without use of internet), we can still continue with internet voting considering that it is more convenient and in line with the global trend. For these reasons, I will also be inclined towards internet voting provided that the vote of each voter is revealed instantly to show who the voter casts his ballot for. After all, we are all members of the same professional family of lawyers. Indeed, this will make the system more transparent and any result that it produces will be generally acceptable by the majority. In that case, it would be ideal to amend section 9(4) of the NBA Constitution and paragraph 2.4 of the schedule to eliminate any ambiguity and to bring it in line with the adopted electronic voting system.

6.0 OPEN BALLOT SYSTEM:

6.1 As stated earlier, if internet voting is to be adopted for future elections which appears to be the preference due to convenience and the fact that it is in line with the global trend, it will therefore be my strong recommendation that there should be full real-time disclosure of the names of voters and who they cast their votes for. This is akin to the Option A4 voting system in conventional elections. Display of the votes as they are being cast, showing the choice of voters, will indeed enhance accountability and transparency of the process.

6.2 I understand that some persons may prefer that their votes remain anonymous, if this is the position adopted by the NBA, then the choice of the voters may be kept hidden whilst the real-time tally is revealed to everyone. Furthermore, there should be a hidden trail to show who a voter opted for which would only be revealed in the instance of a dispute as to the result or credibility of the election.

7.0 EARLY SET-UP OF ELECTORAL COMMITTEE:

7.1 The responsibility of conducting the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) National Officers’ election rests squarely with the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA). It is my fervent recommendation that this important committee should be set up early enough to begin preparations for the election in every election year in good time. Since the deadline for payment of Bar Practicing Fees is end of March in every given year, we should consider setting up the ECNBA in April so that they can commence work in good time and possibly release guidelines in May of the election year. This will go a long way in ensuring that adequate preparations are made in advance for every NBA elections.

8.0 INVOLVEMENT OF SITTING NBA PRESIDENT IN THE PROCESS:

8.1 Another issue that has to be addressed frontally is the involvement of the sitting NBA President and indeed the sitting NBA EXCO in the election process which sometimes confers an undue advantage on any candidate ‘anointed’ by the incumbent NBA President. In 2016, the then incumbent President was openly partisan and he engaged in open campaigns and endorsements of my opponent at that time and these contributed to the absence of a level playing field for all candidates in that election. Another worrisome trend is the appointment of all ECNBA Chairmen from the zone of the sitting President. In 2016, Mr. Ken Mozia, SAN who is from the same zone with the then sitting President – Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN was the ECNBA Chairman. In 2018, Prof. Auwalu Yadudu was the ECNBA Chairman and was from the same zone as the then NBA President, Mr. A. B. Mahmoud, SAN. In 2020, Mr. Tawo Tawo, SAN from the same zone with the then NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, was appointed as the ECNBA Chairman. No doubt, all three former NBA Presidents did their best to uplift the Bar during their tenure and all the ECNBA Chairmen appointed during their respective regimes are respectable and reputable senior members of the Bar, but that is not the issue. The issue here is the perception of the majority of members of the Bar. Could this be a coincidence or a deliberate ploy, as assumed by many, to ensure that only those supposedly very close to the NBA President are appointed as ECNBA Chairman? I believe that deliberate efforts should be made to discourage a pattern whereby only someone from the same zone with the sitting NBA President is appointed as ECNBA Chairman. No doubt, this will go a long way in building confidence in the process. By all means, the ECNBA should be able to maintain sufficient independence from the NBA leadership, particularly the President.

9.0 REAL TIME MONITORING OF VOTES & AUTOMATIC COLLATION OF RESULTS

9.1 The votes as they are being cast should be displayed real time in a transparent manner accessible to all members of the Association. Collation of votes should also be automatic after the last ballot is cast unlike what we had in 2016 when there was a delay of over one hour and twenty minutes before releasing the results on the display screen after the close of polls at 12 midnight on Sunday, 31st July 2016.

10.0 DUE PROCESS FOR ENGAGEMENT OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY SERVICE PROVIDER

10.1 For future elections, there should be clear yardsticks, objective basis and/or set parameters for engagement of any IT service provider that will provide any IT infrastructure and/or support for the NBA elections. Mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that only qualified, experienced and competent IT Companies without interest in the outcome of the election are engaged. Due diligence must be conducted on any prospective IT Company before engagement. As I stated earlier in an interview, it should be a Company that has no real interest in who emerges as winners of the election other than a reflection of the wishes of the majority of members of the Bar. Importantly, the selection and/or appointment of IT Company should not be done or influenced by the NBA President; rather it should be done independently by the ECNBA with the active involvement of the candidates (especially the Presidential candidates). Candidates should also be allowed to audit the infrastructures of the IT Company before it deploys its facilities.

11.0 SEAMLESS VOTER REGISTRATION PROCESS

11.1 Voter registration is an integral aspect of any election. It is a pre-condition for voting in NBA election as stipulated in paragraph 2.2(f) of the second schedule to the NBA Constitution. The NBA electoral process should be configured in such a way that all eligible voters, who have paid their Bar Practicing Fees (BPF) by 31st March of every given year, are allowed and given the opportunity to vote seamlessly for candidates of their choice. The list of financially up-to-date members should be automatically collated and made public shortly after the deadline for payment of BPF. In the past, there have been genuine and verified complaints of the inability of some of our eligible members to register for the voting process. To my mind, the registration process should be stress-free and transparent without any impediments.

11.2 Another pre-condition for voting in the NBA election as stipulated in paragraph 2.3 (d) of the second schedule to the NBA Constitution is that the full list of all legal practitioners qualified to vote shall be published at least 28 days before the date of the election. This provision can be reviewed and the time frame changed to at least 60 days to enable those whose names may have been inadvertently left out of the register to have ample time for same to be rectified. This would solve the issue of eligible voters claiming that they have been disenfranchised. It would be ideal to create a longer time between publication of the names and the date of the election given what had transpired in the past elections.

12.0 INVOLVEMENT OF NBA SECRETARIAT IN THE PROCESS

12.1 The NBA Constitution currently vests the responsibility of conducting National Officers’ elections on the ECNBA. However, there is still some level of involvement of the NBA National Secretariat in the process and since the secretariat is also manned by NBA Staff (some of whom are lawyers), the issue of partisanship cannot be overruled. See paragraph 2.3 (d) of the second schedule to the Constitution which gives the National Secretariat the responsibility, in conjunction with the ECNBA, to publish the full list of all eligible legal practitioners. This committee should consider a mechanism or system that will result in reduced involvement of the NBA Secretariat in the system. Currently, paragraph 2.1 (d) of the second schedule to the NBA Constitution provides that completed forms received in respect of the elections shall be forwarded to the NBA Secretariat and thereafter referred to the Electoral Committee. To reduce and/or check any possible interference by the NBA Secretariat, it is desirable to amend the referenced provision to constitutionally allow completed forms to be submitted directly to the ECNBA. Furthermore, the feasibility of the ECNBA liaising directly with the NBA Branches for data should also be looked into. In conclusion, there must be a level playing field in any NBA elections and all candidates must be given access to interrogate every stage of the electoral process. It should be a fair contest.

13.0 CONCLUSION
13.1 The urgent need for the reform of the NBA electoral system cannot be overemphasized. It is indeed a collective responsibility of all of us to meaningfully & timely contribute to this electoral reform process in our little way. It is my fervent hope, genuine desire and humble prayer that these proposals will be duly considered in the overall interest of the entire Bar and towards minimizing the spate of disputes arising from future NBA elections so that together we can earn our deserved respect in the eyes of Nigerian politicians and Nigerians generally.

Thank you.
Dated 19th April, 2021.

MEMO_GADZAMA

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JUSUN STRIKE SPLITS LAGOS NBA BRANCHES, AKPATA WADES IN

• Ikeja Branch insists on protest march today
• Akpata Gives Nod to 4 branches to visit tomorrow
• Schism on interpretation of NBA’s directive

The directive by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Olumide Akpata to NBA branches to pay a “visit” to Governors’ offices today and deliver letters to press home the demand for financial autonomy for the judiciary has split the five branches in Lagos State.

While Ikeja Branch insists on holding a “protest march” today in support of the ongoing strike by Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), the four other branches yesterday agreed to “visit” the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu tomorrow to deliver their joint letter.

At least two branch chairmen told CITY LAWYER that efforts made to persuade Ikeja Branch, otherwise called the “Tiger Branch,” to join other branches in the visit tomorrow met a brick wall, as the branch insisted that it had resolved at its last monthly meeting to embark on a “protest march,” even before Akpata’s directive.

NBA Ikorodu Branch Chairman, Mr. Abimbola Ojedokun told CITY LAWYER that all the branch chairmen met via whatsapp call yesterday to agree on the modalities for the visit, noting that aside from Ikeja Branch, the other branch chairman resolved to deliver a joint letter to the Governor tomorrow.

“We agreed to gather at Alausa Secretariat between 11 am and 12 noon and proceed to the Governor’s Office to meet with the Governor and deliver a joint letter to him on the issue,” said Ojedokun. “We set the time to enable members from far-flung branches like Epe and Badagry to join the group.”

Ojedokun said that the branches were mandated to mobilize their members for the visit, adding that while NBA Lagos Branch would alert its members of the decision at its monthly meeting holding today, the three other branches have scheduled emergency general meetings today to work out modalities for tomorrow’s visit.

Confirming Ojedokun’s stance, the Chairman of NBA Epe Branch, Mr. Ademola Koko told CITY LAWYER that the during the virtual meeting, Ikeja Branch stated that its plan to proceed on a protest march was 99 percent complete, adding that it could not resile from the resolve of its members.

“After the meeting, we issued a communiqué for each branch to convene an extra-ordinary general meeting to inform its members of the resolution to visit the Governor tomorrow. The meeting considered the fact the Mr. President’s directive was issued on Friday, leaving limited time to plan for the visit.

“Mr. President’s directive was for a joint visit to the Governor to deliver a jointly signed letter by all the branches in each state. That way, the letter will carry more weight. I am glad to tell you that Mr. President gave approval to the four branches to proceed with the visit tomorrow. We have just ended our own EGM. We are already mobilizing our members.”

CITY LAWYER gathered that NBA Lagos Branch Chairman, Mr. Yemi Akangbe was mandated by the other three chairmen to write the letter, to be endorsed by other branch chairmen prior to delivery to the Governor.

When CITY LAWYER telephoned NBA Ikeja Branch Chairman, Mr. Bartholomew Aguegbodo, he did not pick the call. However, a former Secretary of the Branch, Mr. Chinedu Ifezue told CITY LAWYER that the branch was holding an extra-ordinary general meeting where the chairman was presiding.

He said the EGM had again endorsed the earlier resolution to proceed with a protest march today, adding that “it is strictly in compliance with the NBA President’s directive. In fact, not to conduct the visit today is the real breach of the directive.”

In a press statement personally signed by the NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata, the association asked all NBA branches to march to their respective State Governors on Monday “to effectively mobilize their members and pay visits to their respective State Governors at the Government Houses on Monday, 19th April 2021 to press home the demand for implementation of financial autonomy for the Judiciary. At the visit, NBA Branches in each State are to present a joint written demand to their State Governor requesting full compliance with existing legislative instruments and court judgments on the financial autonomy of the Judiciary.”

Noting that the demand for financial autonomy “is legitimate, constitutional and is in the best interest of the Judiciary as it is one of the key parameters for enthroning independence of the Judiciary and fostering democracy,” the NBA also directed the branch chairmen “to ensure that these visits are embarked upon, every subsequent Monday, until there is full compliance with this demand that is aimed at strengthening our democracy and the dispensation of justice. We trust that our members will give the leadership of their respective branches all the support that they require to achieve this much needed victory for our justice system.”

The move is coming on the heels of stalled efforts to amicably resolve the impasse, a situation bemoaned by the lawyers’ association which stated that “With these developments and the recent actions and utterances of officials of some of the State Governments, it has become apparent that most of the State Governments are not ready or willing to implement the constitutional provisions which grant financial autonomy to the

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