In what may pass as their first presidential debate in the run-up to the 2023 National Elections, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi went head-to-head yesterday at the ongoing Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Conference (NBA-AGC).

The presence of the leading presidential candidates confirms CITY LAWYER’s exclusive report that the duo would attend the event.

One of the highlights of the Opening Ceremony monitored by CITY LAWYER was the Keynote Address delivered by globally acclaimed writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Atiku and Obi were among five presidential candidates who gave insights on how they plan to turn Nigeria’s fortunes around if elected president at the forthcoming general elections. The All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu was conspicuously absent. Also absent was the New Nigeria Peoples’ Party (NNPP) presidential candidate, former Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. Tinubu was however represented by the party’s vice presidential candidate, former Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima.

Themed “Democratic Transitions in 21st Century Nigeria: 2023 & Beyond,” the face-off was moderated by former NBA President and NBA Board of Trustees Chairman, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN.

The high-profile Opening Ceremony which held at the prestigious Eko Hotel & Suites, Lagos was witnessed by leading jurists at the Bar and Bench.

Aside from speeches by the Local Organising Committee Chairman, Mr. Ikechukwu Uwanna; Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP) Chairman, Mr. Tobenna Erojikwe and outgoing NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata, Goodwill Messages were received from the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, who was represented by Lagos State Chief Judge, Justice Kazeem Alogba as well as the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who was represented by the Attorney-General & Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN).

Governors Solomon Lalong and Godwin Obaseki of Plateau and Edo states respectively also attended the conference as well as NBA President-elect, Mr. Yakubu Maiyau SAN and his rival during the recently concluded NBA Elections, Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama SAN.

According to a PUNCH newspaper report, Atiku and Obi flayed the Federal Government over the insecurity and economic crisis confronting the nation, stating that Nigeria possessed all the negative indices that qualified it as a failed state.

The two candidates agreed that 2023 is Nigeria’s decisive year, noting that the election is critical to the country’s existence. On his part, Shettima urged Nigerians to vote for their joint ticket because of their achievements as governors in Lagos and Borno states.

Ariwoola, Sanwo-Olu and Adichie were among speakers who advocated the reform of the Nigerian judiciary in order to position the country on the path of transformational change.

In his remarks, Atiku observed that the country is more disunited today than it had ever been since democracy took root in 1999, noting that Nigeria had never found itself in such a very critical situation in its history.

He stated that Nigeria had all the negative indices, adding that the nation had never experienced the current level of poverty, insecurity and unemployment. He noted that “Since the return of democracy in 1998/99, Nigeria has never found itself in such a very very critical point in our history.

“Today, we have had all the negative indices. Today, we are all disunited in the nation. We have never experienced this level of poverty. We have never experienced this state of insecurity. We have never experienced this level of unemployment. We have recognised all these negative development in our history.”

He added that the important thing was to tackle the challenges. “This is where history and experience beckon to us that we don’t get it wrong at this point in time. If we get it wrong, I don’t know when we will get it right,’’ he noted.

An online newspaper, The Cable reported that ex-vice-president revealed that he would hand over the federal universities to states if he was elected president. According to the report, Atiku said his administration’s reform would involve creating an enabling environment for foreign and local investors. The reforms, he further explained, would include healthcare and education ‘’because the government alone cannot bring about development.’’

He stated, ‘’One of the fundamental reforms I have in my policy document is to encourage the private sector as far as the development of the country is concerned — both foreign and local. It is very essential because the federal government does not have the resources to do all the things that they want to do,” he said.

Shedding more light on his plans, he stated, “The only way is to make sure that a conducive environment is available for the local and foreign investors to participate in the development of our country, whether it is infrastructure, education and healthcare.

“I had an argument with a university professor from Federal University, Lokoja. He said he read in my policy document that I intend to devolve, in other words, to return education to the states. How dare I do that?

‘’I said: ‘Mr professor, do you realise that the first set of our universities belongs to the regional governments?’ He said, ‘yes’. I said ‘who are the successors of the regional government?’ He said: ‘the states’.

“I said the children you send to America or England; who owns those universities? Mostly, the private sector. So, why is it that you think we cannot do it here? We don’t have the money.”

Atiku posted on his Twitter page on Monday that he was at the NBA conference to give lawyers insights into his bold policy which he said embodies unity, security, economy, education and devolution of power to states and local governments.

The Labour Party presidential candidate, Obi in his remarks said ‘’the election will not be about tribe, religion, connection, entitlement, but it must be about competence capacity and commitment to deliver.” Obi said that Nigeria needs urgent transition from being a highly insecure country to a secured one and from a disunited country to a united one.

He added, “Nigeria has qualified to be a failed state. We have the two or three biggest characteristics of a failed state. One is when you are no longer in charge of your territory.

“Today, we are among the top terrorised countries in the world; we are among the top kidnapping countries in the world. Banditry has taken over part of the country and Nigerians are being killed.”

He called on Nigerians to elect the candidate with the capacity to rescue the nation from its current mess. “Nigeria is in a mess. We got here simply because of the accumulative effects of bad leadership. The coming election is not about tribe or religion but about character and competence. We need a bold transition from a highly insecure state to a highly secured state,’’ he noted.

The APC running mate, Shettima pointed out that his principal would replicate at the federal level the feats he recorded in Lagos when he was the governor. Shettima said they would hit the ground running if elected into office in 2023. He stressed that Tinubu is the man to beat because of his skill-set. “I aligned with the APC candidate because of his competence and performance,’’ he affirmed.

The vice-presidential candidate said as governor of Borno state, he facilitated the construction of the best schools in the country. “Nigerians have the capability to see through the worn-out rhetoric and sophistry of pretentious politicians,” he said in a veiled attack on his opponents.

“Nigerians should ‘follow the man wey know the road.’ From day one, we will hit the ground running. We’ll promptly address the issue of the economy, ecology, and security.

“And we have the antecedents. I built some of the best schools in Nigeria. Go to Borno and see wonders; you will never believe that it is a state in a state of war. So, we are going to replicate our achievements in Lagos, in Borno and some of the frontline states so that our nation will be a better place.’’

Shettima asked the NBA delegates to make an informed decision in changing the narrative of leadership in the 2023 general elections, saying his principal is the man to beat. He urged lawyers to choose a leader that has established records, stating that he had mentored men and women.

The guest speaker at the conference, Adichie in her keynote address said the country was in disarray and needed heroes to save it. She said, “Nigeria is in disarray; things are hard and getting harder by the day. We can’t be safe when there is no rule of law. Nigerians are starved of heroes to look up to.

“Late Dora Akunyili and Gani Gawehimmi were heroes that Nigerians looked up to before now. Unfortunately, that era has gone. I believe that NBA is in a position to give the nation heroes that we can look up to lead the nation.’’

Stressing the imperative of justice, the author of Half of a Yellow Sun and other books, further said, “As long as we refuse to untangle the knot of injustice, peace cannot thrive. If we don’t talk about it, we fail to hold leaders accountable and we turn what should be transparent systems into ugly opaque cults.’’

She submitted that many people who have abused their positions in Nigeria would regard the NBA as troublesome. Adichie called for an incorruptible judicial system and advised the NBA to leverage technology in the judicial process and the administration of justice in the country.

“As the NBA continues to fight the abuse of power, it must also look inward not to be corrupted,’’ the award winning author admonished.

The presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party, Adewole Adebayo lamented that the country’s crude oil was being stolen by the government. Adebayo advised the conference participants to be suspicious of every statistic being given.

The presidential candidates of the African Democratic Party and the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Mr. Dumebi Kachikwu and retired Justice Peter Umeadi also spoke at the conference.

Earlier, Justice Ariwoola said the Bar and Bench must return to the days when the ethics of the legal profession was upheld and enforced. He said that the justice sector is very important to the survival of Nigeria so all stakeholders must ensure that it is protected and improved upon so it can continue to provide hope for the masses.

Also speaking at the conference, which has over 13,000 delegates in attendance, Sanwo-Olu said the state’s judicial system had upheld the legacies of the past administration in the improvement of the legal practice. His words: “We have continually transformed our structures, building new courtrooms, renovating existing ones, to create a more conducive environment for our judges and to efficiently administer justice.’’

“I can boldly say that no state takes the funding of the judiciary as seriously as Lagos State, and this is a legacy that has been sustained by successive administrations since 1999,” he said.

On his part, Akpata said it was the greatest privilege of his life to have piloted the association.

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There was palpable excitement among delegates who took part in some of the early activities to herald the 2022 Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Conference.

Meanwhile, the eagerly awaited Opening Ceremony of the conference holds today at the prestigious Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos.

CITY LAWYER gathered from unimpeachable sources that both former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and the new sensation in town, Mr. Peter Obi have confirmed their attendance at the conference.

Among the early activities that set the stage for the conference were Jumat and Church services, health walk, tree planting campaign and football tournament.

Many lawyers turned out for Health walk which started at Eko Atlantic City through Ahmadu Bello Way, Akin Adesola, to Adeola Odeku, ending again at Eko Atlantic City.

NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata led from the front in the fun-filled Health Walk which included dances, music, aerobics, and exercise.

Aside from the religious services, NBA branches have also been slugging it out to decide who will lift the coveted President’s Cup.

The tree-planting campaign was performed by Akpata under the watchful eyes of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) Chairman and NBA Lagos Branch Chairman, Mr. Ikechukwu Uwanna among others.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Obiakor, a former Chairman of NBA Awka Branch, has commended the accreditation process, saying: “Excellent arrangements, very seamless. Your number is called and then we enter batch by batch and get the tags and materials.”

This was echoed by Ms. Uche Nwokolo of NBA Port Harcourt Branch IHS Legal Unit, who said: “In all honesty, I am very impressed with what I am seeing. I got here 6 pm; it was very fast. I received everything in less than 30 minutes. I am happy.”

Also speaking on the annual conference, the Chairman of the 2022 Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP), Mr. Tobenna Erojikwe said: “We are elated at the prompt and seamless accreditation process and collection of conference materials which lasted from 4 pm to 10 pm on Friday.”

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Encomiums have continued to pour in for Nigerian Bar Association President-elect, Mr. Olumide Akpata over his victory at the just concluded NBA National Officers Elections.

In his congratulatory message, President Muhammadu Buhari said: “I congratulate Olumide Akpata on his election as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), a crucial stakeholder in our democracy. I wish him every success in the new position, and assure the new leadership of the continued cooperation of our administration.”

Replying, Akpata said he was especially delighted that the president acknowledged NBA as a “crucial stakeholder in our democracy.” His words: “Your Excellency, thank you for your kind words, and in particular the acknowledgement of the @NigBarAssoc as a crucial stakeholder in our democracy and the assurance of your administration’s cooperation. It is a partnership that can only be beneficial to the Nigerian populace.”

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar said: “@OlumideAkpata’s victory at the just concluded @NigBarAssoc’s elections is proof that real power lies with the people. Congratulations, I am confident you will do well and also deliver convincingly on the mandate of which you now carry. –AA”

In his response, Akpata wrote: “Thank you Your Excellency @atiku. Indeed the people [lawyers] spoke, and in very clear terms too. Thank you for the vote of confidence. The real work starts now and it is my pledge that the mandate will be fulfilled and posterity will judge us well.”

Former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki also felicitated with the NBA President-elect on his verified Twitter handle, saying: “I offer my congratulations to @OlumideAkpata on his emergence as President of the
@NigBarAssoc. His was a blistering campaign which promised to revolutionise and reposition the NBA, not only for the benefit of its members but for the generality of the Nigerian society.”

Replying, Akpata wrote: “Your Excellency Dr @bukolasaraki Floreat! It was truly a blistering campaign and one which soon became obviously not about any one individual but a cause for the majority of Nigerian lawyers (both young and old). I commit to not letting them down. KC did not teach us that.”

Next in line was the Governor of Edo State, Akpata’s home State. He wrote: ” Congratulations to @OlumideAkpata on his emergence as the President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). He brings with him years of enviable success as a distinguished lawyer and is sure to steer the NBA to glorious heights. Congratulations, once more!”

“My Governor @GovernorObaseki,” Akpata wrote, “thank you for your kind wishes. It will be a thing of pride for us to be able to steer the @NigBarAssoc to glorious heights and make it value adding for our members and the general society. That is our minimum target.”

Also not left out is the Governor of Delat State, Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, who tweeted thus: “I congratulate my friend and brother, Barrister @OlumideAkpata, on his emergence as the next President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). Over the years, Barrister Akpata has worked to strengthen the legal profession and empower a new generation of Nigerian lawyers.

“As he prepares to steer the affairs of the NBA, it is my fervent hope that lawyers across Nigeria work with the new leadership of the NBA and Barrister Akpata to provide more efficient and effective access to justice for all Nigerians.”

In his response, Akpata tweeted: “Your Excellency @IAOkowa I appreciate the glowing endorsement. Indeed the hardwork is just about to start. We are optimistic of a new dawn for the @NigBarAssoc.”

Popular social media influencer, Dr. Joe Abah was not left out of the outpouring of encomiums. He tweeted: “Congratulations, my brother @OlumideAkpata, on your election as NBA President. Please celebrate tonight because there’s a lot of work ahead. The noble profession can be a real force for change in this country. You can count on my continuing support.”

Akpata responded thus: “My brother @DrJoeAbah thank you. The amount of work to be done has never been lost on me. Indeed the unprecedented interest in the election even among the wider populace lends credence to your point. I will be counting on you on this journey. Thank you again, Ezemmuo.”

Akpata also found favour in the eyes of Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, a strident critic of the current NBA leadership. Having reviewed Akpata’s acceptance speech, Odinkalu tweeted: “Olu, this is a balanced statement. I’m particularly gratified by what you say about the #electoralprocess in @NigBarAssoc. In that, you’ll find lots of willing supporters. Welcome to the world of work,

Replying, Akpata wrote: “Thank you Prof @ChidiOdinkalu. My message about the electoral process remained consistent, before and after the poll. Indeed we can do better. With the support of the likes of you, we will approach the coming months and years with confidence.”

The NBA President-elect also received a congratulatory message from erstwhile NBA presidential aspirant and former NBA Ikeja Branch Chairman, Mr. Adesina Ogunlana and his group, Radical Agenda Movement in the NBA (RAMINBA ). Tracing the debacle that attended his quest, the group wrote: “However the indisputable fact is that a Leader has emerged and it is one Leader, who, right from the onset, has always had a formidable presence in the field and a constant leading contestant.”

Akpata also acknowledged receipt of congratulatory telephone call from his closest rival and former NBA presidential candidate, Dr. Babatunde Ajibade SAN, saying: “This morning, I received a call from Dr. @BAjibadeSAN and I have also read his congratulatory message both of which were quintessential Tunde, the gentleman who I have known for a long time who is my brother & friend and will always remain so. As I said in my thank you message, I will count on his support and counsel as we work towards Securing a United Bar that Works for All.”

On his part, Nigerian Law School teacher, Mr. Sylvester Udemezue said that while he had called Akpata to congratulate him on his victory, “I have also chosen this medium to, again, heartily congratulate the NBA President-elect, Mr. Akpata, on his victory. It was a keenly contested election, but someone had to win. The term ‘election’ itself suggests a contest between two or more persons at the end of which one person must win and another or others must lose, while all must thereafter continue as one. Dear sir, I urge you to be high-minded in victory; to reach out to the other contestants, indeed to all camps and also to endeavour to carry everyone along in your leadership of the NBA, during the next two years. This you should do in order to succeed, and make the NBA better, because your camp or supporters alone cannot make you succeed; they can only make you remain for only one side! I sincerely hope you be guided by the words of Michael Watson who once advised, ‘true winners and strong people don’t put others down, they lift them up.’ ”

In its congratulatory message signed by its Convener, Mr. Chuma Akana, Innovation and Technology Lawyers Network wrote: “We believe the NBA is properly positioned to navigate the intersection of law and technology, as we look forward to a technology driven NBA. We also look forward to a Nigerian Bar Association that will encourage interested members to build capacity and jurisprudence in emerging areas of tech law including Fintech, blockchain, data privacy, artificial intelligence etc.”

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