* PARTNERS DISAGREE ON ENDORSEMENT
BY EMEKA NWADIOKE
The gale of endorsements pervading the forthcoming Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) National Elections has turn apart a tier-one law firm, with leading Partners going their separate ways in pitching tent with the presidential aspirants.
Aspirants for the election are being endorsed by high-profile Bar leaders in order to better position themselves to clinch coveted positions at the polls.
While Mr. Ebun Sofunde SAN, one of the oldest surviving senior advocates, has thrown his weight behind Dr. Babatunde Ajibade SAN, his Partner in the top law firm, Mr. Muhammad Dele Belgore SAN has gone in the opposite direction, endorsing the candidature of Mr. Olumide Akpata. Both are Partners in the top law firm of Sofunde, Osakwe, Ogundipe & Belgore.
Giving reasons for his endorsement, Sofunde said: “In these trying times for the Bar and Bench, I see Dr. AJIBADE, SAN, as a person who will do his utmost to restore pride and dignity to the Bar and Bench by ensuring that such virtues as (a) integrity, (b) diligence and (c) merit, are enthroned at all times.
“I see him also as a person who will fight for the welfare of the Bar and Bench and promote a smooth relationship between the Bar and Bench.”
Apparently disagreeing with the judgement of his Founding Partner, Belgore said: “The relevance of the NBA must be to its members, the consumers of legal services, the profession and society at large, in that order of priority. How members cope in this fast-changing world of technology, cross-border trade, increasing local challenges, external threats from estate agents, accountants, foreign lawyers and the like, disproportionate growth of the profession in the face of dwindling opportunities and income, are matters of grave concern to all of us. And they are obviously of greater concern to our younger colleagues, who as it happens, are the majority of the Bar.
“Consequently, the task of leadership right now must be on how to equip the majority with knowledge driven capacity and drive policies that will enable every lawyer to favourably compete against these challenges. This should be the central focus of our choice for leadership – a look to the future.
“The biggest folly of a candidate in any election is a focus on who is he as opposed to what he is offering. For a long time, the Bar has talked down at junior colleagues, its majority, and not to them. Successive leaderships have served up what they believe is good for them as opposed to engaging them in that determination. Even at this time with elections looming, it seems to me that only one candidate is effectively engaging its majority and talking about the real issues. That candidate is Olumide Akpata and for this reason he gets my vote and endorsement.”
In a frontal attack on the notion that only senior advocates should aspire for the presidency of the Bar, Belgore said: “Finally, I should ask where is it written that the privilege of leading the NBA is the exclusive preserve of Senior Advocates of Nigeria? That ‘exclusivity’ is untenable, undeserved and un-egalitarian.”
The divergent positions of the leading senior advocates have set tongues wagging in legal circles. Some watchers of NBA politics however believe it would have been anathema for Sofunde to have endorsed a non-senior advocate, especially as he is one of the leading lights of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN), an entity he has occasionally led as acting Chairman. His endorsement may however go beyond his BOSAN commitments, as he is also listed alongside Mr. Tunde Busari SAN as Ajibade’s nominator.
There is an unwritten understanding among many senior advocates that a non-SAN should not superintend the affairs of the Bar. However, some senior advocates have broken ranks with BOSAN by endorsing Akpata.
Sofunde, regarded as highly cerebral and often taciturn, is listed as the 61st lawyer to be conferred with the coveted rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, having been conferred with the rank on May 3, 1988. On his part, Belgore, who has flirted with politics in his failed bids to become the governor of Kwara State, took silk on September 10, 2001.
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