The Candidate for NBA President Who Loves Nigeria and the Profession

By Orji A. Uka

It was in September 2018 that I first experienced my disdain for the Nigerian political class. This was the month in which I embarked on my postgraduate studies in the United Kingdom. This was not my first time outside the shores of Nigeria, but it was the first time I had been out of the country for a sustained period of time and therefore my first time seeing a well-oiled system at work.

The biggest marvel and the most potent source of my indignation was the London Underground Rail System. Each time I got into one of those Tube Stations, I found myself asking whether our leaders do not see this when they travel abroad and why it had not occurred to them to replicate the system at home. For me, one true test of a true Nigerian leader, whether at the Federal or at the State level, is the ability to study what works in these “saner clines” and replicate the same back home. After a few weeks of moaning, I advised myself to face my studies so that I do not develop depression.

This might seem totally unrelated, but as we, Nigerian lawyers prepare to go to the polls to elect the next President of our influential Association, I am pleased to note that one of the three candidates vying for that exalted office has passed this MY TEST of a true Nigerian leader and he has in more ways than one, demonstrated his love for our dear country Nigeria, and the legal profession in particular. That candidate is Tobenna Erojikwe.

Some of the words with which Tobenna is most commonly associated are Ideas, Integrity, Principle, Self-Sacrifice and above all, Capacity.

I had encountered Tobenna before, but we only really became close after I returned to Nigeria in January 2020, and I met him in his capacity as the Director General of the Olumide Akpata Campaign for the NBA Presidency. This was at the time when the first question I faced from almost every person I encountered after my return to Nigeria was, “why did you?” So, I guess that the first thing that drew me close to Tobenna was when I discovered that he was called to the Bar in Nigeria 2000, travelled to England where he practiced as a Solicitor for a period of 10 years then voluntarily returned to Nigeria to continue his law practice as a Solicitor. Meanwhile, I was there for less than 2 years, as a Student and yet friends and family wanted to kill me for returning to Nigeria.

As Campaign DG, Tobenna exhibited, and brought to the campaign, a level of organisation that I was completely unaccustomed to. His leadership style, clarity of thought and principled stands were as refreshing as they were risky, considering that “this is Nigeria.” I remember one day that I got into an argument with him over style – yes, we frequently argued not just with Tobenna but also with OLU – and he said to me, “Orji, we have to do things differently.” When I asked about the potential consequences of doing things differently, he replied, “Don’t worry, we will win with a landslide.” You can tell that I no longer argue that much with him.

His love for the profession was also demonstrated throughout the presidency of Mr. Olumide Akpata from 2020 to 2022. The pivotal role that Tobenna, or “Onwa,” as OLU fondly calls him, played throughout that administration, at no expense to the Association is well documented and merits no rehashing. Ideas in action.

When you play such a central role in the emergence of a transformational President like Mr Akpata, I want to believe that, at the very least, you thereby become entitled to have a say in what office you would occupy or what role you would play in the administration. If I were to take a guess, there was no chance that I would have predicted that Tobenna would be appointed as the Chairman of the NBA-ICLE, which was at the time, frankly speaking, a moribund body. We have all seen how Tobenna transformed the ICLE to the extent that it has in the past few years been the poster child of the Association, and that is putting it modestly. Capacity in action.

Before then, however, Tobenna served as the Chairman of the Conference Planning Committee for the 2022 NBA Annual General Conference. It is probably easy for detractors to reference the debacle over the conference bags but for us who were members of that Planning Committee, we still beam with pride over the way and manner in which Tobenna and his Team, with yours truly serving as the Chairman of the Venue Sub-Committee, transformed bare land at the Eko Atlantic City into a Conference Village in a matter of weeks; or the world class Opening Ceremony at Eko Hotel where Chimamanda Adichie exposed Tobenna as “Iniesta” in the words of @AfamDeluxo and this is not to talk of the insightful sessions, the quality of the Conference Bags, the meals and other attractions.

Even the Conference Bags issue, and I apologise if it appears that I am dwelling on it, was nothing but a clear case of what could go wrong when one insists, and rightly so, on doing things right, not cutting corners, and ensuring that the people get the best that they deserve. Where other people in Tobenna’s shoes would have folded or reclined into oblivion as a result, Tobenna rose like a phoenix from the ashes and ensured that he kept his promise of delivering the Conference Bags to the destinations of ALL Conferees anywhere in Nigeria, at no expense to them. Integrity in action.

One truth I must say openly about Tobenna today is that at no time, during the Olumide Akpata Presidency did it appear to me that he was remotely interested in contesting for the office, and perhaps because he was not. At least not at the time. My reading of the situation is that that administration gave him a front row seat and he realised that if the programmes and policies introduced during that administration were to be sustained, he needed to throw his hat into the ring, even at the expense of his practice and personal life. Self-Sacrifice in action.

In the course of the current campaign, Tobenna has demonstrated that he is a man of principle. He repeatedly reminds his supporters and followers of the rationale behind his candidacy and ensures that they do not engage in mudslinging even when provoked. Tobenna has been tested and he has remained steadfast to his principles. Principle in action.

In ending, I have worked closely with Tobenna since he returned to Nigeria and have experienced him demonstrate his love for Nigeria and the profession, countless times, but on this occasion of the 2024 Democracy Day in Nigeria, I will limit myself to the above instances. It is for this and other reasons that I have no hesitation in publicly declaring my support for Tobenna as President of the Nigerian Bar Association. I have had the privilege of seeing his programme of action and I was filled with pride and hope. Tobenna showed me that it was not a taboo to return to Nigeria, introduce the ideas and skills you learnt abroad, and contribute to the growth and development of the country and the legal profession. He has demonstrated his love for this country, and I am sure that if you set your own personal test, Tobenna is sure to pass it with flying colours. Happy Democracy Day.

  • Orji A. Uka is a member of the NBA, Lagos Branch

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