President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Akpata, has described the formation of a parallel NBA as unfortunate, calling for a united body at a time when the country needs them the most.
Mr Akpata who was sworn in as NBA’s 30th President, while giving his inaugural speech on Friday, faulted the move to establish a regional bar.
“I am not unaware of very recent events and agitations that have tended to divide our Bar along regional and religious lines. This is rather unfortunate for an egalitarian Association like ours. The Bar that I want to lead henceforth is one that is united on all fronts and that recognises that our diversity is, perhaps, our greatest strength. I plead with all Nigerian lawyers to bear this philosophy of unity in mind as we commence a new journey together today.
“This enormous task cannot be achieved if we continue to fan the embers of division at a time when we desperately need to unite and speak with one firm voice. We must be kind, magnanimous, respectful, and sensitive in our words and actions, as doing otherwise would be a great disservice to our vision of building a stronger and formidable bar. Now is the time to come together because a divided Bar is a defeated Bar.”
Following the withdrawal of the invitation extended by the Bar to the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, some lawyers had alleged discrimination against the governor.
Two lawyers based in Kaduna, Nuhu Ibrahim and Abdulbasit Suleiman, describing themselves as Convener 1 and 2, on Thursday, announced that they and others of like minds had formed a ‘New Nigerian Bar Association’ NNBA.
In a statement released on social media, the lawyers said: “The New Nigerian Bar Association members feel that their interests are no longer taken into consideration in major decisions of the NBA hence the formation of this Association.
According to them, membership of the NBA is not mandatory, adding that Section 40 of the Constitution permits freedom of association.
The new NBA members said they were in consultations with “very Senior Lawyers of Northern Nigeria extraction and those practicing therein with a view to constituting the Trustees and for purposes of fixing a date for the formal inauguration of the Association.”
The NNBA also claimed that the NBA offices were lopsided against Northern lawyers.
“A cursory chronicle of the membership composition of major organs of the NBA would reveal lopsided representation despite having large numbers of Lawyers from all parts of the country and especially Northern Nigeria who have diligently paid their Bar practicing fees and have distinguished themselves in the legal profession.
“The New Nigerian Bar Association feels that Lawyers, as professionals like Doctors and Accountants should have more than one Association regulated by the General Council of the Bar.”
Senior Lawyers Fault Move, Call For Caution
The news of a parallel body of the Nigerian Bar Association has elicited mixed reactions from lawyers across the country.
While some are opposed to the move, others say it is within the rights of the conveners to do the same.
Mike Ozekhome, SAN, who spoke at the handover ceremony of the NBA leadership on Friday, advised aggrieved members against forming an alternative association.
Ozekhome said, “drop all these issues of trying to form an alternative Bar, whether you call it new NBA or progressive NBA, it’s not going to work.
“The reason is that when you begin to create a different Bar, calling it, for example, Northern Bar or new Bar, then people, very soon, are going to start calling for Southern Nigerian Army, Southern Nigerian Navy, Western Nigerian Air Force, Eastern Nigeria Tax Authority, etc; where are we heading to? That is nothing but balkanisation of Nigeria and God forbid.”
Meanwhile, another senior lawyer, Yusuf Ali SAN, said, “Nobody has contacted me about the formation of any parallel organisation. I’ve not been consulted, I’ve not been contacted, but I want to advise caution on all the sides.
“Our elders have a saying that beheading is not the answer for headache. We are better off with our numbers and diversity of the Association.”
He also said that if in the future such a split becomes necessary, “it shouldn’t be borne out of disagreement. It should be something that comes because our numbers have become so huge and that there are needs. It should also be a pan-Nigerian thing.
“So, for me, this is just an event; it is quite unfortunate, but I think it is a matter that we should address at a conference table.
“I don’t think we should join Nigerian politicians to behave the way they normally do; you’re dissatisfied, form your own party. I’m dissatisfied, I form my own party. That’s not the best way to go, and as leaders in the country, by virtue of our training, we should show a good example and provide leadership to others to emulate us. We should not because we have issues within ourselves, balkanise our association.
“Some of us have our reservations about the decision of the NBA excluding Mallam El-Rufai, from the conference, but, that notwithstanding, we should still keep our heads and take rational decisions in the interest of our Association, our profession, and our country. I ask for understanding and caution.”
In his own reaction, Jibrin Okutepa SAN said the New NBA’s move was not surprising considering recent happenings in the Bar.
He argued that many honest lawyers were disenchanted because the NBA had lost its values, and the New NBA members had the constitutional right to form another association.
“If you have read me in several papers – myself, Femi Falana and several others – we have spoken sufficiently to the Constitutional iniquities of making Nigerian lawyers be members of the NBA, particularly that the NBA has lost it value. “So, if any lawyer feels aggrieved that he wants to form a new association, what stops them from doing so?
That is within their rights under Section 49 of the Constitution. So, I do not share the views of those who say you must be forced to be a member of the NBA. I don’t share that view. We have chosen to be members of the NBA because we believe that the NBA will live up to the standard of its motto, which is promoting the rule of law.
“But in the past years have you seen NBA promoting rule of law? Or the rule of personal aggrandisement?, he asked.