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Nigeria bar association : the manor farm


Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama

Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama

Last week in Port Harcourt Rivers State at the end of its 56th Annual General Conference the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) inaugurated a new executive committee led by Mr. A. B. Mahmoud (SAN) as president amidst controversies and several law suits across the country challenging his election as president.

The acclaimed winner of the election, Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama (SAN) is in court. Several NBA branches and individuals are in court all challenging the election, the electoral processes and the brazen manipulation that was thrown up during the exercise.

The Bar is now likened to George Orwell’s satire in his book, “Animal Farm”. I had a dream of a bright and wonderful tomorrow like Old Major, the prized boar of the Manor Farm who had a strange dream. Words had passed round during the day as in the NBA Port Harcourt conference that Old Major, had had a strange dream a day before and wished, like I wish now, to share this dream.

Comrades, Old Major cleared his throat and said; “you have heard that I had a strange dream last night”? I will come to my dream, later. Now, I have something else to tell you.

Lawyers in the society are looked upon by the society for salvation. If anything goes wrong in the country, the society would ask, what are lawyers saying, because lawyers are the conscience of the society.

Indeed, the umbrella body of lawyers, the NBA had spoken, protested, shown direction and resisted tyrannical governments, but that was many years in the dim past. The body is now cowed, pocketed and compromised.

Then, NBA had stood out during the military era and the early days of our democracy, during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime. NBA, the umbrella body of lawyers, founded, structured and positioned to ensure democracy, rule of law, independence of its self and all arms of government, now lives a life of its shadow.

May I ask, how many lawyers know the meaning of democracy and independence of the Bar? How many of its members now know what the rule of law is in NBA? The lives of members are circumscribed around what the President of the Association desires. When it comes to election, candidates who are qualified are disqualified and un-qualified candidates are qualified. Since 2012, no person who has held the office of the NBA Treasurer has been qualified, yet, they are qualified while a past Assistant Public Secretary who had rendered immeasurable services to the association was disqualified for the main office on account of the fact that he is a judicial editor in a national daily, simply because he supported a challenger to the President’s anointed successor.

In NBA, many are afraid of speaking out to avoid being victimized by their president or accused of conduct likely to bring the Bar into disrepute and consequently arraigned before the Disciplinary Committee. Mere suspicion of a branch chairman that he was not towing the succession plan of the president had earned the chairman, suspension or removal.

For instance, Mr. Basil Aguigwo, chairman NBA Aniocha branch was removed from office on account of the suspicion that his backer was opposed to the president’s choice. When the backer prostrated and pledged his unalloyed support and loyalty to the president and his gang, Basil was restored as chairman. The Abuja branch crisis, Ikeja branch crises and election lock- jam are all at the whims and caprices of the NBA president to make sure that he installs his known and well orchestrated successor.

I ask, how many thousands of Naira have Nigerian lawyers paid as Bar Practicing Fees, stamp and seal fees, conference fees in addition to branch dues and levies? What values have they received from the Bar in return.

Yet, each time a lawyer runs into problems, he is abandoned to his fate except where friends and relations come to his rescue. The president dispenses favour with NBA money, contacts and resources. He chooses his favoured few to travel overseas on Nigerian lawyer’s account.

When it is time to appoint members into statutory bodies like the Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC), Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), Body of Benchers, the Council for Legal Education (CLE), the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) among others, he goes for his cronies without your consent. Yet, none of the nominees make any return to you, members. Fela will say “eneva finish”, Comrades, in the midst of all these, members do not vote in NBA and their votes count.

Our constitution is whimsically altered without our contribution. Now, we are forced to abide by one Bye-law in over one hundred and twenty five branches with different circumstances in their various areas of practice. The tenure of branch chairmen were cut short while that of the maker of the constitution remained intact. Any member who had served two terms, eliminated from further contest even when desired by his branch. Fund is easily solicited and accepted from government without remembering that our independence is compromised by that.

I ask, has it always been like this? My answer is no. A certain comrade, Aka Alo Basharon, President 1989-1990 rejected General Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) and his Greek gift and the Bar was on top. Priscilla Kuye, O.C.J. Okocha (SAN), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Prince Lanke Odogiyon, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) all refused to be compromised by the rulers of their days, NBA remained independent and they spoke eye ball to eye ball against government’s impunity without minding whose ox was gored.

I ask again Comrades, when last from President Goodluck Jonathan to President Muhammadu Buhari has our president spoken out against any government’s policy? When last did NBA protest against government’s position? When last did NBA disagree with government? In NBA today, it is see no evil, hear no evil, fight no evil.

Now Comrades, my dream; It is a dream of NBA when the hawks would have long been out. When the office of the presidency will no longer be limited to silks, when a member’s vote will count, when decisions of members will not be truncated, when a president driving electoral process in NBA will assume his role as a match referee, when NBA National Executive Committee (NEC) will rule with members being carried along, when statutory nominees of NBA will be circulated to branches for approval, when no president will single handedly choose his successor.

This dream reminds me of a song, old major’s mother and other sows used to sing. The song is called “BEAST OF ENGLAND” “BEAST OF IRELAND”. It goes like this: Beast of England, beast of Ireland, Beast of every land and clime, Hearken to my joyful tidings of the golden future time. Soon or late the day is coming, tyrant man shall be overthrown, and the fruitful fields of England shall be trod by beast alone.

Rings shall vanish from our noses and the harness from our back, bit and spurs shall rust for ever cruel whips no more shall crack. Riches more than mind can picture, Wheat and barley, oats and hey, Clovers, beans, and mangel-wurzels Shall be ours upon that day. Bright will shine the fields of England, Purer shall its waters be,Sweeter yet shall blow its breezes On the day that sets us free. For that day we all must labour,

Though we die before it breaks; Cows and horses, geese and turkeys, All must toil for freedom’s sake. Beast of England, beast of Ireland, Beast of every land and clime, Hearken well and spread my tidings of the golden future time.
Nwaugo was a former legal adviser of the NBA.

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1 Comment
  • Tosin Otitoju

    Interesting. This morning the new NBA President was on tv with important if obvious comments about more clearly delineating the power of the EFCC. As things stand, the EFCC is embarrassing. It appears to harass but not ultimately result in any redress for financial crimes , and sometimes seems confused as when a lowly blogger was picked up for non financial non crime. The new president wishes for a culture of debate. Yes so-called debate can be hijacked, but absolutely there should be more debate and criticism re: how the EFCC and even the NBA function. The professions are punching below their weight…so many lawyers in Nigeria…Africa…

    Good luck. I enjoyed your comments. More like this …