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NBA, Joyce Oduah and so many unanswered questions

By Suzie Wobo
19 August 2022   |   11:28 pm
Apart from the Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) which holds from 19th to 26th August in Lagos, Nigeria’s bustling commercial capital, perhaps the next biggest news coming from the Bar at this time is the suspension of Mrs. Joyce Oduah as the NBA General Secretary. Mrs Oduah’s suspension came days ahead…

Joyce Oduah

Apart from the Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) which holds from 19th to 26th August in Lagos, Nigeria’s bustling commercial capital, perhaps the next biggest news coming from the Bar at this time is the suspension of Mrs. Joyce Oduah as the NBA General Secretary.

Mrs Oduah’s suspension came days ahead of the commencement of the week-long NBA Annual General Conference (AGC) and followed a decision by the NBA National Executive Committee at an emergency meeting on Monday, 15th August. The emergency meeting itself was necessitated by a letter from nine National Officers of the NBA dated 14th August 2022 and addressed to the President of the NBA, Mr. Olumide Akpata, specifically asking for “an emergency meeting of the National Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to consider and take urgent actions to forestall a crisis in affairs of the NBA”.

In the internal memo, with the subject “Need for Urgent Action to Forestall a Crisis in the Nigerian Bar Association”, the members of the NBA National Executive Committee accused Mrs Oduah, among other things, of constituting “a clog in the smooth administration of the Association by various acts of dereliction of duty, disobedience to lawful orders, misconducting herself and being involved in acts and behaviors which are likely to, and have indeed brought the Association into disrepute”.

The National Executive Committee said Mrs Oduah lacked proper temperament expected of the General Secretary in the management of secretariat staff and exhibits “domineering, rude, disrespectful and obstructive attitude that has greatly affected the morale and working atmosphere in the national secretariat”. The National Executive Committee specifically cited an instance where the General Secretary physically assaulted a staff and a member of the Association, Mr. Ndifreke Aquaisua, in the office, compelling the young man to resign his appointment due to that incident.

There is the allegation of “gross lack of capacity” to diligently discharge the duties of her office”, like issuing communiques of National Executive Council (NBA-NEC) meetings late. There is also the allegation of disobedience, including her “refusal to write to the treasurer of Okehi Branch as directed by the NBA-NEC in her meeting held on the 18th day of march 2021”, which “degenerated the crisis in Okehi branch, Rivers State”; “refusal to write to the Federal High Court, Warri in Re: Andrew Ubido, Esq”, who was dehumanized and degraded by Hon. Justice O. E. Abang of the Federal High Court, Warri; and “refusal to write to the Supreme Court, the Federal High Court, Abuja and the Inspector General of Police in Re: The Matter of Ayodeji Adeleke Akinjokun”.

All of these raise the question not just of competence but also of loyalty to an association that one freely subscribed to and vied for a key national position in. For instance, why did Mrs. Oduah accept to be the General Secretary of the NBA after she was elected in 2020 if she knew she was not going to abide by the rules governing the Association, or, as the National Executive Committee put it, going to be “a clog in the wheel”?

There is the matter of the Ondo State governorship election held on 10th October 2020, where, by virtue of the status of the NBA is as an accredited election observing organisation, the General Secretary led the NBA election observers’ team to Ondo State to observe the said election. The National Executive Committee said it received “credible reports that against all rules of neutrality guiding the observation of elections, Mrs. Joyce Oduah led the team to pay a visit the home of the Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN on the date of election, whilst the voting was on-going”. The questions begging for answers are: why would an NBA team of election observers that should not only be neutral but be seen to be neutral visit the home of a key contestant in an election? The action of the General Secretary and her team leaves a sour taste in the mouth and led, expectedly, to “unprecedented accusation challenging the integrity and transparency of the Association and her team of observers”.

The NBA President, according to the National Executive Committee, had written two separate letters dated the 19th October 2020 and 15th November 2020 to the General Secretary to explain her conduct during the election, and further set up an investigative team comprising Mercy Agada Ijato and Ralph Nnamdi Anagor, the Treasurer and Financial Secretary, respectively. To date, the General Secretary has refused to appear before the team and never responded to the letters. Which, again, raises pertinent questions: what did the General Secretary and her team, as election observers, go to do in the house of a candidate in an election on election day? Were they on a solidarity visit? Did they go to assure the candidate of victory? Or to ask for transport fare back home? And why was it so difficult for Mrs. Oduah to respond to the letters from the NBA President, her President, whom she was supposed to be working hand-in-hand with? Why was it impossible for her to explain her mission? And why did she refuse to appear before an investigating team set up by the President to look into the matter?

In any case, the General Secretary’s action made it impossible for the NBA “to issue her report to the public and to INEC as statutorily expected to date”, according to the National Executive Committee. The NBA also faced the embarrassing situation of being deregistered as an election observing organization, until the President used his good offices to calm frayed nerves.

Perhaps the final straw in the Oduah imbroglio would be the issue with the NBA Constitution, where she was said to have issued unauthorised notices withdrawing notices issued under the authority of the National Executive Committee, prompting the President to issue a disclaimer.

Now this is where things really get worrisome. The NBA has been in the process of amending its constitution, and when the NBA President and the National Executive Committee directed the General Secretary to issue and circulate the notice of proposed amendments on the 25/8/2022 pursuant to Section 25(1) of the constitution, she blatantly disobeyed. Indeed, according to the NBA-NEC, Mrs. Oduah “wilfully and deliberately issued and circulated a copy of a proposed amendments to members of the Association on the 27/8/2022 different from the approved copy sent to her by the constitutional review committee in flagrant disobedience to the directive of the President and of the National Executive Committee”. In other words, she unilaterally altered the proposed amendments approved for issuance and circulation, which amounted to “fraud” and “gross abuse of office and misconduct”.

The speculation out there is that Mrs. Oduah is opposed to amendment of the NBA constitution because she intends to contest for the President of the Association in 2024. One is not exactly sure how true this is, or how it connects the dots. But assuming this is true, what is one member’s ambition worth compared to the welfare of over 130,000 registered lawyers in Nigeria? Let’s not even talk about honour and integrity because some people can sell theirs for a mess of porridge. However, does one have to cheat a system in order to rise to a position to lead that same system? In a system like Nigeria’s where everything seems to be upside down and citizens are praying and hoping hard for a fundamental change of attitude and ways of doing things, shouldn’t the legal profession and those who purport to lead it show themselves as shining examples removed from the dirty politicking that characterises the system?

And there is the other matter of seeking redress in court. So, rather than seek ways to mend fences following her suspension as General Secretary of the NBA, Mrs. Oduah has approached the court to challenge her suspension and seeking an interim order to, inter alia, restrain the Ag. General Secretary from performing the duties of the General Secretary, an order to restrain the NBA from acting or relying on the Resolution reached by the National Executive Committee, and an order directing the Inspector General of Police to assist her in the discharge of her duties as General Secretary. One Victor Nwaugo, her associate and known supporter, had also filed an action at the High Court of Abia State seeking the same orders. Both the Federal High Court in Abuja and the Abia State High Court have declined to grant the interim order she sought.

As it stands, it does appear that Mrs. Joyce Oduah would stop at nothing, even if it ends badly for her. As the drama unfolds, many lawyers are lauding the foresight of the National Executive Committee which considered the critical importance of the NBA Annual General Conference and, to prevent the General Secretary from imperiling the Conference or the succession to the next administration by her unilateral and unauthorised communications purporting to be legitimate communications from the Association, unanimously exercised its emergency powers under section 9(6) (d) of the NBA Constitution 2015 (as amended in 2021) to suspend her from office and asked the Assistant General Secretary, Ms. Uchenna Nwadialo, to immediately act as the General Secretary pending the Pre-Conference meeting of the NBA-NEC scheduled to hold on Sunday 21st August 2022.

Suzie Wobo wrote in from Lagos.

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