Although the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) elections are scheduled to come up in July 2020, and ban on campaigns yet to be lifted, the politics of who succeeds the incumbent, Paul Usoro SAN led executives is already in high gear..
Based on the political calculations of the zoning arrangements that usually defined the outcome of previous elections,, various individuals, political machineries and forces are already coming together with the sole intent of clinching the much coveted NBA presidency and accociated political powers.
Its trite that political power, especially that derived from a most respected professional group such as the NBA can be very potent, strong, and influential in the national politics of Nigeria, depending on who wields it.
Prominent legal luminaries such as Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu SAN, Dr Olisa Agbakoba SAN and Joseph Bodurin Daudu SAN occupied the powerful NBA presidency and set remarkable records, using the NBA power to further the interests of the legal profession and course of nation building at large.
All these men became NBA presidents through the agreed principle of zoning. However, this principle has its own intricacies that could make the journey to the NBA presidency a landmine of intrigues and even treachery. For example, the current zoning formula merges the Eastern part of the country with the South South under the Eastern Zone. The Midwest states of Edo and Delta are regarded as part of the Western Zone, while the 19 states in the North and North Central states of Niger, Plateau,Nasarawa, Kaduna, Benue, are all under the Northern Zone.
However, if there is any zone where the principle has caused the most rancour and animosity, it is in the South West zone. More often than not, the Yoruba lawyers have found it difficult to agree on a single candidate and consequently lose to their brothers in the Midwest except in 2008 when Dcn Dele Adesina SAN in obedience to the decision of Egbe Amofin, the umbrella body of lawyers in the South West, stepped down for Mr Rotimi Akeredolu SAN, who by that singilar act became president of the association unopposed.
For instance in 1989 when a Benin City lawyer, Chief Charles Idehen succeeded Mr Alao Aka-Bashorun. Two Yoruba lawyers, the late Chief Bamidele Aiku SAN, and Mr Yinka Fayokun battled themselves to a standstill only to pave the way for Chief Idehen. In 2002, Egbe Amofin endorsed Chief Olanipekun as the candidate of the South West. Mr Segun Onakoya defied the decision of Egbe, and contested against Olanipekun but lost.
As was the case in 1989, the same situation repeated itself in 2014, when three Yoruba prominent lawyers, Mrs Funke Adekoya SAN, Chief Niyi Akintola SAN and Dcn Dele Adesina SAN divided Yoruba votes and lost to Augustine Alegeh SAN, another Edo State candidate from the Midwest zone.
Will history repeat itself?
On February 9, 2020, the hope of the South West to produce the next President became brighter when Egbe Amofin ni Eko, the Lagos branch of the Egbe Amofin Oduduwa decided to comply with the decision of the mother group in its choice of Dcn Adesina as its candidate for the presidency of the largest bar in Africa in the upcoming 2020 elections.
The chairman of the group, Otunba Martin Ogunleye, had at the meeting stated: “We are true sons and daughters of Oduduwa and we stand on the decision of the Egbe reached in Ibadan over the endorsement of a single candidate. Another meeting of the Egbe is only 13 days away. Any aggrieved candidate should approach Egbe. But for us, we stand on the decision of the mother group”, Ogunleye said.
It will be recalled that the mother group, Egbe Amofin had on Saturday December 14, 2019, picked Adesina out of five contestants as its official candidate for the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in 2020 election
The contestants are Abuja-based lawyer, Chief Muyiwa Akinboro SAN, past NBA General Secretary, Mr Awoniyi Alabi based in Osogbo, past legal adviser,Lagos-based Dr Tunde Ajibade.
However, Mr Olumide Akpata.is the only candidate from the Midwest
While other candidates like Awoniyi and Akinboro abided by the decision of the Egbe and stepped down for Adesina, only one candidate, Ajibade has refused to step down, claiming that the procedure adopted in reaching the consensus was not acceptable to him. Investigations revealed that senior Yoruba lawyers including Aare Afe Babalola SAN, Chief Felix Fagbohungbe SAN, Chief Abiodun Dabiri, Chief Tunde Ajomole, past chairman Body of Benchers have pleaded with him to abide by the group decision and step down for the group candidate, but it has not yielded much result.
It is as if the worst fears of the Egbe Amofin leadership is starring them in the face again. Still living with the disgraceful loss it suffered in 2014, the Egbe resolved to start its selection process early and to be firm and endorse only one candidate for the presidency of the Association.
The Egbe met on August 27, 2019 in Lagos and decided to re-invigorate and strengthen the union for the common good of South West lawyers. It was also decided that the Egbe will present only one candidate for the presidency in 2020. Present at the meeting were leaders like Chief Mrs Priscilla Kuye, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, both past presidents, Chief Tunde Ajomole, former Chairman, Body of Benchers, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN, Chief Felix Fagboungbe SAN, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe SAN, Moyosore Onigbanjo SAN, the Attorney General of Lagos State as well as chairmen and secretaries of the branches of the association in the South West.
The meeting, which was chaired by Mrs Kuye, a resolved not only to unite in the interest of all South West lawyers, but also to strengthen the association.The meeting was adjourned thereafter and a new date of October 26, 2019 was slated for another meeting in Ibadan, Oyo State.
On October 26, a committee was set up to look at all candidates vying for the position and recommend one candidate that the Egbe will support and endorse for the election. The committee was chaired by Chief Akintola and was comprised of all NBA branch chairmen in the South West. The meeting then adjourned till December 14, 2019 for the report of the Akintola committee.
Delivering the report of his committee on Saturday December 14, 2019, at the Afe Babalola Bar Centre, Ibadan, Chief Akintola said that it had drawn up certain yardsticks a candidate must possess to qualify. The yardsticks include that such a candidate must have good and standard practice; he or she must have proven leadership skills; must be a person who is receptive to the generality of members; must have experience in general law practice and must be exposed. Such a candidate must also have played a significant role in the NBA as a professional body, in addition to being a person of integrity. He must also have widespread appeal in other zones of the association.
Akintola said having considered all these, the committee members then voted through secret ballot and overwhelmingly decided that Adesina met and even exceeded the set criteria
The Chairman of the occasion then called on the house to comment on the committee’s report. After an exjaustive discussion of the report, Mr Ayotunde Ibitoye from Ile-Ife branch moved the motion for the adoption of the report, while it was seconded by Mr Adetunji Osho from Akure branch.
Chief Olanipekun, who chaired the meetingy thereafter called on one of the contestants, Aare Muyiwa Akinboro to address the gathering. Akinboro in his comments said he accepted the decision of the Egbe in good faith. “What is paramount to me is that a Yoruba man must emerge as the next president of the NBA. As a son of the Egbe Amofin, I accept this decision and announce my withdrawal from the NBA presidential race forthwith. My name will never be mentioned in history as a person that prevented the progress of the Yoruba race. I hereby pledge my support and loyalty to my brother, Adesina that the Egbe Amofin has chosen”.
The hall exploded in jubilation and a standing ovation was given to Akinboro. Olanipekun thereafter called on one of the elders, Chief Abiodun to pray for Akinboro. It was a solemn and emotional moment as the septuagenarian said heartfelt prayers, not only for Akinboro, but also every member of the association that had contributed in fostering the newly found unity of the Yoruba lawyers after a long time.
Chief Olanipekun thereafter directed all members of the committee who are also Chairmen of all branches in the South West to sign the report. “This report will be forwarded to our brothers in Eastern Bar Forum, Arewa Forum and the Midwest as the position of Egbe Amofin”, he said.
However, in spite of the overwhelming goodwill and spirit of sacrifice and camaradaire demonstrated by the group’sdecision, Ajibade has continued to campaign across the country claiming wrongly that the Egbe’s adoption process was flawed. Some of his people have even argued that it was only a faction of the Egbe that adopted Adesina.
Prince Kunle Adetowubo, former chairman, Ondo branch of the association in his reaction, was unequivocal in expressing his disappointment about this development.
He said: “I wonder at some sons of Yoruba race and their penchant for self destruction, deceit and falsehood. I also wonder where to locate the fault? In them or in their stars? When will patriotism begin to guide our aspirations? Where lies our integrity and honour not just as lawyers but more importantly as “omoluabi”?
Adetowubo particularly reacted to the comments of one Mr Adebayo Orekoya who claimed that the adoption of Adesina at the Ibadan meeting of December 14, 2019 was lopsided and hand picked committee and that it did not represent the decision of majority of the South West Bar.
Adetowubo said: ” It is very saddening that Mr Orekoya intentionally fabricated lies about the Egbe Amofin Oodua’s meeting of December 14th, 2019 and deliberately misinformed his members just to achieve a selfish and predetermined intention. He has a wew questions for Mr Orekoya..
‘”Where were you on August 27th, 2019 when both leaders and followers of Egbe Amofin resolved unanimously at their Ikoyi Lagos meeting that they were going to field ONLY one candidate for the 2020 NBA Presidential election to remedy the mistakes of 2014?;
Where were you in October 26th, 2019 when Egbe Amofin congregated at Aare Afe Babalola SAN Bar centre Ibadan and after exhaustive deliberations resolved and constituted the 26 Chairmen of the South West NBA branches into a Committee headed by Chief Niyi Akintola SAN to screen and recommend one person in accordance with the earlier decision of August 27th 2019?
Where you aware that four people indicated their interests to run for the office of NBA President at the meeting and that all of them supported the setting up of the Committee with clear undertaking by each of them to abide by the decision of the Committee and the house on the matter?;
Are you aware that in line with the undertakings, some aspirants, men of honour and integrity in the overall interest of Yoruba Lawyers have stepped down in honour of their promise?;
You said the Committee members were handpicked. Are you aware that branch Chairmen who were elected by members of their branches and that they were members by virtue of being the Chairman of their branches?
You talked about a faction of Egbe Amofin, but you failed to name the other faction nor present any fact to substantiate your false and fertile imagination”
Can the decision of Ajibade cause division and split South West votes? The tendency is higher than if he subjects himself to the group decision.
However, Dele Oloke, Chairman of NBA Ikeja branch does not foresee any division. Using his branch as an example, he said: “The presidency is now the turn of Yorubas of the South West by the constitution of the NBA. We understand the constitution and politics of the NBA. We are free born of Oduduwa. I concede that among 12 disciples of Jesus Christ, there was Judas Iscariot, but I’m consoled that the Bible was fulfilled through crucifixion and resurrection. This heralds the hope of eternity. We all know what Jesus said of Judas. It depends on what side of the divide each and every one wants to stand. Ikeja branch members will not use their left hand to point to their father’s house. O deewo (it is a taboo)”, he said.
Adesina had been in the race three times. He was asked by the Egbe to step down for Mr Rotimi Akeredolu SAN, now the governor of Ondo State in 2008. He had a good performance in 2014 but lost due to the disunity of the Egbe.
As the Egbe again prepares for its meeting on February 22, Adesina’s words at the February 19 meeting of Egbe Amofin ni Eko, in the presence of Ajibade and more than 70 members remain pugnant: “If the entire members in this meeting will have to prostrate and beg my junior brother (Ajibade) to respect the decision of the group and step down, we should do it”. It may be the only way that the Yoruba candidate can emerge as president of the bar. If it is achieved, it will send the message to Mr Akpata;”The die is cast, the battle is lost and won”..
If he wins, Adesina is expected to bring his expertise and experience to bear in the affairs of the administration. He was Chairman, Ikeja branch in 1998, General Secretary of NBA between 2002. He is life member of the Body of Benchers, and immediate past Pro Chancellor, and Chairman of Council, Ekiti State University. If elected, he is expected to bring his rich experience to bear in the affairs of the association.