Division In NBA: When A House Is Divided Against Itself

Division In NBA: When A House Is Divided Against Itself
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Mustapha Suleiman

It is no longer news that the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) has been factionalised into two chapters. This division started when Olumide Akpata Esq became the new president of the association.


The main body of the NBA   recently inaugurated Olumide Akpata Esq as the new president following the conclusion of its 60th Annual General Conference ,AGC.

The NBA leadership had been dominated by Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, until Olumide Akpata, 47, caused an upset and won the position by a landslide.

He defeated two SANs – Dr Babatunde Ajibade and Mr Dele Adesina to become the first elected non SAN president of the NBA in 22 years.

But Adesina and the pan Yoruba lawyers group, the Egbe Amofin, faulted the process, alleging the election was manipulated.

The group warned that lawyers could be tempted to quit the association unless the issues were resolved.

The NBA Board of Trustee agreed that the election was not perfect but sued for peace.

Akpata was sworn-in as the 30th elected president of the association by the outgoing president, Paul Usoro, SAN, following which the past executive was dissolved. In his inaugural address, Akpata said his election was “divinely orchestrated by the Lord Almighty” and promised to unite the divided bar and extended his hands of fellowship to his fellow contestants, Dele Adesina, SAN and Babatunde Ajibade, SAN.

But keen observers of the NBA’s recent crisis are of the opinion that its penal powers have been deployed discriminatively on the basis of ethnicity.

It is imperative for the NBA as a body of lawyers who have undergone training towards ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights and liberties to live above sentiments, regionalism and discrimination in all ramifications.

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Regrettably, just as the battle over the emergence of Akpata as NBA president was yet to settle, the body was engulfed in another one after the association rescinded its decision to invite the Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai to its national conference which made some members, especially in the northern part of the country threatening to pull out; not only the conference but the association in its entirety.

The decision to withdraw El-Rufai’s invitation was reached at a NEC meeting after a resolution by majority of the members. This has, however, led to the proposed formation of a splinter group,by its name New Nigeria Bar Association ,NNBA. The NNBA’s emergence is another front in threats to the Association’s unity in recent times.

Another raging issue is of a 2-year tenure for the NBA president. A tenure limit of only two years is not good enough. To make any meaningful impact, it should be a minimum of four-year limit with the option of re-election for a second term. With the existing non-renewable two-year limit, the leadership of the NBA has been turned into a quick rotating platform. A case in point is the existing zonal structure of North, East and West in the NBA in present Nigeria or the zoning of five positions to specific zones while six are not zoned.

The NBA President that Nigerians want is that lawyer who will be courageous and honest in pursuing the needed reforms (particularly legal) for a better Nigeria.

In a related development, the New Nigerian Bar Association, NNBA, has notified the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, Abubakar Malami, of its existence as a splinter group.

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Just recently, two Kaduna-based lawyers Nuhu Ibrahim and Abdulbasit Suleiman announced NNBA’s formation; following the NBA’s withdrawal of an Annual General Conference (AGC) engagement it offered Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, among other grievances.

They informed the AGF of their plans in an August 28 letter signed by Ibrahim as Convener 1 and Suleiman as Convener 2.

The duo boasted that over 5,000 lawyers have already indicated interest to join the NNBA.

 Reacting to this, foremost Senior Advocate of Nigeria, ,SAN, and Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption ,PACAC, Prof. Itse Sagay says Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice has no powers to grant approval to the formation of a parallel body of the Nigerian Bar Association ,NBA, known as ‘New NBA’.

“Let me start by saying Malami has no powers to grant approval to the New NBA. There is only one Nigerian Bar Association ,NBA, and it is a bar association established under an Act of the National Assembly. So, Malami is irrelevant as far as that is concerned,” Sagay said.

 In a statement by two lawyers, Nuhu Ibrahim (Convener 1) and Abdulbasit Suleiman (Convener 2), explained that the formation of the ‘New NBA’ is aimed at protecting their interests as enshrined under Section 40 of the constitution.

They also said they have notified Malami of the existence of the NNBA as a splinter group.

As succinctly said by Prof. Sagay, NBA is an Act of the parliament and has to go beyond choosing a name and informing AGF Malami. This has to pass through the National Assembly and signed by Mr. President; like the case of ICAN and ANAN, the two accountant bodies of professionals.

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These aggrieved lawyers sympathetic to El’Rufai have a long way to go as it is not a mere press release and visiting Malami.

You will recall that the NBA in her 2009 conference withdrew the invitation given to Professor Morris Iwu over the alleged abysmal conduct of the 2007 general election and no Eastern nor Western lawyer threatened NBA  and this El’Rufai scenario was not the first and might not be the last.

The gentle men lawyers should forward their grievances to the body of Bars to seek redress if offended and should not fight Malam El’Rufais’s case unless hired by the governor as representatives. NBA is too learned to toe the lines of Nigerian politicians in cross carpeting and forming new political parties at the slightest provocation or when interest is not adequately represented. Many legal luminaries have reacted to this development, none supported the splinter group but few acknowledged the imperfection in the handling of the affairs of the association.

However, the proponents of the NNBA has a lot of journey to actualize their dreams but to what interest? This, if allowed would bolster the egos of other unions, associations even federal government agencies like the military, police because the handlings of these agencies and associations do not go well with all and sundry. They should resolve the issues raised as a house divided by its selves cannot stand. Let us keep the respect the NBA enjoys.


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