By Sani Ammani Esq

No doubt, unity is something to be desired, to be striven for, but it cannot be willed by mere declarations. – Theodore Bikel

I’ve just read it online that ‘Court Threatens to Jail NBA President, Olumide Akpata’ NBA Dutse Branch crises. I wasn’t at home with it for I know Mr Olumide Akpata

Mr Olumide Akpata is one of the best presidents the Nigerian Bar Association has produced. His approach to the yearnings and inspiration of Barmen and women is revolutionary and effective, at least in most cases. The measures set in place by his administration, such as health insurance schemes and Lawpavilion packages for lawyers, will occupy a chapter of its own in the history of the welfare of the Bar in Nigeria.

Just like every Bar president, Mr Olumide Akpata has inherited some challenges both from the National and some branches of the Bar. And like other presidents before him, he needs to tackle these challenges for the unity of the Bar. Mark these words: projects like health insurance schemes and Lawpavilion packages will improve the lives of a lot of lawyers, but it is no panacea to issues that tend to disunite the Bar. Don’t take my word for it. Ask experts in conflict resolution.

When Mr Olumide Akpata was sworn in as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, the whole country flooded with celebration. He came as a beacon light of hope to thousands of lawyers in Nigeria. However, his handling of most issues of pressing concerns isn’t tactical. That’s by the way.

What’s happening in Dutse Branch has its roots during the time of Paul Usoro, SAN.

Sometime in 2020 when his tenure was approaching its end, the then Chairman of NBA Dutse Branch and his excos set up an electoral committee to conduct the elections of new executive members of the Branch. In line with the Constitution of the NBA, the electoral committee came up with election guidelines. Members indicated interests for the respective offices they were vying for, got screened and elections were conducted.

At the end of the elections, Abubakar Garba emerged as the new Chairman of, NBA Dutse Branch. And that was the beginning of the trouble with Dutse Branch. Some individuals who didn’t indicate interest to occupy any office felt that they would not recognise the chairmanship of Mr Abubakar Garba and with the help of some shadow parties decided to polarise the Bar and anyone who supports Mr Abubakar Garba.

First, they skewed the facts of the story and approached Paul Usoro, SAN who, with all due respect to him, constituted a caretaker committee and appointed the complainants as excos, (Chaired by Nuhu Suleiman Tafida with longest serving Attorney-General in the state who employed Tafida as a lawyer in the Ministry of Justice in 2005 as an ordinary member) without calling on the elected officials to hear their own side of the story. This made Mr Abubakar Garba institute an action in court challenging the action of the NBA president.

Now, the Bar has had two factions: one created by-election and the other by the president. And each of them was feeling that it was the lawful one. This was the beginning of the cracks in the NBA Dutse Branch.

The elected excos led by Mr. Abubakar Garba paid a courtesy visit to the Governor of the State, as it’s been the tradition with Hon. Attorney General of Jigawa State, Dr Musa Adamu Aliyu (‘The Attorney General’) in attendance.

The Governor charged the NBA to assist the state when it comes to the appointment of judges. He said “If there are bad judgments and they keep going to appeal and are upturned and in some cases even insult the nature of the judgments, I think it is not good for Jigawa State…. any judge that we are about to appoint and you think there are issues, raise it with me.” You can read what the Governor said here:

The next thing we heard was a press release from the other faction, without due knowledge of what transpired during the visit, blaming the Hon. Attorney General for leading the executive members of the Branch to the Governor and the NBA Chairman for what the Governor objectively observed. According to the caretaker Chairman (it is not clear how he emerged as caretaker chair) Mr. Alasan Baffa asserted that all judicial officers in the state were appointed based on merit. You can read what the caretaker chair said here:

Some lawyers have been speculating that the Governor might have probably been aware of the Court of Appeal decision in the case of Gambo Ahmadu vs. The State (2014) LPELR –2397A CA at pp. 51-52, paras F-D which was tried by a high court in Jigawa and upturned on appeal with disturbing words of concern from the Court of Appeal. A dictum from the judgement reads:

“This attitude of the lower Court is very worrying and must be disturbing to anyone with a fair understanding of the concept of justice; that justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done. This is particularly more so when it is considered that the offence with which the Appellant was charged is a grave one and the lower Court pronounced the Appellant guilty without displaying on the record the reason for doing so. The learned trial Judge did not show that he knew what he was doing. It is essential that all persons who hold the high office of a High Court Judge and the like must always and constantly display learning, understanding and an appreciable level of awareness of their responsibilities in the performance of their duties and obligations. It is the only way that such a person can show that he is deserving of being entrusted with the office and the responsibilities that go with it. I have had cause to make similar statements in the case of Abdu Vs State (2014) LPELR- 22562(CA) which was also an appeal, against the judgment of the Jigawa State High Court on a similar charge and for the same failure to evaluate the evidence before making a finding of guilt against an accused person.,”

This issue of NBA crisis got another twist in the sense that some members of the so-called Caretaker Committee faction are employees of the Jigawa State Ministry of Justice, with the Attorney General as the head of the Ministry which makes them wear two caps: that of the NBA and that of the civil service. Some of those from the ministry then, formed a conspiracy theory that the Attorney General doesn’t like them, and he’d do all at his disposal to deal with them. They began to convince themselves that their story was true by acting in ways that’d prove them right.

For example, one certain day, the Hon. Attorney General went to the Ministry and found a notice on the board that the caretaker committee had scheduled an election for the Branch. He issued out circular advising that since there was a pending case in court involving the members of the caretaker committee and the NBA president, lawyers from the ministry should not participate in any meeting that will bring disrepute to the judiciary and ministry of justice until after the outcome of the case, as participating in the elections would amount to interfering in a matter that is pending before the court. They disobeyed him and participated in the election. One of them stopped reporting to work at the Ministry for three months, and when queries were issued out to them their responses were diversionary in answering the queries and one of them claimed that he was reporting to the permanent secretary of the Ministry. And, if the Attorney General cared to know his whereabout, he was busy attending to NBA issues.

The Attorney General, being the Chief Law Officer and Commissioner for Justice of the State found their responses unacceptable and suspended one of them pending investigation. Later a respected Professor and Senior Advocate of Nigeria and indigene of Jigawa State intervened and the suspension was withdrawn and yet they went before the fact-finding committee and claimed they were under suspension.

A few days after, the Hon. Attorney General received an unsigned letter via WhatsApp from the 1st Vice President of the NBA, John Akpokpo-Martins who introduced himself as the Chairman of a fact-finding committee that’d be coming to Jigawa to find facts about a petition written against him by one Nuhu Suleiman Tafida. In the letter, the Hon. Attorney General was requested to make himself available the next day for facts finding. In the letter, the 1st vice President stated that a copy of the petition was attached for the Attorney general to read. But no copy of the petition was attached.

The Attorney General informed the 1st Vice President that he would not be available as he was out of town and he had no formal or informal notice sent to him at least 24 hours before the scheduled meeting. He further drew the attention of the 1st vice President to the absence of the petition he said was attached to the letter.

The next day, the fact-finding committee, even though it was informed by the Attorney General about his absence, went to Dutse and conducted its ‘facts finding’ in his absence, without serving him with a copy of the petition against him. As weird as this may sound, that’s what happened.

A fact-finding committee, as the name implies is to find facts and report back to the authority that constitutes it. However, that of the NBA, apart from denying the Attorney General fair hearing, took several steps further to interfere with the constitutional powers of the Attorney General, dictate how the AG should run the Ministry of Justice and make decisions on the internal affairs of the Jigawa State civil service.

The committee accused the Attorney General of interfering with the activities of the Bar and recommended that the petitioners be recognized as the lawful executive members of the Branch. All this happened while a matter involving the petitioners and the NBA President was still pending in court.

The work of the fact-finding committee hasn’t cemented the cracks. As a matter of fact, it’s only succeeded in widening and deepening it. As I said earlier, the Chairman of the other faction has obtained a Notice of Consequence of Disobedience to Order of Court, dated the 4th day of October, 2021 in suit No IDU/29/2020, in which the NBA and its president, Olumide Akpata, has been ordered by the High Court of Jigawa State to desist from interfering in a matter that is pending before the court or risk going to prison.

The Bar belongs to all. NBA as an umbrella body whose motto is ‘promoting the rule of law’ shouldn’t insist on interfering in a matter that is pending before the court. The NBA should revisit the reconsideration reported by its facts finding committee as same was made during the pendency of a court case.

Written By Sani Ammani Esq

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