Mr. J.S Okutepa, SAN has shared his thoughts on the concluded NBA National Elections where he supported Mr. Dele Adesina, SAN.
According to him, there is more to be done in order to save NBA from disunity in the face of imminent threats to the existence of the Association.
Meanwhile, he stated that the election was fraught with irregularities and constitutional breaches.
“Well, in every human endeavour, you are likely to see divided opinions. But when opinions are divided, especially in a professional association like the Nigerian Bar Association, the first parameter we should use to judge which of the opinions are correct or not correct is looking at the laws under which such elections are conducted. You must appreciate the position that the Nigerian Bar Association is the foremost association of lawyers of honourable men and women of credit and repute. And what that means is that in the conduct of the affairs of the Nigerian Bar Association, the association and its leadership must, like Caesar’s wife, be above board, and exhibit conduct which will not call to question the propriety or otherwise of their decisions.”
“Our constitution enjoins that when electoral committee is set up and approved by the National Executive Committee of the association, in the year of the election, the electoral committee then writes to the chairmen of the branches to forward the list of eligible lawyers who are eligible and have met the constitutional requirement to vote in the election. In this case, there have been agitations across the board that the list sent by the various branches’ chairmen were jettisoned for the list claimed to be that of stamp and seal. So, in the first place, it is ex nihilo nihil fit – from nothing, nothing comes – that is the Latin maxim. The electoral committee has no power to unilaterally compile lists of voters as was done by the electoral committee in this case, because it is a notorious fact that is admitted by the electoral committee that they used ‘stamp and seal’ list because, according to them, the various chairmen were not forthcoming with the list. That is the first constitutional breach.” He said.
“The second is that article 2.3 (d) of the second Schedule of the NBA constitution amended under Paul Usoro-led executive provides that the full list of all legal practitioners qualified to vote shall be published by the electoral committee of the NBA in conjunction with the national secretariat of the NBA at least 28 days before the date of the election. What did we see in this election? The list was not published until three hours to the election. That is another constitutional sacrilege.” He said.
“The third point is that it is also a notorious fact that while electoral committee set guidelines prohibiting movements from states and there was also COVID prohibition of movement, some of these candidates were traveling and the electoral committee of the NBA was just there like a toothless bulldog. It was only barking but didn’t bite. The legal profession should be the one that ought to set that standard because it is a profession that is rooted in ethics and standards, and once there is deviation or breach of the ethical standards, we must visit whoever is involved with sanction, no matter whose ox is gored.” He said.
However, the learned silk stated that he won’t advise that the Court should be approached owing to antecedents.
“Nigeria is a society that does not respect gentility. I will not even advise Mr Adesina to go to court.
“Two previous cases went to court and those people served out their tenures without justice being served. All we got from the courts were judgments. And there is a world of difference between justice and judgments.” He said.
However, he stated that the constitutional issue to be addressed is the compulsory membership of the NBA. That is, whether Mr. Adesina, SAN should not have a right to exercise his right to freedom of association if he so wishes.
“That is why I think that we would solve this problem with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Must we remain members of NBA? In the light of section 40 of the Constitution, don’t you have the right to walk away from NBA? Doesn’t Mr Adesina or any other lawyer have a right to walk away from the NBA?”
“There are raw procedures for raw people. When people are being rough and the voice of reasoning is being termed as a voice of somebody who cannot stomach a loss, then you take a decision.
“There is a saying in my place that a man with big hernia dances and faces where he has glory. Otherwise, if he dances and faces where he does not have glory, they will say ‘look at this stupid man’.
“There are reasonable lawyers in Nigeria that can come together and show respect for one another. And I think the era of respect for one another in the legal profession seems to be far gone when the emerging new kingmakers believe that lawyers who go to court, lawyers whose integrity is a treasure to them are no longer lawyers that can be heard.
“When leadership is determined by the quantum of money in your pocket, and not the integrity you possess, some of us will say goodbye.
“If the board of trustees and the leadership of the legal profession don’t sit down to negotiate the continued existence of the Nigerian Bar Association, I can tell you that one day, you will wake up and you will see different societies spring up from the Nigerian Bar Association, and it will not take long time if these injuries are not addressed.” He said.
However, he advised that the electoral malpractices should be addressed through a leadership meeting of the NBA.
“I have advice for the leadership of the legal profession, and I mean both the senior and the younger ones, (and) those who mean well for the legal profession, to think deeply and address these flaws that I have identified. Nobody should be ignored. Let the leadership call for a meeting and chart a way forward. After all, it was done sometime in 1998.
“If the complaints of lawyers who are genuinely concerned by the integrity and the sanity of the profession are undermined, the only thing you will find is that we will walk away.”
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