The present state of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is debatable. While some lawyers say the association is not in crisis, others want the public to know that NBA is in serious crisis.
The NBA is the umbrella body of all lawyers in Nigeria with a membership strength of about 106, 000 lawyers which makes it the largest association of lawyers in Africa. The NBA is not seen as just a group, but an elitist and well educated one.
The NBA president, who is the chief spokesman of the association, enjoys respect both nationally and internationally. This position is one that every lawyer who gets to a certain level in his career wants to occupy.
Muritala Abdulrahseed, one of the high ranking officers in the Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud-led NBA, said during a telephone interview that “there is no crisis in the NBA.”
According to him, the problem with the NBA is “over politicization and high wire politics in which NBA is seen like any other political arrangement just like you have political parties. And if one wins, the other must stay in opposition and try to bring down the party in government.”
He advised lawyers to shun anything that will bring the association to disrepute even as he extends the olive branch to other lawyers.
According to him, “the day you start destroying yourself, others will join you.”
However, Darlington Onyekwere, an Abuja-based lawyer disagreed with this position. According to him, whoever said that there is no crisis in the NBA is living in self denial.
Onyekwere, who said that there were both constitutional and leadership crisis within the association, pointed at the March 30, 2017 judgment of a Federal High Court Abuja, delivered by Justice Tsoho in the case of Olasupo Ojo V. Registered Trustee of the NBA, in which the Federal High Court upheld the amended NBA constitution, adopted at the Delegates Conference held in Calabar in August 2001 as the extant law.
The issue before the court was that the 2009, 2013 and 2015 (which introduced electronic voting that produced the AB Mahmoud-led exco) amended constitutions of the NBA were not registered at the CAC as required and thus offended the mandatory requirement of Sections 597 to 600 of CAMA.
The court in the declarative judgment ordered that not only were the 2009, 2011, 2015 NBA Constitutions nullified to the extent of their inconsistency to the extant Constitution but also voided all actions , decision and activities howsoever described, already taken, or intended/planned to be taken and carried out by the defendant, her officers, staff, organs, committees, branches, members, representatives and or any other person acting on behalf or in the name of the NBA in any manner whatsoever including but not limited to conduct of election in branches of the NBA and plan/program/notice for election into national offices of the NBA pursuant to the NBA 2015 constitution.
It is trite law that the court of law guides its judgments jealously and every judgment of court must be obeyed immediately. Arising from this, Mr. Olasupo Ojo, through his lawyer Mr. A. C. Ozioko, petitioned the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen who double as the chairman of the Body of Benchers (BOB) to take over the management and administration of the affairs of the NBA by operation of the law. The petitioner referred to all the current members of the NBA exco as “ousted”. The petitioner mentioned Section 10 (2), (3) (b) and (4) of the Legal Practitioners Act, 2004 that provides for the functions of the BOB.
A letter was also written to Access Bank Plc requesting for suspension of operations on NBA accounts pending the takeover of the administration and management of the affairs of the association by the Caretaker Committee to be set up by the Chief Justice of Nigeria
A very senior lawyer who does not want his name in print said that after this judgment, AB Mahmoud-led NBA exco has engaged in several acts of impunity for staying in office.
He said that after the homes of judges were raided nationwide recently, the NBA demanded that the affected judges be suspended in line with the rule of law and now wondered why the same NBA exco should stay in office after the March 30 judgment.
In a swift reaction, the NBA president, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), said that the association was not in contempt of court. Mahmud said the leadership was aware of the judgment which nullified all NBA constitutions since 2001 and had engaged with members and NBA trustees on the way forward.
He said the association has appealed the judgment and asked for a stay of execution, adding that further meeting would be held with the trustees “to discuss the judgment and find a way around it.”
Mahmoud said: “In the meantime, the Bar Association has appealed that judgment and there is also an application to set it aside on the ground that the action was improperly constituted, the plaintiff having sued the wrong parties.
“We think this is very disruptive and we shouldn’t allow it to distract us from what we were doing.
“We understand the need to respect court judgments, but we have been advised that once we have filed an application for stay, we’ll not be technically in contempt of that judgment.
“There is also another judgment which was brought to my attention which says exactly the opposite about the NBA constitution. These are part of the challenges which I think we should be able to overcome. Hopefully we should build enough consensuses in the Bar to address these challenges.”
Asiwaju Adegboyega Solomon Awomolo, on his part, wrote to the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and minister of Justice Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN in his capacity as the leader of the Bar.
Awomolo said the issues that paralysed the NBA between 1992 and 1998 started like a joke.
The implication of this judgment, according to Awomolo, is so grave. He added that officers of the NBA, who are living in denial, and pretending as if nothing has changed or happened, have moved on to schedule activities towards the 2017 Bar conference in August.
He thereafter called on the AGF to liaise with the Trustees and call the NBA officers to order. “They should forthwith obey the rule of law and respect the association as an institution so that the matter may not escalate beyond control,” Awomolo said.
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