By Kelechi Chukwu

What transpired in the just concluded NBA national elections, right from the commencement of campaigns, verification of lawyers for the election through to the voting proper and eventual announcement of the results formally by ECNBA, was what I would like to call a revolution, and I will tell us why. Some commentators have referred to it as breaking jinx, given that it appears the NBA is perpetually jinxed to electing and/or having Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), as its President. But, I choose to call it a revolution. A paradigm shift. This was made possible by technology, which has greatly aided human endeavours amidst a debilitating and disruptive global pandemic, which has compelled hyperactive humanity to slow down. Secondly, the determination of the majority of the Lawyers to effect a change.

In the legal profession in Nigeria, the highest Rank to be attained as a practicing lawyer is the rank of Advocate of Nigeria.  It is the dream of every lawyer to attain such height including that of the present writer. It is equivalent to Queen’s Counsel (QC) or King’s Counsel (KC) in United Kingdom. When one listens to an SAN that worth the rank argue a case in Court, one would  appreciate the celebrity of that rank. Some are distinguished with a resonant voice and a clear diction. Some are statesmen, orators, philosophers and above all, mover of men in the highest echelons.

However, when it comes to the leadership of the Bar and the management of the welfare of the generality of lawyers in Nigeria, there have been an intermittent progress in those line of endeavours punctuated with complaints here and there. Over the years, lawyers, especially the young ones who felt and justifiably too in some respects, that they are not treated well have been complaining about the leadership of the highest Bar in Africa. In every election, candidates (who were majorly SANs) will come and promise that they were going to correct the anomaly. At a point, lawyers in Nigeria became very disenchanted for lack of true leadership.

When the 2020 election came on board, majority of the lawyers began to search for a messiah!  They felt that if they must succeed, they must take their destiny into their hands. After all, it was Kwame Nkrumah that once said that “Africans should be allowed to make their own mistakes”. So, it could be said that majority of lawyers for once have decided to chart their own cause. With those legitimate feelings, they began to search outside the rank of an SAN. These determined lawyers, entered into the field of work and walked the talk.

Having seen the body language and irrevocable resolve to change the narrative by electing a Non SAN, by young lawyers, some very senior lawyers were concerned and troubled by the looming revolution, which would inevitably break the hold of helms of affairs of the NBA over the years. Frightened by the imminent new order that is about to be inaugurated following the bent of the young lawyers, a very eminent and cerebral lawyer, who commands and wields enormous respect, which practicing lawyers aspire to possess, wrote a letter advising  fellow brother Silks on the need and imperative not to allow a Non Silk to lead the bar. One may say that the fears of some of the senior lawyers in that regard were not totally misplaced on the ground of the type of profession we practice as lawyers. It is a conserved system and it is said that seniority is an article of faith and no one could be more senior than a Learned Silk

Alas, it was too late because, one cannot stop an idea whose time has come.  While some of the Senior Lawyers were looking at the status quo, majority of Lawyers were looking at a new beginning and an NBA that works for all. While some of the Senior Lawyers were looking at the rank and status of an individual, majority of the lawyers were searching for a fellow that can deliver and the track record of what the person has done.

In this wilderness of search, an Oasis was found. The ebullient Olumide Akpata, esquire, presented himself as the agent of the desired change for the betterment  of  young lawyers in particular and the NBA in general. Mr. Akpata is a Partner in Templars, which is arguably one of the top five law firms in Nigeria.

This year’s NBA  national elections is not just about the welfare of lawyers alone and engendering a sense of egalitarianism in the profession. It is much more than that. It is about redeeming the battered image of the profession, as well as restoring the confidence of the society to the noble profession.

The fears of some of the Senior Lawyers are very understandable. Young Lawyers constitute the highest number of lawyers in Nigeria and in election such as this, majority is strength!  It is a game of numbers. Happily for majority of the Lawyers, they have been gifted with a platform to showcase their preference.

In NBA election, every lawyer who has paid his National and Branch dues on or before the 31st of March is eligible to vote in the general election. Again, there is a system put in place that worked for the overall interest of every lawyer especially the young Lawyers in Nigeria. It is the electronic voting system (EVS). By this system, one can be in the comfort of his house and/or office and vote. One can vote from anywhere in so far as there is data and network. Technology is indeed a game changer, it has helped to truly democratise processes. The electronic voting system (EVS) deployed by ECNBA created the enabling environment that affords all verified lawyers to vote for candidates of their choice and their votes really counted.

There is a need to congratulate the ECNBA for making the process transparent unlike the previous years that were shrouded in suspected election malpractices. Although the election is not without some complaints but there is a huge improvement from the previous elections. At the beginning of this year’s election, nobody was sure of winning but every lawyer was looking up to the Electoral umpire to live up to expectation and to their credit,  the ECNBA did their best! It is however,  further urged that the ECNBA should look at the areas that was a complaint and improve on in the subsequent elections.

The election has come and gone; but this NBA election should serve as a lesson to every Nigerian that a genuine change is possible in the electoral system. It is desirable that the National Assembly learns from the ECNBA on the need for amendment of the Electoral Act on the voting system in Nigeria. If the system of election works in Nigeria, people are really going to experience the real change. If assurances is given that votes will count, people are really going to participate in elections in Nigeria. NBA’s election is a wakeup call for every Nigerian to call on the National Assembly for electoral reform. Improved and transparent elections in Nigeria, will aid in the emergence of competent leaders, who will help to inaugurate a trajectory of prosperity for our country. The National Assembly need to amend the Electoral Act to allow electronic voting system with a measured security to avoid manipulation, it  is more efficient and transparent, and reduces to the minimum the likelihood of manipulation and malpractices in the system.

This election is a litmus test to Mr. Akpata and the younger generation. It is a test on whether under this circumstance, it is possible for a new generation to take the tide of leadership and smoothen the rough edges of governance! It is a test on whether it is possible for the younger generation to make a meaningful contribution and progress towards nation building.  It is a test on whether the younger generation is capable of leading the Bar and indeed the larger society.

As 2023 approaches, it is expected that this NBA election would be a blue print for national elections in Nigeria.  It is possible that young people are changing the narratives.  It is not surprising that the change began from the learned profession! All over the world, lawyers are always in the forefront of societal emancipation. I therefore call on younger generation to take election participation very serious and avoid being an instrument for election malpractices but go into the mainstream politics and effect the desired change.

To Mr. Apkata, I plead in the name of anything and/or everything very dear to you, do not disappoint Nigerian Lawyers. Do not disappoint the younger  generation. Do not be like the ones in Nigerian politics who have made impossible for the younger generations to be entrusted with power of leadership. I believe you will not. As a person who share in your vision and aspirations for the NBA, I know you will not.

I heartily congratulate you.

Kelechi Chukwu writes from Ikoyi, Lagos,, 08064032976.

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