By Chief Godwin O. Effiong
As the 2020 election into the various offices of the Nigerian Bar Association hot up, it’s important the Eastern Bar Forum which is the regional forum of the old Eastern Region and the east as recognized by the NBA constitution handles the issue of minority rights in the forum carefully, lest it suffers a repetition of the 2018 NBA elections saga that almost led to its untimely demise after the elections.
Recall that the campaigns for the nomination or adoption of candidates for the offices that were zoned to the east, the minority members of Akwa Cross bloc of the EBF felt they have been marginalized by the majority of the Ibo speaking bloc members of the forum and as such demanded to be allowed to produce the next NBA President.
To achieve this they resorted to tactics that could be termed as blackmail and threats to break out from the EBF to form an Akwa Cross Forum, an idea that was abandoned immediately after the election of Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN. The EBF has emerged from that elections crisis that would have buried it, stronger and more focused under the leadership of Soseipriye Long Williams, Esq of Rivers State.
The elections are here again and the advocates of the breakaway regional groupings have stepped up their campaign for formation of South South Forum. Of recent, there have been text messages flying around, signed off by one Inisini, without surname calling for the formation of a South South Forum which will include all the states in the South South political region. Such call, though is the handiworks of the advocates whose trade is to perpetuate themselves in power, will destroy the very essence of the EBF, if not properly handled.
For the avoidance of doubt the constitution of NBA delineates the country into three blocs i.e. North, West and the East and not geopolitical regions or tribal groups. The constitution in recognizing these regions does so in respect of place of birth and not practice as recently being promoted by some people.
Thus, the Eastern Bar Forum is made up of all lawyers by birth from Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ebony, Enugu, Imo and Rivers States. These states form the former Eastern Region and the Eastern bloc as provided for in Article 9 of the Second Schedule of the Constitution. When it comes to offices zoned to any of the regions as provided for in the NBA Constitution, it’s important that the regional bodies should handle same in such a manner that all blocs in the region are accommodated by ensuring that offices that are zoned to EBF region is rotated amongst the various blocs for equity, justice and fairness to be not only done, but seen to be done.
A situation where a particular bloc or group, due to its numerical strength continues to dominates and dictates for others will create a feeling of marginalization of others in the region which will not auger well for the EBF as a body and may lead to its disintegration and self destruction. It is in this light that I warn that the Eastern Bar Forum (EBF) avoids the mistake of the past and ensure the minority rights are protected and they are given sense of belonging and a pride of place in the Forum.
This year, the office of the General Secretary have been zoned to the Eastern region and members of this extraction have indicated interests. If not properly handled, we may likely witness a replay of the past. The likes of “Insini” have started the agitation for South South Forum, though not a choice at all, it’s important EBF takes a firm stand in determining the zone that will produce the next NBA General Secretary from the Eastern region.
The EBF has a rich tradition of rotating it’s forum’s offices between the core Ibo speaking region and the old COR states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River and Rivers states. This can be seen in the seamless manner with which the Forum’s change of leadership is achieved. All the states and NBA branches of the forum enjoy great sense of belonging in this aspect.
Same cannot be said of rotating NBA offices amongst member States of the forum. It took sheer determination, threats and blackmails for the Akwa Cross bloc to produce the current president of the NBA. The bad blood that this led to, would have been avoided, if the then leadership of Arthur Elvis, Esq had dropped its garb of arrogance and taken greater steps to accommodate all parties involved.
As we approach this year’s election, it’s important the leadership and members of the EBF address the past mistakes in respect of the office of NBA General Secretary which is zoned to the Eastern region this time around. My take and that of many, I have interacted/spoken with is that this position be zoned to the South South bloc of the Forum and in particular to Akwa Cross axis of the bloc to make up for the continuous stronghold of the core Ibo speaking zones of the forum. Statistics and/or precedent of previous occupants of the office from the EBF right from after the period of interregnum at the national level shows that they have been those of core Ibo speaking bloc:
The late Clement Obi Okwusogu, SAN (1998-2000), Chief Philip Ndubuisi Umeh (2000-2002), Chief Emeka Obegolu (2008-2010) and Mazi Afam Osigwe (2014-2016). These men from the core Ibo speaking bloc were past National General Secretaries of the NBA from back to back! The only none core Ibo speaking person of EBF that has occupied the office is Hon. Nimi Walson Jack (2004-2006), from Rivers state.
This year, as the contest heats up, it is very fundamental that the EBF is circumspect in addressing the imbalances that has led to the core Ibo’s dominance of the office and zone same strictly to the none Ibo speaking blocs and particularly to Akwa Cross axis of the forum. By doing this, the forum will be taking care of the future as when next the presidency or GS is zoned to the Eastern region, it will amount to deep seated greed for any other bloc to want to contest with the core Ibo speaking region for the office and furthermore, no bloc will claim that it has been deliberately shut out of the process.
This is a clarion call even as I conclude that a stitch in time saves nine.
God bless EBF!
God bless NBA!!
Chief Godwin O. Effiong
(Immediate pass Vice Chairman, NBA ORON).
Book On “International Arbitration & ADR And The Rule Of Law”firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com WhatsApp only: 0803-703-5989 Voice Call – Chris: Mobile: 0817-630-8030, Landline: 09-2913581 Office Address: 50 Julius Nyerere Crescent, [Next To The World Bank], Asokoro, Abuja – Nigeria. Bank Account Details; Bank Name: UBA Plc.; Account Name: International Dispute Resolution Institute; Account Number: 1014072579