*Accuses NBA President of Stifling Public Interest Initiatives

The Public Interest and Development Law Section of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA-SPIDEL) has rejected directives by NBA President Yakubu Maikyau banning the section’s activities without his approval.

In a strongly-worded letter dated February 9th, SPIDEL Chairman John Aikpokpo-Martins responded to Maikyau’s January 31st letter accusing the section of acting independently without consulting him.

Aikpokpo-Martins denied the allegations, stating that SPIDEL has always operated within the provisions of the NBA Constitution. He accused Maikyau of impeding the section’s initiatives, including scuttling a planned conference on religious tolerance and failing to approve requests to observe elections and investigate rights abuses.

The SPIDEL Chairman insisted that the NBA Constitution does not require the section to seek the President’s “permission” or “approval” before carrying out activities to advance the Bar’s objectives.

At an Extraordinary General Meeting on February 4th, SPIDEL members described Maikyau’s directives as “null, void and of no effect whatsoever” for being unconstitutional. They vowed to continue implementing programs in the public interest despite the ban.

The strongly-worded response signals an escalation of tensions between the NBA leadership and its public interest section. The outcome of the controversy remains uncertain.

Below is the full text of his reply.

9th February, 2024

Mr. Yakubu Maikyau, OON, SAN

President,

Nigerian Bar Association,

NBA House, Plot 1101, Mohammadu Buhari Way,

Central Business District, Abuja.

Dear Mr. President,

RE: THE ACTIVITIES OF SPIDEL UNDER YOUR LEADERSHIP

We refer to your letter on the above subject dated 31st January 2024.

You would recall that upon receipt of the letter which was delivered via email, I promptly replied on 1st February 2024 and urged your understanding for me to provide a more detailed response in writing. Suffice it to say that your letter, having been published by at least one news blog even before we received the hard copy, became available to the public at large and especially to our members. This compelled the SPIDEL Executive Committee to summon an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) under Article XIX(b) of the Uniform Bye-Laws of the NBA Constitution 2015 (as amended in 2021).

At the Extraordinary General Meeting held on Sunday, 4th February 2024, the General Meeting mandated me to respond to your letter as appropriate. Permit me therefore to address the issues raised in your letter seriatim:

You stated in paragraph 1 of your letter as follows: “I have had cause on several occasions to draw your attention to statements and publications issued at the instance of SPIDEL, with you as Chairman. I have also spoken to you about the need to respect the sanctity of our Constitution and to maintain order and decorum in the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). You have remained adamant and proceeded as though SPIDEL exists all by itself, independent of the NBA and its structures.”

Response:

This is not quite correct, Mr. President. Aside from our discussion on Sunday, 28th January 2024, the only other time we spoke on this issue was sometime in August 2023 when you frowned at  SPIDEL’s involvement in the Kano Election Petition Tribunal Bribery Allegations upon the publication of the Section’s press statement of 16th August 2023. I recall that you were very angry, claiming that I made you look incompetent.  I sought to assuage your angst while pledging my unalloyed support and loyalty at all times.

Sometime in September 2023, I had cause to inform you of a planned visit to the University of Calabar to interrogate the sexual assault allegations against Prof. Cyril Ndifon, the now-suspended Dean of the Faculty of Law. This followed a SPIDEL press statement on 13th September 2023. You said SPIDEL should steer clear of the matter, saying you would rather send the NBA’s 1st Vice President to investigate the matter. Indeed, you wondered if I would have allowed anyone to take the shine off me when I was the 1st Vice President of the Association. In deference to you, SPIDEL steered clear of both the Kano Election Petition Tribunal Bribery and Prof. Cyril Ndifon’s matter to date.

On 21st January 2024, you sent me a blog post titled “NBA-SPIDEL Investigates Allegations by Justice Flora Azinge of Attempted Bribery by Unnamed Senior Advocate Nigeria [SAN].” You did not accompany the said blog post with any comment or otherwise. Accordingly, I was at a loss as to the intent of the message.

More importantly, this issue had been dealt with by us in August 2023, before the pre-conference National Executive Council Meeting and the Annual General Meeting in Abuja. It is, therefore, rather uncharitable to suggest that SPIDEL made a press statement in January 2024 on an issue that happened in August 2023. The blog post that you forwarded to me was published on 17th August 2023 and NOT in January 2024.

This is six (6) months after. We are at a loss why you are resurrecting this issue.

It is also not the case that you had made any statement or taken any action on the Kano Election Tribunal matter before SPIDEL issued its Press Statement on 16th August 2023. It is, therefore, untenable to suggest that we issue our statement in disregard of any alleged actions you had taken on the issue at the relevant time.

On 19th January 2024, you again sent me a blog post titled “NBA SPIDEL boss Aikpokpo-Martins reiterates call on Edo Government to swear in 8 Edo Judges designate.” Again, you did not accompany the said blog post with any comment.

Indeed, you would recall that the lingering issue of the non-swearing-in of the judges-designate was brought to the attention of the National Executive Council (NEC) at its last meeting vide my report to NEC as the Chairman of SPIDEL. *Permit me to refer you to pages 88 and 89 of the December 2023 NEC Bundle.* It was after I rendered my report that you remarked that the Edo State Governor reserves the discretion as to when to swear in the judges. The issue was not discussed, and NEC never took a position on it. Truly, I was in Benin City but on the invitation of some NBA branch chairmen and Bar leaders who sought for me to accompany them on visits to the Edo State Chief Judge and Edo State Attorney-General respectively to advocate on this issue. I then had the privilege of being interviewed by the press on the issue and other matters during my said visit.

On Sunday, 28 January 2024, you forwarded the press statement issued by the Publicity Secretary of SPIDEL titled “NBA-SPIDEL FILES SUIT AGAINST NYSC, HANNATU MUSA MUSAWA & KENNY OGUNGBE.” Characteristically, you did not accompany the blog post with any comment or otherwise.  Indeed, you forwarded the message to me at 4:25 pm. At exactly 5:50 pm, you telephoned me and queried why I did not respond to your message. I explained that you merely forwarded to me a SPIDEL press statement without more. You immediately flew into a rage and threatened to deal with me and with SPIDEL, noting that you have been inundated with calls on the lawsuit. I requested that you point out specifically what SPIDEL has done wrong, assuring you that I would promptly apologize if necessary. You asked whether what SPIDEL was doing was right; I responded that, to the best of my knowledge, SPIDEL has merely been discharging its mandate within the confines of the NBA Constitution and in pursuit of NBA objectives and the public interest. You again repeated your threat to “deal with SPIDEL.”

Suffice it to note that, being a matter of public concern, Mr. President may be inundated with telephone calls, the identity of the callers notwithstanding. SPIDEL also does not have control over how news outlets cast their headlines. What is clear, however, is that the lawsuit was NOT instituted in the name of the Association.

It is a fact that SPIDEL authored the letters addressed to the Inspector-General of Police, Director General of the Directorate of State Services (DSS) and the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) titled, “The UNLAWFUL PRACTICE OF CONFISCATING THE PHONES OF LEGAL PRACTITIONERS VISITING DSS OFFICES THE PERFORMANCE OF THEIR PROFESSIONAL DUTIES: A DEMAND FOR IMMEDIATE CESSATION OF UNLAWFUL AND DISCRIMINATORY PRACTICE.” For the records, the letters were dated 10th January 2024 and delivered on 26th January 2024. Mr. President had indicated in your letter that “these actions may not be bad in themselves ….” If we may then ask, what is wrong with the letters which are intended primarily to protect the interest and dignity of lawyers?

Most respectfully, Mr. President, we find it rather incongruous that, following the unfortunate kidnap of a lawyer, your “intervention was almost rebuffed on account of that letter.” Does it mean that the lives and safety of citizens are now dictated by how public entities feel about steps taken to safeguard citizens’ rights? Further, we do not agree with the view that SPIDEL is encroaching on the duties of the NBA Security Agencies Relations Committee (SARC). While Mr. President is at liberty to create sundry committees to tackle certain issues. It is imperative to note that, as a Section, the mandate and objectives of SPIDEL are protected by the NBA Constitution. Specifically, Section 17(1) of the NBA Constitution provides as follows: “There shall be for the Association such Sections as the National Executive Council of the Association shall establish to advance the aims and objects of the Association.” It may well be the case that it is the NBA committees that veer into areas expected to be dealt with by SPIDEL. Again, while some entities affected by our public interest interventions may view the same as “confrontational,” it becomes doubly worrisome and discouraging when Mr. President also shares this untenable perception.

On its part, SPIDEL has a primary mandate to protect the public interest. Consistent with this mandate, SPIDEL wrote the letter titled “RE: ISSUANCE OF CENTRAL MOTOR REGISTRY INFORMATION SYSTEM (CMRIS) BY THE NIGERIA POLICE FORCE: A DEMAND FOR THE IMMEDIATE STOPPAGE OF SAME.” The letter was dated 29th January 2024 and delivered to the Inspector General of Police the same day.

  1. PRIOR APPROVAL FROM THE NBA PRESIDENT FOR SPIDEL’S ACTIVITIES

Mr. President, in your letter under reference, you accused SPIDEL of “ignoring our Rules and Procedures of dealing with matters of this nature.” Suffice it to note that you did not state the specific “Rules and Procedure” that were breached by SPIDEL. Perhaps as a clue, you indicated “Like the previous posts, I did not know about this, and there was no approval for it, and those other actions being taken by SPIDEL.” Again, in purportedly banning the activities of SPIDEL, you stated that “henceforth, you shall not undertake any engagement with any third party without prior consultation and permission from me as President with the approval of the National Executive Council of the NBA.” It would therefore seem that Mr. President is under the mistaken perception that SPIDEL must obtain “permission” or “approval” from him before embarking on any of its activities. We do not, with respect, think that the drafters of the NBA Constitution envisaged that NBA Sections would be micro-managed by the NBA President. Indeed, the NBA Constitution does NOT support such approvals or permission. This fact is borne out by the relevant provisions of the NBA Constitution and the Uniform Bye-Laws for Sections. Permit me to set out a few of these provisions for ease of reference.

  • *ART. XI(c) of the Uniform Bye-Laws provides as follows: “Duties: The Executive Committee of the Section shall have general supervision and control of the affairs of the Section, subject to:*

any restrictions which the National Executive Council of the Association may, from time to time, impose;

any decision duly taken at the General Meeting of the Section and

These Bye-Laws:

X

  • ART XI(h) of the Uniform Bye-Laws provides as follows: “ *General Authority: The Executive Committee of the Section may act on behalf of the Section concerning all matters relevant to the Section during intervals between their General Meetings.”*

From the foregoing provisions, it is clear that the NBA Constitution has not accorded Mr. President any role howsoever in the management, control, and supervision of SPIDEL in particular and NBA Sections in general. It bears repeating that no provision in the NBA Constitution mandates SPIDEL to seek “permission” or “approval” from Mr. President before carrying out its activities. Indeed, Article XXI of the Uniform Bye-Laws provides that “ *The Section shall design their activities, subject to the approval of its (sic) Executive Committee of the Section.”*

For the avoidance of doubt, the only constitutional role given to the NBA President about Sections is the appointment of a Liaison Officer. Article X(b) of the Uniform Bye-Laws for Sections provides that “The President of the Association shall appoint any senior Staff of the Association as a liaison Officer to the Section.” Article X(c) of the Uniform Bye-Laws also provides that “The Liaison Officer shall report to the President of the Association as well as provide where required of him or her information required by officers of the Section in support of their duties.” It is instructive that aside from the fact Mr. President has duly appointed a Liaison Officer for the Section, SPIDEL has been working in harmony with the Liaison Officer.

OVERSIGHT OF SPIDEL

The NBA Constitution is clear as to the entity that has a supervisory role over SPIDEL. Accordingly, Article XXII of the Uniform Bye-Laws provides as follows: “Supervision/Report: The Section shall be under the supervision of the National Executive Council, and as such each Section shall present Annual Report at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Association.” It is therefore clear that Mr. President has no supervisory role whatsoever over SPIDEL or NBA Sections. To attempt to do so is to usurp the powers duly vested in the National Executive Council by the NBA Constitution.

SECTION 17(4) OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE NBA 2015 (AS AMENDED IN 2021)

In your letter, you drew our attention to Section 17(4) of the NBA Constitution 2015 (as amended in 2021) and alleged as follows: “Needless to say, your actions have in several respects breached this, and other provisions of the Constitution.” We note that the facts do not bear out this conclusion.

Section 17(4) of the NBA Constitution provides: “No Section, Section Committee or any of their officers or other representatives, shall represent the Association or hold themselves out as representing the Association in any respect, or take any action in the name of the Association except as authorized by the National Executive Council or the Bye-Law.”

It is noteworthy that SPIDEL has never held itself out as representing the Association either in press statements or in cases instituted in court. All press statements were duly issued in the name of the Section while all the cases instituted by SPIDEL were done in our names as follows: “John Aikpokpo-Martins; Funmi Adeogun; chairman and secretary respectively, for themselves and on behalf of members of NBA-SPIDEL”. SPIDEL has not in any way breached the aforesaid section of the NBA Constitution. This is even though Mr. President conceded that SPIDEL’s “actions may not be bad in themselves.”

CONSULTATIONS AND TRUNCATION OF SPIDEL’S INITIATIVES

Scuttled Conference on Religious Tolerance.

You will recall that sometime after the killing of Usman Buda in Sokoto in June 2023 for alleged blasphemy, I informed you vide a telephone call on 1st July 2023 of SPIDEL’s plan to organize a conference on religious tolerance. I noted that I had made contact with the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria (MULAN) through its President, among others. It was to be the first major program following my election as SPIDEL Chairman. You said you would prefer the Association to take up the initiative. I deferred to you. I thereafter called you to follow up on the planned dialogue. To date, nothing has been done about the program.

Yearly Renewal of Proof of Ownership.

You may recall that on 24th July 2023, I was in your office at the National Secretariat to brief you on our meeting with SYC Technologies Limited on the yearly renewal of Proof of Ownership certificates at a mandatory fee of N1,000. We intended to sue the company, the Federal Government, and the Lagos State Government, given the additional hardship the scheme will wreak on citizens. You requested that I arrange another meeting with the company. The meeting was eventually fixed for 2nd August 2023 in your office. While we all assembled in your office on the said date, you never turned up for the meeting. I called you to follow up, but you neither answered nor returned my calls.

Again, on 9th September 2023, I sent you a WhatsApp text message that I wanted to discuss some urgent SPIDEL matters, but you did not respond.

On 11th September 2023, at exactly 5 pm, I forwarded the draft processes of the proof of ownership case we intended to file for your information. I also sought your approval to sue in the name of the Association. You never responded. Having not received your permission, SPIDEL opted to file the lawsuit (Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1285/2023) in the name of its chairman, secretary, and another member, and for and on behalf of SPIDEL members.

Re: Case of Chief Judge of Federal Capital Territory

You may also recall that around 1 pm on 2nd August 2023, you telephoned me and directed that SPIDEL cease all actions on its letter dated 24th August 2023 titled “A HUMBLE REQUEST FOR CLARIFICATION ON THE ALLEGED RELEASE OF MR. CHUMA NZERIBE FROM THE KUJE CORRECTIONAL CENTER ABUJA.” As you are aware, we had written to the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory to clarify the allegation that the Honourable Chief Judge  – under the guise of a prison visit on 24th May 2023  -unlawfully released from the Kuje Correctional Centre, Hon. Chuma Nzeribe, a convict who was on 24th May 2022, sentenced to a 7 (seven) year jail term by Hon. Justice Yusuf Halilu of FCT High Court 14 sitting in Wuse. You had assured us that you would revert to us on the issue. To date, SPIDEL has yet to hear from you on this serious matter, which has grave implications for Nigeria’s criminal justice administration. It is noteworthy that this matter was discussed at the SPIDEL General Meeting held on 31st August 2023 on the sidelines of the 2023 Annual General Conference. The minutes of the meeting will bear this out. The issue was also highlighted in the SPIDEL Report to the Pre-Conference NEC Meeting in August 2023, particularly on page 221 of the NEC bundle.

OTHER MATTERS.

On 24th August 2023, I sought your approval vide a WhatsApp message sent at 9:18 am. for SPIDEL to observe the Edo State Local Government Election to be held on 2nd September 2023. Mr. President did not respond to the request.

On the same day, 24th August 2023 at exactly 5:21 pm, I forwarded to you a news report by CITY LAWYER news blog titled “FAMILY BLAMES LASUTH, EVERCARE HOSPITAL OVER DEATH OF LAGOS LAWYER” (available at https://citylawyermag.com/family-blames-lasuth-evercare-hospital-over-death-of-lagos-lawyer/). I accompanied the same with the following note: “NBA-SPIDEL is interested in taking up this matter with the view of bringing the medical institutions involved to book. I thought it fit to inform you, seeing that the victim is a lawyer.” You have not responded to date.

We invited Mr. President to our SPIDEL Leaders’ Reunion Dinner initially scheduled to be held on the 1st floor of NBA House on 28th August 2023 on the sidelines of the Annual General Conference. Not only did you fail to dignify us with a response; you went a step further to lock us out and bar us from use of the NBA hall on the day of the scheduled dinner. Needless to say, this action occasioned grave inconvenience to SPIDEL and our invited Bar Leaders, more as the venue had long been advertised. We scrambled to deploy another venue at very short notice and at great cost to the Section.

CONCLUSION

Mr. President, arising from the foregoing, it is our firm belief that SPIDEL has never undermined your office. On the contrary, it would seem that Mr. President has – wittingly or otherwise – impeded many laudable SPIDEL initiatives aimed at promoting NBA objectives, the rule of law, and the public interest. Indeed, SPIDEL would have been rendered comatose had it relied solely on your “permission” or “approval” to carry out its activities, seeing that it has virtually received none after several efforts. Instructively, you have made the saying, “the legal practitioner lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his Country” (Sir Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams) your core mantra. Again, in your statement to mark the 2023 INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY, you stated “We have a critical role to play in society and that is not something to be treated with levity or taken lightly. We must work daily to uphold the rights of Nigerians because human rights are the catalyst for the development we seek.” This is all that SPIDEL has consistently striven to do.

Suffice it to state that any fair-minded observer will come to the inescapable conclusion that all SPIDEL activities have been guided by the provisions of the NBA Constitution and the Uniform Bye-Laws for Sections. The Section has consistently made reports of its activities to NEC under Article XXII of the Uniform Bye-Laws for Sections. These activities have been conducted in a manner as to promote the aims and objectives of the Association. While it is true that our actions are deliberate, it is untenable to contend that such actions are aimed “to serve other motives other than the interest of the Bar.”

RESOLUTIONS OF SPIDEL EXTRAORDINARY GENERAL MEETING OF 4TH FEBRUARY, 2024

Mr. President, as stated earlier, under the howbeit curious publication of your letter to the whole world, the Executive Committee of SPIDEL convened an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) to deliberate on the issues raised. This is more when you directed the leadership of the Section to “suspend all actions presently being undertaken by SPIDEL, particularly the matters stated above, until the scheduled meeting and further directives as may be approved by the National Executive Council.” You further directed SPIDEL “not undertake any engagement with any third party without prior consultation and permission from me as President with the approval of the National Executive Council of the NBA.”

Upon an extensive deliberation on your letter, the Extraordinary General Meeting RESOLVED as follows: That SPIDEL views as highly worrisome and the publication of your letter even before the same was delivered to the Section;

By the said publication, Mr. President may have exposed SPIDEL’s Chairman, Mr. John Aikpokpo-Martins, to harm’s way, given the apparent disclaimer issued regarding SPIDEL’s activities and especially as it concerns the security agencies;

SPIDEL views your ‘directives’ suspending its activities as null, void, and of no effect whatsoever, given that such directives are ultra vires your powers as NBA President and amount to a breach of the provisions of the constitution of the Association. For the avoidance of doubt, the meeting directed the Executive Committee to continue to implement programs aimed at promoting public interest and hamstringing official impunity.

SPIDEL restates its solemn commitment to the promotion of the rule of law. Accordingly, SPIDEL will continue to make its best efforts to work with Mr. President towards fostering the aims and objectives of the Association, even as it shall firmly defend the NBA Constitution and the public interest no matter whose ox is gored.

Please accept the assurances of our highest consideration and esteem.

Yours Respectfully,

John Aikpokpo-Martins, Esq.

Chairman, NBA-SPIDEL

Copy to:

All National Officers.

NBA Trustees

Past NBA Presidents

NBA NEC Members

Chairmen of Sections

John Aikpokpo-Martins Chairman

Dr. Princess Frank-Chukwuani Vice Chairman

Funmi Adeogun Secretary

Chinedu Obienu Treasurer

Abdullahi Karaye Financial Secretary

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