Some lawyers have recently expressed their displeasure over the humanitarian, and frankly altruistic assistance, provided by Friends of Olumide Akpata (FoOA) to the five (5) Branches of the NBA in Lagos State for the benefit of their members who may need such assistance because their livelihoods may have been impacted by the Covid-19 lock down.  For the avoidance of doubt, I am aware that the said initiative does not bring the beneficiaries in contact with Mr. Akpata or his friends.  Indeed, given the structure of the arrangement, both FoOA and Mr. Akpata may never know the ultimate beneficiaries of their efforts – as the process of screening and collating the beneficiaries of the effort is handled strictly by the respective Branch EXCOs, and with utmost confidentiality. Nevertheless, some lawyers have proceeded to denigrate this pivotal humanitarian effort by FoOA and are referring to it as vote buying, because he is considered to be interested in running for the office of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) later this year.

The hypocrisy of this position therefore begs the questions: where did this indignation go when the other NBA Presidential hopefuls engaged in comparable acts of “vote buying” that these critics now condemn?  Why is Olumide Akpata being singled out?

You would recall that some months ago – November 2019 – there were news reports stating that Dr Babatunde Ajibade SAN paid for and provided hotel accommodation for some new wigs who were undergoing pre-Call screening at Abuja. One report read, in part, that the learned Silk: ‘has provided accommodation to some graduates of law school who reached out to him over their accommodation issues as they undergo screening … for their Call to Bar … Dr. Ajibade’s gesture is built on the understanding that, it is indeed a trying time for potential lawyers, as they have to go through a lot of processes that not only involve financial expenses, but also mental and emotional stress. In order to assist the new wig and reduce their stress, the concerned learned silk has offered to provide accommodation for them while they undergo their screening exercise.’ For the full report, see https://www.barristerng.com/good-news-ajibade-san-to-provide-accommodation-for-some-new-wigs/

In the learned Silk’s own words: ‘I have offered assistance to a group of bar aspirants who reached out to me through their contact person, Mr. Uwemedimo Akpan requesting this specific support for their call to bar process and I obliged. I wish I could afford to offer the same assistance to all, but unfortunately, I am of limited means.’ See https://thenigerialawyer.com/dr-babatunde-ajibade-san-refutes-report-on-providing-accommodation-for-all-call-to-bar-aspirants/.In fact, the beneficiaries of that housing scheme gave several testimonies, many of which were reported in https://www.barristerng.com/dr-ajibades-kind-gesture-to-aspirants-to-the-nigerian-bar-and-the-many-testimonies/.

It would interest you to know that unlike in Mr. Akpata’s case, Mr. Uwemedimo Akpan Dominic who coordinated the accommodation arrangement on behalf of Dr. Ajibade now leads a group of new wigs all of whom were apparently beneficiaries of the learned Silk’s largesse and who are now avid supporters of Dr. Ajibade SAN in his ambition to run for NBA President. But somehow this does not meet the parameters to be regarded as vote buying by the self-righteous critics of Mr. Akpata, so no indignation till date!

Similarly, as recently as February 2020, Deacon Dele Adesina SAN, another NBA Presidential hopeful, was reported to have sponsored several young lawyers to a workshop in Ikeja, Lagos.  This is in addition to the sponsorship that he provided for young lawyers who hosted an end of year party in December 2019.  See https://thenigerialawyer.com/dele-adesina-san-sponsors-ylf-ikeja-branch-workshop-slated-for-feb-13th-see-details/ . Still, no indignation!

So I then ask the complaining lawyers, if the words used in explaining the gesture of Dr Babatunde Ajibade SAN is anything to go by, “…Dr. Ajibade’s gesture is built on the understanding that this is indeed a trying time for lawyers, as they have to go through a lot of processes that not only involve financial expenses, but also mental and emotional stress”, would it not be safe to say that the palliative support and humanitarian effort provided by the FoOA would be nothing different?

While I am less concerned about the motive behind the various sponsorships, I wonder why the critics who were QUIET when the two Learned Silks (Ajibade SAN and Adesina, SAN) did those charitable acts, suddenly feel the need to refer to the humanitarian efforts of FoOA as “despicable” and “condemnable”, or would even go as far as chastising Olumide Akpata because his friends decided to provide unprecedented support to lawyers who may find themselves in need in the wake of this unprecedented crisis. Such hypocrisy… such double standard. Politics really does bring out the worst in us.

My take is that if financing hotel accommodation for potential voters and sponsoring the same potential voters to events and parties did not amount to vote buying, why then should providing humanitarian support during this unprecedented Covid-19 crisis amount to vote buying?

Let us please stop the hypocrisy and double standards. It is sickening!

Caleb Oghenetega is a Lagos-based Lawyer.

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