Opinion: The bad example from the Nigerian Bar Association

by Azuka Onwuka

Lawyers call themselves learned men. They take pride in that. Other professions don’t like that self-proclaimed laurel, but there is nothing they can do about it.

During the dark days of military dictatorship in Nigeria, the most vociferous advocates of democracy and human rights in the country had, predictably, been the lawyers. Leading the pack was the late indefatigable Senior Advocate of the Masses, Chief Gani Fawehinmi. One would also not forget the contributions of other lawyers such as Mr. Olisa Agbakoba and Mr. Femi Falana.

Since 1999 when democracy was restored to Nigeria, lawyers have been keeping the government, especially at the federal level, on its toes more than any other professional body. Among the Nigerian professional bodies, the NBA has been in the vanguard of the fight against electoral malpractices and bad governance.

It has been stressed that the foundation of democracy is free and fair elections. Once elections are free and fair, the electorate will be conscious of the power they wield while the leaders will be responsible to the people and eager to live up to the expectations of the people.

Nigeria has been bedevilled by poor electoral history. Since Independence in 1960, no national election has held without disputes and accusations of malpractices. Even though in recent years, there have been some seeming improvements in the elections held in the nation, yet the accusations of electoral manipulation have not disappeared. The 2011 presidential election, despite all the praises showered on it for being relatively transparent, ended in post-election riots in some parts of the North with the loss of hundreds of lives.

In all these electoral experiences, lawyers are usually the most vociferous in their condemnation of the Federal Government and the state governments for being incapable of organising an election that could be devoid of complaint and rancour.

So, it was disappointing to hear one of the contestants in the NBA election held last week, Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, complain of rigging in the election. In that election, the winner, Mr. Okey Wali, got 688 votes, Ngige came second with 449 votes, while Blessing Ukiri was third with 2 votes.

Ngige’s allegations included the listing of dead lawyers in the voter register and manipulation of the electoral processes. Part of his letter of protest reads:

“It is noteworthy that, given my deep concerns that the electoral process might be rigged to truncate the true wishes of the delegates, I wrote to the General Secretary of the NBA, Mr. Olumuyiwa Akinboro, on June 28, 2012 requesting especially a copy of the Delegate/Voter List. The letter was duly acknowledged by the Secretariat. The list was never issued to me by the NBA leadership.

“In my bulk messaging alerts to members, I equally raised the alarm on several occasions that even 48 hours to the election, the Delegate List was still shrouded in secrecy. The list was eventually released for public scrutiny barely 24 hours to voting. True to our worries, the displayed list was riddled with serious anomalies, irregularities and contradictions.

“Even more worrisome is the fact that the displayed voter register totally contradicted the actual voter register used for the election. A few examples will suffice.

“1. The National Executive Committee (NEC) list was manipulated to include non-NEC members and even those who are constitutionally disqualified from being NEC members. For example, Mrs. Ranti Bosede Daudu and Mr. Paul “Tunde” Daudu, wife and son respectively of the incumbent NBA President, J. B. Daudu (NBA), were smuggled in as ‘NEC members’ without the mandatory approval by NEC as required by the NBA Constitution. In fact, Mr. Tunde Daudu is less than 10 years at the Bar and is therefore disqualified from becoming a NEC member.

“2. The total figures of delegates for some branches perceived to be favourable to the adjudged winner of the presidential election were reduced in the displayed voter register to avoid being queried by other aspirants while the actual voter register used for the elections was padded with additional names to favour the adjudged winner of the presidential race. An example is Port Harcourt branch which had only 27 members on the displayed list while additional 15 names were added to the actual voter register to bring the Port Harcourt list to a whooping 42.

“3. Names of deceased persons from Port Harcourt branch were added to the voter register. Examples are Chief Nwobidike Nwanodi, SAN, and Chief C. A. B. Akparanta, SAN, both deceased.”

However, the NBA promptly dismissed his allegations as unfounded. The outgoing General-Secretary of the association, Mr. Olumuyiwa Akinboro, who addressed journalists in Abuja, was quoted as saying that Ngige must be suffering from “post-election stress, depression or failure of expectation.”

Before the NBA election, the Ikeja, Lagos branch of the NBA had been embroiled in election dispute from May 9, 2012 when it conducted its election. Mr. Yinka Farounbi, who lost to Mr. Monday Ubani, had taken the matter to court, securing an injunction to stop the elected members from being sworn in. The matter was recently settled out of court and the new executive sworn in on June 28.

Beyond pointing fingers of whether the accusations of rigging and manipulation were true or false, what is shocking is that a noble association of “learned men” like the NBA, cannot conduct an election involving less than 2,000 voters, free of rancour and dispute. The question that the NBA should be asked is: If they cannot organise a rancour-free election involving a few hundreds of voters in one polling centre, do they as lawyers have the moral right to criticise the Federal Government or the state governments for not organising a free and fair election involving millions of voters across thousands of polling centres? As lawyers are wont to say: “He who comes into equity must come with clean hands.”

This article was first published in Punch.

 

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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