“As priests in the temple of justice, our legal practitioners should live above board and no longer feel comfortable that some of the less than virtuous among them occupy critical and sensitive positions dealing with sanctions and preferment within the Bar.”
Legal luminary and law teacher, Professor Akin Oyebode, who made the observation and, Nigerians who subscribe to it, must have felt scandalized by recent happenings within the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA. Reference here is to the impulsive reaction, few weeks back, of NBA president, Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, to recent happenings on the Bench. If anything, the flip-flops, coming only days after assuming office, lent credence to growing speculations that the outcome of the last NBA election was predetermined.
To pertinent observers, the flip-flops amounted to letting the cat out of the bag. At his inauguration in Port Harcourt last August, Barrister Mahmoud called for the prosecutorial powers of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to be transferred to an independent prosecution agency and leave the anti-graft agency with power to investigate. Queer as the suggestion sounds, it is one old hat that further entrenched growing belief that unless the action of a cabal within the NBA is checked, NBA elections will continued to be manipulated by the cabal whose sole aim is the imposition of pliable leadership on Africa’s largest Bar association.
Expectedly, Barrister Mahmoud’s Port Harcourt declaration did not fail to excite lawyers and friends of the NBA who believe the NBA president was ‘elected’, through an opaque electoral exercise, by privileged NBA members who are desperate to sustain and promote the pervading culture of impunity by their highly-placed clients. Arrowheads of the NBA cabal, whose dirty work Barrister Mahmoud was ‘’elected’’ to do, have had cause to clash with the EFCC for ‘’humiliating’’ their clients because the anti-graft agency opposes bail applications. This is one practice by the EFCC that allows for prominent criminal suspects to be detained in prison.
The mere thought of lawyers manipulating their own elections presents daylight nightmare for Nigerians who thought Africa’s largest Bar association will put its house in order by sanitizing its electoral process, break loose of the vice-grip the cabal has over the association and serve as the template for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections for Africa’s largest democracy. Baring a successful legal challenge to redress an anomaly, the opportunity may have been lost, at least, for now. Very sad!
But, what insiders call a charade of an election did not come to many as a surprise. Indeed, weeks before NBA members went to the polls last August, many Nigerians, among them prominent and not-too-prominent lawyers called for vigilance following reports of underhand deals by the immediate past NBA leadership, at the promptings of privileged lawyers, to rig the election. The propaganda machinery of the cabal quickly took up the fight and dubbed whoever made the observations, however valid they were, of being unduly hysterical.
The pre-election observations have been validated by recent graphic revelation of gross acts of misconduct prior to, but more significantly on election day. One such recent revelation concerned the deliberate whittling down the support base of the sole opponent of the preferred presidential candidate of the cabal through erecting hurdles that shut the door in the face of his supporters. Nigerians wait with bated breath for the position of the law as to whether disenfranchisement, especially the type deliberately triggered to hurt an opponent, amounts to rigging (as widely held) or it should be regarded as a necessary appendage in politicking (as some starry eyed lawyers contend).
Again, Nigerians await the position of the law as to how immediate past NBA president, Augustine Alegeh (SAN) flagrantly abused his office through mobilizing machinery of the NBA secretariat for his eventual successor. Himself a major beneficiary of the imposition policy of the largesse of the NBA cabal, Alegeh failed to even veil his support for Barrister Mahmoud whom he openly boasted was the ‘’preferred’’ candidate for president as alleged by Nwaogu Victor, former NBA National Legal Adviser. A similar observation was recently made by an Enugu based lawyer, Daniel Ogbonna, who alleged that the former NBA president openly boasted at the inauguration ceremony of the newly created NBA Onueke branch in Ebonyi State on July 6, 2016, of his desire to be succeeded by ‘’the preferred candidate’’
Election day came with its own fair share of drama. For the first time in its history, voting was by electronic means. Prior to E-Day, many NBA members had lauded the former NBA leadership for introducing e-voting. But, the complaints that trailed the exercise suggested there was no sufficient test-run of the machines before they were deployed going by the number of eligible voters who were disenfranchised. This was in addition to an accreditation exercise that was marred by a disputed a voters’ register used for the exercise. Could the observed irregularities on E-day be solely attributed to technical hitches?
But for the observed underhand dealings ahead of the elections that raised more than a few eyebrows, it would not have been difficult to attribute the irregularities to technical hitches. First of such underhand dealings was the appointment of Kenneth Mozia as returning officer for the NBA election. Insiders say Mozia was nominated for the position by Joseph Daudu, a former NBA president and prominent member of the cabal. It is an open secret that Alegeh, Daudu, Mozia and, to some extent, Mahmoud were in the defence team of former Delta state governor, James Onanefe Ibori, who is currently serving a jail term in the United Kingdom.
Aside his active role in the emergence of Alegeh on whom he exerted overbearing influence, Barrister Daudu may claim he had no direct stake in the last NBA election. He may even claim he had no hands in the appointment of Barrister Mozia who eventually became the final puzzle in a well crafted succession jigsaw. Never mind! Whatever the case, NBA insiders believe it was not accidental that four gentlemen, bonded by their defence of a common, high-profile client, were central to the outcome of an election in which a member of the group was a candidate.
Again, the introduction of universal suffrage and electronic voting under the amended NBA Constitution 2015 were, in theory, innovations that appeared to have given the critical mass of Nigerian lawyers cause for cheer. But, in practice, the innovations have effectively aborted that hope through abbreviating the desire of NBA members to elect a leadership that truly represents their will. Clearly, lawyers who saw the last NBA election as an opportunity to extricate the association from the clutches of the cabal must have been sorely disappointed at its outcome.
Yet, there is a sunny side to the gloom. At least, it is comforting that the cabal‘s grip on the NBA has weakened of recent, especially, with the litany of legal actions to challenge brazen acts of impunity and untoward malpractices that characterised the last NBA elections. But for emerging graphic illustrations of how the election was compromised, few Nigerians outside NBA circles would have heard of the damage done to the NBA by influence-peddlers.
Honestly, it amounts to gross abuse of privileges for Nigerians lawyers to make pronouncements on election matters in court when the Bar association can barely conduct what could pass for transparent elections.
Magaji is based in Abuja and can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>