By Innocent Anaba
The leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), before the annual conference of the association, which took place in Lagos,Â in August this year, was involved in the face-off over the Lagos State Local Council Development Areas (LCDA).
While the President of the NBA, Chief Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), cautioned the Federal Government not to over heat the polity, following its threat to take all necessary steps to ensure that the Lagos State Government reverts to the 20 local councils in the constitution, the Secretary General of the NBA, Mr Ibrahim Mark, adopted the position of the government at the centre, that the LCDAs have no constitutional backing and the state should thus revert to the old 20 LGAs. This was seen by many as the two taking sides.
Not even the annual conference of the association was able to take a common position on the matter, as this reporter had asked at the conference closing media briefing, that given the fact that the matter may go back for re-litigation, would it be right for the NBA to take a stand, in view of the fac that it would be the same lawyers gathered at the conference, that would argue the matter before the court.
The LCDA issue marked the beginning of the disagreement, at least to the knowledge of the public,Â between the most important national officers of the association, the President and the Secretary General. This disagreement has manifested itself again, following a press statement issued by the Secretary General on the current amnesty granted Niger Delta militants by the Federal Government.
Vanguard newspaper had on October 14, reported the statement by NBA Secretary General, Mr Mark, in which the association had commended the Federal Government and states of the Niger Delta on the successful conclusion of the first phase of the amnesty program.
The association had in the report, had noted that with the number of militants and their leaders that have embraced the amnesty programme and the number of arms, ammunition, explosives and gun boats already surrendered to the government, it was clear that a low intensity armed struggle had been going on in the Niger Delta without any concerted effort at stemming the tide.
But before the week ran out, the associationâ€™s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Muritala Abdul-Rasheed issued another statement, distancing the NBA from the statement earlier issued by Mark.
Abdul-Rasheed had in the statement entitled â€œcounterminding the press release on amnesty in the Niger Deltaâ€ said, â€œthe attention of the NBA has been drawn to a press release purportedly issued on October 14, 2009 in the name of the association by the General Secretary, Mr. Ibrahim Mark on the subject of the Federal Governmentâ€™s Amnesty Program in the Niger Delta.
“It is pertinent to point out that the said press release does not bear the imprimatur of the Nigerian Bar Association, being released behind the back of the President of the association. Consequently, the general public are hereby notified that the said statement constitutes the personal view of the said General Secretary and not the association.
â€œIt is perhaps pertinent to point out that Section 13 (1) (f) of the constitution of the NBA categorically vests in the President of the association the sole responsibility of speaking for the NBA. The said constitution at Sections 13 (2) (a) (iv), 13 (2) (b) (iv), 13 (2) (c) (iv) & 13 (3) (g) also envisages the possibility of the president delegating such powers, which was not so done in the instant case.
Indeed, the president of the association, Mr. Akeredolu is outside the country at the moment and has not authorised the said release. He has, in keeping with constitution of the NBA categorically and specifically handed over to the 1st national Vice-President, Ikeazor Akaraiwe, who himself did not authorise the release.
â€œThe President of the NBA after due consultation with the elders and other stakeholders will on behalf of the association,Â address a world press conference on the amnesty programme and other burning national issues in November, 2009 on his return from the United States of America, where he is presently holidaying. This statement countermanding the said release becomes necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the associationâ€, he had said.
But Mark in response to the statement, said â€œare they saying that I misrepresented the association or that I embarrassed the association? The issued I raised in the press statement, are they germane or not? Are they saying that I have no power to speak for the association. They should bear in mind that as the General Secretary, all correspondents must come from my office or are they saying that I have no power to do that?â€
He cited section 13(3) of the NBA constitution, stating emphatically that he is empowered by the constitution of the association to speak on the issue he did, noting that the NBAâ€™s constitution did not make any provision for an Acting President and that as the sitting Secretary General, nobody can do secretarial business without his approval.