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NBA national officers’ face-off depeens

•••faction petitions over award of contract

By Innocent Anaba

The face-off between some national officers of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), is getting messier, following recent denial of the position maintained by some national officers of the association, who had written the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi,  regarding the appointment of lawyers to the position of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

While the National Publicity Secretary of the NBA, Mr Muritala Abdul-Rasheed disassociated the association from the said letter to the CJN, some national officers of the association have petitioned the President of the association, Chief Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), accusing him of impropriety in the printing of the association’s Bar Perspective and Bar Voice.

Mr Abdul-Rasheed, has  maitained that there is no merit in the petition.

In the petition signed by Barth Okoye-Aniche, Chief Ganny Ajape and Steve Ononye, 3rd Vice President, Welfare Secretary and Assistant Financial Secretary, respectively, the national officers said “we the undersigned fellow stakeholders and national officers of the NBA feel worried and disturbed by manifestation and continuous violation of the constitution of the NBA, now deem it necessary to demand your response on the particulars of the allegations in this petition.

• NBA President Rotimi Akeredolu and CJN, Justice Idris Kutigi
• NBA President Rotimi Akeredolu and CJN, Justice Idris Kutigi

“It has come to our notice that you awarded and approved contract for the printing of the Bar Perspective and Voice of the Bar to a company, AKT Venture Ltd, which said company you are a Director and approved and signed  a cheque for N3.32million and paid into the said company’s account in two installments”.

According to the national officers, “the said amount is not provided for in the NEC approved budgetary allocation for the year, having approved N1million, instead of the N900,000 provided for publication in the budgetary allocation for the year.

Secondly, from the approval memo to you from the Publicity Secretary, dated July 29, 2009,  wherein you approved on the same date, the release of N2m to him, it is crystal clear that the General Secretary, Mr Ibrahim Mark, raised objections as regards your approval of same with  a valid/written reasons in the memo, but instead,  you in connivance with the the Treasurer, who prepared this budget and who knew that this money was not budgeted for, signed the cheque for the  N2m.

“Further, the said memo of July 29, 2009 requested for the N2m to cover printing expenses, but on August 20, 2009, by a memo from the same Publicity Secretary to you, you approved on the same date another N1.32m for the balance of the publication, which you signed out on the same date in the name of one Amos, a staff of the NBA, who accordingly withdrew the said sum and paid into AKT Venture’s bank account.

“More worrisome in this matter is that the said Bar Perspective, 2,000 copies was printed by the said AKT Venture at a cost of over N1,600 per copy without any tender from any other printing company to justify this astronomical and unbelievable price.  Further more, there is nothing  to show that all the copies as requested in the memos were printed and delivered to the NBA, because both the approval, printing and delivery of these publications were with your approval.

“As national officers, our privileges have been eroded by these developments and we cannot as the Bar criticise government and how it is run, turn around and not do things right.  We also feel frightened and disturbed by these developments”, the petition added.

Meanwhile, when Akeredolu was contacted by Vanguard Law and Human Rights for his response to the petition, he said “I have no reply to the petition, but one has to be very careful because I had said that I will sue them for libel. And I suggest that you are careful too. More over, I don’t award contract. The better person to comment on the petition would be the National Publicity Secretary of the association, maybe you need to get in touch with him. He is in a better position to comment on the matter”.

When Vanguard Law and Human Rights contacted the National Publicity Secretary, he explained, “what happened was that at the national officers’ meeting of the association, we decided to publish the Bar Perspective, which was last published in 2002. A committee was set up, comprising myself as the chairman. Other members of the committee were Osita Okoro, Gbolahan Gbadomasi and Amos  Lungus. We invited firms to publish the publication for us. The firms that quoted to publish were Odade, which quoted N2,500 per copy; Platform quoted N2,600; Esquire quoted N2,450 and AKT Ventures Ltd quoted N1,600.

“We invited them and spoke to them, asking them to reconsider their prices, but they insisted that they were not going down and we noticed  that the difference between the company we awarded the contract, which is only for the printing, was about N800.  More so, AKT was introduced to me by Osita, who said the company had been printing for them since 2002 and we invited them for interactions. And based on cost benefit analysis, we gave it to AKT. Nobody knew that the company was in any way connected to the President.

“This is  President that returned N5million to the NBA, refused to fly first class, but has always flew ecomony class with us. He has also refused to stay in suits in hotels, but stayed with us in single room. Mind you, the contract was for just N2million.  People are just trying to tarnish the image of the president for no reason. The award of the contract for the printing of the publication followed due process. Some people who realised that they have missed out are just trying to raise issues where non exist”, he said.

Meanwhile, reacting to the clarification by Abdul-Rasheed, the group said, even if it was admitted that the AKT had been doing jobs for the NBA since 2002, with Akeredolu becoming the President of the association, would it not have been better for the association to stop dealing with the company, knowing that there has arisen a conflict of interest, because you cannot be a leader of a group your company is executing contract for.

They maintained that the N1,600 cost of the publication was too astronomical, given that most magazines  and publications sold in the country today, costs between N200 to N500. And that even though N900,000 was approved by NEC, does the President have the powers to over-ride or over-rule NEC? “These are the issues they should address, rather than all these explanations.

Are they saying that it makes sense to publish our news publication for N1,600 a copy? How many people can afford to buy the publication at the price.  If AKT had been dealing with NBA, as Akeredolu became the President, the normal thing would have been for him to stop the company from dealing with the association, because it would amount to conflict of interest. We are lawyers and critical of what others do, so we must lead by example. These are the issues”, they added.

This is coming as NBA’s National Publicity Secretary, in a statement at the weekend, distanced the association from a letter written to the Chief Justice of the Nigeria, to the effect that the NBA apologised over a letter it wrote, alleging corruption in the process of appointing Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

Mr Abdul-Rasheed had said, “the attention of the NBA has been drawn to newspaper reports of a purported apology issued by some National Officers of the association in respect of a letter written by the NBA President to the Chief Justice of Nigeria regarding appointments to the position of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

According to him, “at the national officers meeting of the NBA held in Kaduna on November 3, 2009 the purported apology was roundly deprecated as not representing the view of the national officers and indeed, the association, but as the clear and unfortunate handiwork of some officers who have other interests to serve beside the interest of the association;

“For the avoidance of doubt, the apology issued by  four  officers (of which the most senior is the third Vice-President Barth Okoye-Aniche, the others being the General Secretary Ibrahim Eddy Mark, the Welfare Officer, Ganny Ajape and Assistant Financial Secretary Onyechi Ononye) out of the 14 national officers of the NBA cannot and does not represent the views of the majority of the National Officers, the rest of who stand  resolutely by the President’s letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“It is indeed unfortunate that certain officers of the NBA would subordinate the interests of the Association in pursuit of personal interests, aggrandisement and affiliations; without regard to integrity and discipline, the twin pillars of the Profession. It is even more unfortunate that these officers would ignore the NBA constitution and tradition, which makes the NEC of the Association the only legitimate body which can reverse its President; It begs the question to keep reiterating that the President is the sole spokesman for the Association whose views as expressed in the said letter can never be his personal views, but that of the Association;

“We note that were it not for the skilful manner with which the President handled the clamour for the abolition of the rank of SAN during the Annual General Meeting of the association in August, the SAN-abolitionists led by 82 year old England trained Pa Tunji Gomez riding the wave of popular opinion at that meeting, would have made the Association pass a resolution to undermine the rank;

“ NBA makes bold to say that the NBA President’s letter in issue to the Chief Justice of Nigeria drawing the attention of His Lordship to agitations within the Bar at its Annual General Meeting last August, towards abolishing the rank of SAN and the need for the CJN  to convene stakeholders meeting  pending consideration by the NEC of the NBA could only be best described as the most matured approach to finding resolution to the issues at stake;

“Consequently, the NBA asserts that the apology in question represents the view of favour seekers and turn-coats within its ranks and assures the Bar and general public of its unqualified commitment to a better Judiciary, a better Bar and a better Nigeria”, he added.

But the national officers of the NBA, who  wrote the letter to the CJN, have reacted to the disclaimer, insisting that all they did was to save the association from isolation, which was where the association was heading to, with the earlier letter to the CJN by the NBA President.

Insisting that they have nothing to regret, the national officers said that the NBA under Chief Akeredolu was fighting on all fronts and that it was not in the best interest of the profession. According to them, “we are fighting the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Privildges Committee, the CJN amongst others. These are lawyers like us and it was not right for the CJN to take on all the lawyers because of the letter written by our President. We may not agree on the issue now, but there are certainly better ways to handle the matter and not to write the CJN and make insinuation that have no basis.”

“If Abdul-Rasheed feels that the best way to face the SAN controversy was by accusing the CJN of corruption, then we disagree with him. If he is taking that position as an individual, it will be okey with us, but not drag all the lawyers in the country into this.” they added.


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