NBA Presidential election is being unduly monetised — Adekoya

on   /   in Law & Human Rights 1:54 am   /   Comments

Mrs Funke Adekoya SAN, is the only female presidential aspirant in the forthcoming Nigerian Bar Association elections. She was a former 1st vice president (2002-2004) of the  NBA and current chairman of the Chartered Institute of  Arbitrators (Nigeria Branch). In this interview, she spoke on the role of the media in the coming NBA election, the gender perspective and how money is now playing a major role in the contest.  Excerpts:

By DAYO BENSON and WAHAB ABDULLAHI

How would you access the role of the media in a democratic dispensation?
The media, whether print or electronic media, are known as the Fourth  Estate of the Realm for a particular purpose.  The other three Estates  of the Realm include the Parliament, the Legislature, and the Judiciary.  You have a duty to inform, you have a duty to educate, and by  informing and educating, you mould public opinion.

Therefore to a  large extent, the future, not just of this  country, but also, the  future of Nigeria and Nigerians, is firmly in the hands of the Fourth  Estate of the Realm. Your obligation to inform, communicate and  educate applies.  That is why the  media have a huge role to play in  anything that affects this country.

One of the things that I have  been told many times by my foreign clients is that before we invest in  any country, we read newspapers of the country, because irrespective  of what the embassy tells us about where we are going, it is the  newspapers that will tell us the exact situation on ground.  So your  role is very important.

How do you think the media can assist to bring about an Independent Bar?
The only way we can have an independent Bar is for the media to play  their role in ensuring that candidates who are coming forward for NBA  election have no baggage and are   independent.  That is the only way we  can tell the truth to whoever cares to listen.  The job of a lawyer is  to represent the people, not a political party.  If I want to  represent a political party, I will join the party.

I am hoping that  when the campaign for election into the national leadership of the  Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) properly opens, the media should  interview candidates aspiring for different posts.  Obviously, you may  have your preferred candidates.  People have relationships that have  been built up over the years.  But if your job is to inform, educate  and communicate, then you will believe me that you will see it as a  level playing field.

Would you want to throw more light on this your challenge to the media?
Interview candidates on their plans, backgrounds, whether they are fit  and proper persons aspiring to the positions that they seek and not  just to listen to them and the promises they make.  That is the  problem associated with the Nigerian politicians.  They come and make  promises and the media do not interrogate them. I was privileged to  have been part of the panel that interviewed potential governors and  deputy governors at a time in Lagos State.

Obviously, the incumbent  Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) defeated others hands down not  because he is a lawyer, but because he was prepared.  He had the  records of having done it four years in his file.  We asked a  candidate who said ‘I am going to build 5,000 housing units at Ikota.’

How much is it going to cost? He couldn’t answer because he did not  know it as a result of lack of preparation.  How many people  are you going to house in the 5,000 housing units? How are you going  to fund it? He had no answers to all these questions.  He didn’t know  what he promised to do. These are the things that came up.  We  interviewed deputy governor candidates about what they think their  relationship as deputy governor should be. We were surprised that many  of them did not give it a thought.

I think this is part of the things  that the media should do.  It is not enough for candidates to say when  I become NBA president I’m going to do this.  Ask them how they are  going to do it.  We have too many instances of people making these promises in the past, but failed to fulfil them. I don’t understand  why we should make promises to our colleagues and fail to fulfil them  after we’ve got what we wanted.  These are what politicians do.  We  should be different and live in accordance with our professional  ethics

As the only female NBA presidential aspirant, do you see the contest within the prism of Gender issue ?
Different people from different parts of the country may hold  different view on gender issue in the NBA politics.  Some believe you  cannot break gender wall, no matter how good you may be , how well  your plans and programme may be, you are a woman, Nigeria is not ripe  enough for a woman as president of the Bar, so it is a gender issue.  I don’t see it that way.

I see it from the point of view that if  there is a glass ceiling, it is there to be broken and so I don’t  think gender should be an issue, especially in a profession that has  refused to recognise that women exist.  They say there are no ladies at the  Bar, so why should gender suddenly become an issue? To me it is not a  determinant factor for leadership of the Bar.

It is only an issue to  those who think they can use it to sideline a candidate or to say well  that candidate may not be a front runner or not be a candidate most  expected because in every aspect of the profession, they say gender is not an issue.  It is very common among us to say “there are no ladies  at the Bar, we are all men.”

Candidates for NBA presidential elections are now being sponsored by federal and state government who fund their campaigns, what is your position on this?
This is a very important issue. I think this is an area where the  Fourth Estate of the Realm has a major role to play.  How can leaders of the profession point accusing fingers at politicians if they are  doing exactly what they accuse them (politicians) of doing.  We have  an obligation as lawyers to educate the electorate, to say vote for  candidates based on their track records on the issues they present and  the solutions they propose.

Don’t vote for the person who gives  N2,000 and a loaf of bread.  Don’t mortgage the future of your  children and so on.  If we as lawyers say that to the electorate, we  should also say to ourselves that election should not be monetised.
Unfortunately, something of sort happened brazenly at the last  election of the Bar.  People should vote for a change, a better Bar.

One of the problems we have at the Bar is the allegation that  governments both at the federal and states are funding campaigns, and  the result is that we cannot speak out when we should.  I don’t think  NBA should be a government or an opposition party.  Our position  should be external counsel to Federal Attorney-General or state  Attorney-Generals.

We can advise them on what they do, reminding them  they should expect people’s reaction to what they do rightly or wrongly.  That’s a relation between an external counsel and the  government counsel.  But if we are funded by government to contest  election, it will turn out to be who pays the piper, calls the tune.

So when money is being lavishly spent on campaign, I think the media  have a duty to ask why and where is the money coming from; and why is  it being spent?  Why should it be a do-or-die thing?  I must be NBA  president and spend any amount to get there.  Who is funding it? It is certain that whoever is funding it must have an agenda.

What should be the relationship between the Nigerian Bar Association and its members?
The Nigerian Bar Association expects me to pay annual practising fees, which serve to fund the Association and which entitles me to practice law during the year of its payment. What should I expect to receive in return for this payment? It is my humble opinion that this is an area where the Nigerian Bar Association owes us as its members a duty to assist our professional  delopment by doing more than the present level of providing CLE programmes, where attendance at the Annual or Section conferences is a form of CLE for which CPD credits are awarded.

CLE connotes the concept of expanding our knowledge in areas in which we already practice, and keeping us up-to-date with new developments in those areas. We need to expand our CLE offerings into providing training in new areas of law.

Mr Ross Ray QC, a President of the Law Council of Australia, speaking on the role of bar associations at the 3rd Annual IBA Bar Leaders Conference in Amsterdam, in 2008 stated that: “There can be no greater role for a bar association than to strive to equip lawyers, to in turn  equip society, with the laws, tools and institutions to promote and defend the principles of the rule of law, principles upon which a just and equitable society is based.” I emphasize the words ‘to equip lawyers, to in turn equip society, with the laws, tools and institutions to promote and defend the principles of the rule of law.’

The late Steve Jobs made a fortune out of creating the IPod, the IPhone and then the Ipad and persuading the market that they could not exist without them. It is generally acknowledged that his products changed the way in which people communicate today. The Nigerian Bar Association ought to be teaching us new ways of practising law, and new types of law to practice, and then persuading the communities in which we live that they cannot function without us.

So, how can the Nigerian Bar Association remain relevant to its members?
If the Nigerian Bar Association becomes irrelevant to us its members, it will eventually become irrelevant to the greater society. The Nigerian Bar Association must anticipate and react to change and help its members do the same through the provision of educational and support services which will help us become better informed and more efficient. Some suggested areas where the NBA can assist are: technology training; online and expanded CLE programmes; programs to enhance lawyer/client relationships; training in new areas of legal practice, and expanded mentoring for newly qualified lawyers.

We are aware of the services that other Bar Associations provide to support their members in their legal careers. If the Nigerian Bar Association is to remain to its responsibilities and relevant to its members, apart from its obligations to maintain the Rule of Law, it has to provide services that will enhance the status of its members, and enable all lawyers, whether we work in the city, the towns or the villages, to earn a living wage.

Setting a minimum wage for lawyers is not the answer. If the Nigerian Bar Association can assist the senior lawyer to earn more money, by providing support and advice in both exploring new areas of legal practice and using modern technologies to provide legal services in a cost efficient way, the senior lawyer will have more disposable income to pay higher wages to newly qualified lawyers.

If I am not benefitting from my Branch membership, where I have competing demands on my time, why should I remain involved in Branch activities? If the national body is not supporting the growth of my legal career, why should I remain committed to it?

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