BY IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
It was a sight to behold! Hearing their sonorous voices from the other side of the fence, one would have thought that a new Pentecostal church had relocated to the M&M Event Center which is adjacent to the Nicon Luxury hotel in Abuja.
Their chants rented the air, the results had just been announced, Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN, has emerged as the 27th national president of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA.
In their ‘euphoric-ecstasy’, lawyers quickly composed a song with his name. The younger ones- both male and female- gyrated and danced to the admiration of their senior colleagues.
That indeed was the general mood that permeated the hall where the NBA election was held last Tuesday.
Remarkably, the promise of providing sustainable “stomach-infrastructure” for legal practitioners across the federation had formed the nub of the campaign manifesto of almost all the presidential aspirants.
The manifesto night was held a day prior to the D-day.
“Please vote for me, and I promise to put food on your table” one of the aspirants had begged the delegates.
The election, which is regarded as the most expensive electoral contest ever organized by the NBA, saw five senior lawyers battling against each other to clinch the presidential slot.
Typical of every election, there was intense horse-trading and mudslinging, with the aspirants bombarding delegates with text messages, calls and emails.
“What transpired before this election, even the conduct of some of the aspirants, was not palatable at all. In essence, they were not befitting of the legal profession”, lamented the outgoing president of the association, Chief Okey Wali, SAN, shortly after the election results were announced.
Aside Alegeh who got a land-slide victory having polled 691 votes, others that equally vied to take over the leadership of the NBA come August 29 when the tenure of the current executives will expire, were; Mr. Oladele Adeshina, SAN, who came 2nd with a total of 370 votes.
Whereas Mrs. Olufunke Adekoya, SAN, came 3rd with 255 votes, the two other contenders, Chief Adeniyi Akintola, SAN, and Mr. Osas Erhabor polled 126 and 17 votes respectively.
Likewise, the immediate past chairman of the Abuja branch of the NBA, Mr. Afam Osigwe, was elected to take over from Mr. Emeka Obegolu as the General Secretary of the legal body.
Others equally elected on Tuesday were Taiwo Obayemi Taiwo (Vice President), Francis Ekwere (1st Vice President), Taiwo Obayemi Taiwo (2nd Vice President), Akintokunbo Oluwole (3rd Vice President), Amina Mustapha (Treasurer), Gbolahan Gbadamosi (Publicity Secretary), Olatunji Salawu (1st Assistant secretary), Nwaeke Ephraim Adimabua (2nd Assistant Secretary), Adebisi Ayeni Enoch (Legal Adviser), Alabelewe Mas’ud (Welfare Officer), Ezinwa Kelvin (Financial Secretary) and Cecilia Ugboji (Assistant Financial Secretary).
Meantime, the election which was conducted amidst tight security had a total of 1728 registered delegates and 1482 accredited voters. It was undeniably a tale of the good the bad and the ugly.
The goodness of the poll obviously stems from the fact that aside occasional outburst of anger by one aggrieved delegate or the other, it was peacefully coordinated.
Right from the entrance gate, unaccredited persons were barred from accessing the election venue by gun-wielding operatives of the Department of State Service. More so, majority of the delegates hailed the election as very credible.
The bad aspect however was that delegates were forced to stand under the sun for several hours waiting for their batch to be called into the election hall to cast their votes.
Though, the chairman of the election organizing committee, Mr. Okey Amechi, SAN, ensured that the election commenced before 9am, counting of the votes did not start until 1:07pm, while the results were announced around 5:30pm.
Consequently, some of the delegates complained that they were forced to endure hunger for over nine hours.
On the ugly side, while three delegates complained that their phones were stolen right inside the venue, a lawyer from the Idemili branch of the NBA was arrested and whisked away by men of the DSS after it was discovered that he attempted to vote with an identification tag that belonged to a deceased lawyer.
Meanwhile, in his inaugural speech, the new NBA president, Alegeh, SAN, who is from the Benin branch of the association, said he would make the issue of welfare of lawyers the focal point of his administration.
“You have voted for change and I assure you that you will get that change you need. It is unfortunate that a lot of things that ought not to happen happened. I will take it as a challenge to ensure that such things never happen again. I have therefore decided to put electoral reform on the front burner”, he added.
Alegeh said he would introduce electronic voting which he said would obviate some of the difficulties the delegates faced.
Decrying the ethnic polarity currently tearing the NBA apart, Alegeh said he would not dance to the tune or favour any region more than the other.
“I will do whatever needs to be done to unite the entire bar. The votes that pushed me through today did not come from any particular region, it came from a cross section of the entire country. I believe in one bar and will fight to see that the bar remains one. Our collective interest should be the development of the bar. I promise to serve selflessly, uprightly and transparently. I will seek advice from both the old and the young. Like I said in my manifesto, the welfare of lawyers in the country is my number one priority”, Alegeh stated, amidst thunderous ovation from the crowd.
Looking at some of the factors that occasioned his victory, Alegeh, was believed to be the anointed candidate of the outgoing NBA president, Wali, who had on different occasions, appointed him to head various organs of the association.
Whereas NBA branches from the South-East and South-South massively supported his candidature, he equally got block votes from branches in the Northern parts of the country.
The zoning system that was adopted by the NBA had streamlined the process, and would have made it possible for the president to emerge from the South-West region.
It will be recalled that the outgoing president, Wali, who is from the Port Harcourt branch, slugged it out with Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, (South-East) at the last election, his predecessor, Chief Joseph Daudu, SAN, emerged from the Kaduna branch.
Alegeh’s candidacy had sparked series of protests, with many, insisting that he is not from the core South-West region.
It was however assumed that the situation would be redeemed with the numerical strength of branches from the chosen region.
Nevertheless, the inability of all the candidates from the South-West zone to agree on a consensus candidate prior to the election date, culminated to the fragmentation of votes from that region, thus making it possible for Alegeh to carry the day.
Had it been that the trio of Adeshina, Olufunke and Akintola, agreed among themselves to allow only one of them to contest, probably, the region would have been able to poll a total of 751 votes as against Alegeh’s 691.
More over, Alegeh was said to have the backing of so many South South governors, even as insinuations were rife that he was given a whooping N500million to coordinate his campaign.
That notwithstanding, with the election over, it is expected that all the stakeholders should within the next two years, work together with the new national officers towards making the NBA a body that is truly organized to be responsive to the needs of its members and the country in the 21st century.