By Innocent Anaba

Mrs Boma Ozobia, is the President, Commonwealth Lawyers Association, CLA. Before the commencement of the April general elections, the CLA had visited the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, headquarters, Abuja, to ascertain its preparedness to deliver credible elections. In this interview, she spoke on the elections, the role of foreign observers, the objectives of the CLA and the agenda for the President.

Excerpt:

Mrs Boma Ozobia, CLA President

What is your assessment of the on going elections?

The elections are being conducted in a manner that inspires confidence in the process and the electoral body. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has done very well. Doubtless, the logistics must have been an operational equivalent of “desert storm” for those concerned.

Apart from the false start on April 2, they are generally assessed as having acquitted themselves creditably. In the pre-election meeting I had with the INEC team led by Prof. Attahiru Jega, they assured us of their readiness to conduct credible polls and I am pleased to see that they have stepped up and performed.

Do you think the politicians have accepted winning by fair means?

The same cannot really be said for the political contenders. There have been allegations that some of them resorted to various forms of inducement to sway the voters in their favour. Thankfully, the voter sensitisation programmes seem to be having some effect and Nigerians are waking up to the fact that democracy is an interactive process and everyone has a part to play.

With the Latimer House Principles, how has CLA contributed to the development of democracy and rule of law in other parts of the world?

The Latimer House Principles are very well-thought out set of guidelines which the CLA was integral to formulating. The principles were adopted by the Commonwealth Heads of Government here, in Nigeria, at their meeting in Abuja in 2003.

They deal with the principles and guidelines for the separation of powers between the three arms of government, the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. Without proper separation of powers, we cannot have a proper democracy. To that extent, Nigeria, in my view, should take the lead in ensuring that the principles guide the relationship between the three arms of government at the federal level and ensure that we also have free, fair and credible elections at state levels.

What has CLA been doing to ensure free, fair and credible elections?

Free, fair and credible elections can only be delivered to Nigeria by Nigerians. International observers are only observers; they are not participants in the process and cannot, therefore, deliver free and fair elections to Nigeria. All they can do is report what they observed during the elections and, in the current exercise, I am pleased to note that all observers have generally adduced the elections thus far, to be free and fair.

I will sound a note of warning to the political gladiators that it is no longer business as usual. They should heed the lessons from neighboring Ivory Coast and avoid overheating the polity unduly. Going by the trends from last week’s election, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, seemed to be the dominant party, so I would be surprised if the end result throws up any surprises.

What are your expectations of the new President?

Nigeria requires long-term strategic planning and implementation to resolve the national crisis in power, security and health. If the government will focus on these areas and deploy appropriate resources to provide workable frameworks and solutions, the Nigerian people are most enterprising and can be left alone to pull the country rapidly into the 21st century train.

How does it feel to be the first woman president of CLA?

I have received a lot of goodwill messages from “sisters in law” who see this as a milestone for women in the profession, from Canada to Zimbabwe.

To that extent, I have to say that I am privileged to be identified as one of their own. I am conscious that privileges come with heavy responsibilities and challenges, I will do my utmost best to meet their expectations. I was elected president at the Annual General Meeting, AGM, before the conference in Hyderabad, India, in February this year. But, I effectively took over at the end of the conference, very much in keeping with Bar traditions generally.

In Nigeria, for example, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr Joseph Daudu, SAN, was elected at the Ibadan National Executive Committee, NEC meeting, but he did not take over the Bar presidency until the end of the Kaduna Annual General Conference.

Do you see your election as the CLA president as a response to the United Nations, UN, declaration of 2011 as the year of African Descent?

Firstly, let me commend the UN for declaring 2011 as the year for the people of African Descent, which is black people the world all over. The reason it did that was because it recognised that black people in the larger scheme of things have been marginalised and discriminated against. Effectively, it is to encourage affirmative action and not only recognise the past inequity, but to somehow address it.

Could that have contributed to your election?

That is coincidental with my election. I am certain that my colleagues at the CLA were not making a decision as to whether I became the president or not on the basis of that UN declaration. I would like to believe that it was because they felt that I merited it and that I would do a good job as the president of the association for the two-year tenure, till our conference in Cape Town, South Africa in 2013.

What other roles have you played in the association before now?

From the moment I became active in CLA, that was in 2005, at our conference in London, I got involved and did my best to make sure that we had a successful conference. I was not doing that in any form or capacity. I was busy promoting the conference, encouraging colleagues here and in England to register and attend, suggesting speakers, getting involved in the moot trials and so on.

That was how it started. Again, I must commend both the members and the council of the CLA in that, if you have that spirit of hardwork and want to assist, they immediately take the initiative to formally invite you to come and work with the executive committee. That is how I got involved and, ever since then, I can’t say that I have stopped.

What is your leadership style?

We look at what needs to be done. We have a strategic plan and, in that plan, we set out our objectives, we set out time lines within which to achieve them. As a group, collectively, all the members of the committee, all the members of the council will then come together towards achieving that objective.

What is your programme for the next two years?

I have a two-year tenure and the programmes for the period are in progress. They encompass existing programmes carried over from the last committee decisions. They involve making room for new activities. All efforts will be in line with our raison d’etre of the rule of law and standards in the profession. To that extent, I will be seeking collaborative opportunities with other like-minded organisations to achieve these noble objectives.

Who are the members of CLA and what is your relationship with national bar associations of member countries?

The CLA comprises primarily of national bar associations and, in more recent years, individual members of the profession within the Commonwealth.

Do you think that your election as CLA president will facilitate the emergence of a woman president for NBA?

Well, in the NBA, we have had Mrs Priscilla Kuye as president, but she was not duly elected. She was a vice president and stepped up to complete their term. So, to that extent, the NBA has never elected a woman president.

It is bad because I am certain, although I have not taken any polls, that women constitute at least 50 per cent of the profession.

I am hoping and will actively support any credible woman candidate that will come forward in the next NBA election; and also hope that, at the next election, more women lawyers will come out to contest into various offices and will be supported by their male colleagues.

Women will bring in a leadership that will add value to the association and help it to balance things.

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