By Innocent Anaba and Abdulwahab Abdulah
The die is cast as a new executive, which will lead the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, for the next two years finally emerged Tuesday after series of horse trading and politicking. The road leading to the emergence of the new exco was torturous and challenging.
Except for those who were returned unopposed in the well contested elections of the association, all the candidates had campaigned from one part of the country to the other.
While this was on, most of them spent time and money to draw supporters, using different methods including one on one campaign at the same time whipping up sentiments to canvass support.
Many of the candidates also used Information Technology (IT) and SMS to convey their ability and proficiency to occupy the respective offices they were running for.
No doubt, two offices; the office of the President and Secretary were keenly contested. Except the offices of the 2nd Vice-President, the legal Adviser, 1st Assistant Secretary and Assistant Publicity Secretary that were returned unopposed, other offices were also keenly contested. It was evident that much energy and resources were committed by the candidates vying for the elections.
Among the positions keenly contested were that of the President, which had Chief Okechukwu Wali, SAN, Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN and Chief Blessing Ukiri.
For General Secretary, Emmanuel Haruna, Emeka Obegolu and Olumuyiwa Olowokure slugged it out. For the position of 1st Vice President were Folusho Fayokun, O.J Erahbor, Caleb Dajan and Awoniyi Alabi.
For the office of the 3rd Vice President were S. H. Garun Gabas and Francis Ekwere.
Joyce Oduah and Shinyanbola Ganiat Adetutu slugged it out for Treasurer. For Publicity Secretary were Afam Obi and Gbolahan Gbadamosi.
We have welfare Secretary contested by Ma‘Sud M. Alabelewe and Kelvin Ezinna , while 2nd Assistant Secretary office was contested by Benjamin Isetin, Gabriel Opayinka and U.F.O Nnaemeka.
Apart from the strategies employed by the candidates, especially for those that contested for the offices of the President and the Secretary General, the preferred candidates were freely adopted by lawyers from different parts of the country, under different fora.
For instance, for the office of the President which were contested by lawyers from the Eastern Bar Forum, drew much controversy and horse-trading. Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, from the East, had felt cheated and uncomfortable with the adoption of Chief Oke Wali, SAN , by the General Assembly of the Eastern Bar Forum, EBF, in Umuahia, Abia State, while ratifying the adoption of candidates by its leadership, earlier in May.
The Governing Council of the association and its elders had at its meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on May 19, adopted candidates for the different offices.
At the meeting which was chaired by the EBF chairman, Mr Kemasuode Wodu, they allowed aspirants, who were non members to address them and canvass for votes. Those who addressed the meeting included E.A. Haruma, Emeka Obegolu and O.O. Olowokure as General Secretary aspirants, Mr. O.J. Erhabor, a candidate for the office of 1st vice president also addressed the forum.
The Arewa Lawyers Forum delegation addressed the meeting and presented their letter to the Forum.
Those adopted for the election included Chief Wali, SAN, for the President; Joyce Odua for Treasurer; Afam Obi for Publicity Secretary; Kelvin Ejeleonu for Welfare Secretary and Unachukwu John Echezona for Assistant Publicity Secretary.
Shortly after the adoption by EBF, the hope of other candidates, who contested the office of the president were sealed by similar adoption by the Arewa Lawyers Forum, which threw its support behind the EBF’s candidates, for future political calculations.
Close to all the candidates adopted by these fora eventually coasted home to victory.
Those who eventually won the elections were Chief Okechukwu Wali, SAN, who emerged as the 26th President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA. He was declared winner having polled a total of 688 votes as against 449 and 2 votes that were polled by other contenders for the position, Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, and Chief Blessing Ukiri, respectively.
Others, who also emerged victorious were, 1st Vice President, Mr O.J Erahbor with 372 votes; 2nd Assistant Secretary, Mr U.F.O Nnaemeka with 507 votes; Publicity Secretary, Mr Afam Obi with 628 votes; Welfare Secretary, Mr Kelvin Ezinna with 600 votes; National Treasurer, Mrs Joyce Oduah with 925 votes; 3rd Vice President, Mr Francis Ekwere with 734 votes, while Mr Emeka Obegolu, emerged General Secretary, polling 527 votes, to beat two other candidates.
A massage to other candidates, who are from EBF, who were not adopted, the forum chairman, said: “There is always another day, those who were not adopted should take it in good faith and wait for their own turn. Some other day, it may well be their turn”.
On whether The Forum has sanctions for its members who refuse to respect the spirit of the adoption, Igwenyi said: ‘’if you refuse to obey our resolution, you will pay the price because it means that we cannot trust you to handle our briefs, you’re not somebody that plays by the rules, but if you respect our verdict, it means that next time you show up, we will be able to look in your direction.”
It was not all the candidates adopted by the different fora, who emerged victorious. This is to be expected any way. Some of the candidates, who had the backing of their respective fora, did not win. The charisma of some of the candidates, their reach, contact and manifestoes also contributed in no small way to their winning. While it is accepted that the endorsement played a major role, it must be pointed out that it was not absolute, otherwise, how would one explain the failure of other candidates endorsed by their fora from winning?
One unique thing about the just concluded election was that we have two persons from the same geo-political zone, the East, occupying the offices of President and General Secretary, respectively, in the person of Wali, SAN and Obegolu.
This happened last during Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, tenure, when Deacon Dele Adesina, SAN, was the Secretary General, both from the West.
One other unique feature of the election, was the ability of EBF to deliver all the candidates it endorsed for the various positions. Which ever way one looks at it, EBF came out of the election, better for it.
The new NBA President
Okechukwu Wali, was born in Rumualogu, Akpor in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State. He attended University of Buckingham, United Kingdom and graduated with Bachelor of Laws degree in 1983. He returned home for the mandatory one-year vocational training at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos.
After his NYSC programme, he joined the law firm of C.C.L. WilJiams-Chukwu & Co, in Port-Harcourt, where he spent five years, learning the ropes and acquiring vital skills, encompassing solicitor practice and courtroom advocacy. In 1990, he took the step of courage by establishing the law firm of Okey Wali & Co. in Port-Harcourt, and amidst devotion to diverse responsibilities as would be seen hereunder, he has run the chambers till date.
He has exhibited sterling leadership qualities right from his childhood to his adolescence and throughout his adult life. He has discharged with impressive efficiency, all the responsibilities that have devolved on him and he never shrinks from taking responsibility.
Two years after he started his private chambers, he became the Secretary of NBA, Port-Harcourt branch, in April 1992, a position he held till April 1994. In the same 1992, he became a member of the National Executive Committee of NBA, which position he holds till date.
Never tired of assuming responsibilities under the aegis of his Association, Okey Wali was appointed a member of the Disciplinary Committee of the NBA Port-Harcourt in May 1996 and held that position till May 1997.
He became a member of the Advisory Council on Prerogative of Mercy, Rivers State in 1997 and held the office for ten years. In April 1999, he was elected Chairman of the Port-Harcourt branch of the NBA and held the forte till his tenure expired in April 2000.
Between April 1998 and April 2000, Okey Wali, SAN, as Chairman of NBA Port-Harcourt commenced the building of the Port-Harcourt Law Centre, which he took to roofing stage at the expiration of his tenure as chairman in April 2000. To ensure success of the project, Okey Wali was a member of the Building Committee of the NBA Port-Harcourt Branch.