By Innocent Anaba
With few days to the delegates conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, in Abuja, where new national officers are expected to be elected, candidates for the various positions have intensified their campaigns, which is in the last lap.
Among positions being keenly contested are the President and General Secretary. Other positions are the 1st Vice President, General Secretary, Treasurer, Publicity Secretary, Welfare Secretary and 2nd Assistant Secretary. For the Legal Adviser, 2nd Vice President, 1st Assistant Secretary and Assistant Publicity Secretary, the candidates were returned unopposed.
For the office of the President, Chief Okechukwu Wali, SAN, Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN and Chief Blessing Ukiri are the contestants.
For General Secretary are Emmanuel Haruna, Emeka Obegolu and Olumuyiwa Olowokure.
For the position of 1st Vice President are Folusho Fayokun, O.J Erahbor, Caleb Dajan and Awoniyi Alabi. For 3rd Vice President are S. H. Garun Gabas and Francis Ekwere.
Joyce Oduah and Shinyanbola Ganiat Adetutu are slugging it out for Treasurer. For Publicity Secretary are Afam Obi and Gbolahan Gbadamosi. Welfare Secretary, Ma‘Sud M. Alabelewe and Kelvin Ezinna, while for 2nd Assistant Secretary, we have Benjamin Isetin, Gabriel Opayinka and U.F.O Nnaemeka contesting.
Meanwhile, the candidates for the office of President, have continued to campaign and are being endorsed by regional and interest groups.
For Wali, the General Assembly of Eastern Bar Forum, EBF, in Umuahia, Abia State, ratified his adoption, alongside that of candidates adopted by its leadership last May.
The Governing Council of the association and its elders had at a meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on May 19, adopted candidates for the forthcoming election.
Those adopted for the election include Okey Wali, SAN for the President, Joyce Odua for Treasurer, U.F.O. Nnaemeka for 2nd Assistant Secretary, Afam Obi for Publicity Secretary, Kelvin Ejeleonu for Welfare and Unachukwu John Echezona for Assistant National Publicity Secretary.
At the meeting, which was chaired by EBF chairman, Mr Kemasuode Wodu, aspirants, who were non members of the association, addressed the meeting to canvass for votes. Those who addressed the meeting included E.A. Haruna, 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.
Mr Wodu said “The decisions of the elders council which was of course based on the directives of the general meeting were all affirmed thereby endorsing Wali, SAN as the presidential candidate of the NBA from the Forum with all other members contesting for various positions in the forthcoming elections.”
He noted that the forum intends to sanction anybody who refuses to respect the resolution of the Forum and continues to campaign without being adopted by the Forum, saying, “previously, there had been instances where some members were sanctioned by the body but each case will be dealt with on its merit, when we face such issues, the general meeting will decide what to do.”
Secretary of EBF, Mr. O. Igwenyi, said: “The meeting was indeed a very successful outing. Everything went on smoothly, no disturbances anywhere, there was unanimous agreement on every issue that was raised.
On the position of the adoption of candidates for the EBF in respect of the forthcoming Bar elections, Igwenyi said, “on May 19, this year, the EBF adopted candidates for this election. At that meeting in Port Harcourt, Wali, SAN was adopted as our president in the forthcoming election and today, at our general meeting, he was ratified by the general assembly.”
On whether the Forum had 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 brief, you are 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 own direction.
“The Arewa Lawyers Forum sent a very high powered delegation to our meeting. A big team of northern branches chairmen and secretaries came here to tell us that they accepted our adopted candidates especially, Wali as the president and that they are going to work with us,” he added.
But another candidate for the position, Chief Ngige, through his Head of Campaign Organisation, faulted the adoption and conduct of EBF at its meeting in Umuahia.
Okechukwu Wali, SAN, 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 the NYSC programme, he joined the law firm of C.C.L. Williams-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.
Between 1999 and 2000, Wali, SAN, was a member of Criminal Justice Committee of Rivers State. His membership of another body, the prestigious Council of Legal Education of Nigeria spanned eight years, between 1998 – 2006.
His 10 cardinal point programme includes:
Branch capacity building: Strengthen the Capacity of Branches to function professionally; Professionalizing the secretariat: Professionalizing the Operations of the Secretariat; Human capacity building, by restructure and Strengthen the NBA Institute of Continuing Legal Education with emphasis on Professional Ethics.
Anti-corruption crusade, by promoting the independence and institutional efficiency of Anti-Corruption institutions; promoting constitutionalism and the Rule of Law in the fight against corruption.
Uplifting professional standards, that is by enhance Professional Ethics & Code of Conduct for lawyers and collaborate with the Nigerian Law School and assist with funding of Ethical Accounting Programmes and Skill Acquisition.
Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, joined the fray of NBA Presidential race after deep reflection on the current state of the Bar which he likens to a state of anomie. Indeed, while informing Nigerian lawyers of his intention to offer himself for service, he said: “It is now beyond argument that Nigeria is currently in a state of anomie; almost all sectors of the society are facing systematic failure. The legal profession is not spared. The profession is facing multifarious challenges.”
He asserts that, “The independence of the Bar and the Judiciary has become compromised.”
It is equally instructive that Ngige is coming into the contest with an intimidating resume. Having had leadership thrust on him from early age (he was Labour Prefect in high school), Ngige was a keen student union activist in his university days, holding several posts.
Aside from his long-standing involvement in community service – having been the scribe of Alor Development Union, Lagos Branch for almost 10 years, he is a consummate and well respected Bar man. He has managed to joggle a highly successful law practice with service to the Nigerian Bar.
Among his several posts are Publicity Secretary, NBA (Lagos Branch); Secretary, NBA (Lagos Branch); Member, Committee of Chairmen & Secretaries (the committee revived the NBA after a debilitating crisis); Member, NBA NEC; Member, NBA Disciplinary Committee; Member, Legal Practitioners Independent/Complaints Committee; Member, Body of Benchers; Assistant Secretary, Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria; Alternate Chairman, Judges Forum, Section on Legal Practice (SLP), and Chairman, Class of 1985 of the Nigerian Law School.
Ngige’s roadmap for the NBA is just as progressive as it is pragmatic. Revolving on his major theme of restoring the Bar to its lost glory, Ngige is resolved to address issues bordering on internal democracy within the NBA, judicial independence, tackling corruption, deepening the capacity of lawyers and NBA branches, aggressively canvassing constitutional and sundry reforms, ensuring quick passage of justice sector bills, addressing concerns on the award of SAN, and restoring public confidence in the legal profession by ensuring that errant lawyers are adequately disciplined.
For Ngige, fate beckons. Educated in the East and finding a serene home – professionally and otherwise – in the South-West, many of Ngige’s best friends are from the North, thus giving a lie to the campaign of calumny by his detractors. He is the quintessential Nigerian.
The audacity of Ngige’s challenge is unmistakable, even historic. The die is cast. The eternal battle between the hawks and the doves is again being waged. It is a mortal combat for the soul of the NBA. Who wins? The NBA should win. Let the NBA win. Ultimately, however, the answer is in the womb of time.
Chief Blessing Ukiri
He graduated from the University of Benin in 1984. He holds a masters degree in Law. He was admitted to study law through direct entry after successfully completing the High School Certificate in Government College, Ughelli. He was called to bar as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1985.
His areas of practice are general and varied, in accordance with the general practice of law in Nigeria. He, however, specializes in the areas of enforcement of fundamental rights and judgments, litigation, energy, natural resources and environment, intellectual property, etc. He is also a Notary Public.
He has won NBA Merit Award; meritorious Service Award, NBA Abeokuta Branch; distinguished Alumnus Award, University of Benin Alumni Association among others.
He is a member of Governing Council of the Human Rights Institute; chairman, NBA Election Monitoring Committee, 2002 – 2004; chairman, National Welfare Committee, NBA, 2006 – 2008, chairman, NBA Law Reform Committee, 2002-2004 among others.
His contributions to the legal profession and humanity in general are too numerous to recount here due to space constraint.
He is married to Eloho, also a lawyer and they are blessed with five children.