By Innocent Anaba & Abdulwahab Abdulah
A RIGHTS activist and lawyer, Mr. Joseph Otteh, has requested that the sacked national leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, act in good faith and in adherence to the tenor and spirit of the March 30, 2017 judgement of Justice John Tsoho of a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, which voided the NBA 2015 Constitution.
Speaking on the development, Otteh, said: “The NBA will be expected to live by example, and show principled, unstinting respect for the rule of law in all circumstances. The NBA has said that it has not read the judgement of the court, and the portions of the judgement relayed by the media clearly show that the Federal High Court annulled the constitution of the NBA.
“It is not clear what consequential orders the court made following its declaration that the constitution of the NBA was void, if it made any at all. However, this is not to say that where the court did not issue consequential orders, its judgement is without effect, no. The judgement may be sufficient grounds to alter the existing status quo.
Text of the judgement
“We will be reticent to impose on the judgement of the High Court, an interpretation that cannot unquestionably be interpolated from the text of the judgement. However, we urge that after reviewing the judgement, the present leadership of the NBA must act in good faith adherence to the tenor and spirit of the judgement in the overriding interest of the rule of law.
“The fact that an appeal is pending against the judgement is not enough reason, we believe, and in the present circumstances, to defy the judgement where it is reasonably clear that the judgement requires the NBA to act in a certain, definite way,” he added.
The suit: It will be recalled that the suit was instituted by on July 27, 2016 by Mr. Olasupo Ojo, seeking the following reliefs which were all granted by Justice Tsoho:
A declaration that ‘Exhibit C’ the Amended Constitution of the NBA adopted at the Delegates Conference held in Calabar, Cross River State on August 31, 2001 as registered with and approved by the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, in compliance with provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act 2004 is the extant and valid constitution of the defendant.
A declaration that by the provision of section 600 of the CAMA 2004, ‘Exhibit B’ the amended constitution of the NBA purportedly amended and adopted at the annual general meeting held in Abuja on August 27, 2015 and pursuant to which the administration of and affairs of the defendant has been and is being conducted is void.
A declaration that all actions, decisions and activities howsoever described, already taken or intended/planned to be taken and/or carried out by the defendant, her officers, staff, organs, committees, branches, members, representatives and/or any other person acting on behalf of or in the name of the NBA in any manner whatsoever including but not limited to the conduct of elections in branches of the NBA and the plan/program/notice for the election into the national offices of the defendant pursuant to “Exhibit B,” the constitution of the NBA purportedly amended and adopted at the Annual General Meeting held in Abuja on August 27, 2015 are null and void to the extent of their inconsistency with “Exhibit C,” the Amended Constitution of the NBA adopted at the Delegates Conference held in Calabar on August 31, 2001 as registered with and approved by the Corporate Affairs Commission in compliance with the provisions of the CAMA 2004.
An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant, her officers, staff, organs, committees, branches, members, representatives and/or any other person acting on behalf of or in the name of the Nigerian Bar Association in any manner howsoever described jointly and severally from conducting and/or purporting to conduct the affairs of the defendant on the basis of “ Exhibit B,” the constitution of the NBA purportedly amended and adopted at the annual General Meeting held in Abuja on August 27, 2015.”
Issues raised: Reacting to the judgement, the sacked leadership of the body, headed by Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, through its Secretary-General, Mr. Isiaka Olagunju, raised certain issues, which included that it was not joined in the suit alongside the 125 branches executive nationwide.
A statement by Olagunju, said: “We understand counsel to the Incorporated Trustees of the NBA has already appealed this decision. The NBA is making efforts to obtain the full judgement. However, the NBA is aware that those who challenged its 2015 Constitutions on similar grounds have been dismissed by the Federal High Court and other courts of coordinate jurisdictions across the country.
“The NBA has noted that this judgement has expectedly created a state of anxiety amongst its members. Annulling three previous NBA constitutions, is a matter of grave concern to the NBA and should be to the entire legal profession. The matter goes beyond the personal leadership ambitions of our individual members.
Senior practitioners to represent NBA: “The association has constituted a team comprising very senior and capable legal practitioners to represent the NBA and if necessary to join the appeal against this decision so as to preserve the continued smooth operation of the Association both at the State and National levels.
“The NBA will like to reiterate that neither the NBA President, nor any of the national officers or indeed any of the leadership of the 125 branches nationwide that were elected into office under the 2015 Constitution was a party to these proceedings. None of them has been served with any order of court affecting the conduct of any office of the NBA. In the absence of this, the NBA directs all its officers across the 125 branches nationwide and all other officers at the National level to continue to discharge their responsibilities.”
Insisting that the judgement be complied with, Mr Ojo, through his lawyer, Mr. A. C. Ozioko, has written the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen in his capacity as the Chairman of the Body of Benchers, which is statutorily empowered to take over the administration of the NBA in situations like this, to set up a caretaker committee to run the affairs of NBA until an election is held.
No counter-affidavit: However, Mr. Ozioko, in a letter to the CJN, said: “We are solicitors to the plaintiff in the above matter before Justice Tsoho of a Federal High Court, Abuja in which judgement was delivered and all reliefs sought by the plaintiff granted on March 30, 2017.
The court in its judgement voided the 2015 amended constitution of the NBA for non-compliance with mandatory provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, CAMA. Also voided were all actions howsoever described taken under the said constitution.
“Sir, worthy of note is the fact that the defendant herein did not file any counter-affidavit in opposition to the plaintiff’s suit, rather they filed a frivolous preliminary objections which were all dismissed by the court.
“You may also recall that the 2016 NBA national officers’ election held on July 30 and 31, 2016 was conducted through electronic voting in line with the voided amended 2015 NBA Constitution. The obvious resultant effect of the Court judgment in this case is that the 2016 NBA national officers’ election which ushered in the administration of Mahmoud, SAN, has been nullified and voided in its totality in line with relief 3 above granted by the Court, thus the NBA currently does not have a national leadership.
“Sir, it is not in doubt that the current ‘National Executive Committee’ of the NBA whose election has been nullified and voided by the court, is now incapable of functioning as a result thereof. To this end, we urge you in the overall interest of the Bar and the profession, as well as to forestall a breakdown of law and order to give immediate effect to the judgement of the Federal High Court in the instant suit and to exercise your powers under the Legal Practitioners Act and the 2001 NBA Constitution as highlighted above.
Respect and moral rectitude
“We are also conscious of the fact that the public, the nation at large and the international community are watching us and as the professional body of lawyers, our conduct must always be above board. Also of concern is that the Bar may lose its respect and moral rectitude to criticise the government and other persons for non-compliance with the rule of law and disobedience to court orders, if we do not immediately give effect to the instant judgement,” Ozioko stated.
Mr. Ozioko also wrote to Access Bank, the official bank of the association, requesting for the suspension of operations in NBA accounts with the bank pending the takeover of the administration and management of the affairs of the association by the Caretaker Committee set up by the CJN, Justice Onnoghen.
Commenting on the issue, a Law lecturer at the Lagos State University, Gbenga Ojo said, “The option open now is for the NBA executive to continue running the affairs of the association. And since they have appealed against the judgement of the high court and stay of proceeding, they should be allowed to be. However, if they lose at the Court of Appeal or the apex court, then they can be removed. We cannot afford to have a vacuum.”