vows to resist moves to form splinter body
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Mr Olumide Akpata was on Friday sworn in as the 30th President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA.
Akpata is the first non-Senior Advocate of Nigeria, to lead the NBA in years, having defeated two SANs in an online election the legal body conducted between July 29 and July 30.
Akpata was sworn in by the immediate past National President of the NBA, Mr Paul Usoro, at exactly 7:05 pm, in a ceremony that held at the National Headquarters of the association in Abuja.
Motion for the dissolution of the Usoro-led National Executive Committee of the legal body was moved and okayed at exactly 7:13 pm, just as the new NBA President, performed his first assignment by swearing in other members of his cabinet.
In his maiden address, Akpata said he would spend the next 24 months focusing on holistic reforms in the association, as well as the welfare of lawyers across the federation.
He said his emergence as the new leader of the legal body was “orchestrated by the Almighty who sees the affairs of men”, saying he would ensure a truly all-inclusive Bar that would be devoid of class segregation.
Recalling that he had a near-death experience in the past, Akpata, thanked God for the gift of life.
“God preserved my life for a day like this,” he stated, attributing his election success to massive support he got from young lawyers.
“I must acknowledge the role of young lawyers. I am eternally grateful to all the young lawyers who reposed their confidence in me. I will work hard with my team to justify this trust.”
While thanking the two SANs that also vied for the NBA Presidency, Akpata, urged them to support his administration to ensure that the association remained united as one family, stressing that it was the only way the Bar could be revitalised.
The new NBA President described himself as “a bridge”, saying he emerged to build rapport between the young and old members of the Bar.
He said it was unfortunate that some persons reportedly tried to split the association by forming an alternative body.
“This is rather unfortunate for our egalitarian association. I plead with all Nigerian lawyers to bear this philosophy of unity of the Bar in mind.”
He said the NBA must always speak with one mind.
“Now is the time to come together because a divided Bar is definitely a defeated Bar.”
Akpata said though his election was free and fair and reflected the wish of Nigerian lawyers, he said his administration would, however, embark on a holistic electoral reform with a view to addressing some glitches that were noticed during the election.
“We need to manage to our electoral process better”, he stated and consequently constituted a 10-man election review Committee to be headed by Ayo Akitunde, with Mike Igini as the Deputy Chairman.
Aside stressing the need for an effective database of lawyers in the country, Akpata, said he would tackle both the issue of welfare of legal practitioners and what he termed as “erosion of ethical values” in the profession.
“Lack of institutional capacity is what our association has suffered over the years. We have to hit the ground running immediately.”
He said the NBA under his watch would fight against the encroachment of works that are the exclusive reserve of lawyers, by members of other professions, including banks.
“It is no longer business as usual”, Akpata maintained, adding that the NBA would also facilitate justice sector reforms, including the yardstick for the conferment of SAN rank on lawyers.
Meanwhile, earlier, the former President of the NBA, Usoro, dismissed the report on the emergence of an alternative association of lawyers, as work of distractors.
He said: “In recent times, I have heard comments that suggested that some of our people may be looking at alternative Bar.
“We are saying that there is no alternative to a united and indivisible Bar. We are stronger together. Whatever differences we have, we have to settle them in the house. There is no room for anybody to break away.
“I did not take the report I saw in the media yesterday serious.
“I am convinced that it was the work of distractors. We must not allow them. We must be one united and indivisible Bar.
“That is the only way we can truly protect and promote the rule of law. We must remember that the rule of law does not have any religion, ethnic or social class.
“We must avoid having to make our judgements and comments concerning the Bar, based on ethnicity, religion or class. We must avoid bring in those things that distract the outside world. We must not bring them to the house.
“We must kick them out and remain one indivisible Nigerian Bar Association”.
Likewise, in his contribution at the event, a human rights lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, maintained that any attempt to divide the Bar would be resisted.
“I call them to drop all these issues of trying to form an Alternative Bar. Progressive forces in this country and within the Bar, most members who know where we are coming from will resist it.”
He argued that it would be similar to people seeking to create Southern Nigerian Army, Western Nigerian Port Authority, Southern Nigeria NNPC, among others.
“Where then are we heading to? That will amount to total balkanization of the country,” Ozekhome added.
The report had emerged on Thursday that some lawyers of Northern extraction had formed a new ‘Nigerian Bar Association’ with the aim of protecting their interests as encapsulated under Section 40 of the Constitution.
In a statement reportedly signed by arrowheads of the group, Nuhu Ibrahim and Abdulbasit Suleiman, they claimed that recent happenings in the legal body, including the dis-invitation of Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai as a speaker in the just-concluded conference of the NBA, exposed the inability of the association to manage and contain the heterogeneity of its members.
The duo said the new group would consult other senior lawyers from the northern extraction so as to co-opt them into the new umbrella body of lawyers from the region.