2020 NBADECIDES: The Alarm Bells are Ringing Again – Will They Ever Let Olumide Akpata Be? — Kayode Olugbemi, Esq.

Kayode Olugbemi, Esq.

According to the recently revised elections timetable of the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (“ECNBA”), we are exactly one month away from the 2020 NBA elections into national offices.   As we get closer to election day, one candidate for the Office of the President of NBA (“OPNBA”) seems to be under attack from all angles. 

That candidate is Olumide Akpata. Mr. Akpata, who is the youngest in the race, is seen in many quarters as “the candidate to beat”, “the young lawyers’ candidate” and has more recently been described as “the candidate of the Outer Bar”.  

In addition to his excellent track record of leadership in various capacities within and outside the Bar, Mr. Akpata, has unquestionably demonstrated a clear understanding of the issues affecting the Bar and their practical solutions. The theme of Mr. Akpata’s message has centered around building a professional association which puts the interests of its members first and in which every member has a voice. Anyone who knows Mr. Akpata knows that he is passionate about ours being a world class Bar which delivers value to every member and the society at large.

However, whilst Olumide Akpata’s character, philosophy, and excellent track record have made him popular amongst an overwhelming majority of members of the Bar, these same traits have also become his greatest undoing because they have put him in the eye of the storm and pitched him against known supporters of other candidates and a section of the Bar that many have referred to as “The Establishment”.  Four instances come to mind:

  1. Covid-19 Welfare Fund attacked:  Following the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown across the country, Friends of Olumide Akpata on 4th April, 2020 announced the setting up of a N5 million welfare fund for the benefit of 1,000 lawyers. The fund, working with a leading retail store and the various branches of the NBA within Lagos State were to deliver relief packs to the doorsteps of the beneficiaries – learned colleagues who were most affected by the lockdown.  Whilst this act of kindness was widely hailed as a commendable gesture worthy of emulation (and indeed was subsequently emulated by many), Mr. Akpata was particularly singled out for criticism by members of The Establishment, who, in fact, called for his disqualification because they believed that Olumide had upstaged them. This is regardless of the fact that Mr. Akpata had not even picked the nomination form at the time.  Those who called for his disqualification at the time conveniently ignored comparable acts that had been done by the other Presidential hopefuls at the time – namely – Dele Adesina, SAN and Tunde Ajibade, SAN. This was a clear act of hypocrisy and double standards. See more details here: https://thenigerialawyer.com/the-hypocrisy-and-double-standards-that-attend-the-denigration-of-olumide-akpatas-humanitarian-effort-why-is-olumide-akpata-being-singled-out-by-caleb-oghenetega-esq/ 
  2. Zoning – By the NBA Constitution, the OPNBA is currently zoned to the Western Zone which by the Constitution includes Lagos, Osun, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo Delta and Edo States.  On account of certain skewed interpretations of the Constitution, Olumide was again picked on by those who argued that he was unqualified to run for the OPNA despite the fact that he hails from one of the Western States listed by the NBA Constitution.  The call to disqualify him on this ground failed when on 12th June, 2020 the ECNBA provisionally cleared him as qualified for the contest. 
  3. NBA Presidency not for non-SANs – Apparently worried by Olumide Akpata’s clearance to contest and his increasing popularity, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN (a ranking member of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN)) wrote his infamous leaked letter of 27th June, 2020  to the Chairman of BOSAN, Chief T.J.O Okpoko, requesting Chief Okpoko to urgently intervene to ensure that the OPNBA is not occupied by a non-SAN since, in his words, “It will be a great failure of leadership for the Senior Advocates to surrender leadership to Outer Bar …” and such a development would  “..in my view will be unfortunate for the rank”.  That letter which essentially suggested that the OPNBA is the exclusive preserve of SANs went viral and was roundly criticized by lawyers as discriminatory and divisive.  Of note is that Olumide Akpata is the only non-SAN that has been cleared by the ECNBA to contest in the elections, and so that letter was a direct attack on him. 
  4. Olu visits Port Harcourt – perhaps irked by the widespread negative reaction to Chief Awomolo SAN’s letter above, those keen on pulling Olumide Akpata down in the elections launched yet another attack.  This time they accused Olumide Akpata of attending a private engagement in Port Harcourt in purported defiance of the ban on inter-state travels.  They also claimed that an unnamed “senior lawyer” was manhandled during the engagement at which Olumide Akpata was present. They then publicly called on the ECNBA to disqualify Olumide Akpata for violating the ECNBA Guidelines against inter-state travels for purposes of openly canvassing for votes.  Interestingly, the NBA Port Harcourt Branch has since issued a statement dismissing as false, the report being peddled by merchants of deceit, and setting the records straight.  But the Establishment is still not satisfied. Even more interesting is the fact that those calling for Olumide Akpata’s disqualification on this ground paid no mind to the fact that there is evidence of other NBA Presidential candidates visiting branches and lawyers’ fora to actually seek political support in violation of the ECNBA Guidelines. 

Will they ever let Olumide Akpata be?  

The incessant attacks on Olu raises many questions. What is the Establishment so afraid of about Olumide Akpata and how far are they willing to go to carry out their evil plans? Why is Mr. Akpata being constantly hounded, slandered, maligned and denigrated? Why is the Establishment hell bent on Mr. Akpata’s disqualification?  Are we about to witness a repeat of what transpired in 2018 when Mazi Afam Osigwe (an extremely popular non-SAN candidate for the office of the President) was disqualified for hardly justifiable reasons? Are the alarm bells ringing again?  Why are “The Establishment” and their candidates bent on having Olumide Akpata out of the race? Does this Bar really belong to all of us? Will they ever let Olumide Akpata be?  Will they?  

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