By Raymond Nkannebe
The letter from Life Bencher and very Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Asiwaju Adegboyega Solomon Awomolo has expectedly rankled many members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), particularly those who do not belong in the inner bar, but not necessarily young lawyers.
In the referenced letter, titled “NBA. Her Future” and addressed to Chief T.J.O Okpoko; SAN, another Life Bencher, the learned silk calls for measures to be expedited by the body of Senior Advocates to prevent the emergence of a non-SAN as the 30th president of the association come July 24th fearing what he described as a “potent and revolutionary move by our junior colleagues who are very much in the larger numbers to wrestle the office of the NBA from the rank of SAN”.
Awomolo’s letter no doubt was directed at Olumide Akpata, the only non-SAN who has been provisionally screened by the Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA) to contest in the forthcoming election as a candidate for the office of the president, and who looks set to clinch the office if the outpour of support from very eminent members of the association from all streams of law practice is anything to go by.
However, contrary to what Chief Awomolo described as a “revolutionary move”, this groundswell of support is informed by the unimpeachable leadership antecedents of Olumide and the passion and commitment he betrays to matters appertaining to the welfare of lawyers both young and old, and the general progress of the NBA as a foremost amalgam of legal practitioners.
This is underscored by the cream of members of the association who have endorsed his candidacy ranging from the veteran Chief Femi Okunnu, SAN, CON, Mama Hariat Balogun, SAN, Prof. Epiphany Azinge, SAN, actor Richard Mofe Damijo as well as a long list of very eminent senior advocates, accomplished legal officers, distinguished in-house counsel, and an army of young lawyers who continue to draw inspiration from the circumstances of Olumide Akpata’s career. Contrary to Awomolo’s assertions therefore that is a revolution of young lawyers; it is rather a consensus of members of the NBA irrespective of their standing at the bar.
Chief Awomolo’s stance has no accommodation whether in constitutionalism or conventional thinking with respect. The extant NBA constitution guarantees the right to vote and be voted for, at periodic elections in so far as an aspirant meets the basic requirements, one of which instructively is not elevation to the enviable rank of senior advocate.
This is in accordance with one of the basic tenets of democracy as the right to vote and be voted for, is one of the core values and principles of the United Nations. Thus, for an association whose motto is promoting the rule of law, compliance with these values should be the irreducible minimum against the grain of what Chief Awomolo, advocates.
A peep into the history of the NBA shows that it had been led by non-silks and the heavens did not fall, nor was it described as a revolution. As a matter of fact, one of the best years of the association, was when it was piloted by the inimitable Alao Aka-Bashorun, a non-silk. Awowolo’s contentions therefore find no basis whether in law or precedent and to that extent must be resisted.
While young lawyers and non-silks alike take nothing away from the enviable rank of Senior Advocate, there is nothing in the books that nominate leadership of the NBA as one of the privileges of the distinguished rank. And that the post-crisis era of the NBA has seen more silks emerge as presidents is totally inconsequential.
At a time of Not-Too-Young-To-Run, even in our national politics, I find it particularly disturbing as a young lawyer that there is a conspiracy of silence of sorts to keep aspirant to the leadership of our beloved association outside the reach or purview of non-silks in a seemingly re-enactment of George Orwell’s classical work, Animal Farm where some animals were given to be more equal than others.
While that may have been possible in the fictional retort of the legendary writer who wrote in the consciousness of communist Russia, it is no longer suitable for the times and if anything should educate us on the need to give each man his due in line with the basic tenets of equity and justice, an often chorused sing-song by each of us as worshippers in the temple of justice.
Be that as it may, Awomolo’s letter is not without some merits. What is it? It has fortuitously helped to put in focus, the policy thrust of Olumide Akpata’s candidacy which is to enact a bar that #WorksForAll. That is to say, for silks, non-silks, law officers, in-house counsel, junior lawyers, senior lawyers, Jews and Gentiles.
And that is why come July 24th, we will all ensure the emergence of such a leadership that would guarantee the realization of the aspirations of every member of the NBA irrespective of the texture of their gowns or the cost of their wigs.
Raymond Nkannebe, a legal practitioner writes from Lagos. He tweets @raynkah.