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A perpetual state crisis: The case of Nigerian BAR association

Special Report by DPA Rambo

We start from the letter petition that requested that President Obasanjo and Governor Wike of Rivers State be disinvited from the event of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).

The letter petition became necessary after a similar letter succeeded in getting Govermor El Rufai disinvited from the same NBA events. But this time, the letter to disinvite failed, which triggered additional ways to avenge the disinvitation of El Rufai. The additional measure is the creation of a splinter bar association known as the New Nigerian Bar Association (New NBA).

Many Nigerian lawyers, especially the senior lawyers called SANs, think that there cannot be another bar association. But there are reasons to believe that the old order will be displaced in some form or the other, even if not by the creation of a new bar association. Such factors include:

1. The NBA had over the years become dysfunctional and corrupt and increasingly unable to cater for the interest of thousands of young lawyers that join the profession each year. Those who ran the NBA were more interested in fattening themselves in various exclusive pools of privileges, while the younger and less privileged members were left to struggle.

2. Apart from its glorious years as a powerful lobbying group against military rule on issues bothering on human rights, the NBA has never really been a progressive or dynamic organization that was motivated by great ideas. To the contrary, the lawyers that led the NBA were neck-deep in corruption – facilitating the bribing of judges and even grand cases of corruption such as the Halliburton scandal, in which the following notation was made:

“Those who had been interrogated by the EFCC are a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, J.B Daudu (SAN), Mr. E.C Ukala (SAN) Chief Godwin Obla (SAN), D.D. Dodo (SAN) and a top shot of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Roland Ewubare.”

Apart from this, it was a known fact that the immediate past President of the NBA, Paul Usoro, SAN, has been standing a criminal trial throughout his tenor, and continuing. So, everybody is accustomed to scandals within and around the NBA leadership.

3. In addition to growing involvement of the senior members of the NBA in corruption, the same senior lawyers either encouraged rampant disobedience of court orders or otherwise proved unable to stem the tide of that menace. This operated to the further disillusionment of young lawyers who were more at the receiving end of the consequences of official disobedience to court orders.

4. The crisis of a failed and exploitative bar association ultimately ignited sufficient level of discontent within the association leading to what amounted to a revolt during the last NBA elections. Despite a long standing and well entrenched tradition of servile dispositions toward the SAN class, the lawyers overwhelmingly voted for the only non-SAN candidate in NBA elections triggering an unprecedented upset in the history of NBA elections. Apart from the votes, the level of discontent and bitterness within the bar was clearly manifest in the pre and post-election communications.

5. Right from the announcing of the election results, the handwriting on the wall was clear – that the junior lawyers were no longer willing to accept the unquestioned privileges of the SAN club. The SANs understood this and there were several subliminal indications they would not yield without a fight. There was subtle contempt for the new NBA leadership mong some SANs right after the elections. This set the stage for subsequent crisis.

6. The challenge to the decision to invite Governor El Rufai to the NBA might not have been a move against El Rufai as much as it could have been a move against the old way of doing business within the NBA. Regardless of the real reason, it ignited a big fire that is now ravaging through the prairies.

7. El Rufai naturally would take the withdrawal of his invitation personal, especially for the reasons advanced by those who sought the withdrawal of his invitation. And nobody can blame El Rufai. For him to do nothing about it might amount to an admission that there was credence to the very serious allegations leveled against him in the petition calling for his exclusion from the NBA event. Besides, El Rufai is a politician with some promise, given the Nigerian political situation. It would amount to political suicide for him to allow the NBA to salvage its battered record by burying him. Indeed, El Rufai would destroy the NBA if he could.

8. The counter-petition aimed to disinvite Governor Wike and President Obasanjo was a brilliant move, which, if it had succeeded, might have assuaged the embarrassment that El Rufai might have suffered. The counter-petition exposed the NBA because indeed, there is no reason to invite Obasanjo and not invite El Rufai. So, the NBA was caught in a double standard that could only have heightened the anger and frustration of the now gathering El Rufai sympathizers. Their next logical reaction was the creation of the New NBA.

9. The SANs are divided over this development. One group of SANs understand that this crisis will ultimately end or drastically alter their pool of privileges that made being a SAN so rewarding. Another group sees the whole thing as proof that the NBA led by a non-SAN cannot succeed. They see the situation as evidence that the revolt of the junior lawyers was harmful to the entire lawyer community. They hope that in the end, it will fall on the SAN to save the NBA, thereby proving how indispensable the privilege system is.

10. The New NBA is either already enjoying the sponsorship of El Rufai or will soon get it. El Rufai is a very determined and effective person once he has a clear sense of mission. He has more money at his disposal than the NBA. In fact, the entire resources of Kaduna State Government can be deployed to this end as necessary. After all, he can reason that the entire issue is about the future of Kaduna State and this will be a plausible argument.

11. Apart from financial resources, the forces behind the New NBA are pretty strong. You have the Attorney General who will find it in his interest to support the New NBA. Given the level of attacks he is already receiving, this highly unpopular Attorney General understands that a worse version of the treatment meted out to El Rufai by the NBA will be awaiting him a few years from now. It is in his very interest to support the supporters of El Rufai now.

12. Outside the immediate contenders, the Nigerian people are not interested in the problems of the NBA. So, there is really no political consequence to causing the disintegration of the NBA. As they say in Nigeria, “who NBA elp?”. So, El Rufai and the Attorney General can deal with the NBA without worrying about any adverse consequence. And finally, with the backing of the presidency which is almost guaranteed, the forces against the NBA need not fear about any repercussions from the judges. In fact, it is fair to assume that this Chief Justice will stand with the Attorney General and El Rufai. And President Buhari will stand with them.

Based on the foregoing points, if we are not celebrating the demise of the NBA by now, it will only be because the NBA never really mattered enough to Nigerians for them to bother to mourn its death. Indeed, neither Obasanjo nor Wike honored the NBA invitation despite the trouble the NBA went through to invite them.

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