How Olumide Akpata won the NBA Elections and why Calls for Cancellation may Amount to Nothing

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The national elections of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) have come and gone with the immediate past chairman of the NBA Section on Business Law, Olumide Akpata emerging as the President-elect of the association.

Akpata who defeated his two contenders with a significant number of votes, is the first non Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) to be President of the Bar since 1989, when Alao Aka-Bashorun served as President of the Bar. It is on record that Alao Aka-Bashorun is regarded as one of the finest Presidents the Bar has had yet. The incoming president revealed that his goal was to do even better.

However, while the public and members of the legal profession are celebrating the emergence of a young, dynamic, non-senior advocate president of the NBA after 30 years, there are a few others who are not so happy about losing at the polls; and leading this pack, is an aspirant in the just-concluded elections for the office of the President of the NBA, Dele Adesina, SAN.

Legal analysts have attributed Adesina’s failure at the polls to the entitlement mentality with which he went into the elections. Explaining why he holds the opinion that Dele Adesina went into the elections preparing to fail, a key supporter of Olumide Akpata, Aderemi Oguntoye had this to say:

“Adesina believed he was entitled to be handed the Bar Presidency, since he served with Olanipekun as general secretary and was endorsed by the Egbe Amofin group (an association of Yoruba lawyers). He however failed to realise that Egbe’s influence had limitations and it was actually counterproductive in the preceding circumstances of the endorsement. Unfortunately, endorsement doesn’t win elections, preparation does.

“In the 21st century, nobody hands power and influence to you. You go for it. Junior lawyers (age 21-33 years) don’t understand tribal sentiments, which our seniors are preaching on Egbe’s platforms, what they understand is Instagram and Tiktok and that’s the language Olumide Akpata spoke to them,” Oguntoye said.

How the story unfolds…

As the Paul Usoro-led administration draws to an end, the outgoing President and his ExCo was charged with the duty of ensuring a new leadership was in place to take over from them.

Therefore, in March 2020, an Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) was set up. This committee, charged with the responsibility of conducting a free, fair and credible election that will usher in a new administration was led by Tawo Tawo, SAN.

However, in the months and weeks leading up to the elections, the committee faced with various difficulties ranging from the lack of an efficient voters’ register, voter-verification crisis, to concerns about the voting platform.

Following these challenges and several complaints from all members who felt disenfranchised, the Chairman of the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) on Saturday June 27th issued a statement postponing the elections; and notifying members of the bar about the difficulties the committee was having with the compilation of the voters register.

They attributed this to the failure of branches to comply with the stipulations of the ECNBA. The elections were thus rescheduled to Wednesday, 29th July 2020 and Thursday, 30th July 2020,, as the committee urged all members who hadn’t  been verified on NBA website to promptly do so without delay.

The elections…

In a chat with BusinessDay, one of the accredited agents for the candidates in the ECNBA ‘Situation Room’, Aderemi Oguntoye shared an eye-witness account of the elections starting from Wednesday 29th 2020.

He said, “When the election was about to commence, ECNBA officials addressed candidates’ representatives btw 10:50pm-11:05pm. They explained the reason why they froze candidates from knowing ahead of time, the cyber platform to be utilised for the election. They basically guarded against likely direct interference by candidates with the platform/server providers (US company called Election Buddy). We were then invited to ECNBA’s local tech room at the NBA house and were shown round in order to assure everyone that the ongoing election back up tech installation was free from manipulation. You know what’s shocking? This was at 1am, two hours after the election portal was opened and only I and Dr. Ajibade’s agent were present, as Adesina’s rep/agent was still nowhere to be found.

At about 1:30 am when the results platform temporarily froze, I rushed up to the ECNBA server room where the officials put a call through to the Americans hosting the main computation server, who later assured us that the link will come back on. Apparently, there had been more traffic on the result link than the voting link. They were overwhelmed by the number of lawyers and non-lawyers following up on the results even at 1:30am. By 7:30am, I enquired from the ECNBA officials whether they had independent officials and they informed me that they had sent the link to nothing less than seven Judges/Justices of different courts amongst other observers for monitoring.”

The agent revealed that the first time anyone at the situation room had a glimpse of Adesina (the Egbe Amofin petitioner)’s representatives was when they arrived in the afternoon of 30th July with the sole purpose of submitting their petition and this was well over 14 hours into the election.

The elections commenced at 11:00pm on Wednesday, 29th July 2020 with three candidates – two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Dele Adesina and Dr Babatunde Ajibade, SAN, and one non senior advocate, Olumide Akpata contesting for the office of the president of the NBA.

Post Election

Voting ended the next day, July 30th at 11:00pm, with Olumide leading the polls with 9891 votes representing 54.3% of the vote cast to defeat Babatunde Ajibade, SAN who polled 4328 votes and Julius Adesina, SAN who scored 3982 votes.

At about 11:45pm on the same day, the Chairman of the Electoral Committee of the NBA in an online broadcast officially declared Olumide Akpata winner of the Presidential elections.

 While Dr Babatunde Ajibade, SAN the closest contender to Akpata in the elections has congratulated the president-elect, Dele Adesina, SAN alongside the Egbe Amofin have come out to reject the result of the polls, stating reasons of disenfranchisement and  unlawful inflation of number of voters of some branches as reasons for this rejection.

BusinessDay recalls that Egbe Amofin had prior to the election adopted Dele Adesina as its presidential candidate for the election.

Several lawyers have however come out to condemn this move. One of such condemnations came from the former chairman of NBA Ikorodu branch, Bayo Akinlade. He said,

“I read with grave concern the communique by Egbe Amofin. This is a body of very respected members of this great profession, many of whom have added value to the legal profession over the years. While I agree with the grounds of Egbe’s complaints and share in the logic of having much needed reforms, I struggle however, to agree with the calls for cancellation of the just concluded elections.

“We all went to the polls knowing fully well that the process was flawed. If Egbe Amofin had not started by adopting a single candidate, or even positioned itself to be neutral in the treatment of its members who wanted to contest then perhaps Egbe would be in a position to make these calls for a rerun of the elections and would act in the capacity of an elder and arbiter but unfortunately, Egbe picked a side so cannot come out now and claim to speak for lawyers in the west; except Egbe is a group for Yoruba lawyers only which will be quite unfortunate if they were.”

He added, “May I use this opportunity to call on my elders within Egbe Amofin to accept this elections with all its flaws but use their influences, leverage and expertise to promote structures that will ensure a free and fair elections within the NBA in 2022 and beyond.”

Another lawyer, and co-convener of the Open Bar Initiative (OPI), Silas Joseph Onu had this to say: “I read a press statement credited to a group known and referred to as Egbe Amofin, relating to the just concluded NBA Election in which an overwhelming majority of lawyers cutting across tribe and religion, voted independently for Olumide Akpata.

Let me begin by emphasising that the NBA Constitution does not recognise any such group as Egbe Amofin. It is an illegal organisation, not known to law or the NBA. NBA is an association made up of individual members and only such individual members, who are financially responsible, are recognised by the NBA to raise such concerns. Kindly ignore this group as they do not represent the views of majority of lawyers in Nigeria, who spoke loudly through their ballot.

In the new NBA, there is no Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Idoma, Igala lawyers, Eastern, Western, or Northern Bar etc, there is only one NBA for all. In this new NBA, individual lawyers from all over Nigeria, are the determinant of our leadership choice, not tribal groups or forums. NBA was not established to create ethnic, tribal or religious sections within its fold. The old clueless leadership succeeded in splitting the Bar to satisfy their primordial interests. That era is gone.

Lawyers who are Igbos, Yoruba, Hausa, Efik, Ikwerre, Urhobo, Igala and many others, voted for Olumide Akpata to emerge as President of the Bar. Therefore, a selected group that could not even field a unanimous candidate in an election cannot claim or pretend to be speaking for and on behalf of the very wise Yoruba lawyers that I know to be very independent in reasoning when it matters most as they did in the just concluded election.

I am an Igbo man and I have never recognised or subscribed to what the Eastern Bar Forum does in respect of deciding my choices when it comes to election – I will never be subjected to such an arrangement. I call on my good friends and brothers from the southwest, on whose behalf this group claim to be speaking, to individually dissociate themselves from the rebellious action of this group. The Bar is bigger than anyone or group or cabal. We have taken back our Bar and no vested interest can scuttle that.

Yet another member of the Bar said, “Regardless of the fact that I am a lawyer of Yoruba extraction, I hold the view that Egbe Amofin lost the credibility to make any objective call or statement on the election when they adopted a candidate. Anything said by them after such an adoption would be interpreted as speaking for the adopted candidate, especially when they echo his sentiments on the election which he lost.”

Was it a case of the petitioners playing the ostrich?

BD LEGAL BUSINESS notes that all the issues raised in Adesina’s petition are same as those listed in the Olumide’s open letter to the ECNBA published in the Guardian Newspaper and the Vanguard Newspaper a week to the election and also reported in our last edition.

In fact, they were the same concerns he raised at the ECNBA interactive session with the candidates on Monday July 27th, 2020, where LEGAL BUSINESS correspondents were present and in which the other two candidates were not only noticeably silent but commended the ECNBA for its good work.

Speaking about this issue, another legal analyst said, “I recall that on all occasions these issues were raised, supporters of a certain candidate held the view that he was making much ado about nothing as he was afraid of losing and therefore dismissed the concerns.

“Unfortunately, the unpreparedness of the ECNBA and the untidiness in the electoral process cost all candidates, including Olumide Akpata, a huge chunk of votes, as approximately 10,500 eligible voters may have been unable to vote (either for reason of religious travel or poor network) or may have been disenfranchised as a result of not receiving links. Of the 10,500 unrecorded votes, going by the percentile voting pattern of 54:23.7:22.3, approximately 5,500 voters who would have voted Olumide Akpata were adversely affected as we kept getting reports from supporters who were waiting on end to receive their links. They remain very displeased about their disenfranchisement.”

With these developments, it is clear that Olumide Akpata’s concerns have been justified. However, many supporters and non-supporters alike believe that this victory places a hefty burden on him to ensure that this travesty is not repeated in 2022.

“I am hopeful, that being a man of excellence and a quintessential administrator of men and resources, he will deploy the best skills and measures to ensure that a proper record of lawyers is maintained at the NBA Secretariat so as to make future use of such detail seamless and efficient. A post-mortem of the electoral process is definitely necessary for appraisal of the ECNBA’s efforts – as it should be in all sane societies. In the meantime, and as Olumide Akpata has said, it is time for us to work together to Secure the Future of the NBA through a United Bar that Works for All,” a supporter said.

The President of the NBA, Paul Usoro, SAN has also urged both the winners and losers of the elections to join hands in healing the wounds and bruises that may have been occasioned by the election campaigns and results.

The Victory

In his acceptance speech made available to BD Legal Business the president-elect said his victory was for the young lawyer who has become disillusioned with the way the NBA has been run over the years and how the profession appears to be disconnected from the challenges that face them and their future.

“It is for the progressive senior lawyer who refused to accept the status quo and took firm steps to ensure that things are done better.  It is for the corporate counsel, law officers, law teachers, the police and military lawyers, and lawyers in all components of the profession who for long have been treated as unequal members of an association that ought to be the umbrella body for all legal practitioners,” the president-elect said.

Also thanking members who voted for him and his team, he said: “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Let me assure you that I do not take for granted the hard work, passion and commitment that you all invested into the process that has now culminated in my emergence as President-elect. When I decided to throw my hat in the ring, I was certain that the election was really not about me.

“I was driven by the passion to use my time, talent and resources to improve our association by making it fit-for-purpose, beneficial to all members and responsive to the needs of the society. Throughout the electioneering process, I saw many Nigerian lawyers who had either lost faith, or never been interested, in the NBA participate with utmost enthusiasm in the hope that things would become better. This further goes to show that the extraordinary movement that heralded this electoral victory was not and could never have been about me.”

Akpata is set to take over from the incumbent President, Paul Usoro, SAN, as the 30th President of the Nigerian Bar Association, this month..

Moving On…

Moving on, congratulatory messages have continued to pour in from individuals and organisations wishing the president-elect well as he takes on this new responsibility.

Among those who have congratulated the incoming president are President Mohammadu Buhari; former Vice President Atiku; Senate President Bukola Saraki; Governor Godwin Obaseki; Governor Ifeanyi Okowa; Dr Joe Abah; Kingsley Moghalu; former NBA presidents, Dr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, as well as Chairpersons of NBA branches across the country.

Former NBA President, and indeed the President who brought the universal suffrage system to fruition in the NBA, Augustine Alegeh, SAN, while congratulating Akpata hours after his victory said, “This is a time for unity in the best interest of the association. I implore all other candidates who were unsuccessful at the election to continue to contribute their quota towards the development of the Bar.

“The elections are over, and we need to come together as a family to offer our support, advice and encouragement to the newly elected National Officers to enable them succeed in the task of delivering on the core mandate of the Bar.

“We must appreciate the fact that elections are never perfect, and I trust that the incoming administration will improve on the gains recorded in the electronic voting system that guarantees universal suffrage under our Constitution. We must appreciate the fact that without electronic voting it would not have been possible for us to hold this election during this COVID-19 pandemic. We must keep improving our electronic voting system,” the former president said in closing.

 

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