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The heart of the matter

I am thinking long and hard of my future and what legal practice (which is what I do) will look like in the next few years. I am struggling with the temptation to leave.

I am what you will call a mid-level lawyer, I am no longer young, so I have a fair understanding on the realities of practice in Nigeria. I have cut my teeth on a few things and I have found my voice within the system, at least on Linkedin. For most of my career, I have been based in Kano, the North and save for my short internships in Lagos law firms, I have not felt the heat and bustle of commercial law or even litigation which is where I have honed my skills. I read a lot and so I see what is going on around the world and even in my country and I cannot wait for the day when my Kano will bustle commercially as Lagos and Abuja.

Currently, the most important word in my vocabulary is opportunity. I am searching for opportunity, to grow, to learn, to earn money, to stabilize and fulfil my potential.

Anytime I have these thoughts, I wonder about the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and its relevance to my career. For ten years now, I have paid dues and attended meetings, seeking opportunity for continuous legal education but I cannot say that I have benefited as much as I have given and this makes me ignore many of the advances made by the NBA branch or even the NBA itself. In fact, I stopped going for the Annual General Conference (AGC) in 2017 because it swiped my entire bank account to do so. This apathy, from my observation, is general among my peers and will continue to be the case if things do not change.

Speaking of change, I think there is great opportunity presented to the NBA this year as it ventures to change its leadership. The truth is we have had series of Presidents who have not been effective for different reasons and it has consistently disarmed the NBA of its potency with all its stakeholders. If this continues, the NBA will lose its relevance completely which is bad for all lawyers as a social bloc. Nicely, we seem to have formidable candidates this time, but formidability is not what makes for success. To my mind, it is a question of the balance of capacity and the needs of the NBA and its members at this time.

If we did a referendum across the bar, I believe that the issues that will be raised will centre around the following objectives outlined below:

– The need for a unified and inclusive bar, where everyone is fairly represented, and our energies are synergized;
– The need for a compelling/credible voice that can galvanize government to action on key socio-economic issues and reposition the bar as an influencer of culture and law; and
– The need to restructure our legal education system and create adequate systems for equipping our young lawyers.

Firstly, I think it is so outdated for lawyers in 2020 to be speaking of leadership in terms of entitlement. No one is entitled to lead; it should be by merit i.e. who is worthy, by virtue of his track record and capacity! Now, the consensus may be that the answer to this question is dependent on context, but let us situate the context within the three critical issues highlighted above; who ticks all boxes? Let me share my humble opinion.

Dele Adesina SAN 

Being a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, he is a frontline leader of the bar as such, one cannot discountenance his success because of an election. However, when we zoom in on the brass tacks, or more clearly, the essentials, even from recent positing of the Egbe Mofin, one can see where his loyalties will lie. More importantly, national representation means you are speaking to all the units of the whole. I have spoken to a lot of my colleagues and I have it on good authority that he is the President of the Egbe Mofin and not the bar. Also, he seems to be relying on some econometrics of the past and asserting a right to be anointed. I dare say that if we are to be indeed progressive, that mindset should be eroded now. Lastly, I know that he is part of the establishment and our historical developments but I do not think he has repositioned himself appropriately to tackle the challenges of the practice of law today in a manner that can spread the opportunity for most of the bar. He is still playing very safe and the challenges of today require severe out of the box thinking. I rest my case and leave most to be the judge of that.

Babatunde Ajibade SAN 

A perfect gentleman with almost faultless disarming charm. This is the strength of his person but trust me, this is the weakness of his attempt to lead the bar. Yes, he is one of the trusted minds and in some of his soundbites recently issued, he is striving for the unity of the bar; but when I hear this, I ask, “is his voice is loud enough?” Is it persuasive enough to compel government to action? Is he gutless enough to withstand the challenges that will attend the bar should it seek to reposition itself?  The consensus in my small world is that he falls short of this challenge. Even his best friends say this in secret, I have witnessed this. His endorsement is solely based on politics and not the trust in his ability to deliver. Modern law practice is no longer based on legacy alone, legacy must be balanced with how much of a fight one has in him to take on new territories. In my opinion, the fight that is needed is a whole lot than he can handle.

Olumide Akpata 

What Olu (as he is popularly called), lacks in title, he has made up for in achievements. I came across Olumide Akpata in 2018 when he was leading the Section on Business Law. There was a training for young lawyers at which he shared his views about the future of the law and there and then I asked why he was not the one speaking for lawyers across board. It is clear that he has a midas touch because he took the SBL yards forward and so many parts of the NBA are trying to mirror the standard he has set. What people do not know is that Olu has been a member of the executive council of the NBA for a while and he has become a voice to reckon with in the North, South, East and of course the West where he hails from. Permit me to digress, the political attempt to reclassify West is akin to Peter Godsday Orubebe’s attempt to corrupt the national election process in 2015. It is retrogressive and will keep us stagnant. I think more lawyers need to resist this.

He has entrenched his legacy as a stakeholder with young lawyers and he has continuously advocated their causes. Forget the naysayers, none of the candidates has a record that matches his. When it comes to speaking to power, you cannot fault his capacity. More importantly, Olu’sability to abase and abound cannot be matched. He is able to represent all and will democratize opportunity.

Conclusion

I have taken you on this journey through my mind to say this regarding the NBA elections, there is a time for everything, now is not the time for politics. Our opportunities are at risk and we are in need of a different strategy.

We need to make a choice not because of scripted power transfers which will benefit some, we need a choice that will create opportunity for us as individuals and can restore the respect of the bar.

At the heart of the matter, this choice is not based on title, or history, it is one that looks at the future and transforms it in an outstanding way, I have seen Olu do it with himself, Templars, SBL, young lawyers and I can see him do it for us all.

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