In the famous words of Aaron Levenstein, “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” The same can be said of history, particularly when manipulated to achieve a desired end.The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Election campaign seasons are typically characterized by a proliferation of different opinions/articles/posts most of which are designed to achieve a partisan end. Regrettably, election into national offices of the association is not immune to such. Accordingly, as election campaigns get set to begin for the 2020 elections into national offices of the NBA, we have already started to see such articles.
The electorate for the NBA elections
is a highly educated and well-informed electorate.”
One of the tales currently being spun is that the South West geopolitical zone of Nigeria MUST produce the next NBA President to give every zone a sense of belonging, and to ensure that there is no predominance of people from one inner-bloc to the detriment of others. In support of this position, one of the illustrations referenced is the “fact” that the “Western Bloc” is divided into two inner components, the South West and the South-South/MidWest components. And that in 2008, when it was the turn of the Western Bloc, Nigerian lawyers elected the current Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN from the South West, while the MidWest produced NBA President in 2014 in the person of Augustine Alegeh, SAN, hence it is the turn of the South West to produce the next NBA President. The view has also been expressed that anything short of that will amount to the promotion of inequity and might defeat the very purpose for which the rotational presidency applicable in the NBA was introduced.
The above represents the classic example of how to manipulate history. Thankfully the electorate for the NBA elections is a highly educated and well-informed electorate. It is for that reason, and that alone, that I considered it imperative to provide the fuller facts and circumstances to enable Nigerian lawyers make up their minds for themselves.
It is important to state from the outset that there is indeed a policy of rotational presidency applicable in the NBA. More than being a mere policy, the above is now clearly provided for under the express provisions of the extant Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association 2015 (as amended).
By a combined reading of Section 9 of the NBA Constitution and paragraph 2 of the second schedule thereto, the NBA for the purpose of elections of National Officers is divided into three geographical zones namely – Northern zone, Eastern zone and Western zone, and the offices of President and General Secretary of the Association are to rotate among the three zones. The Constitution also provides that where a position is zoned to any particular geographical zone, the position shall be rotated and held in turn by the different groups and/or sections in the geographical zone.
It is instructive to note that while the Constitution clearly spells out what is meant by geographical zone and stipulates what States are comprised in each zone, there is no attempt to explain what is meant by “group and/or section in the geographical zone.” For that reason, it becomes pertinent to take a trip down memory lane to determine how the rotational presidency policy has been applied in previous NBA elections.
The rotational presidency policy, albeit not expressly provided for under the NBA Constitution until 2015, was resorted to as part of the panacea for the crisis that engulfed the Association between 1992-1998 when NBA had no President and was run at the Branch level only. After the election of Chief T. J. O. Okpoko in 1998 and the expiration of his tenure in 2000, the successive Presidents of the NBA are represented in the list below.
- 2000-2002 C. J. Okocha, SAN (Rivers) EAST
- 2002-2004 Wole Olanipekun, SAN (Ekiti) WEST
- 2004-2006 Bayo Ojo, SAN (Kogi) NORTH
- 2006-2008 Olisa Agbakoba, SAN (Anambra) EAST
- 2008-2010 Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN (Ondo) WEST
- 2010-2012 Joseph Bodunrin Daudu, SAN (Kogi) NORTH
- 2012-2014 Okey Wali , SAN (Rivers) EAST
- 2014-2016 Augustine Alegeh, SAN (Edo) WEST
- 2016-2018 Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN (Kano) NORTH
- 2018-2020 Paul Usoro, SAN (Akwa Ibom) EAST
Even a cursory look at the list above will reveal that the rotational presidency policy of the NBA has been successful, at least in the sense of being respected for the last two decades. A closer examination of the list however highlights some interesting facts.
Under the second schedule to the NBA Constitution, the Eastern geographic zone comprises the States in the South East geopolitical zone in Nigeria together with a part of the South-South i.e. Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River and Rivers States (all of which were part of the old Eastern Region of Nigeria at the time of Independence). The Western geographic zone comprises the South West geopolitical zone together with the rest of the South-South i.e. Edo and Delta States (all part of the old Western Region of Nigeria at the time of Independence) while for the purposes of the NBA Constitution, the North comprises the entire North-Central, North-East and North-West geopolitical zones (all part of the old Northern Region of Nigeria at the time of Independence).
In the Northern geographic zone, prior to the election of Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN (Kano) in 2016, both slots for the North were filled by two indigenes of Kogi State, Bayo Ojo, SAN (2004) and J. B. Daudu, SAN (2010). There was no suggestion whatsoever that their elections contravened the rotational presidency policy of the NBA, as long as both belonged to the North.
In the Eastern geographic zone, to those familiar with NBA politics, there was an unwritten internal arrangement (under the auspices of the Eastern Bar Forum) between the South East and the South-South components of the Eastern geographic zone to rotate the Presidency between the two components. Interestingly, the first two times that it was the turn of the South-South component of the Eastern geographical zone to produce the NBA President, both Presidents O. C. J. Okocha, SAN (2000) and Okey Wali, SAN (2012) hailed from Rivers State and this presented no difficulty at all.
The unwritten internal arrangement between the South East and the South-South components of the zone to rotate the Presidency between the two zones was religiously followed until 2018 when the incumbent President, Paul Usoro, SAN from the South-South component contested, defied the odds and won the election. Interestingly, some of those who supported his candidature are also part of those singing the ethnic tune in the build up to the 2020 election.
The position in the Western geographic zone even makes for more compelling reading. The first two times the Presidency was zoned to the Western zone, the South West (Ekiti and Ondo States in 2002 and 2008 respectively) produced the President. Again there was no agitation by the emergency advocates for geographical equality that it be reserved for the other components of the Western zone. When next the NBA Presidency was zoned to the Western geographic zone in 2014, while I cannot claim to have first-hand knowledge of what transpired, there have been several credible accounts of a meeting where lawyers from the MidWest requested that the Presidency be reserved for them but this was flatly rejected. The above is fortified by the fact that, contrary to the dishonest impression that the NBA Presidency was zoned to the MidWest in 2014, there were in deed 3 very distinguished lawyers from the South West on the ballot to wit, Mrs Funke Adekoya, SAN, Deacon Dele Adesina, SAN and Mr Niyi Akintola, SAN. Thus Mr Augustine Alegeh, SAN emerged as NBA President in spite of, and not because of, the lack of an arrangement between the MidWest and the South West.
In light of the above incontrovertible facts, all of which transpired in our lifetime as opposed to some ancient era, it is therefore curious to contend, as some have done, that Nigerian lawyers ought to ensure they elect only a core Yoruba man as the NBA President and that any candidate who is not from the South West geopolitical zone cannot fit into this equation. For the same reason it is at best fanciful, to declare with magisterial authority that the MidWest has taken its turn in the NBA Presidency.
In the final analysis, we must not permit the manipulation of history by the emergency geographical equality advocates even if they are Law School lecturers. The wider Nigerian socio-political environment is facing serious existential problems especially in the area of lack of respect for the fundamental rights of citizens and the rule of law. There is a general consensus that as one of Nigeria’s pre-eminent organisations, the Nigerian Bar Association has not truly lived up to its potentials in this regard. As the 2020 elections approach, it would be counterproductive for lawyers to elevate the tribal question above competence and the substantial issues begging for attention. This is a new decade, let us get it right so that when our history is told, unlike statistics it will not conceal anything vital.
Orji A. Uka