The recent intervention by the Federal Capital Territory High Court in the affairs of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) has sparked interest among stakeholders anticipating the inauguration of the association’s first female president in over 65 years.
Presided over by Justice Venchak Gaba, the Court issued an order, barring the Nigerian Society of Engineers from proceeding with its planned elections scheduled for November 29 and 30.
The court also put a hold on the planned inauguration of Engr. Margaret Oguntala, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit before it.
Oguntala, the current Deputy President, was set to assume the presidency on 1st January, 2024, following the association’s constitutional mandate that a Deputy President automatically becomes President at the expiration of the current President’s 2-year tenure which ends on 31st December, 2023.
Some members expressed excitement about the prospect of having a woman lead the association.
Olusola Aluko shared his thoughts, stating, “The association has been fortunate to have capable leaders. With Mrs. Margaret Oguntala’s track record, we can expect the association’s future to be secure. Her strong commitment to values such as ethics and standards, coupled with her leadership skills, bodes well for the improvement of Nigeria’s socio-economic environment.”
Nkechi Isigwe, former Vice President of the association, said that Oguntala, as Vice President of NSE, succeeded in getting companies to partner with the organization and empowered young engineers.
“For the first time in NSE, we will witness an all-inclusive developmental programme that would move NSE and the nation forward,” she said.
Additionally, she said, “Many years ago, there used to be a lot of rancour during the election for the Presidency of NSE which was unhealthy and disruptive. To ensure that peace reigned and acrimony was eliminated in the Society, some of us were mandated to find a solution. We decided that the post of the President would no longer be contested for and dispute either in Court or otherwise would not be entertained.
“This informed us to create the position of Deputy President position to be contested for every 2 years. The Memart and Constitution of NSE stipulates that the BOT has the responsibility for resolving any dispute and complaints of members. Court cases if any can only come up after BOT intervention and Council Resolution is disatisfactory to the complaint member. The leadership of the NSE is not in dispute.”
A former council member of the association, Ibrahim Kawuwa, praised Oguntala for her ability to build a vast network of friends of engineers across the country. “Majority of NSE members were shocked to find out about the court injunction stopping the election and swearing in of Oguntala,” he said. He called on the complainants to listen to the elders and resolve the issues out of court.
Robert Ekat, a Political Science Scholar, commented on the role of the judiciary in elections and corporate administration, saying, “Although judicial interference in election matters is constitutionally permissible, the use of injunctions, whether exparte or interlocutory, on election-related issues is regarded as regressive. It creates organisational complexities, leadership challenges, and undue hardships for those involved. Individuals face penalties even before the substantive issues in a case undergo a thorough court examination.”
A public affairs commentator and Managing Partner of Jiworob Law solicitors, Jimmy W. Robert, mentioned that members often find lawyers to represent them, even with weak cases.
“In associations, different interests are at play, particularly around elections. Any member of the association can find all kinds of reasons to approach the court for an injunction. In many cases, the court can be persuaded to grant such injunctions pending when the issues in the case are examined,” he said.
As the situation stands, all eyes are on the court, which has scheduled January 25, 2024, for the hearing of the substantive suit. Meanwhile, all parties involved are expected to maintain the status quo until the issues are examined and determined.
.Chilaka, a gender-based activist, writes from Lagos