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NBA jittery as lawyers float new bar to protect Northern interest

By Akanimo Sampson

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is currently jittery as some public interest lawyers from a section of the obviously polarised country have broken away to float a new bar association.

New Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President Olumide Akpata.

Conveners of the ‘New NBA’, Nuhu Ibrahim and Abdulbasit Suleiman, explain in a statement that the formation of the new bar association is aimed at protecting their interests as enshrined under Section 40 of the constitution.

The development is however, coming barely a week after the NBA dropped Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State from its line-up of speakers at the NBA virtual conference that held between August 24 and August 26.

A petition to stop the governor from attending the confab,was started by Usani Odum, a lawyer. It garnered over 3,400 signatures on Change.Org as of 6 pm on Thursday when the NBA tweeted its decision to uninvited Governor el-Rufai.

In a tweet NBA said, “the National Executive Committee of the NBA at its ongoing meeting resolves that the invitation to the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, by the 2020 Annual General Conference Planning Committee be withdrawn and the decision communicated to the governor.”

However, on Friday, the ‘New NBA’ cited the controversy over the withdrawal of the invite to the governor, claiming, “what has been happening recently has exposed the inability of the NBA to manage and contain the heterogeneity of its members, as well as their various interests. Its penal powers have been deployed discriminately on the basis of ethnicity and regionalism.

“As a body of lawyers, who have undergone training towards ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights and liberties, the NBA is supposed to live above sentiments, regionalism and discrimination on any basis and of any kind.

“Therefore, the NBA cannot afford to be seen not to be upholding the rights and freedom of its own members, if at all it should be seen to be practising what it preaches. As the Hausa saying goes, Idan Kura tana maganin zaho, ta yi ma kanta (If a hyena has a cure for diarrhoea, let her use it for herself).’’

Though guarded whispers in some quarters is linking the Kaduna governor with the sponsorship of the new group, NBA President, Olumide Akpata, and some other Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) are condemning the development by Northern Nigeria lawyers.

In his inaugural speech on Friday, Akpata describes the secession within the association as unfortunate and called for unity. “I am not unaware of very recent events and agitations that have tended to divide our Bar along regional and religious lines. This is rather unfortunate for an egalitarian Association like ours.

“The Bar that I want to lead, henceforth, is one that is united on all fronts and that recognises that our diversity is, perhaps, our greatest strength. I plead with all Nigerian lawyers to bear this philosophy of unity in mind as we commence a new journey together today”, he says.

Mike Ozekhome, SAN, who spoke at the handover of the NBA leadership on Friday, advised the aggrieved members against forming an alternative association, threatening that such a move will be resisted.

“So, drop all these issues of trying to form an alternative Bar, whether you call it new NBA or progressive NBA, it’s not going to work. The reason is that when you begin to create a different Bar, calling it, for example, Northern Bar or new Bar, then people, very soon, are going to start calling for Southern Nigerian Army, Southern Nigerian Navy, Western Nigerian Air Force, Eastern Nigeria Tax Authority etc.

‘’Where are we heading to? That is nothing but balkanisation of Nigeria and God forbid”, Ozekhome said.

For Yusuf Ali, SAN, “it is normal in an organisation to have disagreements but it is not every disagreement that must lead to disintegration or factions. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

‘’As much as I have my own reservations, it does not mean that we now have to engage in the balkanisation of the association of the body of lawyers in the country. We should not allow our differences, particularly on ethnic and religious issues, to undermine our unity.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, notes that, although any group of persons could form an association, due to the right to freedom of association, the factionalised NBA might not stand the test of time.

“I can’t condemn any group of people who want to form an association because there is freedom of association and it’s their constitutional right. But the NBA has been in existence since the beginning of time and still remains the main focus of Nigerian lawyers. Whether it (New NBA) will stand is another thing”, he says.

While maintaining that there is only one association of Nigerian lawyers acceptable to everyone, Oyetibo adds, “what are their goals? What are their motives for setting up a faction? For now, all lawyers belong to the NBA.

“The NBA remains the official body acceptable to all lawyers, but if a sectional group arises, it can only remain sectional.”