Why Mazi Afam Osigwe Should Be The Next Nba President By Henry Chibuike Ugwu Esq
As the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) election is around the corner, there have been the expected frenzy and controversies naturally expected of such an important election.
Many candidates have thrown in their hats and have indicated strong desires to occupy various elective posts in the NBA.
This piece is however concerned with the credibility and aptness of the candidates who have indicated interests to contest for the prodigious position of the NBA President.
Four (4) candidates have indicated interest to contest for President and they are, in no particular order, Ernest Ojukwu SAN, Paul Usoro SAN, Arthur Obi Okafor SAN, and Mazi Afam Osigwe.
One thing very clear is the fact that all the candidates who have indicated interests are established “barmen” with impressive records and achievements in the law profession, any person who says otherwise is just telling a cheap lie.
However where there is “good” there is “better”, and where there is “better” there surely is a “best”. The NBA is lucky to have these fine gentlemen aspire to lead the Bar but we must however be very critical when we vote to ensure that we oblige the best candidate the opportunity to lead the Bar, particularly so as there seems to be a general discontent among legal practitioners with regards to the status of the NBA and its failure to satisfactorily address the numerous issues bordering on the welfare of legal practitioners, the administration of the NBA secretariat (especially in relation to processing NBA stamps), and accountability of national officers of the NBA.
We have also seen a surge in the degree with which lawyers are harassed by security operatives of the State without compunction or adequate repercussions; and the Nigerian Government at all levels is failing and yet we see a very insipid NBA that cannot contribute to ensuring that the rule of law is sacrosanct in Nigeria. This status is rather sad and we can surely do better! It is important to applaud the NBA Chairman of the Ikeja branch- Mr. Adesina Ogunlana, who in consonance with other members of his branch insisted that the Lagos State Government must administer its policies (especially in relation to the Land Use Charge) in tandem with the aspirations and directives of the people- the sovereign. After all, if the people give their mandate to a political representative, the latter should not force a policy on the people if they do not concur with such a policy. The Chairman was harassed for his stance by many but at the end of the day the Government listened to the people. This is the kind of NBA we want to see at the national level, an NBA that in addition to addressing the welfare issues of its members, also contributes to ensuring accountability of public servants and political office holders.
It follows therefore that the NBA does not need just a gentleman at a time like this. We need a man who has demonstrated to us that he is not willing to condone the status quo, a man who is willing to speak out and act accordingly against the intimidation of lawyers by security operatives of the State, a man who addresses the welfare issues of members of the Bar and at the same time successfully guides the NBA in ensuring sanity and adherence to the rule of law by all government functionaries and institutions in Nigeria. The task is enormous so we need a strong man, and where all the contestants are strong, we direly need the strongest of them to steer the derailing NBA ship.
I will only comment on the candidate I believe is most suitable to steer the NBA ship and I will give my reasons. I do not intend to cast aspersions on any candidate neither will I criticize any contestant’s ambition.
The immediate past NBA administration at the National level is arguably the best we have seen in recent times- the Augustine Alegeh SAN led administration that is. If we take stock of the achievements of NBA administrations in the last decade, we will realize that not many can boast of half of the achievements recorded by the Alegeh-led administration. From the policies that administration introduced and the numerous innovations made in the NBA constitution of 2015, it is rather obvious that it understood that if there will be sustainable developments within the bar, then those developments must come from processes that are embedded in our constitution or that are deeply rooted in the structure of the NBA. The Alegeh-led administration therefore pioneered the crystallization of zoning in the NBA constitution to ensure that there is a reflection of the federal character principle in the constitution of our national executive committee and in guaranteeing that some high ranking NBA national offices, particularly the office of the NBA President, are occupied by persons from different zones and ethnic groups, in an organized and rotational manner. The administration also introduced the electronic voting system which is the reason all lawyers now have a voice with regards to electing our national officers; and the erstwhile corrupt delegate system was accordingly abrogated. That administration also pioneered the production of NBA approved stamps to checkmate the influx of laymen practicing as barristers and solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria; and given the fact that they began the process, it is generally agreed that the administration satisfactorily managed that system with all the natural challenges that stem out of doing a thing for the first time.
One thing also certain beyond peradventure is that Mazi Afam Osigwe, as Secretary-General of the NBA during the Augustine Alegeh-led administration, played a crucial and critical role in ensuring that all those achievements were a reality. He therefore understands that if any innovation must translate to success at the Bar, then such an innovation must alter the structure of the NBA especially via the constitution.
Many of the aspirants have made promises relating to addressing the welfare of young lawyers but we must be very wary of some of these politicians who are grandstanding and playing on sensitive sentiments of the young lawyers to hoodwink us to cast our votes for them.
Mazi Afam is also a man of proven moral integrity who has never given judges “gifts” in questionable circumstances; this is a man not afraid to call a spade a spade and even refuses to be intimidated when all the other contestants are learned silks, with some even adopted by regional bar fora.
To say a word on the adoption of candidates by regional bar fora, especially with regards to the Eastern Bar Forum (EBF) endorsement of a certain candidate, it is rather sad that highly respected members of the NBA are allowing themselves be used as tools in politicizing the Bar for no reason at all.
Before zoning was crystallized in the NBA constitution, different candidates from different regions or zones could contest for the post of the NBA President at an election, and it was reasonable then for a regional bar forum to endorse one candidate from its region/zone when it had more than one person contesting to be President. That way members of such a bar forum voted in mass for their adopted candidate and consequently the candidate stood a better chance of winning against other candidates from different regions. However the 2015 NBA constitution divides the NBA into three regions/zones, which are the eastern, western and northern zones; and with the post of the NBA President to rotate among these zones. More so, membership of a zone is with regards to a legal practitioner’s state of origin and not his state of residence or practice. The 2018 NBA elections has the post for President zoned to the eastern zone, therefore any person who can competently contest for President must be one whose state of origin is listed as constituting the eastern zone in our constitution. To put it in layman’s terms, all the persons contesting to occupy the office of the NBA President are “brothers”. One can therefore not see a reason to justify adopting one “brother” among four, especially when all the aspirants are qualified. It just seems as though the adoption of candidates is a vestige of the erstwhile and corrupt delegate system of voting, where a rich and powerful candidate tries by all means to impose his candidacy on the Bar through undemocratic practices. Some people cannot just accept that one man should have one vote! All members of the Bar should rather innovate ways of fostering unity rather than innovating or continuing policies or traditions that emphasize the diversity in religion and tribe at the Bar for selfish reasons.
Having been Chairman of the NBA at the branch level, Secretary-General of the NBA at the national level, and with the kind of determination and strategy Mr. Osigwe speaks about improving the health insurance and the general welfare of lawyers (particularly with regards to the young lawyers), and defending the status and integrity of the NBA, I am convinced beyond all iota of doubt that giving Mazi Afam Osigwe the opportunity to lead the noble NBA is in the overall interest of the NBA and all its members. He is qualified, bold, experienced and avid to take the Bar to greater heights.
Henry Chibuike Ugwu, is a senior associate at Clay & Amicus Solicitors Ihialla Anambra State. He can be reached Henrycugwu@gmail.com.