On March 30, 2017 the Federal High Court, Abuja Division coram Tsoho J. declared the 2010 and 2015 constitutions of the Nigerian Bar Association NULL and VOID. The court further declared all actions taken under those constitutions null and void and restrained the association and all its members from further conducting its affairs by these voided constitutions. The crisis that has engulfed the NBA as a consequence of this judgment is now common knowledge.
On May 23, 2017 the Lagos Branch held an Extra-ordinary General Meeting wherein it voted to return to the use of its 2003 Bye-laws to conduct its affairs, especially its upcoming elections now slated for June 29, 2017. This decision was reached by a majority of 96 votes against 13 votes, and inspite of the presence of NBA General Secretary, Mr. Isiaka Abiola Olagunju who led a strong lobby from Abuja to persuade the branch to keep faith with the Uniform Bye-laws contained in the now voided 2015 Constitution.
Permit me to say that this decision made by the Lagos Branch, which I am privileged to lead, is the right decision to make in the circumstances, as the branch had conducted its affairs under the 2003 Bye-laws up till March 30, 2017 when the judgment of Tsoho, J was delivered. Given that the NBA had appealed the decision, it fell on the branch to maintain the status quo prior to the said judgement.
In an apparent, albeit misplaced, show of power or authority, the NBA national secretariat has launched the first salvo of retaliation by withdrawing and recalling the ICLE official who had flown in from Abuja to accredit our 2017 Law Week conference and issue CLE certificates to participants. This move was made despite the fact that the branch had duly paid over N400,000 in fees and expenses to the NBA Institute of Continuing Legal Education (NBA-ICLE) for the certification our Law week programme. By this action, the NBA has denied the over 500 delegates to the Law Week from earning CLE points for attending the conference. This action can only deepen the crisis at hand
The message to be deduced from the NBA Secretariat’s action is that erstwhile officers of the NBA elected under the now voided 2015 constitution are desperate to remain in office, and would employ all manner of tactics, (including intimidation and sabotage of branch programmes) because the branch refused to be co-opted into disobedience of a valid and subsisting court order.
It is therefore obvious that the NBA – whose motto is ‘upholding the rule of law’ – is now under the control of persons who are scarcely different from the politicians we daily condemn, and whose modus operandi is to desperately cling to power in spite of subsisting court orders.
This same group is attempting to convene a meeting of the National Executive Committee of the association in Lokoja in a few days, an action which they lack both legal and moral right to do and especially inspite of another order of the FCT High Court [in SUIT NO: FCT/HC/CV/1951/2017-EMMANUEL OCHUGBOJU V. INCORPORATED TRUSTEES OF NBA & ORS] asking all parties to maintain status quo. There are no fewer than 15 court cases pending between the NBA and its members at the moment. This is a measure of the crisis within the embattled association.
It is instructive that while the NBA Board of Trustees is making noble and strident efforts to resolve the impasse, the A. B. Mahmoud led Executive Committee has spurned all efforts of Bar Elders in this regard, and are now on the war-path with branches. As branch leaders, we are left with no option than to pick up the gauntlet and resist further acts of dictatorship by the group.
I therefore call on all well-meaning members and leaders of this most noble profession especially my Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman, Body of Benchers to save the NBA from the brink of implosion by immediately taking steps to constitute a Caretaker Committee to take over the management of the affairs of the NBA pending the resolution of the crisis.
The time to act is NOW!
MARTIN ADENIYI OGUNLEYE, Esq.
CHAIRMAN, NBA LAGOS BRANCH