Aftermath Of Nigerian Bar Association Yearly Conference, Akpata’s Scorecard By Yetunde Ayobami Ojo
The tenure of the immediate past President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olumide Akpata, which ended on August 28, 2022, has continued to generate discussions among legal practitioners.
While some lawyers remain unimpressed with his performance, others believe that his tenure impacted positively on the Bar. Majority of those who criticised him are the older lawyers, who never supported him from the outset.
The NBA election is rotated according to the old regional arrangement of the North, West (comprising all the states in the South West, Edo and Delta); and all the States in the former Eastern Region. So, the emergence of Mr. Akpata, who comes from Edo, triggered ethnic sentiments within the Bar, the reason being that he was just succeeding another president from Edo State, Mr Augustine Alegeh (SAN), when it was the turn of the West to produce NBA president.
Notwithstanding the circumstances of his emergence, the majority of lawyers concede that Akpata’s administration performed well in the history of the association, despite a last-minute spat between the executive team and one of its own, Joyce Oduah, who was the General Secretary, over allegations of insubordination.
This kind of tiff is now becoming a norm in the leadership of the Association. Recall that a similar conflict ensued between erstwhile President, Paul Usoro (SAN) and his General Secretary, Jonathan Taidi, just at the twilight of that administration.
Akpata’s successor, Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), is now expected to build on his legacies and reverse the tendency for internal conflict between the Presidents and their General Secretaries.
Akpata’s administration was highly commended for organising one of the best yearly general conferences. The unruly behaviour of some of the lawyers over conference materials nearly ruined the week-long event held at the Eko Hotel and Eko Atlantic City with the theme: ‘Bold Transition’. It was the 62nd yearly general conference of the Association. The conference had over 13,000 physical attendees and an additional 5,000 lawyers, who attended virtually, which was first of its kind in the history of the Bar.
There were a total of six plenaries and five breakout sessions with different topics for three days.
Three tents were constructed to serve different purposes, such as exhibitions, plenary sessions and ‘friend’s zone’. The main hall was partitioned and tagged for easy zone identification, where delegates picked up their conference materials. That was the location of the ignominy that happened towards the end of the event, where some aggrieved lawyers, who couldn’t get their conference bags and other materials, vandalised it.
Aside from the big tent, there were air-conditioned rooms for breakout sessions. There were areas used as canteens, where delegates took their meals. Inside the same Atlantic City, there was also a dedicated section called Mami Market, where participants and delegates shopped. There was also an entertainment section, with musical band, where delegates wined and dined after each of the sessions.
The administration was also commended for recording huge success, most especially in the area of technology. Under Akpata, the association launched an App for its members, which was very useful during the conference.
There is an indication that more lawyers got involved in the affairs of the Bar, in his time. For instance, 34,809 lawyers voted during the NBA election. Less than 2,000 lawyers usually vote in previous polls of the Bar.
Akpata seems to have broken the jinx and ultimately made the NBA’s election more transparent, fair and credible. Although Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama (SAN), a presidential candidate at the election alleged infractions, the general view is that the exercise was substantially credible.
In fact, since the introduction of electronic voting by the administration of Alegeh (SAN), the exercise has always been dogged by controversy, especially allegations of fraud by defeated candidates. However, more lawyers are now showing interest in participating in the Association’s activities.
The high point of the conference was the invitation of leading presidential candidates to exchange ideas on the existential challenges facing the country. It was like a form of pre-election debate for the presidential candidates, where they shared their agenda on how to fix the country.
For his performance, Akpata was given an award of excellence by the NBA Women Forum (NBAWF) as a promise keeper.
Despite the recorded successes, his administration was dented by his inability to reconcile aggrieved members of the Bar, and the crisis, which resulted in the suspension of the General Secretary, Oduah. Some lawyers also scored him low over the inability of delegates to get necessary conference materials, which led to looting and unruly conduct by members of the learned profession.
In previous conferences, Nigerian presidents and top-ranking government officials in the legislative and judicial arms such as the Chief Judge of Nigeria (CJN), Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federation (AGF), President of the Court of Appeal, and heads of State Judiciary’s among others were usually in attendance. This year was different. For reasons yet unknown, President Muhammadu Buhari did not grace the occasion, and nor did he send his vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) who is a lawyer.
The CJN (acting), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, AGF, Abubakar Malami (SAN), the Chairman body of Benchers, and Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) to mention but a few, were also conspicuously absent and they were not represented. Those may be unconnected with the acrimony that followed Akpata’s emergence.
There was the insinuation that one of the groups affiliated to NBA, dominated by senior lawyers, allegedly kicked against Akpata’s leadership, on the ground that he is not a senior advocate and therefore, shouldn’t have been elected in the first place. But, the young generation of lawyers, who are in the majority, pushed back and ensured he came out victorious. The division created by this bad blood was what his critics said he failed to fix. They accused him of not being able to reconcile aggrieved members of the bar throughout his two-year tenure.
On August 15, 2022, the National Executive Committee exercised its emergency powers under Section 9(6)(d) of the NBA Constitution by suspending the General Secretary pending the ratification of the NBA-NEC. In the resolution passed by the National Executive Committee, the NBA-NEC was also invited to investigate the actions of the suspended General Secretary and possibly remove her from office.
After the suspension of Oduah as General Secretary, Uche Nwadialo was appointed as Acting General Secretary. Oduah however challenged the alleged illegal suspension and was reinstated by the court.
So during the AGM, the executive insisted that Oduah remained suspended and also noted that they have appealed against the ruling that reinstated the secretary.
The secretariat was not allowed to read her stewardship. Akpata sat alone on the podium and was calling each executive to render an account of their stewardship. When it got to the turn of the secretariat, Akpata asked lawyers to read it in the pages of the report.
However, while speaking on the Akpata administration, a female lawyer who does not want her name mentioned said his administration was not different from Alegeh’s (SAN’s) led administration, which started well but lacked crisis management skills.
“Akpata has not been a bar person and he is a bad crisis manager. He turned the NBA into a money-making venture. Oduah exposed the exco, so they kicked the woman out. People are not happy across the board. You can see that during the AGM at the conference, only those who are closer to him were allowed to talk,” she stated.
Akpata valedictory’s speech
IN his valedictory speech, Akpata said the proposed amendment of the NBA Constitution would have been achieved as one of his promises, but for the pendency of two suits filed by members of the Bar. He pointed out that a greater number of members had been supportive and for that he was grateful. He also showed gratitude to his fellow executives, his law partners and colleagues at Templar’s law firm.
He said that his administration left an implementable blueprint for the Association, which he handed over to his successor, Maikyau (SAN). Akpata listed his achievements to include: life insurance cover, Access to Finance, a Health programme for lawyers, NBA Stabilisation Fund, a reformed electoral system and remuneration and scale of charges, among others.
Akpata said that his administration restored the NBA’s voice and role in public interest matters. He said that their proactivity and efforts in restoring the NBA’s voice and role on matters of national interest were well-known. “We actively provided legal support and defended human rights and the rule of law during the EndSARS protests; participated in the EndSARS panels set up across the country; and worked actively on the reform of the Police Force in the wake of the EndSARS crisis.
“We commenced at least five public interest lawsuits against the Federal Government of Nigeria, challenging the legality or constitutionality of certain government actions; played an active advocacy role in the enactment of the Electoral Act.”
According to him, the NBA under his administration was an active actor in the 2021 JUSUN strike, intended to promote financial autonomy of the judiciary across states of the federation. “Through our interventions, we curbed executive interference and disregard for the judiciary in a number of states and pushed for the payment of the emoluments of about 30 magistrates in Cross River State who had not been paid for over two years.
“We designed and implemented a comprehensive health programme by deploying different approaches to cover the health needs of our members. We introduced the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) for lawyers; paid the initial NHIS medical insurance subscription for 1,000 members across branches.
“We re-launched the critical ailment insurance policy under which our members who are diagnosed with ‘critical illness’ are entitled, at no extra cost to them, to receive N1 million as support towards the treatment of such critical illness,” he stated.
Another achievement of the Akpata-led administration is Life insurance coverage. He noted that when they worked with Leadway Assurance, they increased the death benefit entitlement for the NBA deceased members by 100 per cent (from N1 million to 2 Million).
He said it was done to ensure that the deceased’s beneficiaries get the amount from the NBA as support through their difficulties. He said during his tenure, the Association successfully processed life insurance claims for about 207 members and others.
However, with all these notable achievements, Akpata acknowledged he would have done more. He said that no Association that is keen on reform can achieve results without disagreement.
His words: “Our stance on certain issues may also have been viewed differently by others, but overall, I am convinced that any leadership that seeks to uphold standards, committed to reforms, and wants to make meaningful progress, would be unable to do so without some disagreement and collateral damage. I do not pretend that we could not have done more, but I am pleased with how far we have come, even if I say so myself.”
In his explanation of the circumstances leading to the shortage of conference materials, he assured members who did not get their bags that the Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP) was going to ensure that all registered members received the bags in their locations.
The new president, Maikyau has promised members a better and improved welfare package.
He said: “I’ll ensure that I give welfare packages to all our members. My administration will build on what my predecessors have done.”
Maikyau promised to uphold the legacy built by his predecessors, most importantly, the Akpata-led administration. He thanked NBA members for electing him as the president and also participating in the election despite being online voting.
He pledged to create employment opportunities for young lawyers, improve and encourage health insurance for all members and deal with sexual harassment on behalf of female lawyers.