What transpired in the just concluded Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) national elections, right from the commencement of campaigns, verification of lawyers for the election through to the voting proper and eventual announcement of the results formally by the Electoral Committee of the Nigeria Bar Association (ECNBA), was what I would like to call a revolution, and I will tell us why. Some commentators have referred to it as breaking jinx, given that it appears the NBA is perpetually jinxed to electing and/or having Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), as its President. But, I choose to call it a revolution. A paradigm shift. This was made possible by technology, which has greatly aided human endeavours amidst a debilitating and disruptive global pandemic, which has compelled hyperactive humanity to slow down. Secondly, the determination of the majority of the Lawyers to effect a change in their respected association.
In the legal profession in Nigeria, the highest Rank to be attained as a practicing lawyer is the rank of Advocate of Nigeria.It is the dream of every lawyer to attain such height including that of the present writer. It is equivalent to Queen’s Counsel (QC) or King’s Counsel (KC) in United Kingdom. When one listens to an SAN that worth the rank argue a case in Court, one would appreciate the celebrity of that rank. Some are distinguished with a resonant voice and a clear diction. Some are statesmen, orators, philosophers and above all, mover of men in the highest echelons.
However, when it comes to the leadership of the Bar and the management of the welfare of the generality of lawyers in Nigeria, there has been an intermittent progress in those line of endeavours punctuated with complaints here and there. Over the years, lawyers, especially the young ones who felt and justifiably too in some respects, that they are not treated well have been complaining about the leadership of the highest Bar in Africa. In every election, candidates (who were majorly SANs) will come and promise that they were going to correct the anomaly. At a point, lawyers in Nigeria became very disenchanted for lack of true leadership.
When the 2020 election came on board, majority of the lawyers began to search for a messiah! They felt that if they must succeed, they must take their destiny into their hands. After all, it was Kwame Nkrumah that once said that “Africans should be allowed to make their own mistakes”. So, it could be said that majority of lawyers for once have decided to chart their own cause. With those legitimate feelings, they began to search outside the rank of an SAN. These determined lawyers, entered into the field of work and walked the talk.
Having seen the body language and irrevocable resolve to change the narrative by electing a Non SAN, by young lawyers, some very senior lawyers were concerned and troubled by the looming revolution, which would inevitably break the hold of helms of affairs of the NBA over the years. Frightened by the imminent new order that is about to be inaugurated following the bent of the young lawyers, a very eminent and cerebral lawyer, who commands and wields enormous respect, which practicing lawyers aspire to possess, wrote a letter advising fellow brother Silks on the need and imperative not to allow a Non Silk to lead the bar.One may say that the fears of some of the senior lawyers in that regard were not totally misplaced on the ground of the type of profession we practice as lawyers. It is a conserved system and it is said that seniority is an article of faith and no one could be more senior than a Learned Silk
Alas, it was too late because, one cannot stop an idea whose time has come. While some of the Senior Lawyers were looking at the status quo, majority of Lawyers were looking at a new beginning and an NBA that works for all.While some of the Senior Lawyers were looking at the rank and status of an individual, majority of the lawyers were searching for a fellow that can deliver and the track record of what the person has done.
In this wilderness of search, an Oasis was found. The ebullient Olumide Akpata, esquire, presented himself as the agent of the desired change for the betterment of young lawyers in particular and the NBA in general. Mr. Akpata is a Partner in Templars, which is arguably one of the top five law firms in Nigeria.
This year’s NBA national elections is not just about the welfare of lawyers alone and engendering a sense of egalitarianism in the profession. It is much more than that. It is about redeeming the battered image of the profession, as well as restoring the confidence of the society to the noble profession.
The fears of some of the Senior Lawyers are very understandable. Young Lawyers constitute the highest number of lawyers in Nigeria and in election such as this, majority is strength! It is a game of numbers. Happily for majority of the Lawyers, they have been gifted with a platform to showcase their preference.
Technology to the Rescue
In NBA election, every lawyer who has paid his National and Branch dues on or before the 31stof March is eligible to vote in the general election. Again, there is a system put in place that worked for the overall interest of every lawyer especially the young Lawyers in Nigeria. It is the electronic voting system (EVS). By this system, one can be in the comfort of his house and/or office and vote. One can vote from anywhere in so far as there is data and network. Technology is indeed a game changer, it has helped to truly democratise processes. The electronic voting system (EVS) deployed by ECNBA created the enabling environment that affords all verified lawyers to vote for candidates of their choice and their votes really counted.
There is a need to congratulate the ECNBA for making the process transparent unlike the previous years that were shrouded in suspected election malpractices. Although the election is not without some complaints but there is a huge improvement from the previous elections. At the beginning of this year’s election, nobody was sure of winning but every lawyer was looking up to the Electoral umpire to live up to expectation and to their credit, the ECNBA did their best! It is however, further urged that the ECNBA should look at the areas that was a complaint and improve on in the subsequent elections.
The Lessons and Way Forward
The election has come and gone; but this NBA election should serve as a lesson to every Nigerian that a genuine change is possible in the electoral system. It is desirable that the National Assembly learns from the ECNBA on the need for amendment of the Electoral Act on the voting system in Nigeria. If the system of election works in Nigeria, people are really going to experience the real change. If assurances is given that votes will count, people are really going to participate in elections in Nigeria. NBA’s election is a wakeup call for every Nigerian to call on the National Assembly for electoral reform. Improved and transparent elections in Nigeria, will aid in the emergence of competent leaders, who will help to inaugurate a trajectory of prosperity for our country. The National Assembly need to amend the Electoral Act to allow electronic voting system with a measured security to avoid manipulation, it is more efficient and transparent, and reduces to the minimum the likelihood of manipulation and malpractices in the system.
This election is a litmus test to Mr. Akpata and the younger generation. It is a test on whether under this circumstance, it is possible for a new generation to take the tide of leadership and smoothen the rough edges of governance! It is a test on whether it is possible for the younger generation to make a meaningful contribution and progress towards nation building. It is a test on whether the younger generation is capable of leading the Bar and indeed the larger society.
As 2023 approaches, it is expected that this NBA election would be a blue print for national elections in Nigeria. It is possible that young people are changing the narratives. It is not surprising that the change began from the learned profession! All over the world, lawyers are always in the forefront of societal emancipation. I therefore call on younger generation to take election participation very serious and avoid being an instrument for election malpractices but go into the mainstream politics and effect the desired change.
To Mr. Apkata, I plead in the name of anything and/or everything very dear to you, do not disappoint Nigerian Lawyers. Do not disappoint the younger generation. Do not be like the ones in Nigerian politics who have made impossible for the younger generations to be entrusted with power of leadership. I believe you will not. As a person who sharein your vision and aspirations for the NBA, I know you will not.
I heartily congratulate you.
Kelechi Chukwu writes from Ikoyi, Lagos
Mgt Crisis: National Assembly, Now a Lawless Parliament?
So a lawmaking body can break its own laws and flagrantly disregard its own resolutions and there are problems or consequences because there is no one to oversight it!
On June 10, 2020 the Spokesman of the House of Representatives, Hon Benjamin Kalu in a statement commemorating one year of the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly announced that the Green Chamber alone had 853 bills at various stages of the legislative Process.
In the Senate, over 300 bills are also said to be at various legislative stages.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are traditionally plenary days at the National Assembly. On each of these days both chambers record at least 20 “Motions of Urgent Public Importance,” these motions range from those bordering on serious social issues to the very mundane one calling on the government to replace leaking roofs in worship centres.
The Senate or the House usually end debate on such motions with resolutions “urging”, “compelling,” “appealing,” or “mandating,” various federal government agencies or private organisations or individuals concerned to implement the resolution of the National Assembly.
However, the leadership of the National Assembly and indeed members of the assemblies past and present believe that the parliament’s biggest challenge as an independent arm of the government remains the lack of implementation of the various resolutions of the Nigeria’s apex parliament by agencies of the government and organisations concerned.
The National Assembly today is in the eye of the storm by enmeshing itself in the same conundrum it had several times accused other arms of the government and private organisations of.
Since the inception of the 9th Assembly in June 2019, there has been series of schemes centred primarily on how to “takeover” the bureaucracy of the National Assembly.
The 8th National Assembly after series of failed attempts finally approved a new condition of service aimed at helping the legislative arm of the Tripod of the Nigerian government to get established as an institution with a “memory” that can serve as touch on its path to growth. The action of the 8th Assembly was taken bearing in mind that the legislature has remained the “sick man” of the tripod primarily because of the various military interregnums that had combined to stunt its growth over the years.
The revised condition which passed through the constitutionally required processes in the National Assembly during the 8th session was in the words of the leadership of the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) “is a product of longtime struggle by the parliamentary staff Association of Nigeria (National Assembly Chapter), …a struggle which started with the advent of democracy in Nigeria in 1999.” The Revised Condition of Service came into operation on May 21st, 2019. It is based on this revised condition of service that the current crisis surrounding the office of the Clerk to the National Assembly has been anchored by the members of the National Assembly Service Commission.
The 9th National Assembly is fast becoming a lawless parliament as events of the last few days indicates clearly that it cannot even obey its own laws and resolutions.
The National Assembly Service Act of 2014 was enacted by the National Assembly and it clearly stipulates the procedures for the appointment and removal of key members of the National Assembly Management staff, especially the Clerk.
However, in a flagrant disregard for its own resolution as carried out by the 8th Assembly and section 10 of the NASC Act 2014, which provides that:
“A person holding the office of the Clerk to the National Assembly shall only be removed by the Commission acting on an address supported by a simple majority of each House of the National Assembly praying that he be removed for inability to discharge his functions due to infirmity of the mind, body, any other cause or for misconduct.
“Except by resolution of each House of the National Assembly, no person shall act in the office of the Clerk to the National Assembly for a period exceeding 6 months;”
The 9th Assembly leadership in cahoots with the hand-picked members of the National Assembly Service Commission on Friday July 17, 2020 announced the removal of the Clerk to the Assembly appointing in his place an Acting Clerk.
This singular action of the NASC and its sponsors portends the greatest danger to the institution of the National Assembly.
It is to be noted that the imbroglio generated by the entire episode leading to this unfortunate action of the NASC, it should never be viewed from the personalities involved, rather we should look at it from a point of “how does this action impact the institution of the National Assembly?”
Like mentioned earlier in this article, for the National Assembly which thrives on lawmaking to be disobeying its own laws and resolution with reckless abandon, how then can it expect other arms of government or even private organisations to obey its resolutions and laws?
It is fast becoming a norm for heads of government agencies to walk out on the National Assembly, just recently the Minister of State for Labour and productivity , Mr. Festus Keyamo took the two chambers of the National Assembly to the cleaners in the premises of the Assembly.
With all the grandstanding of the President of the Senate in a reconvened meeting of the Joint Committee on Labour and Employment, President Muhammadu Buhari went ahead to direct Mr. Keyamo to go ahead and coordinate the implementation of the government’s programme to temporarily employ 774,000 Nigerians, this is in total disregard to the position of the National Assembly as announced by President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly, Sen. Ahmad Lawan.
Similarly, the ad hoc Committee of the House of Representatives on Thursday July 16, 2020 “ordered” the arrest of Prof. Daniel Pondei, the Managing Director of the Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission over his refusal to testify in the dramatized ongoing “investigation” on the Commission.
In an uncanny twist of issues, the same Committee on Friday July 17, 2020 again passed another resolution mandating Prof. Pondei to appear before it on Monday July, 2020 without even vacating the earlier arrest order slammed on the MD.
All these point to a parliament that is fast becoming lawless, a parliament in total confusion, this notwithstanding the opprobrious image the 9th National Assembly parades as a “rubber stamp” parliament.
It is indeed very imperative for all people of good conscience who mean well for the growth of democracy to speak up and salvage Nigeria’s fulcrum of rule of law in order to save it from self-destruct.
A National Assembly that cannot obey its own rule will definitely lack the moral high ground to extract obedience of its resolutions and laws from the other arms of the government.
Nigeria’s quest for the entrenchment of the rule of law has never been this threatened, the members of the NASC must be made to realize that their position is a pivotal one in the mainstreaming of democratic ethos in Nigeria. The NASC must necessarily work to insulate the National Assembly bureaucracy from the interferences of external factors and politicians whose sole interest is usually selfish and the “now.”
Putting the Online Media on Trial in Nigeria, Urgent Need for Self Introspection
“The media has the capacity to shape the narrative, but what it does not know is that that capacity is dwindling.
“Its fast dwindling because more and more Nigerians are beginning to say, “wait a minute these people often don’t tell the truth.” “This people often don’t investigate.” The media is losing credibility.
“Gone are those days when you pick up the paper and what you read you know is gospel truth.”
Those were the words of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila while engaging with journalists that cover the activities of the House of Representatives on July 2nd, 2020.
With the coming of the internet and its democratization of the media practice whereby a new brand of journalism has emerged, the idea of “fake news” also crept in too. With the internet at the finger tip of people everywhere in the world citizen journalism was born. Everyone with a phone can practically report events (news). Today every news medium now has the “eye witness” segment where citizens who may not be professionally trained journalists generate content for media houses by recording and sending such events to the media outlet for publishing.
Indeed, there is no sphere of human endeavour that has been impacted by the advent of the internet like the media sector.
However, even with the plethora of “news” activities in the internet space, online news media remain distinct from “citizen journalists” and “citizen journalism” or “bloggers.” The difference here lies in the fact that online news platforms or online newspapers actually practice journalism according to the established rules and ethics of journalism which basically stands on the mantra that says “when in doubt, leave out.”
As a practicing online journalist and a member of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) it saddens me that we (online journalists) are rather becoming our own biggest enemies. It is now a common thing for people both in public office and private individuals to constantly use such comments like “I read it in the social media,” “it was all over social media,” “you cannot rely on social media account” and many such comments which primarily aim to belittle the source or make it look like since it was not delivered on print or television therefore the “credibility” of the news is in doubt!
It becomes even more painful when practitioners of online newspapers play into the hands of those whose sole aim is to discredit the new media by peddling lies and conjectures in the name of “exclusive” news items and reports.
For example, Sahara Reporters is one of the very first online newspapers in Nigeria, though published from the United States of America, nearly 100% of its news content come from Nigeria or concerns Nigeria.
However, of late Sahara Reporters has consistently put those of us in the online newspaper business at risk of serious public distrust.
Just last week (July 7, 2020), the newspaper reported that 50 members of the House of Representatives had tested positive to the dreaded coronavirus prompting the the House to adjourn for a week.
This particular report which has since been found to be false triggered series of unpleasant consequences for everyone working in the complex as even their families became alarmed and jittery. The House through its spokesman, Hon. Benjamin Kalu in a press statement refuted the Sahara Reporters claim, but even then the damage had been done.
There has been series of outcry by people and organisations that had been “victimized” by this news medium. One of the outstanding cases was documented on pages 19 and 20 of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s recent book: Fighting Corruption is Dangerous
In her account, Okonjo-Iweala, two time Nigeria’s former Finance Minister wrote, “Friends and family alerted me to a spate of articles that had began to appear in a Nigerian online news outlet, Sahara Reporters, that were attacking me and the notion of my return to government as Finance Minister.
“…One night I received a call on a private phone line that I had reserved for use only by my family. When I picked up the phone expecting a family member, a voice said this was Omoyele Sowore of Sahara Reporters and he had some questions for me to answer. I was outraged… shortly after, a tape of our conversation appeared on the internet. Not only had this man violated all rules of decent behavior, but he had gone beyond to do something as unethical as taping our conversation without my knowledge or permission. I did think this was a news medium worthy of any attention.”
As journalist practicing in an online news outlet, I am deeply worried that the tactics and practices of some of our colleagues in the online media space may eventually discredit us all to a point that we may become a butt of joke, even when online journalism remains the future of journalism in Nigeria, just like in other places in the world.
The era of fake news, distortion of facts and subjective presentation of information by some media outlet is becoming worrisome. It is more devastating when as an established media organization descends so law as to dwell in what many observers and practitioners alike call “junk journalism.”
We have credible online newspapers like Premium Times, The Cable, Legit NG, Pulse, eparliament, Orderpaper Starnews, Daily Post, Daily Nigerian and many more that have distinguished themselves as very credible news sources, yet the actions some very few online news outlets continue tar every one with a brush of ignominy
It has therefore, become imperative to call on stakeholders in the online Media Sector, media regulatory agencies, media rights based organizations, including the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Nigerians Guild of Editors, Nigerian Press Council, Media Right Concerns, International Press Council among other stakeholders to speak out against these unethical practices to nip in the bud this ominous signs.
Ahmad Lawan as President of the Ninth Senate: Setting the Right Tone from the Outset
The gripping electoral drama of the day fittingly climaxed weeks of a political game of wits in Nigeria. That was on Tuesday 11th June, 2019, the day the Ninth National Assembly was inaugurated and its presiding officers were elected.
At the Senate chamber, the brightly clad Senators-elect were already seated well ahead of the 10 a.m schedule start of proceedings. When it was time, the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, read out the Presidential Proclamation for the inauguration of the Ninth Senate. After the roll call of the Senators-elect was taken, the first business of the day followed swiftly – the election of the President of the Senate. This was to be followed by that of his Deputy.
Given that the All Progressive Congress (APC has a clear majority in the Senate, the two elections should ordinarily be a formality of the coronation of its anointed candidates. But the party harboured no such illusion as that had not happened four years ago when APC first took government. On that occasion in 2015, it was left with a bloody nose as some of its members had cut a deal with the former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to snatch the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly. That hostile takeover would later shape relations between the two elected arms and affect the performance of the federal government. Wary this time about history repeating itself, the APC leadership had worked assiduously to unite the party’s caucuses in the two chambers behind the party’s consensus candidates. Leaving nothing to chance, the APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, was there alongside other party chiefs to watch the proceedings and ensure no surprises this time around.
While the event was in progress at the Senate chamber, President Muhammadu Buhari was at the Transcorps Hilton Hotel about a kilometer away. It was the venue of an anti-corruption forum sponsored by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC). The National Leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was also at the forum, and like the President, his mind was apparently far away at the Senate chamber.
The day’s proceedings at the Senate chambers kicked off smoothly, until the announcement of the mode of elections. The APC had prepared for open balloting. But the Clerk of the National Assembly decided otherwise. Relying on what he called the extant rules of the Senate, Sani-Omolori said the election would be by open-secret ballots. This was completely against the expectation of the APC leaders and understandably made them very uncomfortable. The party sensed another ambush as the secrecy of the ballot meant it would not be able to monitor how its members voted.
This reporter was at another location monitoring the TV live transmission of the Senate proceedings and posting, via WhatsApp, a blow-by-blow account of the unfolding events to an aide of Asiwaju Tinubu who in turn was updating his principal.
When the final tally was announced, which gave Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan an overwhelming victory as the new Senate President, Tinubu’s aide whose eyes were glued to his phone all through, scribbled a note on a small piece of paper and passed it to his boss. Tinubu, heaved a sigh of relief. He couldn’t keep the “breaking news” to himself so he stretched his right hand and passed the piece of paper to Buhari. The President responded to the information from his staunch political ally with a gap-toothed smile of relief.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the guest speaker at the forum, was seated next to Buhari but was oblivious of what was playing out. He wouldn’t understand our local politics. This was what the Nigerian ruling party had wanted in 2015. Nobody prayed for a repeat of that episode because of its negative consequences on governance.
Ahmad Lawan’s emergence as President of the Ninth Senate has gone some way in restoring party supremacy in politics and enhanced cooperation within the federal government. No more tension. No more acrimony. The cat and mouse relationship between the Federal Legislature and the Executive has given way to harmony and mutual respect as the two elected arms of government are again learning to sing from the same hymn book. Since then, presidential nominees for appointment have been screened without delay. Budgets and other executive bills and communications have been receiving deserved attention in the Senate without slowing down the activities of government.
Pundits, who love politics as a bloody game, gave this new development in inter-arms relations a wrong interpretation. They christened the Legislature a rubber stamp. To this misconception, Lawan unapologetically once responded: “We are so terribly misunderstood that when we say that we are going to work with the Executive arm of government in a very harmonious and productive manner, some people, some out of misunderstanding, some out of mischief, say it’s a rubber stamp National Assembly. But let me say this: no amount of distractions or blackmail will stop us from being united in the National Assembly for the benefit of Nigerians who elected us and nothing will discourage us from working with the executive arm of government for the betterment of our country.
“As a legislature we know where our limits lie in terms of cooperation and in working with the executive arm of government. But we are going to give the President and his team every possible legislative support that they require to make this country better and greater. Where we feel that there is a breach of procedures and processes by the executive arm of government, we will insist that the right things are done. So it doesn’t mean that because we are peaceful and that we are cordial with the executive arm of government that we are rubber stamp but that is something that will not distract us.”
After one year of its coming to existence, people are appreciating the perspective of the Legislature from the results that have been achieved that governance is enhanced when agencies coooperate rather than when they dissipate energy and resource on mutual antagonism. Setting that tone in his acceptance speech after his election, the new Senate President said: “Within us as a Senate, our leadership will commit to partnership rather than partisanship and between us and the Executive arm of Government, we will choose unity of purpose over conflict and discord while also working towards further strengthening and guaranteeing our independence and that of judiciary.”
Lawan has remained focused on that path of building trust and cooperation between elected arms in the arms in the past one year, more so that the two arms were elected on the same political platform. He has also ensured that the voice of the minority is not muted in the chambers. Senators of the opposition parties have been accorded full respect and recognition as representatives of their constituencies and allowed full participation in decision-making. The Senate under the leadership of Lawan has adopted a multi-partisan approach to decision-making and spoken with one voice on issues of national importance.
Before he assumed the leadership of the National Assembly, Lawan had an idea of the gigantic burden it entails. He has resisted anything that could distract his concentration on the job. Even when the leadership of his asked him to chair a committee saddled with resolving intra-party disputes and reconciling aggrieved members, Lawan politely turned down the assignment despite expressing full support for the party’s decision to set up the panel. Lawan’s only reason was that his duty at the National Assembly would not allow him to give the assignment the necessary attention. The party leadership understood his point and commended his forthrightness.
In the last one year, Lawan has devoted his time and energy to making the National Assembly work better. Given what has been achieved in the first year, the prospect is bright for the ninth Senate achieving its legislative agenda and supporting the federal government to always improve its service-delivery to the people of Nigeria.
***Mr Awoniyi is the Special Adviser (Media) to the President of the Senate
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