MSA Reporters

Members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) would be confronted with making their choices at the polls come July 2022 as we draw closer to the NBA national elections. And as usual, a lot of aspirants have been putting themselves forward though the ban on campaigns has not been lifted.

It is clear at the 2021 Annual General Conference held in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, major amendments have been made to the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association in 2019, even though the amendments are yet to be registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission, as stated by the Olumide Akpata, the incumbent President of the NBA. The National Executive Committee Meeting held in Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State has already constituted, will the hope that by March when probably the ban on campaigns will be lifted, the amendments would have been registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.

Thus far, three major Presidential aspirants have emerged. Going by the extant Constitution of the NBA, the office of the President determines to a large extent the political direction of the Association. This is not in any way to diminish the status of the other elective national offices. The persons of J.K. Gadzama SAN, Y.C Mikyau SAN and Jonathan Taidi have indicated an interest in running for the Office of the President.

While J.K. Gadzama SAN is a veteran contestant, having run in the 2010 and 2016 National elections, he is a candidate to beat in the elections, given his political and material clout as well as his long-running reputation. Y.C. Mikyau SAN is a candidate with a fresh face. Apart from running for the first time, he has not held any major bar position apart from his current Chairmanship of the National Welfare Committee of the NBA. This does not mean he is a lightweight contestant.

Jonathan Taidi was the immediate past General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association and if the weight of Bar’s positions held is a major factor, he is a significant contestant. One of the major leverage that Jonathan Taidi will enjoy is the non-Silk streak that ran through the 2020 Presidential Elections, which led to the emergence of Olumide Akpata, who was not a Silk, as President of the Nigerian Bar Association, after a long succession of Senior Advocates as Presidents of the Association.

The phenomenal emergence of the Olumide Akpata, a non-Silk has brought once again the age-long issue of the relevance or otherwise of the rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Modelled after the British version of Queen’s Counsel (QC), the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria is not a meritorious rank and it is based on Privilege. This has created a caste of privileged elites, who do not emerge based on merit but the approval of their class.

The reality of the legal profession in Nigeria is that it is a relic of Anglo-Saxon colonialism. Up to the 1880s, the Anglicized legal profession was not known to this part of the world, it was only labelled as Nigeria in 1914 almost a century after, following the British amalgamation and creation of a geographical entity from all of her colonial territories in the Niger area which they chose to call Nigeria.

The Crown Colony of Lagos, arguably the part of the country most exposed to British colonialism had from the 1880s a generation of lawyers practising British law in Nigeria, starting with the likes of Sapara Williams and Akitoye Ajasa. It took almost a century after, in 1965 for an Anglicised lawyer from Northern Nigeria to be called to the Nigerian Bar and he is even from today’s Kwara State, the Yoruba-speaking parts of Northern Nigeria. It took the 1979 Constitution for Sharia Law to be incorporated as a component of formal law in Nigeria and led to the elevation of Grand Khakis to the Supreme Court in an attempt to balance the federal character.

Thus far, legal practice in Nigeria is predominantly pro-rich and bourgeois. A majority of the laws both colonially inherited and so-called nationally crafted are specifically aimed at benefitting the upper class, members of the ruling elites and their cronies and supporters at the utter disadvantage of the working masses. Even the question of Fundamental Human Rights has become largely abridged a consequence of the backward neo-colonial economy of Nigeria and all of its manifest contradictions that have kept the country economically underdeveloped, completely import-dependent, with the means of production not developed, and the few industries available closing shop and relocating out of the country.

The above scenario is largely responsible for a huge population with nothing to do or any legitimate source of income, with a huge class difference between the poor and the super-rich. This is no little way has directly impacted on the law profession, making only a few in the ranks of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) exclusively rich with and a majority of rank-and-file lawyers pauperized and not different from the working masses, who merely survive engaging in “Charge and Bail”.

It is all of this that makes the question of the NBA and her election a thing that cannot be ignored, has a professional body of learned individuals it can bring its view to bear on the polity, it can legitimately offer opinions that put pressure on the ruling elites to implement some reforms, it can also galvanize it, members, across all of the LGAs in the country to become politically active on the side of the interest of the working masses.

During the 2020 NBA National Elections, apart from Olumide Akpata, there was also another non-Silk aspirant in the person of Adesina Ogunlana, former Chairman of NBA Ikeja Branch (2018-2020). The Publisher of the anti-judiciary corruption magazine, The Squib, Ogunlana through its leadership of NBA Ikeja demonstrated what NBA can do when it led to a major struggle against the obnoxious increase in Land Use Charge by the then Akinwumi Ambode-led Lagos State Government. This led to a phenomenal victory, signalled first by the inability of the government to implement the obnoxious Lagos State Land Use Charge Law, which culminated in the total reversal of the obnoxious Charge.

It follows therefore that national leadership of the NBA with this type of thinking can bring a lot to bear on the polity, and will not stand aside, while the ruling elites employ their privileges to amass more wealth to themselves, through obnoxious policies. Running on the platform of Radical Agenda Movement in the Nigerian Bar Association (RAMINBA), Ogunlana put forward a radical fighting programme that upon emerging as the President of the Association, he would lead the NBA to play its historical role as a fighting vanguard.

He echoes the leadership provided by Alao Aka-Bashorun, a prominent socialist who is regarded as the only radical President of the Nigerian Bar Association to date. He led a court boycott and protests against the jackboot military regime of Ibrahim Babaginda. Lawyers who are members of the Movement for Socialist Alternative are part of the Radical Agenda Movement in the Nigerian Bar Association and played a major role in Ogunlana’s presidential campaign.

While Ogunlana is not a socialist himself, he represented a major pole of attraction to genuine radical elements in the NBA looking for a break with the run of the Bar bigwigs. RAMINBA is open to socialist and non-socialist radical lawyers alike. It played a major role in reconstructing the narrative of the #EndSARS struggle after the bloody massacre of Tuesday, 20th October 2020. We call on rank-and-file members of the Association to join RAMINBA and ultimately, the Movement for A Socialist Alternative (MSA).

One of the outstanding agendas of RAMINBA’s manifesto during the 2020 NBA Presidential Elections is that the ratio of sharing the NBA’s allocation of the Annual Bar Practicing Fees should be changed from 90% for the National Secretariat and 10% to the Branches to 50% to the National Secretariat and 50% to the Branches. This would end the financial emasculation that many Branches have found themselves in.

Thus far, we have seen only occasional outbursts of radical rhetoric by the three Presidential aspirants. There is no clear and articulate radical programme of action. However, the Silk versus Non-Silk diatribe has been reopened. On the eve of another national election, Chief Awomolo SAN, who wrote a blistering attack on Olumide Akpata during the 2020 National elections, launched another salvo on Akpata again, attacking him for not being a Silk and calling for the Office of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association to be exclusive of Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

We must outrightly come out against this outburst and canvass lawyers all over to understand that all are “legal colleagues” and “the right to vote or be voted for” must not be conditioned in any sense. The law profession which upholds “the principle of equality before the law” should not be found in its rank to be saying otherwise. While not opposed to SAN contesting for the highest office in the NBA, we equally cannot support that others be denied this same right, nor does this now translate to the fact that non Silk members would automatically endorse a radical agenda and working people-centred driven leadership of the NBA.

While Akpata is not a Silk, he is no less a high-street lawyer with a large financial chest which he wielded during the last 2020 national elections. His emergence was deflation of the predominant ethno-regional bloc in the Western Zone, the “Egbe Amofin Yoruba” (Yoruba Lawyers’ Forum) given that he is from the Edo-Delta minority sub-region (which equally have their Mid-West Bar Forum, though perpetually divided) echoing a similar deflation for the Eastern Bar Forum in 2018 when Paul Usoro from the Akwa Ibom-Cross Rivers minority sub-region emerged as President.

There is also the Arewa Lawyers’ Forum in Northern Nigeria, which has been inactive for a while.
Ethnic configurations and money-politicking are still part of NBA politics, quite, unfortunately. The two major factors will still play a role in the forthcoming 2022 NBA elections. This does not mean that the rank and file radicalization that began in the 2020 elections has ebbed. MSA stand opposed to ethnic profiling in the NBA and will deepen ideas of class politics within the rank and file of the NBA.

The Movement for A Socialist Alternative (MSA) is a revolutionary organization based on the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky arguing that the experience of the former Soviet Union is not a complete and genuine socialist affair. The MSA is the Nigerian Section of the International Socialist Alternative (ISA), argues for class emancipation of the working people on an international basis as against “socialism in one country” espoused by Stalin and his successors, leading to the eventual restoration of capitalism in the former Soviet Union and triumphalism of its neo-liberal variant worldwide. We call on rank and file lawyers to join the MSA to struggle together to reclaim the NBA as a democratic, mass-based fighting organization of lawyers that would seek to put itself forward as an organ that defends the interest and well-being of the working masses.

This is the tradition that the likes of Aka-Bashorun and Gani Fawehinmi sweated with all of their toil and sweat to lay down for those practising law in the country, to employ the instrument of legality to oppose any attempt to oppress and exploit the working masses. But even then there is also the key lesson which they drew even in their lifetimes and indeed also acted upon that it will require more than just legal battles and technical knowhow of the to improve a lot of the working masses.

But important is the need to get the working masses to organise politically and for lawyers to fully come on the side of the working masses, providing support to get them organized and collectively together to confront the ruling elites under the Socialist Alternative agenda to overthrow capitalism and birth a Workers’ and poor Farmers Government.