President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Akpata, who was sworn in as NBA’s 30th President while giving his inaugural speech on Friday, 28 August 2020, described the formation of a parallel NBA as unfortunate.
Akpata called for a united body and faulted the move to establish a regional bar saying this is a time the country needs them the most.
He said, “I am not unaware of very recent events and agitations that have tended to divide our Bar along regional and religious lines. This is rather unfortunate for an egalitarian Association like ours. The Bar that I want to lead henceforth is one that is united on all fronts and that recognises that our diversity is, perhaps, our greatest strength. I plead with all Nigerian lawyers to bear this philosophy of unity in mind as we commence a new journey together today”.
“This enormous task cannot be achieved if we continue to fan the embers of division at a time when we desperately need to unite and speak with one firm voice. We must be kind, magnanimous, respectful, and sensitive in our words and actions, as doing otherwise would be a great disservice to our vision of building a stronger and formidable bar. Now is the time to come together because a divided Bar is a defeated Bar”, he further said.
Following the withdrawal of the invitation extended by the Bar to the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, some lawyers based in Kaduna whose names are Nuhu Ibrahim and Abdulbasit Suleiman, had alleged discrimination against the governor and they described themselves as Convener 1 and 2.
On Thursday, they announced that they and others of like minds had formed a ‘New Nigerian Bar Association’ NNBA.
In a statement released on social media, the lawyers said: “The New Nigerian Bar Association members feel that their interests are no longer taken into consideration in major decisions of the NBA hence the formation of this Association”.
According to them, membership of the NBA is not mandatory, adding that Section 40 of the Constitution permits freedom of association.
The news of a parallel body of the Nigerian Bar Association has since elicited mixed reactions from lawyers across the country although, some are opposed to the move, others say it is within the rights of the conveners to do the same.
Mike Ozekhome, SAN, who spoke at the handover ceremony of the NBA leadership on Friday, advised aggrieved members against forming an alternative association.
He said, “drop all these issues of trying to form an alternative Bar, whether you call it new NBA or progressive NBA, it’s not going to work”.
“The reason is that when you begin to create a different Bar, calling it, for example, Northern Bar or new Bar, then people, very soon, are going to start calling for Southern Nigerian Army, Southern Nigerian Navy, Western Nigerian Air Force, Eastern Nigeria Tax Authority, etc; where are we heading to? That is nothing but balkanisation of Nigeria and God forbid”.
Olumide Akpata however asked that though there are reservations about the decision of the NBA excluding Mallam El-Rufai, from the conference, the association should still keep it’s head and take rational decisions in it’s interest, profession, and the country.
He asked for understanding and caution.