We now have “majoritarian tyranny” in the name of politics of NBA – An Opinion by JS Okutepa SAN
On the 4th of August 2020, I had cause to express a strong feelings about the manner young members of the Bar were hauling insults on elders of the Bar. I had written then that:
“In my honest view and as someone who mean well for the legal profession and the professional Association of lawyers, NBA, I think Mr Olumide Akpata should worry more about the process that produced him as the 30th President of NBA, than celebrating his ‘victory’. Yes in any contest there must be a winner and losers and winners naturally should celebrate and thank God. But I don’t think this is the time to celebrate. It is time to feel pains for the once noble profession, whose nobility and professional integrity are being undermined and dragged to the muds.
If Mr Olumide Akpata wants to hear the honest and bitter truth as I think he should be told, he should be more worried than celebrating the processes that produced him and at those congratulating him and taunting those who lost the election. Those congratulating him and taunting those who lost are doing Mr Olumide Akpata great professional disservice and they are doing so with respect out of primordial partisan selfish interest and they are not doing him and the Association he is to lead any good.
As someone rightly pointed out, the crises rocking NBA is like a mustard seed. It may look tiny and insignificant but it will grow and may consume the profession. As lawyers we are told of the supremacy of constitution. NBA constitution is supreme. Breaching the constitution to produce leadership should not be celebrated by any member including Mr Olumide Akpata.
Without sounding patronizing, Mr Olumide Akpata is not a young lawyer. He is at home with the basic principles of law and constitutional law. He is also familiar with our rules of Professional Conduct in the Legal Profession 2007. So being a senior member of the Bar he must not be seeing encouraging any young lawyer to show disrespect for senior lawyers and other lawyers. Mr Olumide Akpata owes a duty to the profession and NBA to call to order immediately the open insults being hauled at senior and other lawyers on social media by overzealous young members of the Bar in the name of victory celebrations.
Winning election is one thing. Managing the victory is another task. I do not think Mr Akpata wants the Bar divided under his watch. NBA may not continued to enjoy the monopoly it is enjoying now if we failed to address the indiscipline and total disrespect for elders and senior members of the Bar, the rule of law and our constitution.
I have no doubt in me that Mr Olumide Akpata as a lawyer knows the values and etiquette of the legal profession.
He knows what the ethics of the profession say and what is expected of us as lawyers. The open desecration of the ethics and etiquette of our profession must worry him. The open abuses being hauled at those who ‘lost’ the elections and their supporters by those who think they are now the kingmakers should be frontally addressed before it is too late. What distinguished the legal profession from other professions is our code of conduct. While as lawyers we discussed and disagreed, we do so with decent and decorum expected of lawyers. Gutter languages are prohibited by our professional code of conduct. Abusive language is not allowed. Conduct likely to bring the legal profession to odium and disrepute is not allowed. While freedom of speech is allowed, what I think is not allowed is abuse of that freedom. As reasonable lawyer that Mr Olumide Akpata is, I feel what worries me should worry him too. It is on the basis of the foregoing that I feel he should be worried. I recall his anxieties and views prior to the election that due processes for the election were not being followed by ECNBA. I recalled with pride that Mr Akpata and other candidates pointed out these constitutional breaches to ECNBA but all fell on deaf ears. The products of the election may be beautiful but where the processes leading to the outcome were flawed and did not follow the mandatory constitutional provisions as in this case and previous elections, then nobody should be seen celebrating the outcomes. That is why I feel we should be more concerned and that is where I am concerned. Those who are congratulating Mr Olumide Akpata and are urging him on are not more patriotic than those of us pointing out the legendary constitutional infractions prior and during this and previous elections. Some of these lawyers are congratulating Mr Olumide Akpata for favour and to be seeing as belong to his camp. But that is not how it should be done. Yes failure is an orphan, I preferred to be an orphan with contentment than celebrating fragrant abuse and breach of our constitution as in this case. I think it was Lord Denning that said you can’t put nothing on nothing and expect it to stand. It is better truth be told than lies. I have always said that wrong is wrong and there is no amount of baptismal name you can give to wrong to make it right.
Those who are struggling to justify the outcome of the election on the basis of fairness are missing the points. Election may have been free and fair, but a product of constitutional breaches as in this case. We as lawyers have gone to courts to challenge elections on the basis that Electoral Act or Constitution was not followed.
We need to speak as lawyers and not like conventional politicians who believe that the end justified the means. As the foremost professional Association, NBA must be seen to do and conduct itself and it’s affairs in the most transparent manner and in accordance with it’s constitution. The certificate of incorporation given to it and the law under which it was registered required it to conduct it’s affairs in accordance with the constitution. We therefore cannot continue to be breaching NBA Constitution and then celebrate. It is a mockery which should not be seen amongst learned gentlemen and women of the Bar. This is the duty I owe the profession. It is on the basis of the foregoing that I think we should not celebrate but interrogate the processes that produced the outcomes of this elections 2020 and those before it. It is then will the Bar be seen as truly the voice of the rule of law and due process.”
I think today the Bar is more polarised, and the insults and insubordination I spoke of had increased to so much intolerable level. As lawyers we are trained to disagree but not to insults ourselves.
In the name of numbers some young members of the Bar now take to social media to insults and castigate some elders and leaders of the Bar without respect. There is now majoritarian tyranny in the name of politics of NBA as if we were called to the Nigerian Bar Association.
The level of fowl languages being employed must worry all right thinking members of the legal profession in Nigeria. The legal profession has civilized ways of dealing with breach of its ethics. Emotional outbursts and insults are not parts of the procedures as at the last I read the Rules of Professional Conduct in the legal profession.
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