By Festus Okoye Only the uninitiated, uninformed and disinterested onlookers and bystanders are unaware that members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) will go to the polls on the 30th and 31st July 2016 to elect a new President and other Executive members to pilot its affairs for the next two years.
The Presidential candidates are on the campaign stump to different branches of the Association across all the States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The candidates for the various offices are on the social media canvassing for votes and selling their programmes to the electorate.
The voters on their own part are exuding a new sense of fulfillment on account of the power of their votes. The choices before the members of the Nigerian Bar Association are clear and unambiguous and admit to no complications. The times are unique and the challenges facing the profession are gargantuan. The Bar must elect a leader that has the capacity, the courage, the comportment, the temperament, the intellectual staying power, the honesty and integrity to respond to existing and emerging challenges.
The Nigerian Bar needs a leader that can usher in a Brave New Bar that will confront the challenges facing the Nigerian Bar Association and the Legal Profession as a whole.
The Nigerian Bar Association needs a leader that is committed to the independence of the Bench and will lead the struggle for the enthronement of an independent bench that serves the interests of the Nigerian people and the rule of law. The Bar has a responsibility to give to the Nigerian people a Bar leadership that will command the respect of the Nigerian people. That leader is AB Mahmoud, SAN. The July 30th and 31st 2016 elections of the Nigerian Bar Association are unique in several respects.
The Bar Association will be conducting its elections through a process of universal suffrage. This means that Legal Practitioners who paid the Bar Practicing Fees and Branch Dues as at and when due and who are registered and committed members of the Association in any of its branches are eligible to vote.
The Electoral Committee of the Association has in fulfillment of its mandate rolled out timelines for its activities and published the final list of voters eligible to vote in the election. Prior to the amendment of the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association, only statutory and nominated/elected delegates qualified to vote in NBA elections. In other words, the Nigerian Bar Association operated a regime of indirect elections that somehow alienated a substantial number of members and exposed some of the delegates to the manipulative machinations of well-resourced candidates.
This time, the destiny of the profession is in the hands of all those that are genuinely committed to the profession as sovereignty and the power of the vote have been restored to all members. The second unique innovation is that members of the Nigerian Bar Association will no longer gather in a particular venue to cast their votes. The Association has introduced an electronic voting platform that enables each member of the Association to vote in the comfort of the home, office or even while on the road.
This means that members who are outside the country but met the eligibility requirements can cast their votes with their mobile phones. Those that own laptop and desktop computers can vote; those that own mobile phones can vote and those that are technologically challenged can vote in any internet café and voting will span over a two day period and nobody who genuinely wants to vote will be disenfranchised.
The uniqueness of the electronic platform for voting is that no candidate can quarantine voters and coerce them to vote one way or the other. Conversely, it means that members of the Association must live and embrace the choices they make through universal suffrage as the destiny of the profession, the survival of the profession, the continued relevance of the profession and the public perception of the profession lies in the hands of all members of the profession. The Presidency is aware of the coming NBA elections.
The members of the National and State Assemblies are aware of the NBA elections. A substantial number of the Nigerian people and the Law Societies across the African continent are aware of the Nigerian Bar Association elections.
It is an election that will define a lot of things and the choice before the members of the Bar is akin to the choices that confronted the Nigerian people before the 2015 general elections.
The Bar Association election is therefore a fight for the soul of the Association. It is a fight for the Independence of the judiciary. It is a fight to reclaim the legal profession from forces that have held it hostage. It is a fight to redeem the image of members of the Legal Profession. It is a fight to rid the profession of those lacking in character and not really fit to be in the profession. It is a fight to show the Nigerian people that only a tiny fraction of Nigerian lawyers are in league with the forces that looted the resources of the country.
It is a fight between those that are in league with big businesses, political jobbers and opportunists and those that believe that the legal profession can serve the interest of the generality of the Nigerian people.
And the issues and personalities are clearly defined and the members of the profession who have been cleared to vote in the election understand this dynamics. By a stroke of historical coincidence, the Nigerian Bar Association appears to be in the same situation with the Nigerian people just before the 2015 elections.
The Nigerian people saw the Nigerian territorial space shrinking on account of the activities of insurgents and with a sitting President with all the apparatus and appurtenances of office. Nigerians did not know that a tiny group of people harvested and stole the monies meant for the purchase of arms and ammunitions and sent Nigerian soldiers to the North East to commit suicide and Court Marshaled those that refused. The Nigerian people saw the economy nose dive while a few people in government lived big and continued to lie with figures.
The Nigerian people lived in fear and trepidation about their future and that of their children. The people felt and genuinely too that the President did not have the courage, the comportment, the composure and the competence to run the country and steady the ship of state.
Frustrated and afraid of the future, they decided to make a clean break from the past hoping to enthrone a new order based on transparency, integrity and courage. We cannot, therefore as Nigerians pretend that we are not aware that the Nigerian people hold some of our members personally and vicariously liable for the economic and political predicament the country is facing.
We cannot claim that we are not aware that the public perception of the profession is that we assisted in corrupting the Bar and sections of the Bench for and on behalf of sections of the political elite. We cannot pretend not to know that as at today the rule of law and due process and the Independence of the Judiciary are under serious threat.
We cannot pretend that we are not aware that court orders are being disobeyed and some Judges are reluctant to make orders for the release of accused persons on bail. We cannot pretend that all is well with the Bar and the Bench. This precarious situation of the Bar demands that the Bar Association must elect a leader with no political baggage in terms of deep association with any of the existing political parties and political forces.
This demands that the Bar must distance itself from candidates that are deeply involved in the existing political parties at the National Executive Level and as decision makers. Such candidates will come to power with political and economic baggage and will be susceptible to blackmail and intimidation. Such candidates may even engage in self-censorship knowing that they are vulnerable.
The Bar therefore does not need a leader that will be afraid to take a position for and on behalf of the Nigerian people for fear of blackmail on account of previous political and business affiliations and associations.
The Bar, the Bench and the Nigerian people demand and desire a courageous and honest leader with a clear voice and mandate and that leader is AB Mahmoud, SAN.