Newly sworn-in President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Akpata; and some Senior Advocates of Nigeria have condemned the move by some northern lawyers in the country to pull out of the body and form another one.
The lawyers had, on Friday, formed announced the formation of ‘New NBA,’ as a shoe of disapproval over the withdrawal of an invite to the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, as a guest speaker at the association’s conference.
The breakaway group, in a statement by two lawyers, Nuhu Ibrahim and Abdulbasit Suleiman, explained that the formation of the new association is aimed at protecting their interests as enshrined under Section 40 of the constitution.
However, the NBA president, in his inaugural speech on Friday, described the secession moves within the association as unfortunate and called for unity.
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.
In the same vein, Mr Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, noted that, although any group of persons could form an association, due to the right to freedom of association, the factionalised NBA might not stand the test of time.
I can’t condemn any group of people who want to form an association because there is freedom of association and it’s their constitutional right. But the NBA has been in existence since the beginning of time and still remains the main focus of Nigerian lawyers. Whether it (New NBA) will stand is another thing.
He maintained that there was only one association of Nigerian lawyers acceptable to everyone, stressing;
What are their goals? What are their motives for setting up a faction? For now, all lawyers belong to the NBA. The NBA remains the official body acceptable to all lawyers, but if a sectional group arises, it can only remain sectional.
Another SAN, Yusuf Ali, opined;
It is normal in an organisation to have disagreements but it is not every disagreement that must lead to disintegration or factions. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Even as much as I have my own reservations, it does not mean that we now have to engage in the balkanisation of the association of the body of lawyers in the country. We should not allow our differences, particularly on ethnic and religious issues, to undermine our unity.
Similarly, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, who spoke at the handover of the NBA leadership on Friday, advised aggrieved members against forming an alternative association, vowing such a move would be resisted.
So, 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.
The development comes barely a week after the NBA dropped el-Rufai from its line-up of speakers at the NBA virtual conference held between August 24 and August 26.
The invitation was withdrawn after lawyers criticised El-Rufai over the killings in Southern Kaduna, alleged disdain for court orders and other things happenings in the state.