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Anxiety as lawyers commence politicking for NBA presidency

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Anxiety as lawyers commence politicking for NBA presidency

As the July 20, 2024 election date for the 32nd President of the Nigerian Bar Association draws near, anxiety has heightened in the legal community over who becomes the next NBA president.

The tenure of Mr. Yakubu Maikyaku (SAN), the incumbent President of the Nigerian Bar Association, will come to a close on July 20, 2024. Both within and outside the association, the current leadership has been described as inept and undignified, especially coming after the activist posture of the immediate predecessor, Mr. Tayo Akpata.

The NBA has consistently said that an electronic voting system will be adopted for its 2024 election, a system adopted since 2016 elections.

The association further explained that the decision to continue to use electronic voting would allow members of the association to seamlessly partake in the election from their different locations across the country.
Recall that weeks before, the association’s Electoral Committee, led by Oluseun Abimbola (SAN), had stated that the system has so far proved effective in ensuring wider participation of lawyers. Abimbola stated that; “We understand that the NBA has 120 branches across the country, and if we calculate the members of the association, we should be looking at over 150,000.”

It would be recalled that in the 2020 election there was some resentment when Olumide Akpata, from Edo State, contested against candidates from the South-West, defeating two members of the Inner Bar – Dr Babatunde Ajibade (SAN) and Dele Adesina (SAN). When the electronic voting stopped Akpata, garnered 9,891 votes (54.3 per cent of the total vote), while Ajibade won 4,328 votes (23.8 per cent), while Adesina trailed behind Ajibade with 3,982 votes (21.9 per cent).
It’s on record that Akpata became the first member of the outer Bar (non-SAN) to be President of the NBA since the era of Alao Aka-Bashorun in 1989. The election also witnessed the rise of three women as national officers in the eight-man national executive. Mrs Joyce Oduah got elected as the General Secretary; Esther Nwadialo became the Assistant Secretary, while Mercy Agada became the Treasurer.

In the July 20, 2024 election, the jostling aspirants for the NBA president are the former NBA General Secretary, Afam Osigwe (SAN); former NBA Lagos State branch chairman, Chukwuka Ikwuazom (SAN); Chairman of NBA Institute of Continuing Legal Education, Tobenna Erojikwe; and immediate-past NBA General Secretary, Mrs Joyce Oduah, but she has since dropped her ambition.

Many lawyers spoken to by Business Hallmark on condition of anonymity said they would vote for the best candidate, as one of them put it, “I have confidence in all of the candidates, but surely one of them will emerge as NBA president to take NBA to the next level.”

All the aspirants have an intimidating credentials to qualify them for the exalted office of president.

Toebena Erojikwe, a contender for the race, was born in Luton, England, and is from Nnewi in Anambra State. He attended the University of Nigeria Primary School, Nsukka, and had his secondary school education at the University of Nigeria Secondary School, Nsukka. He thereafter proceeded to the University of Nigeria (Enugu Campus) and obtained his Bachelor of Law degree in 1998. He was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2000.

He commenced his legal career with The Law Crest LLP, a full-service commercial law firm in Lagos, where he worked for a couple of years before proceeding to the United Kingdom.

With a practice period in England spanning over 10 years, he worked as a solicitor with Alexus Associates and then as a Senior Solicitor (Regeneration) at the London Borough of Barnet. Erojikwe is currently a partner at the TLC and heads the Finance and Energy Practice Group of the firm. He is the Chairman of the Governing Board of the NBA Institute of Continuing Legal Education and served two terms as the Chairman of the Continuing Professional Development Committee of the NBA Lagos branch.

Erojikwe was appointed as a Member of the National Judicial Council in 2022. He has a deep-rooted passion for true leadership and urban regeneration, as evident in his significant roles as a senior solicitor in the London Borough of Barnet and legal adviser to various boards and committees.

In a recent interview, he claimed to have what it takes to lead NBA to higher glory. “In my time in the NBA, I have shown a capacity to provide leadership and to develop creative and innovative ways of solving problems. In my role as Chair of policy formulation and project implementation during the Akpata administration, I demonstrated leadership in the development of workable ideas and implementation of complex initiatives.

There are three main thrusts of my aspiration, and they are as follows: (a)To restore the dignity of the Bar and reactivate its voice as a promoter of the Rule of Law – as it relate to the Independence of the Bar, Independence of the Judiciary and Protection of Human Rights of citizens; (b) The restructuring of the the governance and administrative framework of the profession; and (c) Empowerment of members of the Bar through creating platforms of upliftment. The breakdown of the plans for my administration, are contained in my manifesto.

For Ikwuazom, he heads the taxation practice at ALN Aluko & Oyebode and is a key member of its litigation, dispute resolution, and risk management practice. Ikwuazom renders tax advice to firms in the oil and gas, banking and telecoms sectors. He has also represented the firms in tax litigation before several courts in Nigeria.

Ikwuazom is currently representing four international oil companies in over eight different tax disputes against Nigeria’s Federal Inland Revenue Service before the Tax Appeal Tribunal.

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Recently he said of his ability “I have the relevant experience to lead the NBA, having chaired its largest Branch with distinction, having been a member of the National Executive Committee for more than five years, and having held high office in one of the most vibrant Sections of the NBA (the NBA-SBL). The transformative policies and practices pioneered by my administration in the Lagos Branch, have been adopted by other Branches, and even at the national level.

“As a partner in Aluko & Oyebode since 2011, I have been part of the leadership group of one of Nigeria’s most successful law firms for 13 years, and learned useful lessons in leadership that I will deploy as President of the NBA. My membership of the New York State Bar, has also exposed me to how an association of Lawyers can be run effectively and efficiently.

“I have the right values, competence and vision to lead the NBA, at this critical period of our journey. As Chairman of the NBA-SARC, I have demonstrated that I can speak truth to power, and that the NBA under me will fulfil its mandate of upholding the rule of law.”

Osigwe, another contender, graduated from the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus in 1997 and was called to the Bar in 1999. He started legal practice with Chike Chigbue and Co., Abuja Office in 1999 and left in 2002 to found his firm, the Law Forte. In 2007 he obtained a Master’s of Laws Degree (LL.M) from the University of Jos. He obtained a Diploma in International Commercial Arbitration from Keble College, Oxford in 2010. He became a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK) in 2011.

Osigwe also holds another LLM in Transnational Commercial Practice from the Centre for International Legal Studies, Austria (in collaboration with the Lazarsky University, Poland). He served as a member of the NBA Abuja Law Reporting Committee (2003-2005), and the NBA Abuja Bar Dinner/Awards Committee (2004), Secretary, of the Committee on Continuing Legal Education (2004-2006); Secretary of the Committee on Continuing Legal Education (2008 -2010); Alternate Chairman for the NEC Local Organising Committee hosted by the NBA Abuja Branch (June 2011), among others.

Osigwe was the NBA Publicity Secretary, Abuja Branch from 2006-2008 and served as the Chairman from 2010- 2012. He was the last person to hold office as the Chairman of Unity Bar for the whole of the Federal Capital Territory. He became the first Chairman of Chairmen of NBA branches in the FCT in 2012. He was sworn in as NBA General Secretary in August 2014 and served till August 26, 2016.

Osigwe is very experienced in NBA leadership at branch and national levels. He was a strong contender the last time the office was zoned to the South-East but was disqualified on the eve of the election.
In a recent interview he said “I believe Nigerian Lawyers can confidently entrust me with the running of the Affairs of the NBA. I am a dedicated and pragmatic leader, which can be seen through the diligent work, which I have done in the different roles I have played over the years.

“I believe that active participation and leadership, are the keys to driving meaningful change within any organisation. Rather than merely voicing dissatisfaction or proposing improvements from the sidelines, I am committed to offering my services to enact the positive changes and leadership our Association needs.

“As NBA President, my key priorities will be multifaceted, addressing both immediate concerns and long-term strategic goals. In the short term, I will focus on enhancing access to justice, promoting professional development opportunities, and fostering a culture of inclusivity within the Association.

“In the medium term, my goals include strengthening the rule of law, advocating for legislative reforms, and addressing systemic challenges facing the legal profession. Ultimately, my long-term vision is to position the NBA as a proactive force for positive change in Nigerian society, championing justice, equality, and the rule of law”.
Leke Job (SAN) told Business Hallmark that “this election is important because all eyes will be on who leads the Nigeria Bar Association, given the mess in the judiciary in recent times.” He stated that all the contestants are eminently qualified for the top job.

Dele Anjorin, a legal practitioner told Business Hallmark that “I don’t have favourite among the contenders, as all of them are qualified; but who ever emerges should address the rot in the profession. We need activist president, who can put pressure on the system to do the right thing.”

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