By Mumini Abdulkareem
Although the last election of the Ilorin Branch of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) has come and gone, memories of the event will continue to linger among the lawyers in the state for a long time to come as the race for who emerged the 23 chairman of the Ilorin bar climaxed on Friday.
Announcing the results, the electoral committee chairman, Bar Idowu Salihu declared Bar Abdulganiyu Bello the winner of the keenly contested exercise polling 98 votes to emerge winner ahead of his opponent, Abiodun Dada, who polled 74 votes.
Shortly after his declaration, the chairman-elect could not hold back tears as he wept at the bar centre after he drove in around past 4:00pm amidst shout of congratulations from colleagues who had massed at the facility in anticipation of the results.
Except journalists and security men, the electoral committee disallowed any other member of the association to access the venue of the election while the poll was ongoing.
From its initial time of 6:am to 3:pm, the time for the electronic voting was adjusted to begin from 10:00am with close to 180 votes cast. Since it was electronic voting, the environment at the bar centre betrayed the intense intrigues and campaign that followed the exercise.
But how was the election won and lost and what are the factors that tilted the pendulum to the side of the new chairman in a race that many still believed was a referendum of sort about the religion narrative that has come to define the Ilorin bar but gladly managed to avoid it snowballing to another round of crisis after the recent one that underscored the 20th executive led by Ojibara and its predecessor.
And furthermore, what role did professional religious associations like the Christian Lawyers Fellowship of Nigeria and Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria played including the ‘Elders Forum’ in all of this? If anything, the soothing relief is that the bar appeared to have learnt from the Ojibara-Balogun episode and seemed determined and working beyond the limit to ensure there was no repeat of that period.
According to insiders and lawyers who followed and monitored the event, the election was won and lost long before the day of voting.
One of the lawyers, who spoke with Pilot Law on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak officially on the matter, said the voting although was dictated by other factors majored on the issue of religion.
According to him, the pruning of the number of eligible voters to those that have only attended two meetings as against five disqualified a large amount of lawyers and left the field open for less than two hundred people.
As the D-Day drew nearer, both groups it was gathered, at a stage decided to come to a sort of compromise where some of their candidates vying for certain position will step down for their opponents but the arrangement later collapsed.
At a point, this medium learnt that the elders in the bar tried to settle both parties to avoid religious politics but the efforts did not yield desired result and the plea to vote for individual rather than attaching such with any affinity fell on deaf ears.
“Some of those that were asked to step down later came for interview and there is need for all of us to come to the table. If you remember, it was the issue that Yusuf Alli (SAN) spoke at length about in his topic when he came to commission the gym at the bar centre that everybody should see the themselves as one in Ilorin bar”, the lawyer noted.
However, at the initial stage of the campaign, three candidates sought the office of the chairman. Bar Biodun Dada, Abdulganiyu Bello and Kamaldeen Gambari. The scenario might have given the advantage to Dada because of the possibility of the Muslims splitting the votes. But it was gathered that the Muslim Lawyers Association (MULAN) and “others” had to step in to convince Kamaldeen popular know as Gambus to step down far into the race which gave Bello the edge over his fellow bar man, Dada. With the pattern of the voting, it would have been very interesting to see how Dada would have lost bearing in mind that the vote cast was 98-74.
Various associations within the NBA also played prominent role in the emergence of some candidates. For the post of the secretary, the emergence of J.S. Muhammad might be difficult to detach from the support and solidarity of the leadership and members of the Young Lawyer Forum as their former chairman while the Christian Lawyers Fellowship of Nigeria (CLASFON) also reportedly rallied round its candidates. Same with FIDA which had to distinguish between two of its candidates for the post of NBA Provost won by Bar Aisha Temim.
But speaking on the issue, the former chairman, Bar Akande said there were no intrigues that played out than the conviction, personal relationship, capacity to serve and the antecedents of the candidates of choice and their manifestoes.
“The two chairmen are very good and have served the bar at levels in the past, I have worked with them at various committee levels. You can see that two of them had substantial votes which shows that lawyers really love them but someone must be elected.
“Our uniform bye laws disqualified over 70 percent of the voters from over a thousand lawyers to just about two hundred. So if one belong to an association, you must be committed to its cause, attending meetings and paying dues as expected. But even if everybody voted, that result might still have gone the same way. There are people that played prominent roles but did not vote.
“It was a very fair process and those that didn’t emerge never approached the appeal committee set up by the national body to tell you that everybody was satisfied with the result and outcome. It is about the bar.
On the issue of religion, Akande said “he doesn’t totally agree that religion was the deciding factor going by the list. “Although religion cannot be ruled out of any election across the world, Nigeria and Ilorin inclusive, but that was not the major deciding factor. Some people have argued on this line but I don’t totally agree”, he added.
In his reaction, the chairman of Muslim Lawyers Association, Bar Sharafdeen Ibrahim said although he would have loved to see all his members emerged during the election, the election and process was fair, adding that votes were cast across divide and candidates emerged from both religions.
Effort to get the reaction of CLASFON secretary, Bar Atoyebi John Kehinde was not successful as he said he could no longer talk on such issue after his appointment as a magistrate.
But in a whatsapp message last night, a senior member of CLASFON, Bar Ronke Adeyemi commended the Electoral committee for a job well done and congratulated all members of Ilorin Bar for a peaceful election.
According to her, “I am not aware of any religious narrative underlining the election. NBA is a professional association and not a religious organization”.
She advised that “Political differences will always come with every election, that’s natural. The admonition is that once the elections are over we should close ranks and join hands to move our association forward with the new leaders. The frequency of the election (being every other year) makes it imperative that we quickly move past political divisions as another election will just be round the corner again.
By Mumini Abdulkareem