By Mumini AbdulKareem
A prominent legal luminary in the country, Yusuf Olaolu Alli SAN has disagreed with the National President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) over the propriety or otherwise of whether only Senior Advocates should be elected to lead the bar.
The forthcoming national NBA election scheduled for next month had polarised lawyers in the country over concerns that the junior lawyers who have not been awarded the privilege are planning a revolution to hijack the leadership of the association.
But while the National NBA president, Paul Usoro (SAN) declared support for the agitation, Alli said it good for the best product of the bar to lead NBA at the apex level which is the norm in many other professional associations.
According to Usoro, in a telephone chat with National Pilot last night, It’s a mistake for people to assume only Senior Advocates should qualify to lead the bar.
He said “Some of the best Lawyers that I know are not SAN. I can give you one example. For instance, George Itomi is one of the best commercial lawyers in Nigeria. Are we saying because he is not a Senior Advocates, therefore he is not qualified to lead the bar. I can mention so many other people. That to me is not a good argument.
“We can say in respect of a particular field and considering the contestants, may be the Senior Advocates among them has more experienced in bar activities. But I think it’s a very big error to say only Senior Advocates can lead the bar, how many do we have. Non SAN are very qualified to lead the bar. That is my view”, he added.
But on his part, Yusuf Alli said “If you look at other professional associations in Nigeria and even in abroad, be it Institute of Chartered Accountants, Nigeria Society of Engineers, Nigeria Medical Association and others, you will discovered that it is people that have attained the highest level in their profession who are their leaders and the reason is simple.
“Firstly, every team put forward its first eleven and also equals speak to equals on the same terms. If we have a person who is a fellow as the president of Chartered Accountant, another fellow who is the chairman of the Nigerian Society of Engineers and a consultant as the president of the Nigerian Medical Association. We as lawyers should also put one of our best in topmost position, so that he can talk to others like equals.
“Importantly also, the bar sometimes do have issues with the judiciary and other organs of government, if the chairman is still looking forward to becoming SAN and still needs people to assist or support him in the future, how will he tackle the issue because his own self interest will be very paramount too. He will observe he still need to ask for favour from people to support him to become SAN…, and the way professions are structured in the society now, those who have attained highest level in their profession commands more respect.
“It’s not that non SAN lawyers are not good, in fact there are lawyers who are not SAN and better than Senior Advocates. But the position is one of …. once you have been recognised in a position it’s like becoming a Prof in a university. Why is it that those who have not attained the position of a professor are not longer made the VC? The reason is that as VC, you are the chairman of Appointment and Promotion Committee of the university and you cannot preside at a meeting where someone superior to you will be appointed if you are junior lecturers. So it’s the same logic here. For me there should not been any debate about it. Why can’t we put our best foot forward when the NBA chairman will also talk to people of other professions and he should be able to talk with authority and finality”, he submitted.
Asked why some SAN are leading the debate, Alli said we all have out differences, “you are talking of politics now, why is it that professors are voting for people with school leaving certificate”, he queried.
Following the letter by Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) to the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, BOSAN, he urged the body to do all within its powers to ensure that the NBA President remains amongst the rank of SANs, warning that “It will be a great failure of leadership for the Senior Advocate to surrender leadership to outer Bar when there are willing and able Senior Advocates.”
According to him, the NBA President is exclusively for senior lawyers who have attained the rank of Senior Advocate on Nigeria, warning that “a powerful and potent revolutionary move by our junior colleagues who are very large in numbers” could wrestle the office of the NBA President from the rank of SAN.
But Babatunde Ajibade, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, insisted that the Office of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, is not the exclusive preserve of SANs.
Ajibade stated that the NBA’s constitution does not empower only SANs to become President of the association in his reaction to Awomolo’s letter.
Ajibade in the statement he signed disagreed with the position of Awomolo adding that picking an NBA president should be centered around, “the character, capacity and antecedents” and not on their titles and rank.
“My attention has been drawn to a statement made by Asiwaju Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, which suggests that the office of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, is the exclusive preserve of Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
“I respectfully disagree with this position. There is nothing contained in the Nigerian Bar Association constitution or in the history of the NBA to support this assertion.
“There is near unanimous agreement that one of the most popular and effective Presidents of the NBA has had is late Alao Aka-Basorun and the NBA has had other non-SAN presidents since.
“The focus should be on the character, capacity and antecedents of the persons who aspire to; lead our profession and not on their titles or rank.
“There are serious challenges facing the profession at this and we need to unite the profession in order to effectively address them.”
By Mumini AbdulKareem