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NBA Presidency: Who, when ’ll jinx be broken in Kwara?

Though recognised as the City of Lawyers because of the past efforts and contributions of respected figures in the profession like the first lawyer in Northern Nigeria, late AGF Abdulrazaq, the Ilorin jurisdiction after over fifty years of existence has grown in leaps and bounds. But despite its fame and recognition nationwide producing some of the finest legal juggernauts in the profession, Kwara State has failed or better still not been able to produce an indigene as the NBA President. In this piece, ACTING EDITOR, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM writes on the issue.
Despite the fame and recognition that the Ilorin bar, nay Kwara State, has achieved over the years in the legal profession, why has it been difficult for the state to produce the national President of the Nigeria Bar Association? Is the state and its indigenes in the legal profession not connected enough to lead the bar at the national level or they have not understood the politics of the game to that extent? Or is it just a matter of lack of interest from Kwarans because of the huge task and sacrifice that the office of the NBA president demands?
Following the emergence of Olumide Akpata, a member of the Outer Bar, who defeated two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) in the just concluded NBA election, many believed the next national bar election which should expectedly hold in 2022, a year before the next general election in the country should not go without a Kwaran contesting for the seat with a good number of SANs and none SAN alike who have made their marks at different times as top bar men from the state in the country. Apart from Chief Lawal Rabana (SAN), who was elected as the NBA’s National General-Secretary in (2006), Chief Debo Kazeem Adeyemo, the present Vice President elect (North) and Rafiu Balogun, who was a former national Legal Adviser of the body among few others, Kwara have not really showed strength and audacity to challenge the number one bar position in the country. However, with the look of things and barring any unforeseen circumstance, the race again may likely return to the North according to the zoning arrangement of national offices of the NBA as provided for in Section 9(3) of the Constitution and Paragraph 1.2(a)(b)(c) and (e)(i)-(iii) of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association 2015 (as amended).
After Okey Wali (2012-2014), Augustine Alegeh (2014-2016), Mahmud Abubakar Balarabe (2016-2018), Paul Usoro (2018-2020) all SANS and from South, West, North, East respectively and Olumide Akpata in the new president-elect, the mantle of leadership is expected to shift to the north again with Kwara as one of the benefiting states. But who is ready to take the challenge among the indigenes both SAN and men of the outer bar here? According to paragraphs 1.2(e)(i), (ii) and (iii) of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association 2015 (as amended), the Northern Zone of the NBA consist of Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe, Zamfara and FCT- Abuja, while Eastern Zone include states like Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers, while Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo complete the Western Zone. But Edo and Delta, originally classified as Midwest are usually lumped with the West which has caused its own acrimony and issue when it comes to bar elections.
Can Kwarans build on past Chairman of Ilorin jurisdiction?
While Chief Wole Olanipekun and Chief Bayo Ojo both Senior Advocates and former members and chairmen of the Ilorin branch have led the national bar in successive succession and contributing their quota to the development of the bar in the country, their colleagues who are indigenes of Kwara have not been able to attain such height.
Who will break the jinx, when?
The contest for the seat of the NBA at the national level needs enormous resource, influence, connection and popularity, the last exercise brought another dimension to the issue when the members of the Outer Bar in what is believed to be a protest voted against the opinions and preferences of respected silks like Baba Awomolo, Yusuf Ali among others, acted in revolt aided by their numeral strength to elect Akpata, it will be interesting to see the first Kwaran among the Senior Advocates from the state like former National Secretary-General, Lawal Rabana, KK Eleja and Salman Adelodun among others throw their hearts in the ring and whether they will be able to respond to the dynamics that will likely define the election if they signify interest as being speculated.
In their various responses, some top members of the Ilorin branch of the NBA who spoke with National Pilot, attributed the issue possibly to lack of interest and will of the members who might be nursing the ambition.
According to John Baiyeshea (SAN), the Kwaran should have headed the NBA presidency doesn’t work the way people might perceived it.
“If you look at the history of NBA presidency, Lagos that has the highest concentration of lawyers in the country has not produced an indigene of the state as the NBA president. Southwest is a block and anytime the seat is zoned… in fact, after we came out of the 1992 debacle one of the reforms that we did was that we should do it by geographical regions. But we now do it in blocs and when for instance it is the time for the north to produce the president, all the states in the regions will go and sort out themselves. The last time, it went to the southern region and when it comes to the West, it will include the Midwest which was why Augustine Alegeh and the new President-elect, Olumide Akpata emerged. When it was south.
“The zoning helped us and stem the tide of ethnicity that almost destroyed the bar then. So it might be difficult for Kwara when it comes to the North again because all the states in the region will have to sort themselves out”, he added.
On his part, KK Eleja SAN described National Pilot intervention as a wake-up call to Kwarans. He said looking at the history, Wole Olanipekun succeeded Chief Bayo Ojo back to back who are both members of the Ilorin branch of the NBA, which was a very rare feat. Apart from Lagos, it might be difficult to see any other branch establishing such feat
“So, Ilorin branch has established itself in the National Politics of the NBA and have also been privilege to produce the Secretary General of the NBA in the person of Chief Lawal Rabana (SAN) and thereafter, the indefatigable former President of the Ilorin branch ascended the office of the Legal Adviser of the NBA at the National Level. At the expiration of his tenure, two members of the branch also contested for the office of the general secretary and both lost to somebody from Minna branch. So it is not as if Ilorin branch has not been playing its role. Even talking about Kwara State now, the state produced the Second Vice President of the NBA in the person of Chief Debo Adeyemo at a keenly contested election.
“The dynamics of NBA leadership has changed considerably and now there is the issue of zoning system rotated among the three basics zones of North, Southeast and Southwest in the country. with such dynamics and with the NBA having over 130 branches nationwide, it is going to be a bit tough for a branch to produce president in quick succession but that is not saying it’s impossible. I think these are part of the reasons. I must also concede that maybe our leaders are not showing sufficient interests in the race again. But we hope that with time, many of our past chairmen like Prof Egbewole, Chief Bamgboye, Prof Mohammed Akanbi all SANs, Isa Manzuma, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Salman Jawondo will pick more interest. Even the cost of contesting the office is so high now maybe because of the increase of the strength of the NBA membership and the universal suffrage unlike the delegate process”
“But I am sure that we have many vibrant members who are capable and hopefully will come out at the appropriate time to contest for the office. I will not say the position is elusive because in political 24 hours is a long period of time and we may have people from the state practicing here and elsewhere who may signified interest and we will support them. But this is a wakeup call and I pray that people are interested”. He however said he will not be interested for some personal reasons because at times such job is a thankless job both at the state and national level. But 24 hours is a long time and I am hopeful that we will have people from here
According to the Ilorin Branch NBA chairman, Abdulganiyu Bello, politics cannot be ruled out of NBA election and majority always have the day. “The fact that we have not had anybody from Kwara should not be an issue because it all depends on the interest of individuals. To my knowledge, I have never heard that anybody from Kwara has signified interest for the seat.
“To the glory of God, an indigene of the state, Chief Lawal Rabana (SAN) had served as the National Secretary of the NBA and he performed creditably. If not of recent, one cannot just come out from the blues to contest for the seat and even the president-elect, Olumide Akpata had been part of the running as chairman of several committees at the national level, including the Business Law Committee. Rabana has been a bar man for long as a former General-Secretary, he will have the opportunity if he so wish to be the president and will have support from the north. We have top lawyers that can occupy the seat it is zoned to the north next time but interest comes first as you cannot force anybody. We have had our share in the person of Chief Bayo Ojo and Chief Olanipekun who practiced here. I think people will be happy to have somebody from Kwara leading the bar. I don’t think the interest is lacking and we already have the second vice-president elect in Chief Debo Adeyemo.
Speaking on the issue further, former national legal adviser of NBA and ex Ilorin branch chairman, Barrister Rafiu Balogun however said the issue is beyond.
“Well, to me, it is a matter of interest and maybe timidity. We have so many capable hands with integrity and honourable members of the bar who are senior advocates and are home and dry who can do well as the NBA national president. But maybe some does have the liver (sic) to contest because it’s not easy. With due respect, NBA election is more than contesting for governorship election. When I contested for the seat of Legal Adviser, I toured almost all parts of the country to visit NBA branches in some very remote areas, also the fear of the unknown. But I have not seen people coming out in Kwara State who are willing and we may have to speak to people like Rabana to run as our big boss and brother who has been very active at the bar and very capable. It’s all about service”.

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