The Olumide Akata-led Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) suffered an image dent and bristling criticism from Nigerians over the blatant partisan nature of its 62nd conference and an ugly fight for souvenirs that ensued between lawyers, resulting in the thrashing and vandalization of the event venue.
The 62nd edition of the NBA’s annual general conference was held on Monday, August 22, in Lagos. It had in attendance the presidential candidates of the three major political parties, including Senator Kashim Shettima of the APC who represented his principal Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party.
All the candidates were invited on stage in a moderated panel session to discuss aspects of their leadership agenda ahead of the contest in February. The candidates specifically addressed the economic situation of the country and the wider global economic downturn, with Senator Shettima of the APC identifying economic diversification as one of the tools to ease the pressure on the naira and create gainful engagement opportunities for the country’s exploding youth population.
Although Shettima was widely adjudged to have made a good case for his party and candidacy, the leadership of the NBA came under allegations of institutional bias and unprecedented display of partisanship with its tacit promotion of the condemned heckling of the vice presidential candidate and unsuccessful attempts to drown out his voice.
Lawyers at the event, all of whom agreed that Shettima made a ‘brilliant submission’, questioned the conduct of the NBA leadership, further strengthening suspicions of institutional bias that is unreflective of the political sentiments of the members of the association.
Aisha Oyetunji, a Lagos lawyer who was at the event, said in a Facebook post that “They are talking about the things they want to talk about. They’re not talking about how Shettima came really early, earlier than all of them. They’re not talking about how their candidate purposely came late when the programme was already underway.”
“They do not want us to discuss the substance of their discussions. They don’t want to talk about Shettima’s facts and figures.”
“They did not hear when their candidate was asked to clarify what he meant by restructuring, he beat about the bush by saying the country is on a faulty foundation, ‘Kastina’ (Katsina) State has only 5k policemen bla bla. Oga, how will you restructure, he just said we will deal with the faulty foundation. Pele o, bricklayer. Shallow much.”
“They were not there when the NBA VP suddenly forgot Shettima’s first name but announced Obi’s name with emphasis, and purposely announced him last.”
“Shior to all of you. Your bias will choke you from now till 2023 and beyond,” she added, echoing a widespread criticism that has raised fresh doubts on the leadership integrity of the NBA.
Even more damaging was the violent scuffle that ensued at the end of the event, with lawyers coming to blows over a disagreement about the distributed souvenirs and thrashing the venue.
The embarrassing conflict has led some Nigerians to draw comparisons between the NBA and the National Union of Transport Union Workers (NURTW), underscoring their disappointment in the conduct of a professional group expected to uphold law and order.
“I hope it won’t take a long time for the NBA or the legal profession in Nigeria regains it’s lost respect and nobility. What was displayed yesterday by some lawyers was a total mess. How did lawyers result to vandalism over matters that could be easily resolved?” – @Egi_Nupe_ queried on Twitter.