In a move that suggests a definite paradigm shift, a non- Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) lawyer, Barrister Olumide Anthony Akpata, has emerged winner of the recently concluded Nigerian Bar Association’s (NBA) national elections. His victory is seen as the beginning of a fundamental change, a refreshing and positive trajectory as well as a new way of doing things in the affairs of the fabled learned profession.
It is, without doubt, an attempt to do away with what has developed as a tendency towards gerontocracy in an organisation where there are vibrant young lawyers desirous of giving the profession a boost, a new lease of life after what is perceived as dormant leadership made up of over-fed lawyers whose only claim to leadership is their years at the bar.
That he defeated two other contestants who are SANs is proof that even that title has almost lost the allure and prestige bestowed on it by the late Chiefs Rotimi Williams, Nwakanma Okoro and Obafemi Awolowo, the first three SANs in that order.
To become a SAN has assumed the hue of a rat race with all the corruptive influences that accompany it especially as it is a pre-requisite for appointment to the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, for instance, in addition to other pecks they enjoy as members of the inner bar such as place of honour in the courts.
This newspaper, it must be emphasised, has nothing against these tendencies if not that they have somewhat generated lethargy in the affairs of the once lively profession that earned the respect of the government and people of Nigeria. It was, in the main, the activism in the profession that restored democracy in the country after a gruesome battle with the military governments.
Of late, we note with sadness, that the NBA has degenerated to a lame duck organization having lost the verve and poignancy in its role as public opinion moulder which Nigerians looked up to for leadership on national issues. Today, we regret to say, NBA has become more political than the registered political parties. The association hardly speaks with one voice on any national issue as members approach matters from the narrow prism of ethnicity, religion and such other mundane considerations.
We recall the manner in which the Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN) was humiliated out of office. The NBA, instead of rising to the occasion in defence of their own, dissolved into a raucous group without a unified response to what was a national embarrassment. They grunted when they should have barked, at least to express their disagreement for all that it was worth. Judges were shoved around like sacks of potatoes, NBA merely resigned in despair and utter helplessness. Court orders are routinely disregarded and the body sees it as part of the new normal. Even when individual and group rights are violated and NBA is expected to pick up the gauntlet in defence, nothing is heard of the association.
These are some of the challenges confronting the association and many are hoping that the new president will see them as tasks enough to engage him and his executive members. Nigerians in general, not just the young turks in the association, are excited about the emergence of this yuppie lawyer with a can-do swagger.
However, in our opinion, Akpata must be reminded that the nation is at a crossroads buffeted on all sides by myriad problems ranging from insecurity to political demands like restructuring of the Nigerian State and political inclusiveness. These are issues that, in the heydays of the association, Nigerians would, ordinarily, have been rest assured that the NBA would be their voice and articulate their views and drive them. Nigerians would have expected the members of the NBA, in such circumstances, to lead the debate and spearhead discussions on how to manage the matter in question. The younger generation of lawyers who gave him the votes that ushered him into office will expect the new president to address the slave treatment young lawyers receive in the chambers of their seniors.
As Olumide Anthony Akpata assumes duty soon, it is also important to let him know that he owes himself a duty not to let down those who voted for him as well as those who did not participate in the election process but assume that they will be welcome to expect him and his executive to fight their causes. Even more so, the Nigerian public who suffer in silence as their rights are trampled upon.
Olumide Anthony Akpata was born on October 7, 1972. He attended the prestigious King’s College in Lagos, was called to the Nigerian bar on December 15, 1993 after obtaining his law degree from the University of Benin the previous year.