By Dr. Kayode Ajulo, Esq.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been enamoured and captivated by the British approach to politicking- the wit, banter, satire and sarcasm often infused into this all-important business of managing and delivery public goods to an ever-demanding public that is often very unforgiving of the foibles and follies that the political actors are sometimes found to display. I remember, for instance, watching a Member of Parliament (MP) rip the Prime Minister to shreds on the floor of the parliament with biting sarcasm in the build-up to the Brexit referendum in 2019. Give it to the British, their politics may not be flawless but there is little doubt that theirs is an exciting clash of wit and wile infused with a generous helping of the gift of gab. They call it “British humour”.
A key concept in this elegant yet very intriguing brand of politics is the notion of primus inter pares which underpins the entire parliamentary system of government wherein the British Prime Minister is the primus inter pares- first amongst other ministers who are seen as equals.
While it is clear that the Nigerian Bar Association is one of the handout of British mobility, however, what we have adopted as a mode of leadership is Presidential. I have no doubt that like the crafters of British parliamentary democracy, the founding fathers of the NBA had the same notion of primus inter pares in mind when pen was put to paper to draft the constitution of this Association of learned colleagues.
Akin to a parliamentary system of government, the executive committee was envisioned to be led by a first amongst equals. Without doubt, the NBA is at crossroads and the next crop of leaders elected will determine the trajectory of the association whether it would be upward into glory or descent into ignominy. Given that it is clear that the forthcoming National Executive Committee election presents an opportunity for the eligible voting members of the Bar to elect leaders who would protect and promote the interests of the Association and the legal profession in Nigeria, observers and analysts have affirmed that the present line-up of leading contenders gives much hope at a time when the NBA appears to be in need of re-orientation and perhaps rededication to original, its raison d’etre.
The present line-up is one that gladdens my heart personally as it tells of an NBA that has come of age and is willing to confront status quo and confirm its bonafides as an association in sync with the times i.e. progressive. It is perhaps in this vein that the opinion of the revered senior lawyer and the Chairman of Chairmen, Asiwaju Awomolo SAN, generated such emotive reaction when he commented 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”.
Of course, the revered silk must have had his personal reason for expressing such an opinion to the chagrin and charm of many other lawyers, I am glad that the democratic ethos of multiplicity of views in the marketplace of ideas is what has prevailed thus far. I am elated that other lawyers of varying levels of experience in the profession also rose up to air their equally valid opinions which either supported or challenged the position of the learned silk.
Although I have never shied away from serving the NBA where and when plausible- a key instance is my stewardship as a member of the NBA National Secretariat Building Committee alongside eminent personalities like Chief Awomolo SAN as Chairman, Aare Muyiwa Akinboro, SAN, H. E. Aminu Tambuwal and several others, I have always been averse to getting into the fray of the politics of the NBA. My aversion for Bar-partisanship notwithstanding, I am not one to shy away from stating facts that some others may consider uncomfortable as we are on another cusp of history and before us lies the opportunity to “get it right this time”. Why then should I allow my aversion for Bar-partisanship muzzle the voice of reason that cries out in the streets and in our hearts, one and all, regarding who the cap fits? Indeed, let truth be told though the heavens fall!
So, let us go higher and away from any attempts to disenfranchise any of our members from their aspirations on the basis of seniority or years of experience to an actual consideration of these candidates each of whom aspire to be first amongst equal.
Take Dele Adesina SAN, for instance. A thoroughbred legal professional and a consummate bar man who has served the NBA in various capacities both at the branch and National level, he is passionate about the growth and development of the legal profession and has made countless sacrifices to ensure peace and stability among lawyers, Adesina’s track record in his previous leadership role at the National level as General Secretary from 2002 till 2005 has without doubt given members a foretaste of the lofty glories to be expected if he clinches the exalted position of President during the forthcoming elections.
In the same vein, Dr. Ajibade Babatunde SAN has also proven his worth as an astute administrator in the example he laid down during his tenure of service as a member of the Executive too. The third contender, Olumide Akpata, is no small fry in the legal profession either; he has proven to be committed to capacity-building of corporate lawyers and his stint as Chairman of the Section of Business Law (SBL) of the NBA from 2016 to 2018 saw the SBL organizing many trainings for free for the benefit of all lawyers with the facilitators drawn from all over the world.
Although I am no gambler, I am persuaded that in a throw of dice or coin-toss for the outcome of the forthcoming elections, our beloved association is poised for true progress and growth. It is however imperative that a primus inter pares must emerge.
WHO THE CAP FITS
Granted that the three contenders appear suited and purpose-fit for the position, it is necessary to beam the searchlight in order to identify the first among equals who is most suited for the office of the NBA president. As opined by the late reggae legend Bob Marley, let him wear the cap whom it fits the best. By virtue of my individual relationship and interactions with all three gladiators, I make bold to state that I have a front row perspective on the strengths of these worthy representatives of the legal profession.
Let’s consider Olumide Akpata- not too young but vibrant with an admirable and consistent bent towards reform and commitment to regulation. I have watched him take on his role as Chairman of the SBL with characteristic fervour of one who is out to reform. I am also aware that his efforts at the SBL did usher in key reforms that repositioned the Bar in as partners in progress for economic development and improvement. However I doubt if any informed member of the association would seek to refute my opinion that bespoke Akpata’s real strengths are to be deployed not in an apex leadership role (for now) but in supporting roles where he may acquire key skills as pertains to fostering harmonious togetherness and inclusion within the body. The fact that his main support base appears to consist mainly of entertainment or gaming lawyers, championed by my good friend, Audu Maikori, Esq of Chocolate City Music Company is a key indicator of where his strengths really lie. Another reason why I am somewhat hesitant to endorse his aspiration despite apparent budding leadership qualities we all agree he possesses is his penchant for elitism which I consider his Achilles’ heel. Being an ardent lover of Greek mythology, I cannot help but remember how Achilles a hero of the Trojan War and the greatest of all the Greek warriors was brought to his end by his vulnerability. Yes, legal profession is elitist but who knows what harm a la-di-da President might do, albeit innocuously, to the NBA in this season when we are all agreed that it is time to foster a sense of inclusion as we urgently rebuild the NBA? (Pray that this sarcasm and my homegrown ‘British humour’ will be taken in good faith).
It is for these reasons that I opine that Olumide Akpata should seek to further hone his leadership skill and cultivate a sense of inclusiveness which is the hallmark of all great leaders. Candidly, I think if he were to seek office in areas pertaining to welfare or socials in preparation for a future time when he will be fully equipped to serve as President, it would be mutually beneficial to the NBA and Akpata himself. I am nevertheless persuaded that this energetic reformer will indeed make a great president of the NBA in the nearest future.
Cerebral Dr. Babatunde Ajibade SAN, on his part, parades an impressive service portfolio which includes service as a founding member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Section on Business Law (SBL) and playing a significant role in setting the SBL on the course on which it is today. Acknowledged by many as an astute administrator, his service in the Lagos Branch of the NBA will continue to speak for him in posterity. An undisputable quality in Dr. Ajibade SAN is his passion for the legal profession and his eagerness to play a major role in finding lasting solutions to the challenges therein.
Dr. Ajibade, SAN, however, just like Olu Akpata Esq. never served the Lagos branch at any executive level. Both of them therefore do not have the branch level management experience which is very vital in any pyramidal structure organization like the NBA. Their debuts were mainly at the Committee and SBL levels which cannot in any way be equivalent to the much needed experience at the branch level.
Nevertheless, from my observations, it is clear that his strength is in administrative skills as exemplified during his tenure at Lagos. With his experience, Dr. Ajibade SAN is well fitted for service, perhaps as General Secretary and or one of the three vice-presidents.
What then, I hear people ask, sets Dele Adesina SAN apart from this pack of all-time winners? Why is it him that the cap fits? I dare say that Dele Adesina SAN is that candidate who embodies all the aforementioned individual strengths of the other two candidates in addition to his own unique strengths that have been forged in the crucible of humble service over time. In addition to Akpata’s verve, vigor and devotion to reform and mentorship, over and above Dr. Ajibade’s problem-solving acumen and astute administrative skill, Dele Adesina SAN, if elected, will bring to the position of president a bevy of character traits including maturity, capacity, sagacity, activism, experience and a clear-cut vision that will reposition the NBA and exalt the importance of unity and strategic collaborations amongst all members of the Bar.
A man of courage and steely determination in pursuit of goals, Dele Adesina SAN has shown himself to be in possession of the mettle required to surmount the herculean tasks that lie ahead of the next NBA President.
From his service to the Ikeja Branch as the Publicity Secretary, Secretary and Chairman respectively, and later National General Secretary of the NBA under the leadership of stouthearted Chief Wole Olanikpekun, SAN, Dele Adesina is without any doubt equipped with requisite skills that position him as the most experienced and the most prepared, for the tasks of the office of the NBA President amongst the trio.
Having served in various committees of the NBA where he has shown both skill and dedication to a dignified professional body of our dreams, he is that candidate who has been proven in the flames to be a man of integrity, enviable character, excellent credentials, profound knowledge of the law and requisite experience and courage that makes the bonafides of the other candidates- good as they actually are- pale into insignificance.
Perhaps this is the reason why virtually all legal luminaries declared their support for the aspiration of this towering legal colossus, with none other than Femi Falana SAN describing him as “an Encyclopedia of the Bar who has shown consistency and commitment to the Rule of Law”.
In times like this, what the Bar needs is a president with a firm grasp of history and a sharp vision for the future- a president who is undaunted by the enormity of the challenge of restoring the respect of the Bar.
From my front row point of view, the NBA stands at the crossroads again and her members will soon arrive in the valley of decision. As for me, I have no doubt that Dele Adesina SAN is the man who the cap fits, the primus inter pares whose character, pedigree and experience in service will serve to restore the NBA’s days of glory.
Pray, we all give our Bar the “Primus among the Pares” with the needed support and votes.
I so moved.