BAR-Politics Dives Into The Stormy Waters Of Conventional ‘Dirty Politics’ – By A.S. Gidan Wankey
BAR-Politics Dives Into The Stormy Waters Of Conventional ‘Dirty Politics’ – By A.S. Gidan Wankey
“…where rule of law and due process stand, there you’d find me.” Sylvester Udemezue
It all started as bear-parlor rumor that an aspirant to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) National leadership would spent five million naira to NBA Lagos Branch by distributing relief materials/foodstuffs (palliative)to lawyers of the said branch with a view to assuaging the hardship being borne as a result of the Federal Government lock-down order, and by extension the circular issued by the Chief Justice of Nigeria which was to the effect of shutting down courts nationwide (few exempted), with a view to curtailing the spread of Covid-19 in the country. This irritating media buzz later became concrete eye when the popular online cable Esq-Law.com published the news under the caption “Covid-19: Olumide Akpata and Friends’ Collaborates with Shoprite to Deliver Food Items Worth N5millon Naira to Lawyers in Lagos”
At the outset, I want to put it on record that this commentary is devoid of political coloration as the writer did not havepolitical inclination with any of the aspirants to the NBA National Leadership. Thus, the piece represents the writer’s personal opinion and conviction. Therefore, there is no sentiment about it. No politics. The writer does not speak from any political bias as serious issues are often branded “politically motivated” in Nigeria and subsequently disregarded.
Being a pragmatic student of power-politics and an avid advocate of due process, this development shocked me to my marrow as it intrigued me to write this. Commonly of course, lawyers (particularly Young Lawyers) need welfare package, palliative, financial support from the national NBA, Branches, Principal Partners, Senior Colleagues in these trying times so as to ameliorate the gruesome ordeal being caused by the stay at home order. However, I genuinely believe that such palliative should not come from a politician (aspirant to the NBA leadership mantle) as that may amount to vote-buying and tends to influence the electorates/beneficiaries to vote in favour of the donor/aspirant.
Quite plainly, it is a matter of common knowledge commentators/political analysts find it much deeper and even difficult to distinguish the Bar-Politics from the conventional Nigerian ‘Dirty Politics’ which has the characteristics of Money Bag Politics, Vote Buying, Due or Die Affair, Rigging, Malpractices, Politics of Blackmailing, Brown Nosing, Witch-Hunting, Mealy Mouthing and Unrealistic Campaign-Promises. It is not out of tune with reality to mention at this threshold that one or two or more of the aforementioned characteristics is/are already introduced into the equation of Bar-Politics perhaps, because of the financial delicacy and/or the direct link the NBA has with the CONVENTIONAL Politics and governance in Nigeria.
Most importantly and quite telling, politicians seeking position of power in Nigeria are well known in attending unsolicited church/mosque service with the ordinary people, attending weddings, funerals, executing unsolicited projects, donating relief materials, such as bag of rice, clothes, motorcycles, T-shirts even money to the electorates in order to sway them and secure their mandates of leadership. Frankly speaking, those gifts and donations are not made under normal circumstance but informed by a political calculation. Interestingly, lawyers have for long been at the forefront of advocating, discouraging and enlightening the general public about the imminent danger of vote-buying and voting on ground of gifts or promises rather than competence.
By his calling, a legal practitioner is expected to preserve, promote and upgrade the Rule of Law. That is to say, being a master of ethical humility and decorum, the lawyer has the prime objective of championing the rule of law. However, my disturbing realization is that the NBA as a professional body and Civil Society Organization should ordinarily conduct it affairs in a competent manner (election inclusive) in order to be the role model to the larger society of laymen. Unfortunately, some of its members appeared to be power mongers to the extent that they can buy leadership by hook or by crook. I recommend the wise saying “the beauty of salt is in its taste, and once a salt loses its taste it will irredeemably lost its value.”
Coming back to the base.
No doubt the cornerstone of the said distribution of food items worth Five Thousand Naira (N5, 000) each for 1000 lawyers in Lagos was planned and sponsored by Parasitic Political Elites within the bar politics. This cannot be a blessing in disguise rather, a campaign in disguise! Depending on one’s political standpoint and vain glory; t maybe blessing in disguise for the blindly self-seeking supporters of the aspirant whose friends made the donation on his behalf. Quite honestly, there is growing sense of shame in holding that opinion. In fact, such line of argument is puerile, bunkum and ahistorical. Undoubtedly, that political decision was an aberration for the democratic principles of the Bar-Politics which appears to be a mere copy and paste from the conventional politics of Oshomoles and Secondus.
To drive my point back home,the motive behind the said ‘initiative’ does not has to be expressly stated however, looking at the surrounding circumstance coupled with the NBA’s political atmosphere, a wise lawyer can safely opine that, the said distribution of food items was made for political scores. And with all due sense of respect, the said friends were merely sent on political errands or at best political emissaries who reach out to lawyers/electorates like a Party Chairman of Surulere.
In order not be self-opinionated, Sylvester Udemezue , has in a premonitory commentary (which appears to be a prophecy) titled: “How to Detect Candidates Who Want to Debase Your-Self Worth” said “if your principal in chambers/office pays your Bar Practicing Fee (BPF) or branch due/levy, it is okay; such is even encouraged. But “if a lawyer or Senior Advocate who is an aspirant in an upcoming NBA election (or a person campaigning for a candidate) pays your BPF, during the election time, it is unethical; it is vote-buying; it is corruption” Also, the learned Law Lecturer went further to opine that “But an unsolicited, sudden offer from a senior or indeed anyone (not a candidate nor campaigning for a candidate) pay your BPF during and NBA election time should ORDINARILY put a wise lawyer on notice that something may be fishy” (underling mine for emphasis).
Predictably, O.O. Erhurhuof (UDU Branch) also posits in his short commentary it led: “Any Candidate Who Pays Your Practicing Fee (BPF) During Election Time Has Stolen Your Demand for Good Governance And Accountability From His/her If He or She Wins” he added that “it is a wrong practice as lawyers to engage in payment of BPF during election time; the motive is clear. If you accept such payment and vote against the voter’s interest, you are as guilty and corrupt as he is”.
Judging from the above quotations, one thread that runs through the commentaries is, it is glaringly clear that payment of BPF by an aspirant whether by himself or through friends or supporters or campaign team vindicates that such “gesture” so to say, is meant to influence an intended electorate/beneficiary to vote in favour of the donor/aspirant as compensation, because Hausa man in his wisdom says ‘Ba a aikin banza a Kano’ literally means “nothing goes for nothing” Because, in Nigeria mode of dressing alone is design to make political statement let alone unsolicited gift in form of “palliative” to the electorates during the time of election or in anticipation of an array of votes.
Of utmost importance, even a pedestrian observer may easily grasp the fact that the huge amount of money spent for the ‘initiative’ was likely deducted from the campaign monies saved against the forthcoming NBA election. Campaign in disguise! Let us not insult our intellectuality as lawyers. The legal profession harbors the best collection of brains. Hence, this intellectual endowment is meant for a purpose. That is, to activate and reactivate the society among other responsibilities. I so much believe that NBA is a ‘different kettle’ hence, our quest for power should not be in the ordinary and conventional APC-PDPs politics. I believe, food items or payment of BPF or any other gift or sponsorship during the time of NBA elections is far ridiculous for lawyer to insult his Intellectual superior. “I am not a seasonal philanthropist neither do I do what is good for lawyers only during election time!” Anyway, I leave Nigerian lawyers to use their tongue to count their teeth; they are well enlightened, rationale and intellectually gifted. Please read your lines!
Money bag politics and vote-buying syndromes is the biggest set back in Nigeria. It paves way for incompetent people to win position of power on the basis of highest bidding and financial expenses in the political space. The practice negates merit and competence and breads corruption, and embezzlement in our political system. As a follow up, the wise words of Nasir El-Rufa’i is of utmost importance to Nigerian Lawyers when he rightly observed “when merit trunk caprice, the result is phenomenon.”
Methinks that competence alone empowers an electorate to demand for good governance and accountability. Competence accommodates all and sundry. Competence secures and safeguards collective interest of Nigerian lawyers. Competence alone brings “AllInclusive” government. Competence defeats tribalism and adoption of candidate. Above all, competence should be the only yardstick for assessing a candidate who would lead the largest bar in Africa. Indeed, only competence can change the entire life of Nigerian Lawyers. My disturbing realization is many Nigerian lawyers have clapped their hands in applause to the said “palliative initiative” on the basis of political support. Interestingly, with or without palliative “a good market sells itself”
Synthesizing my point intelligently, some lawyers may wittingly or unwittingly think that the ‘initiative’ was a giant step at the right direction when viewed through the lens of humanitarian service. However, it is quite the opposite as the saying goes “where all think alike, no one thinks very much.” The governing consideration and a thorny issue to be reckoned with is that humanity can only comes to play where there has been records of such initiatives prior to one’s declaration to contest for the NBA President. That could be a plausible stance and justification and superb. In the absence of that stern record however, the ‘initiative’ was a mere political conspiratorial scheming tends to secure political prominence. Therefore, I hope all Nigerian Lawyers understand that the “initiative” was an egotistical, egocentric, and egoistic political decision aimed at gaining political credence over and above other aspirants. This ultimately become the “political Corona virus” bedeviling Nigeria as a country since independence. Thus, anywhere you go in the world the mercury on our moral thermometer seems to be wonky. Because, our political culture encourages power acquisition by means of ‘money-bag politics’ thereby making politics an avenue for investment and profit accumulation rather than service to humanity. Indeed, this practice dents our moral credentials in the eye of international community.
It appeals to my sense of order that this kind of political mentality should not be accommodated into the bar politics. Assumed but not conceding the aspirant in concerned is unbeknownst and that he did not place his imprimatur on the initiative introduced by his friends, it will put him on stern notice that the said politically-savvy friends are merely working to feather their nests in the event of his victory. I should so believe this attempted power grab alone, turns the Bar Politics to have resemblance with the Nigerian Conventional politics. Further, the pattern of clothing private, personal narrow interest as public concern have gained momentum during the 2019 general elections where politicians secretly paid group of youths and organizations to purchase forms on their behalf and claimed to have been pushed by the mases to serve them. Hence, the idea of palliative ‘initiative’. True enough if this kind of political wrong decision is allowed within the bar politics, the NBA would pay a heavy price in the future. It is a matter of fact, not desk-based speculation. And with all due sense of respect, only a morally-flexible person would lie so bluntly and attempt to wish away such facts. Who is deceiving who?
Conclusively, the point being made here notwithstanding one political inclination, “we are all gentlemen and noble colleagues, Barristers and Solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria who have the prime responsibility not to wash our dirty linen in public. We are the light of the society to whom other members of the public look up to for guide, in actions, speech and behavior” Therefore, all hands must be on deck to eliminate dirty politics syndrome within the bar. By virtue of its professional coloration, the Mother-NBA should be the reform laboratory for political transformation, good governance, rule of law and constitutional democracy within itself before mainstreaming into the rest of Nigeria as a country.
Above all, NBA is very dear to all of us as such it should transcend our ego and narrow personal interest. Its success is ours as its failure. We swim or sink with her. I rest my case
A.S. Gidan Wankey
3rd of June, 2020