Tuesday, 30 June 2020

NBA ELECTIONS: MUDSLINGING IS COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE, PARTIES MUST PLAY BY THE RULES TO PROTECT THE INTEGRITY OF THE PROFESSION, POPULAR ABUJA-BASED LAWYER CAUTIONS SUPPORTERS, ASPIRANTS

An Abuja-based legal practitioner, Mr Okey Nwafor has called on aspirants to NBA offices and their supporters to refrain from mudslinging and play by the rules in order to protect the integrity of the legal profession. Mr Nwafor made the call in a statement personally signed by him and released on Monday, June 29, 2020.  Mr Nwafor was specifically reacting to an earlier statement by another Legal Practitioner, Mr Silas Joseph Onu, who Mr Nwafor believed had thrown unnecessary mudslinging against Mr Sylvester Udemezue, a Law School Lecturer who merely offered his humble opinion.

It had all started when Mr Sylvester Udemezue, a lawyer and Law School Lecturer, published a comment titled, "Re: Commotion in Port Harcourt Over Olumide Akpata's Visit: Let's Leave Sentiments and Face Real Issues." In reaction to Mr Udemezue`s commentary, Mr Silas Joseph Onu had circulated a rejoinder in which he argued that Mr Udemezue`s said opinion had "brought some sense of concern for his intellectual qualification to be a law school teacher."

However, reacting to Mr Onu`s rejoinder, Mr Nwafor held the view that Mr Onu`s outburst "is logically erroneous because there's nothing in Mr. Udemezue's post that should question his qualification to teach in the law school."  Continuing, Mr. Nwafor said that Mr Onu`s rejoinder also failed to "creditably and substantially address the concerns raised by Mr. Udemezue." According to Mr Nwafor, "If those who canvass for votes for their candidates don't do so with utmost sense of responsibilities and smartness, it may turn counterproductive by impairing the chances of their candidates." Mr Nwafor concluded thus: 
"There are people who may like a candidate but end up not voting for him/her because of his/her supporter(s). In that case, a fine candidate loses an election because of supporters' use of unrefined words on others. Finally, we must endeavour to restore the integrity of this profession by abiding by all regulations governing the contest and conduct of the elections."
The Statement by Mr Nwafor reads in full:
"I've listened to this guy (Mr. Silas Joseph Onu) on a handful of occasions on televisions and radio programmes. A fine presenter of facts.

However, this piece doesn't creditably and substantially address the concerns raised by Mr. Udemezue. The part that "brought some sense of concern for his intellectual qualification to be a law school teacher" is logically erroneous because there's nothing in Mr. Udemezue's post that should question his qualification to teach in the law school.

If those who canvass for votes for their candidates don't do so with utmost sense of responsibilities and smartness, it may turn counterproductive by impairing the chances of their candidates.

TAKE NOTICE that there are many of us who are yet to decide who to vote for in the forthcoming NBA election. There are people who may like a candidate but end up not voting for him/her because of his/her supporter(s). In that case, a fine candidate loses an election because of supporters' use of unrefined words on others.

Finally, we must endeavour to restore the integrity of this profession by abiding by all regulations governing the contest and conduct of the elections."
Okey Nwafor
 OKEY NWAFOR ESQ

Meanwhile, we consider it pertinent, relevant to attach both Mr Udemezue`s opinion and the rejoinder by Mr Silas Joseph Onu, to enable our readers properly place Mr Nwafor`s concerns and suggestions.
(1) Mr Udemezue`s commentary reads:
"Re: Commotion in Port Harcourt Over Olumide AKPATA's Visit: Let's Leave Sentiments and Face Real Issues
(Sylvester Udemezue)

My attention was drawn to a news story on elomba.com under the title, "Commotion at NBA P/H Branch Post-Election Party." I have carefully followed comments on social media platforms since the news came out. I read also a comment made on Legal Practice Discourse (LPD) by respected Kayode Enitan, SAN as follows: "I hope the senior counsel reported to have been manhandled will step forward and speak out if this report is true. I most sincerely hope so for the sake of the Bar." I saw the response (to the learned silk) by an ex-Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Port Harcourt Branch, Mr Omubo Victor Frank-Briggs who wrote as follows: "I was at the celebration and was present when Mr. Tonye Krukrubo of Aluko & Oyebode and the Campaign Coordinator of Tunde Ajibade SAN made videos of Olu and was asked by another lawyer to delete the videos. Mr. Krukrubo apolozised for making the videos and deleted them. Mr. Tonye Krukrubo was not threatened or manhandled and there no physical confrontation." I read learned silk Kayode Enitan`s further reactions to Mr Frank-Briggs`s said comment. Mr Enitan had posed the following questions to Mr Frank-Briggs: "Could you kindly explain to us the reason why that other lawyer, Mr Krukrubo, was asked  to delete the videos made of Olu? Could you also kindly share with us what Olu was doing when the video was being made? You may also wish to enlighten us on why there was a need to ensure there was no pictorial or video evidence of Olu's presence. Please do not be annoyed that I have asked so many questions; it`s simply because you are the only one who has owned up to being present at the event which we had earlier been told never happened and did not have Olu present therein. Thank you sir." Further, this was Mr Wale Olajide`s reaction to Mr Omubo Victor Frank-Briggs`s comment: "Oga Victor, you owe the Profession a higher duty than the one you owed to your friends. You will be doing the Profession a lot of good by laying bare the true facts of what Olumide Akpata  was doing when the lawyer made the recordings, why was the recordings and other pictorial evidence deleted and  whether the lawyer who made the recordings was assaulted or not. If we all complain of the rot in the system, then we must be ready to be part  of the effort to bring about the necessary sanity into the system."
I have seen several other comments on the matter. Now, I think I agree with both Mr Kayode Enitan, SAN, and Mr Wale Olajide on this; in my opinion, some of our colleagues are just being evasive. We ought to stop being evasive, leave irrelevant  sentiments and  address the real issues in the best interest of the legal profession. It is a known fact that Mr Olumide Akpata who is a current NBA Presidential aspirant, resides in Lagos. That Olumide Akpata traveled to Port Harcourt on 25 June 2020 and was present at an NBA members' victory celebration/party in Port Harcourt, are not in doubt. The NBA Port Harcourt expressly admitted this. Mr Victor Omubo Frank-Briggs (Port Harcourt NBA Chairman: 2016-2018) was the first to confirm it on Legal Practice Discourse, as shown above, on 27 June 2020. It was the several reactions that trailed Mr Frank-Briggs`s admissions above, that made both Mr Frank-Briggs and the NBA, Port Harcourt Branch to issue separate statements on the issue, in attempt to make "clarifications." In other words, the statement Mr Frank-Briggs later issued was a direct response to reactions that followed his said LPD statement.The statement was titled,"Aluko And Oyebode Partner Wasn’t Manhandled At NBA Porthacourt Event Says Fmr. Chair, Frank-Briggs" (and published in the TheNigeriaLawyer.com). The statement by NBA, Port Harcourt  Branch was titled "Re: Commotion at the NBA Port Harcourt Post Election Party: The True Story" (and published In elomba.Com). 
Now, to face the real issues objectively, devoid of sentiments, we all were/are aware that the Nigerian Federal Government's Covid-19 Regulations, as signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in March 2020 forbid inter-state travels.The Regulations were still in force as at 25 June 2020, when the incident in Port Harcourt reportedly happened. ▪️We are aware that all Governors in Nigeria had also placed a ban on Inter-state travels, which had not been lifted as at 25/06/2020? The comments and later statements by both Mr. Frank-Briggs and the NBA, Port Harcourt Branch, each has confirmed/admitted the following facts: (1) Mr Olumide Akpata was in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on 25 June 2020, and attended a party/celebration, organized by PH NBA or PH NBA-members; (2) Videos of Mr Olumide Akpata were taken (with phone), while he was addressing the gathering, by a senior member of the Port Harcourt Branch; (3) The said senior member (whose name is given as Mr Tonye Krukubo) was "asked to delete" the videos. 
The relevant questions to ask now are: Do the facts so far admitted not show there was indeed a violation of FG's COVID-19 Regulations, a disobedience of the Nigerian Governor's Forum and disrespect for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which had, in a nationwide broadcast by the President on 27 April 2020, placed an indefinite "ban on inter-state travels until further notice?"  What are the legal, moral and professional implications of such actions by an aspirant to NBA`s highest office? If, as admitted, all that was being done at the event in PH, which had Olumide AKPATA in attendance, was a "victory celebration/party by friends of the current Chairman of the PH Branch," why was recording of videos or taking of photos banned? Why were videos recorded of Olumide Akpata (who was only "celebrating victory" and DOING NOTHING MORE) ordered to be deleted?  Why were the videos forcibly deleted? Why didn't people want evidence that they were in Port Harcourt on that day, and in a party that had very many persons in attendance? Why? How many persons attended the after-victory party or celebrations? ▪️What is the provision of FG's Regulations on Social Distancing? ▪️What does it say on number of persons permitted at any public gathering during this time? How many persons were there at the victory party/celebration that had Olu Akpata in attendance in Port Harcourt on 25 June 2020? 
And then, there is the ban by ECNBA (Electoral Committee of the NBA) Guidelines which was clearly flouted on 25/06/2020 in Port Harcourt when an aspirant traveled from Lagos to attend an NBA Port Harcourt members` party/event, just about one month to the NBA national elections in which he is a candidate. How many after-victory parties had he attended outside Lagos, in the past when he was not a candidate for a national office in the NBA?▪️ Why this year, in breach of ECNBA GUIDELINES and the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Nigerian Governor's Forum and the office of the President of Nigeria?

Recall that the Electoral Committee for the Nigerian Bar Association (2020 ECNBA) had on 21 April 2020, issued the "Guidelines for the 2020 Nigerian Bar Association National Officers Elections," to regulate the conduct of the 2020 national elections of the association. Paragraph 6.1 (7) of the 2020 ECNBA GUIDELINES, signed by Mr Tawo Tawo, SAN (ECNBA Chairman) and Mrs. Cordelia Ekeh (ECNBA Secretary) provides as follows:

"Pursuant to Section 8(4) and Paragraph 1.6 of the Second Schedule of the Constitution of the Nigeria Bar Association 2015 (as amended), a Nominee/Aspirant shall be disqualified from holding any National Office of the Association if any of the following is established against him/her:  Traveling across the country or to the Branches of the NBA to canvass for votes in whatever form or guise from the date Nominations are declared open for interested aspirants, is prohibited. PROVIDED THAT campaigns can only be done by publication of campaign materials supplied to the ECNBA by the candidates on the designated website. Any candidate who is proven to have engaged in any activities to the contrary, shall be disqualified. "

See "REMINDER ON 2020 ELECTIONS: Travel Across The Country Or To NBA Branches To Canvass For Votes, Get Disqualified --- ECNBA Warns Aspirants” (published in on www.lawandjustice.ng). ▪️Above are the real issues that we ought to focus our attention on, please. ▪️Let's leave sentiments and face the truth. Conscience is an open wound; only the truth can heal it. 

Rule 1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners in Nigeria, (RPC), 2007, requires all lawyers  in Nigeria to promote the Rule of Law and not engage in conducts unbecoming of legal practitioners. ▪️Section 3 of the NBA Constitution as amended says that the aims/objectives of the NBA include promotion of rule of law. ▪️Recall that a few days ago, INEC had called out the NBA to deal with some senior members of the legal profession who "bring the name of the profession into disrepute." (see "Conflicting Court Orders: INEC Enjoins The NBA To Call Culpable Lawyers To Order In The Interest Of Rule Of Law & The Legal Profession" (published on www.lawandjustice.ng)
▪️In view of the above, it is my humble opinion that the Port Harcourt incident needs to be investigated. ▪️If anyone should be seen flouting Federal Government's COVID-19 Regulations, such conduct should never come from an aspirant to the highest office in the NBA. ▪️If anyone should disobey the Nigerian Governor's Forum' s ban on Inter-state travels, such conduct should never come from an aspirant to the highest office in the NBA.▪️If anyone should disobey the Social Distancing Guidelines set by the Federal Government, such conduct should never come from an aspirant to the highest office in the NBA. ▪️If anyone should flout the directives of President Buhari (given on 27/04/2020) banning inter-state travels, such conduct should never come from an aspirant to the highest office in the NBA. ▪️NBA cannot be blaming Governments in Nigeria and their agencies for desecrating Rule of Law, while itself condoning NBA its members who have NO regard for rule of law and who have NO  regard for constituted authorities. ▪️That would send a wrong signal to the other members of the society. People are watching. Non lawyers who witnessed the party or celebrations in PH, must have been asking, What manner of Profession is this? ▪️Further, that an aspirant to the office of the NBA President could be present in an event that had very many persons in attendance, thus endangering people's lives at the peak of COVID-19 pandemic, speaks volumes in itself!
Respectfully,
        Sylvester Udemezue (udems) 
            (28 June 2020)"
SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE (UDEMS)
(2) The rejoinder by Mr Silas Joseph Onu reads in full:
"I have read a post by one Udemezue regarding his claim that Olumide Akpata has been travelling across the nation for campaign and it brought some sense of concern for his intellectual qualification to be a law school teacher. Doesn't Mr. Udemezue know that lawyers have been travelling across this nation litigating various issues?

Is he unaware of the fact that last week witnessed a barrage of lawyers entering Port-Harcourt for the Edo State's Governor case in FHC PH? Doesn't he know that alot of Corporate practitioners have been managing their cases during this lockdown by travelling? Isn't he aware that the Minister of aviation grants permit for the use of private jets to many legal practitioners? 

Now, does he know that Olumide Akpata remains a very sought after legal practitioner with all the rights to take advantage of any opening to attend to his client? If his assertions were to be true, is he saying that an aspirant should shut down his practice? Is that what we are looking for in the Bar? Are we seeking for a leaders who will feel that the Bar is indebted to him because of loss of briefs?

Udemezue can surely do better by withdrawing such an infantile claim and focus on getting genuine support for his candidate. I will soon disclose my reason for using the word genuine as i have it on good authority, first hand, that some of the ongoing pictorial campaign featuring young lawyers in his candidates camp were products of deceits. One of them is personally known to me and she never knew what they wanted to use her picture for. She is openly an Olumide supporter and now they have pitched her as theirs - this is campaign fraud.

Silas Joseph Onu"
SILAS JOSEPH ONU ESQ

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