Monday, 6 July 2020

RAY AKANWA'S ENDORSEMENT OF AN NBA PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: WHERE IS THE AMBIGUITY OR MISREPRESENTATION? By Major Ben Orlando Aburime (rtd)

NBA 2020 ELECTIONS: RAY AKANWA'S ENDORSEMENT AN NBA PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE; WHERE IS THE AMBIGUITY OR  MISREPRESENTATION?
(A reaction to the Public Statement by S. Long Williams, EBF Governor)

By Major Ben Orlando Aburime (rtd)

I have read the news report titled “EBF General Secretary Ray Akanwa Takes a Stand, Declares “It is in our collective best interest to support Dr AJIBADE,” published on LawandJustice.ng, on July 05, 2020.  In the report, which was an endorsement of Dr Ajibade, Sir Ray Akanwa said, inter alia (I am quoting him verbatim):
”Politics is all about interest. One’s involvement depends on the level and depth of information available to one. It is not wise for a leader to jump into the fray without adequate investigation. I have done a great deal of it [investigation]. I have found that it’s in our collective best interest to follow Dr AJIBADE, SAN. He is humble and not backed up by any cabal or entrenched interest groups. I therefore appeal to my leaened colleagues to ignore any divisive narratives or sentimental preachment; Dr AJIBADE is the most competent and suitable. The Bar will achieve the best with Dr Ajibade. Trust my words.”
I have seen also a Press Statement reportedly issued by Mr. S. Long Williams, Governor, Eastern Bar Forum (EBF). The later news report reads , in part:
”The leadership of the Eastern Bar Forum has disowned its Secretary, Hon. Sir Ray O. Akanwa over his endorsement of one of the Candidates for the office of President of the Nigerian Bar Association. This became necessary in view of recent publications in the news media s where he went further to state thus ‘it is our collective interest to do so.’ The Forum hereby states that the views expressed by Hon. Sir Ray O. Akanwa are his personal views and does not express or represent the views of the Eastern Bar Forum. The Governor of the Eastern Bar Forum, S. Long Williams Esq. in a Press Statement stated that the Forum has not endorsed or adopted any candidate for the office of President of the Nigerian Bar Association for the forthcoming NBA elections slated for 29th & 30th July, 2020. The Eastern Bar Forum urges all lawyers not to view, interpret or read the views of the Secretary as the views, position or representation of the Forum.”
With the greatest respect, the press statement by the respected Governor of the EBF is as unnecessary and unwarranted as it is superfluous. For all intents and purposes, there's no ambiguity nor misrepresentation whatsoever and howsoever, in the earlier statement of endorsement made by Sir Ray Akanwa (the EBF Secretary). In my opinion therefore, S Long Williams Esq, whether in his private capacity or on behalf of the EBF, had/has no business discrediting or disowning an opinion that is not held out to be that of the EBF. An objective look at the report of Sir Ray Akanwa`s endorsement of Dr Ajibade (as reproduced above) shows that he did so purely in his individual and private capacity, and not on behalf of the Eastern Bar Forum (EBF). He has the right to hold his opinion.

Although Sir Akanwa is the EBF Secretary, nowhere in his statement did he suggest or infer that he was speaking for or on behalf of the  EBF (as an organization). This is evident in his use the first person pronoun “I” all through his statement. In that respect, I find the purported disclaimer unjustified, curious and insidious. A hypothetical example would help to illustrate my point better. If a Mr Musa Ojo, who is currently a Lecturer in the University of Abuja, says, "I Musa Ojo, Lecturer, University of Abuja, endorse Dr Ajibade,” does this now mean that the University as an organization/institution is endorsing Dr Ajibade? No!

Besides Sir Akanwa`s, examples abound of other individuals in positions of authority adopting the same Dr Babatunde Ajibade, SAN. No one has by any stretch of the imagination attributed the individual endorsement/opinions to be representative of their organisations. A few examples will suffice here.
  • A few days ago, Mr Seyi Oni, with his designation expressly stated as “Head of Legal & Corporate Governance, Jumia,” personally issued a statement endorsing Dr AJIBADE and urging lawyer, including corporate counsel and private practitioners, to join Dr Ajibade to build a better Bar. Jumia didn’t disown him. 
  • Recently, the Dean, Faculty of Law, Afe Babalola Universuty, Ado-Ekiti (Prof Sesan FABAMISE) came out to endorse Dr Ajibade. I didn’t hear any statement from the University “disowning”  the Prof.  Note that the prof had made it clear he is the dean of the said faculty of law.
  • The Ex Governor of the EBF (Sir Arthur Chukwu) who is currently a very Senior Academic in the Nigerian Law School, had in a widely published statement, endorsed Dr Ajibade. The Nigerian Law School knew he did so in his private capacity as a legal practitioner and member of the NBA, and not on behalf of the Law School.
  • Five Partners in the Law Firm of Abdullahi Ibrahim & Co (stating clearly that they’re partners in the Firm) recently endorsed Dr AJIBADE. The Law Firm did not disown them. 
  • In the Law Firm of  Sofunde, Osakwe, Ogundipe & Belgore, while Mr SOFUNDE (a partner in the Firm) endorsed Dr AJIBADE, another partner (Mr Belgore) endorsed Olu Akpata. This proves beyond doubt that while the Law Firm has no official position on the NBA Presidency, individual partners have chosen (as they’re entitled,  in their individual capacity, to endorse a  candidate of their choice.
The Corporate Law concept of Holding Out clearly sets out the conditions that must be met before a director or other officer of a company/organization would be said to have held out himself or herself as representing the company or organisation. The provisions of section 250 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, Cap C20, LFN, 2004, are clear on the concept of holding out. The officer/director accused must have misrepresented himself/herself as acting on behalf of the organization/company at a time when he or she has no such authority, express or implied, to act. I think lawyers need to read and digest this provision to be properly guided. With respect, none of the conditions for holding out, is present in the instant case here. Why then the disclaimer?

What’s more? Every lawyer in Nigeria is entitled to contribute his personal opinion to any ongoing  discussions bothering on law or the legal profession. Besides, there is a world of difference between public statements or Press  Releases officially put forward by, or at the instance of, or on behalf of the EBF and a written expression of an individual lawyer's personal opinion, even if such a lawyer happens to hold a position in that EBF. The latter is well within the ambit of what is no doubt every lawyer's inviolable rights.

At this juncture, may I refer to a Legal Opinion jointly issued by Leslie E. Devaney (City Attorney) and Christina M. Cameron (Deputy City Attorney) on behalf of the the Law Firm of Devaney, Pate, Morris & Cameron, addressed to California City Elected Officials, Members of City Boards and Commissions, and City Department Heads on the subject, “City Officers and Employees Political Activity by City Officers and Employees,” under the laws of the State of California, USA. Expressly addressing the rights of public office-holders to participate in political campaigns and activities, the opinion states:
”On a personal level, officers and employees may make whatever endorsement as they wish. Officers and employees may reference their title in endorsement for identification purposes but may not imply or state that they represent the legislative body, City or department (as applicable) in that endorsement.”  (visit www.delmar.ca.us).

The position is not different in Nigeria. Beside the aforesaid, the statement by the Governor of the EBF expressly acknowledges that Sir Ray Akanwan’s endorsement was not ambiguous. The statement by the EBF Governor, Mr Long Williams) stated that “The Forum hereby states that the view expressed by Hon Sir Ray O. Akanwa are his personal views and does not express or represent the views of of the Eastern Bar Forum”. Now, since it is clear from Mr Williams` own acknowledgement that the Governor already knew and agreed that Sir Akanwa’s endorsement was purely in his (Sir Akanwa`s) personal capacity, what then made it necessary for Mr William to still proceed to declare that “the leadership of the EBF disowns its Secretary, Hon Sir Ray Akanwa over his endorsement of one of the candidates for the office of  the President of the NBA?” Are the two statements not directly contradictory? Does this contradiction not confirm my submission that the EBF statement is most unnecessary, unwarranted. Why disown a statement that was not made on your behalf and did not in any manner misrepresent you or your organization?

The statement by Ray Akanwa was a personal appeal to all Nigerian lawyers to come and support Dr Ajibade because, as Sir Akanwa believed, “it would be in our collective best interest so to do.” If anything, it is the statement of the Governor of EBF that is curious, judging from his obvious tergiversation. I find this contradiction most confusing.  It is thereforee difficult for one to not agree with Mr Ike Augustine, a notable lawyer and human rights activist, based in Eastern Nigeria, whose immediate reaction to the EBF Governor`s shocking statement was: “Is this necessary? Is the endorsement by Sir Ray Akanwa not clear enough that it's a personal endorsement and not EBF`s? The whole thing is becoming PETTY.”
Thank you, dear Governor.
Long live NBA.
I am
Major Ben Orlando Aburime (Rtd)

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