NBA Port Harcourt Branch 2018 Elections: The Looming Imbroglio – By Long Williams
The Uniform Bye-laws for Branches of the NBA as contained in the NBA Constitution came into force on 27th August, 2015 after being approved by the Annual General Meeting of the NBA which held in Abuja. One of the novel provisions of the Bye-laws is the streamlining of the elections and tenure of all the executives of the various branches of the NBA. Hitherto, the various branches of the Bar had their independent constitution and Bye-laws which prescribes the positions to be contested for, mode, time and manner elections are to be conducted and this created a haphazard mode of conduct of elections and tenure of the executives in the various branches.
However all this changed with the coming into effect of the 2015 NBA Constitution. The new constitution provided for the offices to vie for in all the branches as contained in Section 6(2) of the Bye-laws and also prescribed a particular month when elections shall be held in all the branches as contained in Section 10(3)b which states thus; ” Election Committee Shall make arrangements for election of officers of the Branch in the month of June as the Executive Committee may determine and shall, inter alia, undertake due publicity for the elections and nominations thereto, the printing of ballot papers and compilation of the list of eligible candidates and voters..”
You will all recall that prior to the coming into effect of the 2015 Constitution, the election and swearing in of elected officers in Port Harcourt Branch was usually held on the last Thursday in the month of April of every election year which also is the Annual General Meeting of the Branch. This scenario changed in 2016 with the coming into effect of the 2015 Constitution and the Dennis Okwakpam Esq led administration marked the last time elections and swearing in of elected officers will be held in the month of April.
The Omubo Frank Briggs led executive were elected and sworn into office on 2nd June, 2016 and the tenure of that administration will come to an end on 1st June, 2018 which marks the anniversary of the administration. At the February, 2018 Branch General Meeting, an off the constitution Electoral Committee was set up with Tonye Krukrubo Esq as Chairman. The appellation “OFF THE CONSTITUTION used in this context is to highlight the fact that the committee as presently constituted is illegal as it violates the provisions of Section 10(3)a of the Bye- laws which provides that the committee shall be made up of five members. Ten members presently constitute the committee as against the provisions of the Bye-laws. Besides, majority of the committee members are not even qualified to vote or be voted for as they do not meet the required meeting attendance neither do they meet the two years financial payment requirement and therefore not morally qualified to conduct the affairs of an election they themselves do not meet its primary qualification requirements. Some have argued that the committee was properly constituted as the list of members of the committee was presented before the general meeting and ratified. I find this argument as misconceived and laughable. Gentlemen, the timeless and trite principle in Mcfoy vs UAC becomes germane here. You can’t put something on nothing and expect it to stand, a ratification of an illegal act cannot make the act legal. I expect that those affected by this constitutional qualification lacuna should suo moto honourably show some sense of responsibility, decorum and respect by resigning their illegal appointment and save the branch from such monumental embarrassment. Any continued insistence to stay put in the committee will portray that there is more to it than meets the eye.
This committee has been saddled with the onerous responsibility of conducting the elections that will usher in the new administration come 1st June, 2018. Section 17 (1) of the Third schedule of the Uniform Bye-laws provides as follows “not later than the thirty (30) days to the day of the election year, the Election Committee shall announce the date of the election as fixed by the Executive Committee and invite nominations for candidates for office, and shall publicise the provisions of the Bye-Law relating to eligibility to contest and eligibility to vote and also issue election and campaign guidelines; provided that no candidate shall commence any form of public campaign until the campaign guidelines are issued or released” It is amazing to note that more than one month after the setting up of the committee, it has not come out with any publication showing the timetable, guidelines and date for the elections. Any discerning mind should begin to get worried and agitated over this unfolding event.
At the March, 2018 General Meeting of the branch, the Chairman of the committee Tonye Krukrubo Esq. presented a verbal preliminary report which did not disclose any content on the elections. No timetable was presented neither was the branch informed of the date set for the elections. This took most members by surprise as the Executive Committee of the Branch had in its March Monthly Meeting voted overwhelming for 1st June, 2018 as the date set for the elections. This information was neither brought to the notice of the Branch by the Branch Chairman nor the Electoral Committee Chairman. Instead the Electoral Chairman without averting his mind to the anniversary of the current administration and the extant provisions of the Bye-laws was busy making wild proposals to the meeting for the elections to hold on 21st June, 2018.
By the combined provisions of Sections 10(3)b, 15(9), 16(2) and 17(1) of the Uniform Bye-laws for Branches as contained in the 2015 NBA Constitution, all activities, programs and actions of the Electoral Committee prior to the elections must be done within thirty (30) days before the date fixed for the elections. The question is has the committee studied this provisions succinctly and resolved to abide by them? I ask this question because by now, considering the sacrosanct fact that the anniversary of this administration is fast approaching, the drumbeat of the NBA PH Branch Electoral Committee should be heard and felt by members of the Branch and the Bar in Rivers State. Instead the political space is as silent as a grave yard. Does this not portend an uncanny design for tenure elongation or a contrived scenario to foist a Caretaker Committee on the Branch.
It must be stated that by now an electoral committee set up over a month ago with a mandate to conduct elections on 1st June, 2018 should have come up with the following;
1. The timetable for the elections
2. A fixed date for the elections
3. The guidelines for the elections.
The Committee by now should also be engrossed with preparing the following;
1. List of those who paid their Bar Practicing Fee & Branch dues & others for 2017 & 2018.
2. With just one month ie April Meeting left to calculate and determine the required number of meeting any eligible voter or aspirant is expected to comply with as regards to the issue of meeting attendance, the committee should by now be collating the names of those who have already met the required meeting attendance & preparing to include the names of those who need just the April meeting attendance to be qualified to vote or be voted for.
Anything short of the above is a sure road to a looming imbroglio and a testimony to the fact that its either the committee does not appreciate the enormity of the task at hand or their exist a contrived design to arrive at a faux pass to create a soft landing for either a tenure elongation or the setting up of a caretaker committee.
It must quickly be pointed out pronto that the option of tenure elongation should be considered unthinkable as that will beget illegality and abuse of the rule of law and no one should underestimate the extent to which members of the branch will go to resist such evil.
Section 11(1)b of the Uniform Bye-laws provides as follows: “Caretaker Committee Shall automatically function in a crisis situation within the Branch, such as a stalemated Annual General Meeting, or where the tenure of office of the immediate preceding Executive Committee has expired and no arrangements could be made for an Annual General Meeting or the circumstances of such crisis render any arrangement for an Annual General Meeting impossible”
By the clear and unambiguous provisions of the above section, a Caretaker Committee can only be setup in the following instances to wit;
1. When there is a crises situation within the Branch.
2. Where there is a stalemated Annual General Meeting
3. Where the tenure of office of the immediate preceding executive has expired and no arrangement could be made for an Annual General Meeting.
4. Where the circumstances of such crisis renders the holding of an Annual General Meeting impossible.
It must be stated that non of the above instances exist in the branch unless there is a grand design to foist one on the branch in the nearest future as highly speculated. We do not have any crises situation in Port Harcourt Branch, we do not have any reason to stalemate the coming Annual General Meeting, the present executive has the capacity to arrange for the upcoming Annual General Meeting and there is nothing to make the holding of the Annual General Meeting impossible. So the option of settling for a Caretaker Committee at the end of the tenure of this executive should be a thing of “unthinkability” as such will only go to portray the administration as a FAILURE.
In the event that we ever find ourselves treading this sorry pass, it must be borne in mind that it is going to be a bridge too far.
S. Long Williams,
Past Secretary, NBA PH Branch
Past Secretary, Eastern Bar Forum.