By Sylvester Udemezue.
(1) NEEDLESS CONTROVERSY OVER PORTABLE’S APPEARANCE AT NBA-AGC 2023’S UNBARRED SHOW:
Reacting to the controversy that had trailed the performance of controversial singer, Habeeb Okikiola, popularly known as Portable, at a night event tagged ‘Unbarred’, which the NBA had organised as part of activities lined up for the NBA-AGC 2023, which held at the Velodrome, M.K.O. Abiola Stadium, Abuja, the Chairman of NBA-AGC 2023 Planning Committee, Mazi Afam Osigwe, SAN, is reported to have said on 01 September 2023 as follows:
“I am the Chairman of the conference planning committee and I take responsibility for everything. When I hear comments about Portable, I ask myself, did we bring him to be an ambassador of the NBA or to entertain guests.We brought Portable to entertain lawyers, not to set a moral standard. It was for entertainment. We may not agree on his choice. You may not like him. He may not be my idea of a best friend. But, saying because NBA invited him, then we have committed an atrocity will be an unfair comment on creativity and what entertainment should be all about.
Many entertainers may not represent our best idea of moral compass or best friends to keep or recommend for our children. Some of the lyrics and some of the songs we also play in public places may not be to our taste. But to tell me that we should sound offensive because it is Portable or because he climbed something, people do worse in entertainment. I do not want us to fall for those who are trying to politicise everything that happened in the conference”.
I agree entirely with this opinion/clarification by the NBA-AGC 2023 Planning Committee Chairman, Mazi Afam Osigwe, SAN; the learned silk is right. When the (now deceased) accomplished Afro-beat singer Fela Anikolapo Kuti was still alive, his conduct was much more weird than Portable’s; my opinion though. Yet, Fela was always invited/engaged to perform at some of the highest public events in Nigeria and beyond.
I agree that Portable’s invitation to the NBA-AGC 2023’s unbarred show, was not for Portable to educate Nigerian lawyers on professional legal conduct or etiquette, but solely to perform to ENTERTAIN his audience. Accordingly, however weird one thinks Portable’s display was, I think what Portable did was nothing more than Portable’s own way/idea of trying to do what he believed he had been paid to do: entertain his audience. QED!
(2). “PORTABLE” VERSUS THE “BADDEST LAWYER”
To “Sam Amadi”‘s earlier published comment that “I heard that NBA chose Portable to sing for it….. Meanwhile, they are chasing after Ifunanya for dishonouring the profession. It seems NBA is almost a derailing organization,” I had on 31 August 2023 reacted to Sam Amadi, as follows: “Portable is not a lawyer, please. Stop unnecessary comparison”. This accords with the 01/September/2023 statement by the NBA as contained in the NBA-AGC 2023 Planning Committee Chairman’s clarification, that Portable was at the NBA-AGC Unbarred only to perform and entertain, and not to set any moral or professional ethical standards for the legal profession and its members.
Besides, one may even ask, When has it become the norm to measure, assess or judge the standard of Nigerian lawyers or of the legal profession in Nigeria, by the conduct of a non-lawyer (a layman) who happened to have found himself (by chance or design) among lawyers, and whose conduct was not directed or influenced by lawyers? In my humble opinion, there’s absolutely no basis for comparing Ifunanya Grant, the Baddest Lawyer’s scenario/case with Mr. Portable’s. My Reasons:
(A). Miss Ifunanya Grant is a lawyer, called to the Bar in Nigeria and having her name on the Roll of Legal Practitioners; consequently (and it is immaterial whether the Baddest Lawyer is or is not in active law practice in Nigeria), the Baddest Lawyer, and indeed all lawyers in Nigeria, practicing or non-practicing, are strictly required by extant law and Legal Professional Ethics in Nigeria (RPC, 2007 and LPA) to not engage in any conduct incompatible with the status of a lawyer (see Section 12(2) LPA, Cap L11, LFN, 2004) or in any conduct reasonably unbecoming of a lawyer in Nigeria (see Rule 1, Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC), 2007). On the other hand, singer Portable is not a lawyer in Nigeria, and as such is not subject to the regulation and application of Legal Professional Ethics.
(b). When Portable was invited to an NBA event, it was not for the NBA to teach Portable what/how to perform before the audience, although Portable ought himself to have studied his audience ahead, to know his audience before coming to the event; the controversial singer ought to have known that he needed not be or perform too weird before such an audience as a gathering of legal practitioners in Nigeria. Even Fela who, while alive, could easily go stark naked or put up all manner of unbelievable conducts, while performing on stage at his Kalakuta Republic, still saw the need when invited to perform at any event outside the Republic, to tune down the level or tone of his weird appearance and conduct.
Now, since Portable, out of sheer unpragmatism or outright ignorance or recklessmess, failed to understudy and understand his audience and thus remained his weird/awkward self even while performing before lawyers (presumed honorable and noble men and women), I respectfully don’t think the NBA or the NBA-AGC planners are to be held blameful. I think it’s Probable who should be blamed for having caused bad market for himself; in future, NBA or any arm of it would think twice before considering any suggestions to have Portable perform at any NBA event. Blaming NBA for Portable’s weird performance and conduct is an unnecessary apportionment of blame.
Further, even if Portable was a lawyer and had acted weird during his performance before a gathering of lawyers, NBA or NBA-AGC would still hardly share in the blame, because it was not the NBA or NBA-AGC that caused or forced or tutored him to go weird in conduct before lawyers. In conclusion, I have no doubt in my mind that while Mazi Afam Osigwe has been busy trying to use his position as the NBA-AGC 2023 Planning Committee Chairman to showcase his leadership potentials, so as to convince Nigerian lawyers to entrust him with leadership of the organisation in the period 2024-2026, detractors and opponents of Mazi Afam Osigwe have been busy picking holes, cashing in on any little mishap (however infinitesimal), and even creating mishaps where none exists, all in a bid to try to convince Nigerian lawyers to the contrary.
On all sides, it is all about the NBA politics of 2024 — we are mature enough to know. However, in my humble opinion, the Portable incident should reasonably be regarded as having little or nothing to do with the leadership capacity or otherwise of Mazi Afam Osigwe; it is therefore unfair and unjust to blame the NBA-AGC 2023 Planning Committee over the Portable incident. Speaking generally, Nigerian lawyers should learn to separate the seed from the chaff, at all times, in all circumstances, no matter whose ox is gored.
(3) . STOP APPOINTING INTO NBA COMMITTEES, LAWYERS WITH IMMEDIATE POLITICAL ASPIRATIONS:
To stop the now notoriously rampant politicisation of NBA Committee assignments, it is respectfully suggested that NBA national and branch leaderships should fortwith desist from appointing as heads or chairmen of NBA Committees, anyone who is known to be aspiring to any elective position in the NBA in the immediate-next election. Mazi Afam Osigwe, SAN, Mr. Chuka Ikwuazom, SAN, and Mr Tobnna Erojikwe, all three are respected learned colleagues already known to be aspiring to contest the NBA Presidential Election in 2024. Yet, Mazi Afam Osigwe got appointed the Chairman of the Planning Committee for the NBA-AGC 2023; Mr Chuka Ikwuazom was appointed the Chairman of NBA-SARC (NBA-Security Agencies Relations Committee) while Mr Tobenna Erojikwe is retained as the Chairman of the Governing Council of NBA’s ICLE (NBA-Institute of Continuing Legal Education).
Any reasonable bystander who has closely, carefully and disinterestedly followed how each and all the named lawyers, have so far conducted the affairs of their respective Committees, would notice that their respective political aspirations are, to a considerable extent, at the foundation of their respective modus operandi; great level of unnecessary grandstanding and, sometimes play-to-the-crowd, in an attempt to impress watching NBA members. Besides, it’s easy to see that opponents of the Chairman of each of these three Committees are prepared to leave no stone unturned towards ensuring that they rubbish efforts (however sterling or genuinely altruistic) of each of these Committees.
Further, even fair-minded assessments or disinterested constructive criticisms of the activities of each of these Committees are, more often than not, mischievously twisted or ignorantly misunderstood by political supporters of the Chairman of the affected group as “sponsored attacks” by political opponents. Viewed as such by the Chairman’s men and women, one finds that even very useful suggestions made by way of objective criticisms, may not go down well with the affected Chairman her/his political acolytes and supporters who may ignore or even attack such criticisms, quite often to the detriment of effective operations of the group towards benefiting lawyers generally. This is why it is here-suggested that the best way to forestall such unnecessary shenanigans, distractions, gaslighting, and controversies, on/by all sides, is while setting up NBA Committees, to completely leave out anyone (lawyer) with known political aspirations in the next dispensation.
Now, regarding any fear or worry, that NBA leadership might not have known or might not be in a position to have known, of such political aspirations as of the time of constituting the various Committees, it is respectfully suggested that the Chairman of each Committee, while accepting his or her appointment, should be made to depose to an affidavit stating that (s)he has and nurses no political aspirations/ambition in the immediate-next NBA election — that is, in the next dispensation — and breach of this oath should be regarded as both a professional misconduct and a disqualifying factor in the next round of NBA elections.
In this way, the Chairmen of the various NBA Committees would be free to function without engaging in any unnecessary grandstanding to prove that he’s capable of leading the NBA in the next dispensation. On the other hand, Chairmen all such Committees, having no strings attached, would be so open-minded and broadminded as to accommodate and objectively consider, fair-minded public assessments and constructive criticisms of his performances or actions, without on each occasion, suspecting political undertones or political fanny embers.
Moreover, this would in turn enable/cause affected Chairmen to function more effectively and altruistically, in the best interest of the generality of NBA members, instead of using their present assignments for promoting or advertising their political aspirations in the next election. Over all, leadership and performance of NBA Committees would be the better for it, having been divorced from the politics of, and politicking towards, the next NBA elections.
(4) RAMPANT CRISES AND BICKERING AMONG NATIONAL EXCO MEMEBRS:
Permit me to humbly use this opportunity to express my dissatisfaction with, and condemnation of the allegations and counter allegations between some NBA-NECommittee members on the one hand, and the NBA President on the other, which allegations and their aftermaths ended up truncating the NBA-AGM of 01 September 2023.
It appears that such internal squabbles, wrangling and bickering have now become a habit in the leadership of the NBA in recent years. Recall that in the 2018-2020 period, internal squables between Mr. Jonathan Taidi (then General Secretary) and NBA President Paul Usoro, SAN, as well as another between Dr Foluke Dada (then 2nd Vice President) and NBA President Paul Usoro, SAN, had nearly marred or rubbished the performance in office of that administration. Again, in the 2020-2022 period, it was NBA the General Secretary (Joyce Oduah) versus NBA President Olumide Akpata, on the one hand, as well as another bickering between the entire NBA-NECommittee (EXCO) and NBA-GS Joyce Oduah, on the other; both crises ultimately led to purported suspension of Mrs Joyce Oduah whereupon Mrs Oduah dragged to court, the NBA and the entire EXCO (then EXCO) membership. The lawsuit is still pending in court. Now, yet again, 2022-2024, here we are, witnessing a similar ugly scenario.
It’s unfortunate that some people elected to run the NBA have found it difficult, of late, to imbibe the team spirit necessary to work harmoniously with one another for effective performance and successful outing. However, while it’s appalling that NBA has had to once again find itself in this avoidable messy situation, one must, in order to get at the root of the current crisis, be careful to not reach conclusions based solely on any one person or national officer’s version/account.
After listening to the Treasurer’s (and reading the 3rd Vice President’s) versions, as well as the NBA President’s response, I think there is need for an Independent Inquiry, on the one hand, GENERALLY to unravel and nip in the bud the remote and immediate cause or causes of these frequent rancorous squabbles between successive NBA presidents and some of their EXCO members, and, on the other hand, SPECIFICALLY to unearth the immediate and remote causes of the latest/current crisis in the NBA-NECommittee. The present administration still has one year to wrap up its leadership. It’s too early for these kind of crises.
Besides, without unity of purpose among members of the NBA-NECommittee, it would be hard for the NBA National Executive Committee to make any meaningful achievements in the next one year. Hence, the need for an urgent Committee of Inquiry or Reconciliation Committee, to look into these crises and resolve them, so that the current EXCO can unite to work together in the interest of the Bar in the next one year.
For emphasis, my call for some committee, among other reasons, to (a) look into the immediate and remote causes of the current crisis, by considering existing allegations and counter-allegations, to see which is right or wrong, (b), apportion blames where necessary, and (c) make recommendations on way out of such internal crises which have become rampant within the NBA-NECommittee on recent years.
(5) AN EMERGENCY GENERAL MEETING (NBA-EGM) IS NECESSARY AT THIS JUNCTURE:
However bad anyone feels at this juncture, and until there is an independent assessment to make informed conclusions, I suggest it is premature for anyone to reach conclusive determinations about who in particular is to blame for the current crises in the NBA-NECommittee. I therefore respectfully recommend that the NBA President should urgently consider convening an Emergency General Meeting of the NBA (NBA-EGM) to be held within the next 2-3 months, to discuss and set up a committee to generally reassess NBA leadership’s modus operandi over the years, and to proffer suggestions for radical reforms on the following:
(a) . How best to constitute and run the NBA National Executive Committee (NBA-NECommittee) and the NBA National Executive Council (NBA-NECouncil) to be of benefit to lawyers in Nigeria. It has become obvious that successive NBA leaderships have hardly run NBA affairs in the best interest of NBA members; and
(b) . How to ensure a harmonious, smooth and fruitful working relationship among members of the NBA National EXCO (known as NBA-NECommittee) in order to avert frequent internal bickering and wranglings that have now become a habit, and the bane of NBA.
(6) . In the meantime, three things appear clear, regarding the NBA: (a) NBA is getting worse by the passage of each blessed day. This is not about the NBA-AGC 2024; we all know that the NBA-AGM has nothing to do with the Annual General Conference known as NBA-AGC. The leadership of the NBA generally has not been getting it right;
(b ) NBA is not yet a strong institution that can curb excesses, or withstand influences, of individual, individuals or personalities, however high, low, strong or weak, or which can panel-beat erring EXCO members (however powerful or weak) into complying with universal demands of good governance and of running NBA in the best interest of NBA members; and
(c). Generally, noticed failures of the NBA over the years have presented clear evidence to justify one objective conclusion, namely: the legal profession in Nigeria, is yet to take its pride of place as a leader of the Nigerian society. Truth is, considering NBA’s position, and the place of the legal profession, until the legal profession is able to stand on its own feet, stable and prosperous, to show the way to the rest of society, our society will remain held down by stagnancy arising directly from visionlessness, directionlessness and focuslessness.
On several occasions, I have said that it’s the duty of the legal profession to provide proper direction for society’s redemption and progress. Sadly, the one-eyed man that the Nigerian legal profession has become cannot effectively play any such a leadership role. You and I know a one-eyed man cannot provide any effective leadership anywhere. NBA and the legal profession cannot be of help to the wider society unless and until NBA and the legal profession have helped themselves to stand firm, stable and successful.
It is even hypocritical to purport to be of help to others when you have not been able to help yourself. A Holy Book’s Matthew 7:5 whose original words went thus: “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye”, Jesus (regarded by Christians the world over as The Christ) argues that one must first remove the plank in one’s own eyes, before going on to try to remove the speck in another’s. This verse warns us against the hypocrisy of rushing to see and try to cure the flaw (sin) in others while ignoring the obvious flaws/sins in our own lives.
In a commentary titled, “ABDICATION OF DUTY! HOW NBA LEADERSHIPS CHASE AFTER SHADOWS TO THE DETRIMENT OF THE SECURITY, WELFARE AND ECONOMIC ADVANCEMENT OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION AND ITS MEMBERS” [published on April 7, 2021 by TheNigeriaLawyer], I had written as follows:
“You can’t help other people unless you’ve helped yourself….You can not manage other people, unless you manage yourself first…You always have to remember to take care of you first and foremost, because when you stop taking care of yourself, you get out of balance and you really forget how to take care of others…. If you want to have enough to give to others, you will need to take care of yourself first. A tree that refuses water and sunlight for itself can’t bear fruit for others…you cannot serve from an empty vessel…. Loving yourself first is the best way to spread love to others…. Besides… Putting yourself first allows you to meet your needs in the most skillful way. This, in turn, increases your happiness, joy, and capacity to love, so you can give freely to others”.
(7) . CONCLUSION:
My usual counsel: all those who feel disenchanted, disillusioned or disappointed by NBA’s continued wobbling and fumbling, should please know that the only/best way to fight to restore things to order, in order that progress may come, is to fight from within.
In my humble opinion, attempting to balkanize the NBA is not any wise or reasonable solution to curbing the ills of the NBA. However, while insisting that we can best fight from within, to reform and reposition the NBA for greater focus and progress in the interest of its members, I still respectfully maintain that something needs to be done urgently to rescue this drowning ship of the legal profession, generally.
For how long shall we remain a sinful profession/organization waiting for grace to work wonders for us? Does God help one who helps oneself not? We all must arise now and place all hands on the deck, to rescue the legal profession and the NBA from the current doldrums of intractable, rampant leadership crises which have made unity elusive, progress difficult, and success a pipe-dream.
Sylvester Udemezue (Udems),
Realist Ministry of Justice (RMJ)
(02 September 2023)