By Kene Obiezu
SIR: For the first time in 30 years, a lawyer, shorn of the distinction and baggage of being a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, trounced the status quo to emerge president of the Nigeria Bar Association in a victory looked upon by many as a stark renunciation of the old order, and a rejection of the old way of doing things.
In electing Olumide Akpata – who during his campaign shone with new ideas and promises many of which lacked the sheen of sophistry that so lavishly marks pre-election promises – Nigerian lawyers blunted the old exclusionary bludgeon of power wielded by the members of the inner bar and embraced one like them in all things but the shockingly poor remuneration paid the youngest members of the profession.
A new dawn has surely come for the NBA and when Olumide Akpata steps into the light of this new dawn as president of the association, an acid test would surely await him.
Since 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari etched his name into the history books by unseating an incumbent president- the legal profession in Nigeria has had some of its lowest moments. Caught in the middle of a crisis of confidence between a president who has heavily coated the profession with the tar of corruption, and a frustrated Nigerian public baying for the blood of culprits complicit in the corrosive corruption that has crushed many of its dreams, the profession has seen most of its credibility peeled away.
Under Akpata, the bar must resume its duty, now long abandoned, as a battlement against all forms of tyranny, no matter how systematic and subtle they may seem. The task facing Akpata is a formidable one and for success to be attained, far reaching reforms are needed.
Firstly, within the profession, ranks must be closed to save the little of what is left of the morale of young lawyers and the faith they repose in the association. For many of them, sharp practices have become the surest shelter from the strangulation imposed on them by the appallingly poor remuneration obtainable in many law firms in spite of the forbiddingly long hours of work.
During his ultimately successful campaign, Akpata certainly chimed a cord when he denounced the terrible tradition of poor wages paid young lawyers and the structures that have kept them in place and unchecked over many years. He campaigned admiringly about the way out of this thicket.
It is safe to say that his victory was a firm acceptance of his position on this and the solutions he proffered. However, a confrontation looms with the powers that be. It would be interesting to see how he navigates the politics of poor wages for young lawyers and enshrines long lasting changes. This would be crucial in getting on board those who for reason of demographics are the very future of the legal profession and the association.
Secondly, under Akpata, the bar must demand more accountability from those who occupy public offices in Nigeria. The very nature of their work sees lawyers always in close contact with public office holders especially those who are before the courts defending charges of having run afoul of the law.
Lawyers by their training are also always very visible in public spaces and positions of authority. There is no better time than now to leverage on the opportunities such publicity provides to push for change. The Nigeria Bar Association under Akpata must be at the vanguard of this.
For many years, corruption has denied Nigeria of the abundant prosperity its enormous human and natural resources should ordinarily engender. What corruption has left behind is a country that is mere anthill of the towering mountain it should be. This cannot continue.
While Nigerians cannot reasonably expect lawyers to hold the magic wand to end the malaise that threatens them and their children, they are right to look to lawyers to shed some light into the darkness that is currently engulfing the country.
The Nigeria Bar Association under Olumide Akpata must become the lead torchbearer.
- Kene Obiezu, Abuja.
Source: The Street Journal
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