Nigeria: When Lawyers Vote – OpEd


Nigerians are an interesting lot! Lawyers under the auspices of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, are on the stump, canvassing for votes among their colleagues and there is the semblance of a grave-yard silence from Nigerians! Few give a hoot about the outcome; fewer even care about how the outcome could affect them!

On the surface, this typical Nigerian reasoning sounds rational. After all, don’t we all tell others not to stick their snout where it will irritate others? Why, then, is this golden rule being breached? Two reasons, basically! One is the increasing democratization in Africa and, two, events in Nigeria that have shown that so many good things are possible. Truth is, no positive development is possible if lawyers do not key into it. This is why Nigerians, irrespective of their callings, should aspire for a Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, they can identify with.

A proactive NBA, the largest bar association in Africa, will add more value to the nation’s fledging democracy and accelerate Africa’s democratization process. With due respect, past NBA leaders, including outgoing Augustine Alegeh, operated under unusual circumstances! If in doubt, just sit back, take a long breath and imagine an NBA today under eminent lawyers like Bola Ajibola, Alao Aka-Bashorun, Olisa Agbakoba, and several others. Luckily, the two gentlemen jostling for the crown are battle-tested and eminently-qualified lawyers who can recreate those halcyon days.

Both are senior lawyers with the added honour of being Senior Advocates of Nigeria. Both have the needed self-pride and commitment to avoid the indulgences that have been the undoing of many. They are authentic Nigerian patriots who have appropriately been honoured nationally and internationally for service to the fatherland, their communities and contributions to the growth of their profession. What is more, both men are God-fearing.

In deference to the zoning formula of the NBA, the two contestants are from northern Nigeria. J-K Gadzama, as Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama is popularly referred to, became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria at the age of 37 in 1998 and a Barrister at the Lincolns Inn, in the United Kingdom. He is the founder and principal partner of the octopoid J-K Gadzama LLP which he established in 1989.

A 1985 graduate of the University of Maiduguri, J-K Gadzama was called to the bar in 1986 and enrolled at the Supreme Court of Nigeria the same year. With its ultramodern head office in Abuja, a purpose-built moot court with state-of-the-art facilities and 50 lawyers, about 40 of them juniors in its employment, J-K Gadzama LLP has some of the best infrastructure for law practice in Nigeria. The Chambers regularly takes in dozens of youth corps members and, on a year in year out basis, accepts a sizeable number of students from the Nigerian Law School on law office attachment.

With offices in three other Nigerian cities, J-K Gadzama LLP operates two associate offices in London and South Florida to handle foreign briefs and serve as liaison for international clients. As well as featuring on the International Who’s Who Legal compendium as an arbitration expert, the firm’s principal partner was last year recognized as one of the 500 top lawyers in the world by the Intercontinental Finance Magazine, ICFM. Also last year, the Tribunal De Grande Instance De Toulouse in France sought his expert advice on the nature of damages recoverable under Nigerian Law.

J-K Gadzama is a recipient of two national honours: Officer of the Federal Republic, OFR, and Member of the Order of the Federal Republic, MFR. It was also in recognition of his activities that J-K Gadzama served as chairman of the Legal Team of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. As well as being the Class Leader of the Centennial Class of Nigerian lawyers called to the bar in 1986 and chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Maiduguri Alumni Association, J-K Gadzama has endowed prizes for best graduating students at his alma mater and the Nigerian Law School. Similar efforts in improving communities through Vox Populi Foundation for Leadership, a philanthropic organization he established, earned him the traditional title of Sardauna of Uba in Borno state and the Okwulora 1 of Ukpo in Anambra state.

What further endeared J-K Gadzama to his colleagues has been his commitment to the development of the legal profession. Instances of these are the J-K Gadzama Annual Lectures, already in its ninth year; the J-K Gadzama Annual Golf Tournament and the Honourable Justice Chukwudifu Oputa Mentorship Scheme, a quarterly training and mentorship programme being coordinated by Dr. Tahir Mamman, a senior partner at J-K Gadzama LLP and immediate past Director General of the Nigerian Law School. The training is aimed at honing the skills of young lawyers. The maiden Justice Oputa mentorship training session which held last April, like the older J-K Gadzama Lecture series that holds in November, was witnessed by Chief Justice Mohammed Mahmoud and several legal luminaries from Nigeria and abroad.

J-K Gadzama is not new to politics of the NBA as he once took a first shot at the NBA presidency. He has also actively participated in the association’s affairs such as serving, at different times, as chairman of NBA’s Section on Public Interest and Development Law, SPIDEL, chairman of the Unity Bar of Abuja NBA as well serving as chairman of the Abuja chapter of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK). Insiders say J-K Gadzama was, until March, the sole candidate for the NBA presidency following his endorsement by a committee of the Arewa Lawyers Forum, ALF. It is still not clear whether the ALF has communicated the position to regional chapters of the NBA.

These are no doubt intimidating credentials even though they do not confer an air of invincibility against a respectable opponent. Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, better known as A.B Mahmoud is an Officer of the Order of the Niger, OON, and a 1979 graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He was called to the bar in 1980, six years ahead of his opponent, and joined the services of Kano state civil service two years later. He rose to the position of solicitor general and later as attorney-general and commissioner of justice before he quit in 1993 to go into private practice. A.B Mahmoud became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2001, three years after his opponent in the race was so decorated.

A.B Mahmoud is not new to the politics and nuances of the NBA. He is a member of the privileges committee of the association. In 2004, he contested and lost the NBA presidency to Bayo Ojo. He had, in 2002, declared interest for the post only to withdraw. Since 1993, A.B Mahmoud has been managing partner of Dikko and Mahmoud Chambers which he set up in conjunction with A.B Dikko, his longtime friend and former attorney general of Kebbi state. Dikko and Mahmoud Chambers is reputed to have enterprising counsels in its offices in Kano and Abuja.

Neither is he new to unionism. In his university days, A.B Mahmoud served as secretary general of ABU Students’ Union, Kongo Campus. Right from those days, A.B Mahmoud must have nursed the ambition of setting up a law firm capable of handling complex legal transactions. Mahmoud and Dikko Chambers has fulfilled that ambition. Since 1993, Mahmoud and Dikko Chambers has drawn upon years of experience and a network of professional contacts both domestically and internationally to stand the firm in good stead. When the chips are down, A. B Mahmoud can draw on his professed exposure to the diversity of Nigeria from an early age as well as his experience in the public and private sectors to pilot the affairs of the NBA.

By every standard, the presidency of Africa’s largest bar association is a prestigious position. It guarantees the occupant a big voice in influencing national and continental affairs. And, this partly explains why, baring any last-minute twist, such as disqualification or sudden withdrawal of candidacy, next month’s NBA election promises to be the most interesting as well as the most hotly-contested in the history of the association. The exercise will be made even more unique by the use of electronic voting.

With these two gladiators coming to the table with such intimidating credentials, there is every assurance that, irrespective of where the pendulum swings, Africa’s largest bar association will fall on a pair of sturdy shoulders.

In a manner of legalese, I rest my case!

*Magaji <[email protected]> is based in Abuja.

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