1. WHY ZONING?
Nigeria is a country with diverse ethno-cultural and religious groups. Between these groups, there is a deep seethed distrust. Generally, the acts of one group are considered with caution by the other. This leads to disunity. In order to settle this, the drafters of the NBA constitution decided that the position of Presidency and First Vice Presidency be rotated among the three zones recognized by the NBA, I.e. the Northern, Western and Eastern zones. Their grouping is based on the old regional structure of Nigeria. This system ensures that no single group persons from any one part of the country monopolizes power. In a country like Nigeria, this ensures some level of unity and trust as each group is assured of not being short-changed.
2. WHAT IS EBF?
EBF is an acronym for Eastern Bar Forum comprising of persons whose states of origin were in the Old Eastern Region. That is to say states in the Eastern Zone. The EBF is a registered organization with its own Constitution. All four presidential aspirants for the 2018 Bar elections are registered members of this Forum, the office having now been zoned to the east. That is to say they not only belong, by virtue of their place of origin, to the EBF, they have also submitted themselves to its power.
3. IS THERE ZONING IN THE EBF?
Just like Nigeria, the states constituting the Eastern Zone (Member States of the EBF) are a diverse group. In the history of Nigeria, there have been serious and several accusations of some groups in the zone monopolizing power. In order to ensure unity and fair distribution of power in the Bar, the EBF is divided into 2 groups, the first includes states in the South-South geo-political zone and the second, states from the South-East geo-political zone, and offices, such as that of the presidency, are zoned between them. Chief Okey Wali, SAN, the last President of the NBA from the Eastern Zone is from Rivers State in the South-South. Hence, according to the EBF Constitution, which all the aspirants subjected themselves to, the Presidency is now to go to the South-East zone. Three of the four presidential candidates are from South Eastern Nigeria (@[100016882428710:Arthur Obi-Okafor] SAN; Ernest Ojukwu, SAN and Mazi Afam Osigwe). Paul Usoro, SAN of the South-South extraction, is, by the constitution, which he subscribed to, not qualified to run. Even though there seems to be a fowl cry now by the amiable silk (and/or his supporters), he was approached by executives of the EBF during the last Eastern Zoned presidential election, to run, but he declined saying that he had a lot of business to attend to. He waived his right, and, as all lawyers should know, he cannot complain now.
4. SO WHY ENDORSE/ADOPT A CANDIDATE?
Elections are a serious affair. They cost a lot of money and resources, in addition to often leading to division among people that would otherwise have been brotherly. For this reason, the EBF, under the leadership of Ernest Ojukwu, SAN (who was governor of the EBF for 6 years) devised a means to both reduce costs and avoid fighting among brothers. The idea was to ensure that rather than a full blown election, the parties will subject themselves to the EBF, which would them pick among them, the best candidate from the knowledge of the parties, the documents and other data provided. Once one person is adopted, the resources of the entire EBF are placed at his disposal. This not only ensured reduced costs, it also ensured brotherliness. This was how Mazi Afam Osigwe became General Secretary of the NBA. The effect of failure to adopt is what is causing the current fracas in the NBA with the Gadzama, SAN group still fighting ferociously against the Mamoud group. An adoption of a single candidate, not only would have avoided the current battle, it would have also reduced, drastically, the resources expended in the last election.
5. SO IF A CANDIDATE IS ADOPTED, MUST I VOTE HIM/HER?
The answer to this is a resounding “No.” You are an individual and you are entitled to your opinions and choice. But when people who have benefited from a system turn around to ask you to fight it simply because it doesn’t favor their personal interest, then the character and integrity of the individuals are called to question. If when it favors them, they support it and when it doesn’t, they fight it, one has to be weary of what they will turn into if they get into power. Obviously, to them, it’s merely a matter of personal interest. However, being that the adoption has been concluded and the other zones/fora (save a small minority) have expressed support, a vast majority of the resources available will be used for the achievement of the group goal as opposed to individual interests.
6. WHAT THEN, IS THE WAY FORWARD?
The proper course to chart at this point would be for all the other parties to lay down their arms and support the group cause. As Gov. Nyesom Wike (Bencher) noted at the EBF Summit, in order for unity to reign, their must be sacrifice. All the resources that would ordinarily be expended in a full blown election should be saved and utilized for the common good of the Nigerian Bar. After all, even with all the information being pushed around the media, not a single blemish has been shown on the reputation and character of the endorsed candidate, Arthur Obi-Okafor, SAN. Not only that, the man, often referred to as the “gentle giant” has shown over time that he’s willing to listen and work with all persons with reasonable and practicable ideas. The ideas of each of the aspirants should be discussed and compromise made to ensure a united and forward moving NIgerian Bar Association.