NEC has no power to ban any contestant
- I was returned unopposed as Chairman of the Unity Branch
- I was elected not appointed
- Abasiakan Ekim was never qualified to stand for election in the first place
- Kanu Agabi (SAN) asked me to resign twice
The last General elections of the Abuja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) otherwise known as the Unity Bar, was the most stormy the branch and arguably any branch of the Association has ever witnessed. The process saw the emergence of two people laying claim to the seat of power. On the one hand was Victor Abasi Akan-Ekim (now resigned voluntarily) who many recognized as the winner of the elections and therefore chairman of the branch, and on the other Ezenwa Anumnu whom the National Executive Council of the last national executive recognized as chairman.
With the emergence of a new NBA President and failed attempts at amicable settlement of the rift, the NBA ordered a rerun chairmanship election this time without either Ezenwa or Abasi-Akan Ekim contesting. Ezenwa has however continued to carry on as chairman of the branch.
The Metro Lawyer in this all important interview sought to hear Ezenwa’s side of the story, his opinion of issues raised and his plans.
TML: How do you expect to be addressed, in terms of the Nigerian Bar Association, Abuja Branch? How do we address Ezenwa?
Ezenwa: I don’t think there is any doubt about it. I am Ezenwa Anumnu, Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Abuja Branch (Unity Bar). Most members in Abuja also know and address me as Chairman of the branch as of today.
TML: What is your opinion of the judgment of the court setting aside the amended NBA constitution?
Ezenwa: Like you said before the interview started, this issue is sub judice. However, having taken a look at the judgment and the provisions of CAMA, I think the elders of the Bar, that is the entire NBA should also look at sitting down together to see how we can address and resolve these issues, there are too many hiccups now in the NBA and no one should be seen to be playing ostrich. Clearly, one thing is that the judgment has left a dilemma in our hands, very very serious dilemma that should be addressed very carefully. Left to me, we should find a political solution and get the aggrieved parties to see how the issues can be resolved because the judgment has raised serious issues.
TML: Do you think that the judgment is for the greater good?
Ezenwa: By my position as chairman, I am compelled and constrained to align myself with whatever position is taken by the NBA even if it may not align with my personal views. So, whatever position the NBA takes, I will abide by it. Secondly, the judgment has raised very serious issues about the Association and responsibility placed on our leaders.
TML: But the NBA had barred you and Abasi-akan Ekim from parading yourselves as chairmen of whatever faction of the Unity Bar and appointed a caretaker committee to take over running of the Branch pending the conduct of fresh elections to fill up the posts of Chairman and Secretary. Why did you not abide by that? There is also a court order saying that status quo should be maintained.
Ezenwa: I don’t believe NEC has powers to ban anybody. We went to court complaining that this is the position and that people are trying to infringe and that notwithstanding that there was a process in court and an application in court to restrain that position from being altered, steps were taken against it in Aba. I felt primarily as lawyers who have our motto as promoting the rule of law, we should be seen as doing exactly that. So the court in their wisdom, advised the parties to stay action on that and that means the status quo remains and there is no vacuum. I am the chairman and that is the status quo and that is why we are continuing to pilot the affairs of the Branch; trying to make sure we get a lot of benefits for our members. I believe that under our Constitution, the AGM is the highest decision making body of the Association and that NEC cannot override the AGM, as the AGM has taken a decision in the Abuja matter. It cannot be revisited under any guise as NEC, at any rate that is the question before the Court.
TML: Can you throw some light on the missing Unity Bar =N=30million debacle?
Ezenwa: When our executive assumed office we took the major part of the funds we met from previous administration and put in a fixed deposit account as part of the funds to be used for the building of the Branch Secretariat. The story of missing money was just the work of mischievous people because I can account for all the money in question and the money so far received by the association. You know as lawyers we are expected to have a higher threshold of understanding and decorum than the ordinary man in the society. It was a farce designed to taint the image I have worked so hard to build over the years. The EXCO of the Branch resolved to set aside some money for the running of the Branch and branch activities and put the rest in a fixed deposit account at FCMB bank long before the whole ruse, since the 4th of November 2016 the money has been in an interest yielding fixed deposit account and still is till date in the name of and for the Branch.
TML: So is the money still intact in fixed deposit?
Ezenwa: Yes. You know, some of the Branch activities and salaries were sponsored from borrowed funds; personal funds or we got support from collaborating partners and some members of the branch. All these records are accounted for by the Branch treasurer. The EXCO resolved to put the money in a fixed deposit for projects so that the money can be earning some interest for the Association bearing in mind that we have lofty ideas of building a secretariat for the Association and we still can. But as you know running the Branch has other cost like conferences, welfare of members, hosting meetings, administrative cost, salaries etc. that can be serviced from interest from the account and other funds of the branch.
The money is still there and yielding interest. The propaganda was so much that some banks keyed in. Now we don’t have access to any money from the bank because people were writing letters up and down trying to muddy the waters.
TML: Is that what prompted your suit against some banks?
Ezenwa: We filed suits against some banks. What we have is that the banks refused to honour our instructions. Some of them said there was a court order. It was all part of the mischief. I say this because at the time there was a suit between Mr Victor Ekim and Ezenwa Anumnu both in their personal capacities. It could be that we were fighting over a car or landed property. The banks were not parties to the suit; there was no court order against the banks. Once the banks see a court paper even without reading the documents, they become cautious so the banks for some reason including pressure from some quarters in the National office, declined to honor us. So the question before the court is simple whether there is sufficient reason for the bank not to honour the instructions of the valid signatories to the account. If the court shows there is, then we abide by it otherwise, the association will be entitled to some damages from the bank for breach of contract because that is basically what it is.
TML: Can you throw more light on how you came to be Chairman of the Unity Bar?
Ezenwa: I was returned unopposed as Chairman of the Branch through the electoral process of the Branch on 13th June 2016. The challenge a few people are having now is that they have been railroaded to think that election is an event. I picked up the application form to be Chairman, submitted same to the Election Committee of the Branch; the committee screened me and said I was qualified. But according to them, someone wrote a petition. I was then notified that because of the position taken by the Branch Election Monitoring Committee in a case in Lagos, I was not qualified to stand for election. They never claimed to consider the petition on its merit.
I appealed against that position, distinguishing my position from the Lagos position, and the Election Committee (which I believe was playing out a script based on an earlier boast by one of the members to disqualify me once I picked up the form) did not respond to my appeal to them. When they did not respond, I was compelled to appeal to that body they referred to in my disqualification as having prompted my purported disqualification (that is the Branch Election Monitoring Committee, which is a creation of an earlier NEC held in Jos and created in line with our constitution to review the overbearing acts of local election committees).
When they considered my appeal, they decided I was qualified and asked that I be included in the election ballot papers. But certain members of the committee and in particular then Chairman of Elders Committee of the Branch who felt I would win if included, refused to put my name in the ballot papers instead included persons who were not qualified by our byelaws to run for the office. Unfortunately, there were also petitions against others like Mr. Dan Nwobodo and Victor Ekim (who, I’m very aware from the minutes of meeting that were sent to us by the past Secretary, did not make the mandatory five attendance to meetings preceding the election). So, the committee considered all that and returned me the unopposed candidate for the Post of Chairman. This issue was taken to the NEC in Benin on the 16th of June 2016 and NEC considered the report of the Branch Election Monitoring Committee and confirmed me as the Chairman of the Branch! This issue was also raised and thrashed at the Annual General Meeting of the NBA in Port Harcourt and it was affirmed that I am the chairman of the branch.
TML: But an election entails the selection of a person or persons into office by vote. Some people believe you were appointed; that you were not voted into office by members of the Unity Bar?
Ezenwa: It was an election not appointment! Members of the Unity Bar would not need to vote if the candidate is unopposed. I was returned unopposed based on an election process by the committee because the other contestants had defects with their nominations. What they are trying to sell to the public is the wrong notion that I came from nowhere and I was made chairman. No! I submitted myself to the process and the electoral process produced me as Chairman. They have always tried to disqualify me for some unfathomable reason, but my name was already there and I was returned unopposed. That is something people need to know and understand. A second candidate would have brought up the need for an election and people would then have to vote, but there was no other qualified candidate. Now the NEC in Aba purported to pass a resolution to bar me from standing for election without giving me an opportunity to be heard. Why? The real question is, who is afraid of Ezenwa Anumnu as Chairman NBA Abuja?
TML: The NBA set up a committee made up of senior and prominent members of the bar such as Kanu Agabi SAN to look into the chairmanship tussle in the unity bar. The committee gave its report and at the end of the day the recommendations of that committee were not adopted. Also a rerun was ordered and you and Abasiakan Ekim disqualified from running. Any comments?
Ezenwa: I have tremendous respect for Kanu Agabi SAN and the committee. However, I declined to appear before the panel because I had issues with the set up and certain actions of the Committee. First we are a body of lawyers, if the constitution says that the AGM is the highest decision making body of the association and that the NEC is the 2nd highest decision making body of that association, and these two bodies have resolved a matter, I do not see the propriety of setting up a 3 man committee to review the decision of AGM. With all due respect, I do not see the constitutionality or basis of that committee and I refused to be a part of it.
At first I thought the idea of the committee was reconciliation, but when they wrote me, there was a difference. The Committee added extra mandate than that which was communicated to me by the President during setting up of the committee and my little knowledge of the law is that a committee cannot give itself an extra mandate. I’m not aware that their mandate had been extended to take over management of the Branch. I had issues with that as there was already a Chairman in place recognized by both the AGM and NEC. I also had issues with the action of the Chairman of the Committee (Kanu Agabi SAN) calling me into his office twice and without hearing from me, demanding for my resignation which I declined on the basis that it goes beyond his reconciliation mandate. I protested these issues to both the President and the committee and till date no response.
An adjudicator with the mandate to reconcile has no business calling me to resign immediately he was appointed I thought that was beyond the mandate of the committee. I had an issue with referring to the secretary of the branch as a NEC appointed secretary. I also had issues with the Chairman’s head of Chambers allegation that I misled the Chairman of the Committee as to my Chairmanship of the branch (thus his sponsorship of my first meeting) and his apology to the meeting. I raised these issues but they were not addressed so the EXCO of the Branch resolved not to attend to the committee because from the look of things, the committee had already made up its mind on the direction it wanted to go and that direction was what I learned eventually played out in their report. I raised about 5 issues and none of them was addressed by either the national body or any other committee.
As lawyers, let us abide by our constitution. Some people raised issues by writing the panel but their submissions were not considered. I know two or three of such people and their claims are evidenced with acknowledgement from the committee’s secretariat.
TML: At the end of the day, the NBA ordered a new election be conducted and that you both sit that one out. In your understanding of service and respect for constituted authority, and as a Rotarian is it proper to insist on being chairman even when a good number of Unity Bar members and even elders do not agree with you?
Ezenwa: I apply the 4 Way Test to all my actions: Is it the Truth? It is fair to all concerned? Will it build better goodwill and better friendship? Is it beneficial to all concerned? In every election there are people that oppose but after every election parties reconcile and resolve their differences. In this election I was the man to beat and the most popular and that was why they didn’t want me on the ballot at all. Having said that, I can tell you that the majority of members are with us. I have been in this branch for many years and training with attendance of 200 persons can never be considered minority or meeting with 300, 400 people attending. Where is this your majority? It is utter falsehood and cheap propaganda that the elders do not agree with me. What we have is a number of people brandishing the name of the elders of the Branch everywhere for personal gain and nobody is buying. The elders are with me.
TML: But it would appear that the good relationship you previously enjoyed with the NBA President is no more there?
Ezenwa: No. Absolutely wrong. I am in very good terms with the President. I have great respect for him and his office. We might not agree on certain issues, but those are more of issues of principle and nothing more. We have a good relationship and I believe that if I call on him for anything he would answer me and vice versa.
TML: How did you address Victor Abasiakan Ekim before he stepped down and with respect to his status in that election?
Ezenwa: (scoffs) Stepped down? He was never qualified to stand for election in the first place. He is a colleague and I have respect for him. But he was never qualified to run for office. You cannot place something on nothing and expect it to stand. The thing about the inconvenient truth is that it has no synonym. I have the printout of all the meetings preceding the election, which was supposed to have been considered by the electoral committee, and Victor did not make more than 2-3 meetings while the minimum requirement is 5. Victor was never chairman. The issue of resigning can never arise.
TML: Now that Ekim is no longer a contender, have you adopted other elected members of the Unity Bar EXCO?
Ezenwa: The Branch at a general meeting resolved to conduct elections and fill up vacant slot in the Exco after giving the adequate opportunity for those member to assume the responsibility of the office. All entreaties to get them to serve were treated with contempt. Eventually the elections were conducted and those vacant slots were replaced. It was the decision of the general meeting and not even I as Chairman can do otherwise. That is the system we operate at the Branch, the general meeting is superior to any individual. I am not greater than the Branch.
Part 2 coming soon….
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