TML INTERVIEW: We Did Not Want To Escalate The Problem – CALEB DAJAN

First Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and Chairman Caretaker Committee of NBA Abuja branch, Mr Caleb Dajan.
First Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and Chairman Caretaker Committee of NBA Abuja branch, Mr Caleb Dajan.

As a follow up to our last interview (read here and here), the Metro Lawyer recently had a chat with the first Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Caleb Dajan.

Dajan was appointed by the President of the NBA, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN) to chair a Caretaker Committee constituted by the National Executive Council (NEC) of the association in Aba, to manage the affairs of its crises-ridden Abuja branch (Unity Bar).

Recall that the Unity bar has been embroiled in a leadership tussle and controversy, splitting the branch into 2 major factions.

In this interview conducted by The Metro Lawyer, Dajan explains and gives updates on the caretaker committee’s mandate and its progress so far, the exact state of affairs of the branch, and what every member of the Unity Bar should know.

Do share your thoughts in the comment section.


TML: Can you tell us the mandate of your committee, Sir?

DAJAN: Following the resolution of the Aba NEC sacking the factional Chairmen and Secretaries and then appointing a Caretaker Committee to manage the affairs of the Abuja branch, we got a letter of appointment from the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN) on the 8th of March, 2017 appointing 3 of us as members of the Caretaker Committee. I was appointed Chairman of the Committee, while Mustapha Abubakar and  A.Y Musa, both former Chairmen of Kaduna and Zaria branches of the N.B.A. respectively, as members of the committee.

Basically the crux of the assignment was for us to take over the management of the Abuja branch and secondly to organize credible elections.

The letter stated that we must conclude on these assignments before the 31st of May, 2017.

TML: So your time is actually running out?

DAJAN: Yes, time is running out.  Since we came on board, I have had several meetings with my committee members. First, there was a need for us to understand the mandate and what clearly came to mind is that we were asked to conduct a bye election. It is not the usual election.

We also had to identify the elected officers who were not affected by the resolution. We have been meeting and working with them and they have been very supportive. We informed members of the branch it will be a bye election and anybody appointed chairman or secretary will just complete the tenure of the affected officers.

They were asking how that can be since the affected officers have not even worked properly, since after the election. The general thinking was that any elected officers to fill the vacancy will run for 2 years from the date they are elected. But we do not have such powers; it is only the NEC that can extend their tenure. So, if the Chairman and the Secretary come on board they will, together with the elected officers who were not affected by the resolution, complete the tenure.

TML: A good number of lawyers would like to know what your committee has done so far, there has been some kind of silence from you.

DAJAN: We have been working. You don’t just go straight and conduct elections. There is always the need to understand the content and context of an assignment. We identified that it was to be a bye election. We also identified the officers that were elected but not affected by the resolution.

We agreed that we will use the attendance list that was used during the last elections. We called the chairman of the electoral committee and he has briefed us. We also agreed that we will take genuine complaints.

We will use the attendance list of five meetings before the last elections since we understand there have been no unified meetings of the Unity bar since then.

We also agreed on the need to see the gatekeepers, elders and Bar leaders in Abuja. What we have been doing most of this time is consulting with them, seeking their cooperation, soliciting their help and galvanizing support from them. It hasn’t been easy. The truth is that we have a divided Bar now so we are trying to have a buy in from the elders. We have been meeting them and we have discussed extensively with them.

TML: The immediate past Chairman of the branch is a stakeholder in the Unity Bar crisis. Have there also been meetings with him towards resolution of the issue?

DAJAN:  We are yet to meet with him. We will meet with him, all past chairmen, past  EXCO members, and all stakeholders.

One of the things we did also is, we wrote a letter to the factional leaders to surrender all the properties of the branch in their possession. We want to take possession.

We have also prepared our budget and guidelines for the election and submitted to the President.

We also made a visit to the Chief Judge of the FCT, Justice Ishaq Bello to discuss our mandate with him. We briefed him and luckily for us he knows of all the challenges the branch has faced and he had been worried too. He pledged to work and cooperate with us. He was unhappy that there is a problem here and because of the factions he was unable to deal with any.

But now that the NEC of the Bar has constituted a caretaker committee, he has promised to work with us and deal with us on all matters that affect the Unity Bar. He also said he will avail us all the facilities we may need for the election.

Also, in our meetings we picked a tentative date for the elections, 26th of May. We also planned to have a General Meeting before then with the lawyers in Abuja. That is our projection to brief lawyers on the processes and what we have discussed so far. There are however financial constraints.

TML: Will the elections still take place on May 26th?

DAJAN: The date may no longer be realistic. We have written the NBA President for extension of time. We need a little more time to galvanize support and prepare. Some of the elders have taken it upon themselves to bring all factions together. We continue to encourage elders to speak to juniors.

TML: How do you plan to enforce maximum attendance at that General Meeting? It seems some Unity Bar members see the Committee as a “toothless bulldog” especially since the last Ezenwa-faction meeting could not be stopped despite the statement sent out?

DAJAN: I got the notice of that meeting late actually and then I issued my statement for lawyers not to attend. We didn’t want to escalate the problem. I just tried to appeal to their conscience because they know that they no longer have any reason to hold any meeting since there is a constituted caretaker committee in place. So I expected them to be reasonable.

I’m sure those who attended are mostly juniors who do not know the implications of what they did. I can assure you that no senior would do that.

We are creating more awareness and we have the support of all the elders and most of those in that camp are beginning to identify with us so when we finally get a date for the general meeting, all members will attend because  they are tired of what is happening.

You see, Abuja is not represented at the NEC and nothing seems to be moving. The national body is not identifying with any faction so what are they doing? Lawyers are not happy and things cannot continue like that.

TML: Do you have a word for Ezenwa’s camp?

DAJAN: I crave the understanding of everyone, particularly Ezenwa. If he continues to be stubborn and disrespects the wishes of constituted authority, it will not take the Unity Bar anywhere. He knows that he cannot manage the Bar, when it is divided.

I appeal to him to succumb, hands off and back off. There is always another time. Whoever is coming in as Chairman will just complete the term of the sacked officers, so Ezenwa will have other opportunities to contest. It doesn’t help anybody continually being stubborn. It doesn’t pay at the end of the day so I will urge that he listens to the elders. I appeal also to the elders. What happened has really shamed everybody.

TML: But in a recent interview, he said the elders are with him

DAJAN: (Laughs) Elders are certainly not with him. Abuja elders should just not have allowed this to happen.

TML: What should the elders have done differently?

DAJAN: They should have contained the problem early enough. Most of the elders are too busy with their practice that they have left the juniors to their whims. Our profession has a rich culture and tradition of ethics. Juniors need to be mentored by the elders in order to imbibe the tradition of the Bar. But where the elders hardly even attend branch meetings, what are our juniors learning?!

Our profession respects elders. In fact respect for elders is an article of faith and there is no where in the history of this profession that a senior says don’t do that or they resolve that this is how it should be and the junior does not listen. However, what you find now is juniors insulting elders openly. It doesn’t portray us as true lawyers in the best tradition that we know ourselves.

So, Ezenwa should listen to elders. Whether he likes it or not, elders are very important in the legal profession and without elders he cannot go far. Elders are there to guide and support you. So why is he being stubborn?

Our work is still in progress though until the election is conducted.

TML: What are your final words for all members of the Unity bar?

DAJAN: A divided Bar cannot progress. Abuja is the center of unity. A divided Abuja Bar portrays the legal profession in bad light. So I appeal to everyone particularly the juniors, to try and respect elders. We met a tradition of unity and respect for elders. This is part of what endears lawyers to people. When you have juniors disrespecting seniors, it doesn’t give us a good image.