Mazi Afam Osigwe is a former General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). In this interview with AKEEM NAFIU, he speaks on former Governors Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye’s jail terms, forthcoming NBA’s election and sundry issues
How would you look at the new law signed by Mr. President on financial autonomy to state judiciaries and Houses of Assembly?
The issue is not about the law but the willingness of the executive to actually allow these organs of government to have financial autonomy. Judicial autonomy is already enshrined in the Constitution prior to the current amendment.
Besides, there are also courts’ judgements affirming the independence of the judiciary. However, despite the constitutional financial autonomy, state governors prefer that heads of judiciary should come begging for what rightly belong to them.
That is why these governors are engage in building of courtrooms and buying of cars for the judiciary. These are usually used as political tools by these governors. The essence of the autonomy is that the judiciary should be able to take charge of its own finances.
So, beyond the signing of the law, Federal Government must ensure full compliance by state governors. Financial autonomy also includes the judiciary being allowed to prepare its own budget which should not be presented by the executive to the legislature. These are what we should focus on. State governors must show the willingness to comply with the spirit and intendment of the law.
Do you agree with the EFCC that the recent conviction of two former governors, Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye has made nonsense of claims that the graft war of Buhari’s administration is one-sided?
I want to say that those who are of the view that the graft war of the current administration is one sided made the allegation based on those who have been charged to court since this government came to power. Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye have been standing trial for over ten years long before this administration came to power.
Therefore, if at all we need to interrogate whether the graft war is lopsided or not, Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye’s cases may not be good example. This is because they were arraigned long before Buhari’s administration came on board. These two former governors have even challenged the charges slammed on them up till the Supreme Court before they were eventually convicted. So, their cases may not be good examples to determine the lopsidedness or otherwise of the graft war of the present administration.
Do you view that NBA constitution needs amendment to accommodate young lawyers to become National Executive Committee’s (NEC) member?
Yes, the NBA Constitution should be amended to get young and female lawyers more involved in the association’s affairs. Most young lawyers want an NBA leadership that would address issues bordering on representation, their welfare and content of legal education. I faulted the fact that until a lawyer is 10 years post-call at the Bar he cannot be a co-opted member of the NBA National Executive Committee (NEC).
In-house counsel and lawyers in public service also ought to be represented in NBA NEC. It is not good enough for lawyers to wait for 10 years to be in NBA’s highest decision making body. The implication of this is that decisions that affect young lawyers who constitute over 65 per cent of association’s population are made without their input.
It goes back to the issue of representation. Why don’t we amend the NBA constitution to ensure that at least one member is elected from every branch to represent lawyers who are 0-10 years post-call in NEC? Why don’t we ensure that not less than 20 female members of the profession must be co-opted into NEC? Why don’t we say that not less than 20 young lawyers must be co-opted into NEC? Why do we have to insist that until you’re eight years at the Bar you cannot hold any substantive position at the branch level?
You were one of NBA’s aspirants for the post of president disqualified by the association’s electoral committee. What is your reaction?
I am of the considered view that my disqualification is insupportable in law and in fact. On the allegation that there was no evidence that I have paid my annual dues and other financial obligations to Nnewi branch as when due for at least 3 years immediately preceding this year’s election, in my forwarding letter, I informed the committee that I am presently a member of NBA Nnewi branch which I joined in January 2018. I could not have paid branch dues as a member of Nnewi branch in 2016 and 2017 as I was not a member of the branch in those years. In 2016 and 2017, I was a member of NBA Abuja branch and paid my branch dues accordingly to Abuja branch account. Section 13(4) of NBA Constitution, 2015 as amended provides that no member shall belong to more than one branch.
Thus, a lawyer cannot lawfully pay branch dues to more than one branch at the same time in the same year. The NBA constitution does not require a candidate for national office to have mandatory membership of a particular branch for three consecutive years before he/she will qualify to contest in the election.
The qualification stipulated by Section 8(3) (a) of the NBA Constitution only requires a person seeking to hold a national office in the NBA to be a full member of the association and has paid, as at the date of his/her nomination, his/her practicing fees and branch dues as when due for three consecutive years inclusive of the year of election.
It is inconceivable how the committee can in one breath claim I did not show proof of payment of 2016 and 2017 branch dues to Nnewi branch and in another breath justify my disqualification on the grounds that my payment of 2016 and 2017 branch annual dues made to Abuja branch could not be verified. This amounts to approbation and reprobation in a bid to fish for excuse to disqualify me.
I have no doubt met all the qualification requirements as stipulated by Section 8(3) (a)(b)(c)(d) of the NBA Constitution, 2015 to enable me contest for the office of President of NBA election. There is only one NBA in Nigeria and members are allowed to join any branch of their choice at any time without any hindrance or abridgment of the member’s rights as a result of such migration.
All that is required is for the new branch to confirm that the said person has actually joined and no further requirement as to payment of any dues whether previous or any other as confirmed by the said paragraph 4(1).
As long as there is a payment to a particular branch in a particular year, it suffices. I therefore respectfully submit that the reasons given for not clearing my nomination is with due respect not covered by the 2015 constitution of the NBA. In fact my disqualification appears to lend credence to the boasts of some highly placed persons in the association and that not being a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), I will never be allowed to contest in this election. I expect this committee to handle this matter in a manner that shows that it can be trusted to conduct this election in a transparent and fair manner. Anything short of even-handedness to all candidates will deal a fatal blow to the image of our great association.
The committee still has an opportunity to write its name in gold by not taking unlawful and unjustifiable actions which lend credence to undemocratic boasts that I will never be a candidate in this election.
Nigeria and indeed the whole world are watching. In the light of the above, I respectfully appeal that the decision of ECNBA contained in its letter under reference be set aside and that my name be restored as a candidate for the office of President for the 2018 elections having met all the requirements to contest for the same.
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