It is not without meaning that the judiciary is often referred to as the last hope of the common man especially here in Nigeria where the rights of citizens are trampled upon almost on a daily basis. This presupposes that the judiciary is the only place the common, uncommon and any other aggrieved person can get justice. Where and when disputes arise, and parties can not settle as between themselves, their families or mediators, no other place comes to mind except the courts. However, the ability of the courts to perform their constitutionally assigned roles as expected is dependent upon several factors. One of these is the leadership, structure and philosophy of the umbrella body of lawyers in Nigeria, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
The NBA as the foremost body of legal practitioners in the country is saddled with the primary responsibility of promoting and protecting human rights and the rule of law in Nigeria. The centrality of the body to the coordination and discharge of justice, equity and fairness at all times without fear or favour in the Nigerian context can not be overemphasized. Beyond catering for its primary constituency, it also has a significant role to play in ensuring a united and lawful Nigeria. Therefore, the question of who occupies the number one seat of the association is a serious matter to both the NBA and non-NBA audience.
Like every other professional association in Nigeria, the choice of leadership for a given tenure is most times a litmus test for the association, its immediate members and by extension, the general public.
As already made public, the 2020 presidential slot of the NBA is zoned to the West. The region like every other region in Nigeria possesses vast, seasoned and first class lawyers who are all eminently qualified to lead the association for the next two years. Already, four of such lawyers (two of whom are senior advocates) have indicated interest in running for the office.
However, while gathering facts for this write-up, out of all four, the one name that rings a bell and resonates with both young and old in the law profession, is Babatunde Ajibade (PhD), SAN.
Eminent legal luminaries such as Prof. A. B. Kasunmu, SAN; Prof. Gabriel A. Olawoyin, SAN; Mr. Ebun Sofunde, SAN; Mr. Kayode Sofola, SAN; Mrs. Funke Adekoya, SAN; Mr. Bambo Adesanya, SAN; Mr. Obafemi Adewale, Mr. Oluwemimo Ogunde, SAN; Mr. Dolapo Akinrele, SAN; Mr. Olumide Aju, SAN; Dr. Adewale Olawoyin, SAN; Prof. Sesan Fabamise; Mr. Adeniyi Adegbonmire, SAN; Mr. Olukayode Enitan, SAN; Mr. Olayode Delano, SAN; Mr. Olatunde Adejuyigbe, SAN; Mr. Babatunde Fagbohunlu, SAN; Mr. Oladipo Olasope, SAN; Mrs. Titi Akinlawon, SAN; Mr. Folu Oguntade, SAN and a host of others pass a vote of confidence on Dr. Ajibade’s aspiration saying he is independent, passionate and has sincere intentions to reposition the legal profession in Nigeria .
Prof. A. B. Kasunmu, SAN: Veteran lawyer and former Attorney General of Lagos State, Prof. A. B. Kasunmu, SAN did not mince words in declaring his total support for Dr. Ajibade. His words: “I knew Dr. Ajibade’s father more from a professional level than on a personal level. Tunde, I can say, I relate with more and on both levels. Also, through the early lecture series his office organized, which I attended, I discovered him to be someone who has a passion for both the law and the profession; a lawyer with integrity and a gentleman, who subtly but effectively upholds the true ethos of the profession. I, therefore, have no difficulty in supporting him in his aspirations to lead the NBA as its National President. He can ably restore the integrity that has been lost in the profession. The past glory of the bar that I know has to be restored and he is a precedent I can certainly look up to.”
Mr. Ebun Sofunde, SAN: Similarly, respected legal icon, Mr. Ebun Sofunde, SAN in his endorsement said: “In these trying times for the bar and bench, I see Dr. Ajibade as a person who will do his utmost to restore pride and dignity to the bar and bench by ensuring that such virtues as (a) integrity (b) diligence and (c) merit, are enthroned at all times. I also see him as a person who will fight for the welfare of the bar and bench and promote a smooth relationship between the bar and bench.”
Mrs. Funke Adekoya, SAN (Former 1st Vice-President and former Presidential candidate of the NBA) “I find Dr Ajibade to be courteous and with the personal attributes that describe a gentleman. He is known in both international and domestic legal circles and is an acknowledged leader in both. Within Nigeria he is an active member of committees of both the NBA Section on Legal Practice as well as Section on Business Law. He is a past President of the Capital Markets Solicitors Association. In the international arena he is a member of the ICC’s Africa Commission, and the IBA’s African Regional Forum Advisory Board. I support his candidacy because in my opinion he is the best bridge between the younger and older members of the profession.”
Mr. Bambo Adesanya, SAN: “I know Dr. Ajibade and I have had a course to interact with him in the past twenty years or so. I have no doubt in my mind that he is a hard working, knowledgeable and intelligent lawyer. I do wholeheartedly support his aspiration to contest for president of the NBA. He had intimated me with his resolve to contest for the office about a year ago, and I gave him my support without any reservation. He is eminently qualified to lead the bar.”
Babatunde Fagbohunlu, SAN: “Dr. Ajibade is a man of integrity who understands what we need to do to fix justice delivery and the legal profession in Nigeria. He can be trusted to start the change that this profession so urgently needs. I can never support a selection process which disenfranchises the generality of members of a society, be it professional, cultural, national or whatsoever. What right does any sub-group have to determine for the wider group what is good for them? It is entirely undemocratic and happily I have not been a part of it.”
Mr. George Oguntade, SAN: Dr Ajibade SAN is an urbane gentleman par excellence and a natural-born leader. He is patient, accommodating, thorough and solution-oriented. I also know him to be very passionate about the state of the Bar, the plight of young lawyers, the quality of legal education and the administration of justice generally. He comes with an impressive set of skills along with his extensive legal contacts both within and outside the country which puts him in a pre-eminent position to take over the baton of leadership of the Bar from Mr Paul Usoro SAN who has performed excellently to date. I have no doubt that Dr Ajibade will take the Bar to the next level and I am delighted to support him.
Wemimo Ogunde, SAN:“I had always declared my support for a candidate contesting any NBA elective position by voting for him. For the first time, I am going to support a presidential candidate by doing more than just voting. The candidate is NOT the candidate adopted by the Egbe Amofin Oodua or the NBA, Ikeja Branch to which I have belonged since 1984. Of all the presidential candidates, the candidate I now stand with was the first to approach me and solicit my support. He shared with me his vision for a more professional and prosperous Bar, particularly a Bar that would promote the general interest of young lawyers beyond just giving them an “NBA Young Lawyers Forum”. I believe that a victory for him would give me an opportunity to revolutionize the way our young lawyers perceive themselves and the Bar. My choice stands on these twin pillars. #ISUPPORTAJIBADE#
Olatunde Adejuyigbe, SAN: “Dr Babatunde Ajibade, SAN is imbued with sterling qualities. A profoundly competent and cerebral lawyer with a reputation for infectious humility. I am exceedingly delighted that Dr. Babatunde Ajibade, SAN a consummate lawyer by all standards is aspiring to lead the NBA. Over the years very many Nigerian lawyers have distanced themselves from the NBA due to the failure of the Association to live up to expectations. The Bar is in dire need of a man of great repute like him who is highly resourceful, dynamic, reform-inclined and has extensive global reach and enormous goodwill to reposition the Association. All things considered Dr. Babatunde Ajibade, SAN towers above the other aspirants. He is a known voice in the International Bar Association where he continues to serve in leadership positions.”
Dr. Adewale Olawoyin, SAN: “Tunde has always been an agent of change and a consummate optimist about a strong, disciplined and virile legal profession being an instrument of change of the wider polity. He is deeply ingrained in the values of honor and integrity. I have no doubt that if elected, the legal profession in Nigeria would be better for it. Without a shadow of doubt, I fully support his aspiration to become NBA president.
Olayode Delano, SAN: I very much support Dr Ajibade’s aspirations to lead the Nigerian Bar Association. In fact I have encouraged him over the past 2 – 3 years to present himself as a candidate. I have known Dr. Ajibade for many years. We both practiced for a period of time in Ibadan. I know him both professionally and personally and I can state categorically without a shadow of doubt that he is eminently qualified to assume that position. It is clear to me that not only is Dr. Ajibade fully qualified, he is the best candidate in the field.”
Olukayode Enitan, SAN:“Dr. Babatunde Ajibade SAN, is a consummate legal practitioner, a man of very solid integrity, a leader of the Nigerian Bar who has done so very much in the affairs of the NBA and one of the international faces of the Nigerian Bar. He is also a dear friend of over 30 years. I wholeheartedly, as a financial member of the NBA, support his aspiration to lead the Nigerian Bar Association as President.”
Mr. Obafemi Adewale, (Former General Secretary and current Trustee of the NBA): “Dr. Tunde Ajibade is an industrious young man who has distinguished himself as a Legal Practitioner and as an administrator. I am particularly impressed with the way he transformed his respected father’s already pre-eminent Practice to the enviable heights they occupy today. Special note must be made of his early realisation and decision that the Law Firm must be run as a business and the remarkable success he has made of that decision. He took Silk early and has established himself both as a reputable trial advocate and a versatile Solicitor in Commercial practice. He has served the Bar in various capacities, with distinction. I believe he is eminently qualified to serve in any leadership position at the highest levels. I have no doubt he will perform excellently if given the opportunity to lead the Bar.”
Prof. Sesan Fabamise, (Dean Faculty of Law, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti) “Dr Ajibade is a young, intelligent, vibrant, most resourceful attorney. He is integrity personified. He is of exemplary character and humble to a fault. He is a go-getter, amiable and an embodiment of intellectualism. I support his aspiration to lead the NBA. One thing that will interest you is that I have never supported a loser before in the NBA election. The implication of that is that Dr. Ajibade, SAN will definitely win in the election.” Dr. Ajibade’s candidacy, a beacon of hope” – indifferent NBA members Dr. Ajibade seems to have a handshake across all divides of the NBA.
As old and senior lawyers endorse his candidacy for the coming election, young lawyers too have been quite vocal about their support. Over the years, many of them have routinely shunned NBA elections. For young professionals, the NBA seemed disconnected from their challenges and had become self-serving. Apart from paying the compulsory practice fees and branch dues, many are rather insouciant about the activities of the foremost association. But this year’s election might be different. Dr. Ajibade’s candidacy appears to have rekindled their zest to join the ongoing campaign to reposition the bar association and make it work for all.
A random sampling of some young lawyers both in Abuja and Lagos shows that some of them might be participating in the upcoming election because of their confidence in Dr. Ajibade’s value proposition, vision and strategic plan to set the NBA on a progressive path. Some of these young lawyers would rather speak on the condition of anonymity.
Lawyers reject caucus adoption, say Egbe Amofin’s consensus arrangement unacceptable: Meanwhile, the umbrella body of lawyers of South West (Yoruba) extraction, Egbe Amofin had earlier announced its decision to adopt Deacon Dele Adesina, SAN as its consensus candidate for the election. This decision has been rejected by many eminent lawyers from the South West.
A respected and distinguished elder of the bar and former Chairman of the Governing Council of the Osun State University, Prof. Gabriel Olawoyin, SAN who denied being a part of the Egbe adoption process said: “I was not, and could not have been, part of the decision of the Egbe Amofin to adopt any aspirant primarily because many Yoruba lawyers now see the Egbe Amofin as essentially irrelevant, in so far as their interests may be concerned. I like to believe that quite a good number of Yoruba lawyers have certainly lost interest in the affairs of Egbe Amofin simply because of the growing perception that it has lost its proper direction and focus. That many Yoruba lawyers have chosen not to be vociferous in their condemnation of the lapses of the Egbe Amofin should not be taken as acquiescence by them.”
Another distinguished jurist and former chairman of United Bank of Africa (UBA), Mr. Kayode Sofola, SAN was also part of the crème de la crème of South West lawyers that pitched their tent with Dr. Ajibade whilst also denying knowledge of Egbe’s purported adoption of a consensus candidate. He said: “I was not part of the decision of the Egbe Amofin to adopt a candidate. I am a passionate member of the NBA, which is the mother organisation of legal practitioners in the country.
The two candidates, Dele Adesina SAN and Dr Babatunde Ajibade SAN, are well qualified to lead the Association. They both have the required passion for the NBA. The nation is at a crossroads, and the gap between where we are and where we need to be has grown in the past decade or two. We have to leapfrog to be up to date with the current bar practices, and for me, the new leadership needs, apart from brilliance, experience and passion, which both candidates possess, to also be abreast of and embrace, the opportunities presented by technology and innovation.
In this arena there is an advantage to youthful verve and capacity to embrace change and this really underscores my support for Dr Babatunde Ajibade SAN.” So much support for a lawyer whose achievements tower above mediocrity and whose name is well adorned with excellence, hard work, integrity and character. Whether these values and his past achievements as a member of the bar and bench would matter in the leadership of the NBA would depend on the outcome of the election.