I had cause in a yet to be published book to characterize the association of Nigerian lawyers, the Nigerian Bar Association, as an elite body. The NBA is without doubt a reflection of the Nigerian society in many ways and there is a sense in which it is unrealistic to expect it to rise above the failings and basic contradictions of the society. This is not hard sociology. The problem with the organization, it seems to me, is that it does more than just reflecting or mirroring the Nigerian society. The NBA, as organized and constituted today, is a major part of the elements creating and recreating the fundamental contradictions of the Nigerian society. This is the central thesis I intend to address in this piece.
One of the basic or fundamental problems of liberal democracy, in my view, is the reconciliation of the fact of a few persons actually governing with the theory that the people, that is the demo, ought to govern in a democracy. A careful study of ‘actual democracies’ and theories of democracy or democracies indicates clearly this insoluble tension. Attempts at the reconciliation, we must note, has also been quite productive. Concepts such as representational democracy, social contract, separation of powers et cetera really emerged as products of attempts, honest or otherwise, at solving this original contradiction. I do not have the luxury of space or time to pursue this aspect any further here.
The NBA might have been conceived as a democratic organization, but the fact on the ground today is that it is constitutionally, ‘un-disguisedly’ and unabashedly a dictatorship of the minority through and through. It is indeed a feudal dictatorship where status and ranks determine relevance. The Association is made up of not more than 100,000 members. Yet, there is no general suffrage. In other words, all these members cannot vote to elect leaders of the organization or vote at decision-making meetings of the organization as members. The Constitution of the Association creates a system of delegates. The delegates are selected or elected as the case may be at the Branches. But that is not even the most objectionable part.
The Senior Advocates of Nigeria and some other persons who are appointed by some equally dictatorial means as members of the expanded National Executive Council of the Association are automatic delegates at decision making conferences. This undemocratic system of running the association has been justified on account that it is cumbersome to allow every Nigerian lawyer vote at the Conferences. If this is the case, then there is no justification for the NBA to criticize INEC and the political elite for the routine disenfranchisement of the people of this country. The truth, however, is that the NBA has never really been serious since its reconstitution after the 1992 crisis about its critique of the Nigerian electoral system in particular or about the Nigerian state in general. The reason is simple: many of its leading lights are consultants to and agents, in one way or the other, of the politicians who they hypocritically criticize! These people certainly do not consider it a matter of shame that election petitions represent a major growth point of legal practice in Nigeria whereas in some civilized countries there have been no such petitions for over 50 years. I do not berate elections petition practice, but I deprecate its celebration.
Let us assume that the Senior Advocates are really the most brilliant and the most competent lawyers in Nigeria, does their brilliance also confer on them natural wisdom to make policies for the organization? There is no sound warrant for the dictatorial exclusion of an overwhelming majority of Nigerian lawyers in decision-making conferences of the Association. Genuine democrats and conscious lawyers who subscribe to the tenets of democracy have a duty to do everything possible and necessary to fight this injustice. It is odious and unacceptable. I commit myself to taking an active part in the crusade to ensure that all Nigerian lawyers vote at all meetings of the Nigerian Bar Association. By the Grace of God, it will be by any means necessary.
Feel free to comment, give me your opinions and discuss the mentioned issue as extensively as you wish
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