By Muritala Abdul-Rasheed
In recognition of the indelible accomplishments and monumental contributions of the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), has made for the advancement of the NBA and uplifting of the administration of justice in general, the leadership of the association bestowed an unusual honour on him on July 17, 2012.
Akeredolu, fondly called “Aketi” by admirers, was given the honour of having the multi-million NBA new national secretariat in Abuja named after him.The reason for naming the secretariat after Akeredolu was informed by the need for “generational identification and recognition of those who had contributed immensely to the development of the association.Everything in the NBA is usually highly politicised. The sheer courage for him ( Akeredolu) to go through the rigour is a testimony to his selfless service.” With this words, the outgoing President of the NBA, Mr Joseph Bodunrin Daudu (SAN), gave the reason for naming the secretariat after Aketi while opening the edifice.
To say that this honour is well-deserved will be an understatement, as anybody who took note of Akeredolu’s performance during his tenure as the 24th President of the NBA (2008-2010) would readily give kudos to the NBA for giving honour to whom it is due.
As somebody who worked at close quarters with Akeredolu, both as the Publicity Secretary of the NBA during Aketi’s tenure coupled with the intimate rapport furnished by the unofficial interaction with him, I am one of the few Nigerians who can talk confidently and authoritatively on the former NBA boss’s persona and character contents.
I conceived this piece as kind of memoir to highlight Akerdolu’s contributions to the development of law, legal profession, social justice, and rule of law during his tenure to underscore the fact that the decision of the NBA to immortalise his name was sound, apt and well-justified.
To start with, it is remarkable to state that there was one consuming passion that characterised the Akeredolu’s administration. This was his unquenchable hunger for good governance as evindenced in his promotion of lofty ideals of the rule of law, preservation of civil liberties, proper accountability and sustained demand for social responsibility on the part of government.
His inexorable stance against corruption could be felt in his numerous pronouncements and agitations that were effused at virtually every forum he had the opportunity to speak. Aketi is one of the few leaders I know who managed to combine many of the attributes of great leaders in no small measures. He is honest, disciplined, humble, courageous, humorous, firm and remarkably intelligent and his activities at the NBA were permeated with exemplary demonstrations of all these virtues.
Some of the Aketi’s indelible accomplishments during his tenure may be briefly highlighted under different heading as follows:
Huge success of 2009 NBA Annual Conference under Aketi’s administration
After 20 years it last hosted the NBA Annual conference, Lagos once again had the opportunity to host the Bar in 2009. It was the first annual conference of the NBA under Akeredolu’s leadership and while many people who knew Akeredolu’s passion for excellence were anticipating a memorable conference, the success of the conference transcended all expectations! In terms of the administration, organisation, quality of papers presented, deliberations and intellectual resourcefulness, wide and popular participation and series of novelties as well as income generated for the association. Lagos 2009 remained a watershed that set the template for Kaduna 2010 and the seamless Port Harcourt 2011 conference .
A princely sum of N77 million was generated for the NBA – the highest in the history of the association until Port Harcourt 2011.
Another unique feature of the Lagos 2009 was the debut of Bar News bulletin, which purveyed a daily account of events and activities of conference throughout the five-day conference. This development was fashioned after the IBA tradition of IBA News which gives daily accounts of events and happenings at the IBA conferences. The writers of Bar News were seasoned journalists cum lawyers drawn from the nation’s top national dailies. The Bar News has been sustained till today.
Acquisition of the N200 million NBA Secretariat in Abuja
One of the hallmarks of great leadership is execution of visionary plan and accomplishment with relevance beyond the immediate utility of any particular administration. Blessed with the eyes that see into the future, Akeredolu realised that a body, such as the NBA should have a secretariat in Abuja and his administration went ahead to purchase a N200 million secretariat for the association in Garki Area of Abuja. This is a very remarkable achievement since the only developed real property of the NBA prior to Akeredolu’s tenure was the Lagos NBA secretariat built during the Alao Aka-Bashorun tenure, though the association had another land in Abuja, which was purchased by Akeredolu’s predecessor, Mr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN).
Vociferous agitation for the enthronement of the rule of law
Although it has been the tradition of the NBA to speak out against the societal ills and abberations of rule of law, this function was catapulted into unprecedented altitude altogether under Akeredolu’s regime which has the watchword To pursue our convictions with courage as its guiding philosophy. This constructive engagement was prosecuted with limitless energy and exuberant passion to the extent that the NBA literally became the mouthpiece of the polity. Hardly was there any issue of national importance that NBA’s would not lend its wisdom-laden voice and considered opinion. Matter came to such a head that even the Federal Government was apprehensive and it accused the NBA of having transformed itself into an ‘opposition party’
Public Interest Litigation
In consonance with the Akeredolu’s administration focus on the rule of law and responsible governance in Nigeria, the NBA under him became phenomenally pro-active in invoking judicial intervention on issues where consultation and constructive dialogue failed. Thus, the body instituted many public interest litigations to preserve civil rights and liberties, rule of law and constitutionality. Some of the cases filed by the NBA included NBA Vs Attorney-General of the Federation, which prayed the court to direct the National Assembly to invoke Section 143 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, when the late President was sick and was flown abroad without transmitting a letter to inform the National Assembly of his absence.
Another case instituted by the body is NBA Vs. National Judicial Council, which prompted the court to pronounce on the question whether the Chief Justice of Nigeria has the constitutional right to re-appoint the nominees of the NBA who have completed a term in the NJC, without recourse to the NBA.
Elaborate, nay, unparalleled burial for Gani
NBA has always played significant role in the burial ceremonies and payments of last respects to prominent members of the Bar and the Bench who transited to the great beyond. However, the role of the association in the burial ceremony of Chief Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi (SAN), during Aketi’s tenure was taken to a sublime dimension, which happily, was a due recognition of the enormous role the deceased human rights lawyer had played on both the development of law and protection and promotion of human rights in Nigeria. No lawyer had ever enjoyed such elaborate and burial ceremony! Akeredolu, who seems to have many things in common with Gani, especially as far as vociferous agitation for human right is concerned, spared no efforts in ensuring Chief Fawehinmi was laid to rest in blazing glory.
NBA, paragon of democratic leadership
Another high point in Akeredolu’s leadership was his penchant for allowing robust debate on all issues at the general NBA or its National Executive Council meeting. No matter the serious nature of the matter, Akeredolu believes in democratic participation of all shades of opinion and would never impose his own view on the association. It is built-in tendency for lawyers to project their opinions on any issues no matter whose ox is gored and it could be very tiresome for a leader of the Bar to accommodate the ever differing hues of opinions of learned lawyers in all its ramifications. But Akeredolu was never a man to subjugate any shade of opinion for personal or other reasons, ‘all must be heard’ is the concise philosophy that drives his handling of affairs at public discourse.
Another positive highlight of the Akeredolu’s adminstration was the landmark reforms introduced in the NBA itself. It was under Aketi’s tenure that the NBA constitution was amended to make it possible to have NBA general election before the Annual Conference of the association. The advantage of this amendment vis a vis the former position of holding a joint annual and delegates conference is that the general conference is no longer unencumbered with electioneering activities and its attendant distraction-the Annual conference focuses exclusively on its objects.
Excellence in crisis management
The NBA under Akeredolu had become too ‘hot’ a tool of social re-engineering that the reactionary forces were left with no other option than to attempt destroying it by sponsoring agents of schisms and divisiveness. Suddenly, there emerged discord and in-fighting among the national officers which rocked the body to its foundation, but it redounds to Akeredolu’s astuteness and masterly management that the association survived the crisis.
In a nutshell Akeredolu had gone down in history as one of the best presidents the association has ever had. The little issue detailed above represents only some of the good and memorable deeds of Mr Akeredolu, but the full extent of his good leadership will continue to reverberate in the hearts of the people acquainted with his performance for a very long time.
Abdul-Rasheed is a former Publicity Secretary of the NBA.