For the first time in 30 years, a lawyer, shorn of the distinction and baggage of being a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, trounced the status quo to emerge President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) in a victory looked upon by many as a stark renunciation of the old order, and a rejection of the old way of doing things.
In electing Olumide Akpata – who during his campaign shone with new ideas and promises many of which lacked the sheen of sophistry that so lavishly marks pre-election promises in Nigeria – Nigerian lawyers blunted the old exclusionary bludgeon of power wielded by the members of the inner bar and embraced one like them in all things but the shockingly poor remuneration paid the youngest members of the profession.
A new dawn has surely come for the Nigeria Bar Association and when Olumide Akpata steps into the light of this new dawn as president of the association, an acid test would surely await him.
Under Akpata, the bar must resume its duty, now long abandoned, as a battlement against all forms of tyranny, no matter how systematic and subtle they may seem. The task facing Akpata is a formidable one and for success to be attained, far-reaching reforms are needed.
Firstly, within the profession, ranks must be closed to save the little of what is left of the morale of young lawyers and the faith they repose in the association. For many of them, sharp practices have become the surest shelter from the strangulation imposed on them by the appallingly poor remuneration obtainable in many law firms in spite of the forbiddingly long hours of work.
During his ultimately successful campaign, Akpata certainly chimed a cord when he denounced the terrible tradition of poor wages paid young lawyers and the structures that have kept them in place and unchecked over many years. He campaigned admiringly about the way out of this thicket.
It is safe to say that his victory was a firm acceptance of his position on this and the solutions he proffered. However, a confrontation looms with the powers that be. It would be interesting to see how he navigates the politics of poor wages for young lawyers and enshrines long lasting changes. This would be crucial in getting on board those who for reason of demographics are the very future of the legal profession and the association.
Secondly, under Akpata, the bar must demand more accountability from those who occupy public offices in Nigeria. The very nature of their work sees lawyers always in close contact with public office holders especially those who are before the courts defending charges of having run afoul of the law.
The Nigeria Bar Association under Olumide Akpata must become the lead torchbearer.
Kene Obiezu, Abuja,