Dr. Babatunde Ajibade (SAN) is the first member of the 1989 set of the Nigerian Law School to be conferred with the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In this interview, he speaks about why he wants to become the next President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and on other sundry issues.
Young lawyers often complain that the NBA does nothing other than collect annual dues and organise the bar conference. What is your view?
Young lawyers must be the focus of the NBA. They are the future of the profession, and what the profession will be is a function of how much it invests in them. I have comprehensive plans to address issues relating to their welfare and advancement. These include appropriate remuneration, conditions of service, payment of practicing fees and branch dues, required statutory deductions and contributions, training and capacity development, enhanced use of technology, sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace, among others.
Why do you want to be President of NBA?
I think lawyers should choose me over the other candidates for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I am the only one that combines the skills and practical knowledge of a solicitor and advocate; having been engaged in both transactional and litigation practice at relatively high levels. This puts me in a vantage position to understand and address the challenges encountered in both of these sides of legal practice in Nigeria.
Secondly, I neither belong to nor am I sponsored by any of the power blocks within the NBA. Thus, I have the ability to unite the bar and advance the cause of the legal profession with independence.
Thirdly, I am not beholden to government and have made it a matter of personal choice and policy not to court government briefs; thus guaranteeing my independence. Besides, I cherish my good name, reputation and integrity and believe that these are critical qualities required for anybody seeking to lead the bar.
I will bring significant opportunities for international collaboration to the NBA, particularly the young lawyers, because of my involvement with international bodies such as the International Bar Association (IBA) where I am Co-Vice Chair of the Africa Forum.
What are your thoughts on zoning adopted by NBA for its elections?
Ordinarily, I would be against zoning and would urge that leadership should be based solely on merit. However, the reality of our geopolitical situation in Nigeria and the need to ensure that no section or group feels marginalised or excluded is what has made zoning a necessity.
Having said this, I don’t believe that zoning and the pursuit of leadership by merit are mutually exclusive. I believe that every zone and section in our country has the potential and capacity to produce leaders we will all be proud of. The challenge is to operate the zoning system in a manner that such leaders are allowed to emerge and are not suppressed by obscure and parochial arrangements that seek to impose the will of a few on the many.
You were unable to secure the backing of the pan-Yoruba lawyers association, Egbe Amofin, for the 2020 NBA presidential election and you have faulted the process through which your brother silk, Dele Adesina, was nominated. Why?
This is the precise point I was referring to in my previous answer. The reason I have refused to be bound by the Egbe Amofin selection process is because it was obscure and lacking in objectivity or transparency. It failed to meet the basic test of an acceptable selection process for a variety of reasons. I’ll name a few of them.
As far back as August, 2019, and without any consultation with the generality of lawyers of Yoruba extraction, the de facto leader of Egbe Amofin, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), called a meeting at which it was declared that Deacon Dele Adesina (SAN) was Egbe Amofin’s preferred candidate for the NBA presidential election.
In the face of protests at this attempt at imposition, this agenda was stepped down. It is equally noteworthy that Chief Olanipekun and Adesina are in-laws. Deacon Adesina’s son is married to Chief Olanipekun’s daughter. Despite this clear and evident conflict of interests, Chief Olanipekun continued to preside over and dominate the Egbe Amofin selection process. He was instrumental in funding and convening the meeting that was called to initiate the selection process. He also presided over the meeting and proposed the constitution of the committee that was set up to screen candidates and also proposed its Chairman, Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN).
Despite demands made on the day the committee was set up, it failed to provide the criteria by which it proposed to make a selection from among the candidates until late in the day on which the deadline for submission of interests was to expire and then stated that its decision would still be subjected to ratification by the leadership of Egbe Amofin.
It was in these circumstances that I withdrew from the process; which had clearly become a farce at that point. I wrote a letter to the selection committee chaired by Chief Niyi Akintola setting out in great detail what had transpired up until then and the reasons for my withdrawal.
Your decision to run for president could split the South West votes in favour of a non-Yoruba candidate as it happened when Augustine Alegeh (SAN) became president in 2014. Should this happen, some may see your candidature as sabotage of the core South West aspiration. What is your take on this?
My candidature is not designed to sabotage the South West aspiration. After all, I am a Yoruba man too. Nothing would please me more than making the Yoruba race proud by winning the upcoming election and making significant and impactful contributions to the improvement of the Nigerian legal profession and its justice sector for the benefit of all Nigerians.
In order to further establish my concern for and desire to protect the interest of the Yoruba race in the upcoming election and prevent a recurrence of what transpired in 2014 when my friend and brother Austin Alegeh (SAN) from Edo State defeated the three candidates from the South West, I had recommended to Chief Olanipekun that it would be wise for us as Yoruba to reach an accommodation with our brothers from the Mid-West such that we would rotate the zoned offices in the NBA between us on an agreed formula.
Indeed, I had taken it upon myself to visit Chief T. J. Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN) and other leaders of the Mid-West bar in Warri to discuss this issue ever before the meeting of Egbe Amofin held in Ibadan, and they agreed that this was the sensible solution to the perennial competition between our two sub-zones.