“There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion.”
– Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill may have died decades ago, but the above words still prove true today. When an opinion becomes too published, it may tend to have the appearance of being a public opinion yet it is not. It is therefore necessary to put published opinions in the right perspective. With the Nigerian Bar elections steaming up and as aspirants jostle to win more supporters, the Bar woke up one faithful morning to receive an undated letter captioned “NBA. Her Future” (the “Letter”) which was purportedly written by the distinguished Mr. Adegboyega Awomolo, a distinguished Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a reverenced Life Bencher. While the contents of this Letter has neither been affirmed nor refuted by the Learned Silk; however, it is imperative to straighten the records in view of the upcoming elections and, particularly, for the benefits of millennials who are the future of the Nigerian Bar. Commendably, this is not the first time the Learned Silk will be writing to specific members of the Bar, as He had also written a letter in 2017 to senior members of the Bar, in an attempt to resolve the dispute which was facing the leadership of the NBA. Again, the Learned Silk has written in 2020, but this time, in respect of the 2020 NBA elections. First, let us consider the contents of the Letter.
The Letter as addressed to Chief T.J.O Okpoko SAN, a distinguished Life Bencher and a one-time President of the NBA, was also forwarded to Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim, OFR, CON. By some overt act, the Letter, fortunately and unfortunately, found its way to all members of the Nigerian Bar. The Letter recalled how “Dr. Mudiaga Odje, SAN (of blessed memory) Past President of the Nigeria Bar Association, at the Jos Plenary Conference in 1998 called and challenged the members of the Inner Bar, to take hold of the leadership of the Bar to avoid the occurrence of what happened in Port Harcourt in 1992 that paralyzed the Bar Association from 1992-1998”. The Letter noted how “all successors to the office of the President have been Senior Advocates of Nigeria” since 1998.
The Letter further noted an “unannounced but powerful and potent revolutionary move by our junior colleagues who are very much in larger numbers to wrestle the office of the NBA from the rank of the SAN. That in my (Awomolo SAN) view will be unfortunate for the rank. To the members of the public a ridicule of the rank and office of the President of the NBA”. In concluding the Letter, Awomolo SAN added that “It will be a great failure of leadership for the Senior Advocate to surrender leadership to outer Bar when there are willing and able Senior Advocates”.
Having considered some key provisions of the Letter, it is imperative to analyze the provisions of the law establishing the rank of the SAN and the eligibility to contest for the office of the NBA President.