As an administration that has constantly had lawyers in its crosshairs prepares to take a belated bow, it can only be a good thing that Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, was on Saturday July 16, 2022 elected as the 31st President of the Nigeria Bar Association which is the umbrella Association of lawyers in Nigeria.
As the increasingly difficult situation of the country which has largely been created by government dereliction continues to catch Nigerians cold, lawyers have not been left out.
In fact, because together with the judiciary lawyers are critical stakeholders in justice delivery, they have had to bear the brunt of the failures of the executive to keep campaign promises made to Nigerians when those failures have been furnished into witch hunts.
Whether the efforts at fighting corruption in the judiciary by the executive have been genuine all along, or it have all along been attempts to defang a crucial arm of government which could check its excesses, what has been all too apparent is that lawyers have been deliberately targeted by the present administration which is gratefully entering its twilight.
An early unease.
It was on the back of a promise to stamp out corruption that President Muhammadu Buhari rode to victory in the 2015 general elections. His triumph in historic elections which saw him displace the incumbent was largely an affirmation by Nigerians that once and for all, he could deal a decisive blow to the cankerworm.
Initially, the energy was infectious. In 2016, under Mr. Buhari`s watch, personnel of the Department of State Services stormed the residences of some judges in the dead of night.
Armed with a long list of alleged misdemeanors and even longer weapons, they ransacked the homes of the judges. The last vestiges of sleep in the eyes of the Giant of Africa were brutally wiped away the next morning when the country awoke to the news, and with it, a chilling new reality.
Thus, when in 2019, a campaign as comical as it was chaotic was sustained to remove the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Samuel Onnoghen, Nigerians could clearly read the writing on the wall.
Since then, there have been many other efforts , tacit and overt, carefully planned to weaken the judiciary of which the Nigeria Bar Association, the umbrella body of lawyers in Nigeria, retains interest as a major stakeholder.
The last or lost hope of the common man?
If the famously confident line that ‘ the judiciary is the last hope of the common man,’ has been twisted in the last couple of years to say that the ‘judiciary is the lost hope of the common man’ it is because different events have forced such a conclusion.
In the course of Nigeria`s difficult experiment with leadership, the judiciary has sometimes struggled mightily to assert itself. These struggles have sprung a much from institutional problems from within the judiciary, as from external pressures.
The struggles have also shown the peculiar challenges of an institution crying out for proper support.
Akpata`s array of stars
For outgoing president of the NBA, Olumide Akpata, his ascent to the exalted position was not an easy one even if he came from one of Nigeria`s more prestigious law firms.
When he, a member of the legal profession`s great unwashed, assumed the mantle, beating a couple of Senior Advocates of Nigeria to clinch the ticket, the grumble from some members of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria rose to the highest heavens.
But he appears to have done his bit, showing a rare kind of courage that has been as courteous as it has been confrontational.
Under Akpata`s watch, the Association has found its voice on burning issues in the country like the burning of Deborah Samuel in Sokoto and the invasion of the home of Mary Odili, a now retired Justice of the Supreme Court.
Akpata`s parting shot in taking on Wole Olanipekun & Co whose partner has been accused of misconduct may yet be his most interesting attempt in repositioning the NBA.
If as the umbrella body of lawyers in Nigeria, the Nigeria Bar Association, has often struggled to support the teeming lawyers who are its members to rise to the occasion when the occasion demands, and the judiciary as it works under backbreaking pressure, it is because the Association itself has had to contend with many pressures. As president, Maikyau would have to confront them.
Firstly, there is the pressing problem of the welfare of lawyers which continues to be a burning issue. Young lawyers are often welcomed into the legal profession and legal practice by very harsh realities. Because many of them are overworked and so pitifully remunerated at the beginning of their professional journeys, they soon become the lawyers who put coins before their clients.
Recent history has also shown that as an Association, the NBA is also malleable enough to be formed in the image of whoever is its president.
Thus, the amount of courage a president can show at any time determines just how much bite the Association can have under him.
For Maikyau, the mission is clear and the clock has started to tick.It remains to be seen whether he will take the Association back to the days when the entitlement syndrome of a few crippled it or further along the new path it has embarked under the watch of the indefatigable Olumide Akpata.