The man-made calamities befalling this twisted nation are so overpowering that even the multitude of stoics, the throng of patient, indifferent citizenry who have given up through a conscious surrender to the bewildering snares of siddon look, are bound to be confounded and roused by the provocative capabilities of a chain of organised misadventure repeatedly imposed by those who ought to know better. In recent times, where to begin from for any candid assessor of Nigeria’s ever widening pool of deliberately crafted catastrophes has always been a problem. Just when steadying to make sense of one heartbreak, another promptly springs up with the usual brazen disdain. Indeed all the way, it’s been an embarrassment of depressing choices that will shock even the most prolific author of fictional horror.
Certainly, not to be excluded from this bouquet of disaster is the election of fresh executives of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) which held in Abuja a couple of days ago. It was a parody of everything a free, fair and credible election was supposed to be, featuring all the despicable machinations associated with politicians in this environment. In every department of atrocious electioneering, the lawyers – indeed very senior lawyers including some elements among the out gone executives of NBA – shamelessly planted themselves in the front seat to rival politicians in disgusting politicking. Every ingredient of today’s vile politics was on display at Sheraton Hotel where the lawyers converged: excessive use of money, influence peddling, desperation, skewed playing field in favour of the anointed candidate, rigged voters register, vote buying and much more.
It is not a secret that Nigerian governments, military or civilian, from the time of the self-styled evil genius, General Ibrahim Babangida, have always taken more than a passing interest in who leads the body of lawyers. But unfortunately, the interest shown is self-seeking, invariably more pernicious than benign. Viewed against this unsavoury background, an intense sense of d├ęj├á vu could hardly be overcome. Quickly rewind the dramatic tape on the chequered history of this country to 1992, then a sense of what happened at this year’s NBA election would come into sharp focus. Twenty years ago in Port-Harcourt, the NBA election was marred if not by the same degree of official manipulations, but certainly by an equal amount of interference from powerful external forces. As the beleaguered regime of Babangida was trying to perfect a perpetuation plot, it also struggled so hard to rig into the NBA presidency a candidate of its choice, who by all means was attuned to the regime’s continuity stratagem, in contrast to Priscilla Kuye, who was more popular and seen as an opponent of the Babangida agenda.
Of course, in spite of the military might arrayed against her, in spite of everything the regime did to stop her, Kuye prevailed in the end and became NBA president. That was one glorious moment when the NBA truly came to realise its essence. Since then the body has progressively slid down the ladder of national salvation, apparently totally shorn of the vibrant activism required to tackle the sweeping travesty being put out as governance by successive administrations. Though once in a while it makes seemingly robust effort at halting the obvious drift, truth is the NBA lacks the energy and ability sorely needed to mobilise Nigerians towards a desired national aspiration. And this is the kind of atmosphere preferred by any administration lacking ideas as to how to deal with the country’s myriad problems, an atmosphere where a supposed countervailing force is enfeebled by its own internal contradictions and appalling compromise.
It is not to the credit of the immediate past president of NBA, Joseph Daudu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, that he led a group of other senior lawyers to work with a ruling party with an unmatched track record for rigging elections to ensure the emergence of establishment candidate Okey Wali (SAN) as his successor. Not that Daudu’s tenure in office was particularly admirable. Besides blandly condemning the suspension of President of Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, by the National Judicial Council, and the withdrawal of a non-existent petroleum subsidy by government, he took no concrete steps as the leader of a body whose remit prioritizes societal justice to protest flagrant violations of the law by certain individuals and institutions.
In the absence of anything meaningful in the interest of the public, to what extent the NBA under Daudu was able to reform itself can only be measured by the quality of election the secretariat under his watch conducted on the eve of his departure. That election, even according to many of his disinterested colleagues, was a classic mockery of democracy, an unqualified assault on and unmitigated bastardization of the very values lawyers are supposed to instil, cultivate and guard jealously. Even elections of executives of national labour unions are several times better. If the NBA, which sponsors members to observe local and foreign elections, describes what happened in Abuja as election, then lawyers have no moral right to condemn the sham Nigerian politicians have been taking part in under the guise of elections. That election was as worse as any of the local polls the body of lawyers might have written off sometime in the past.
Just in case the full import of this farce is yet to sink in, bear in mind that it in no way offends the sensibilities of its perpetrators. It was designed so to happen. Why should the NBA not have a stooge as president if the aim, as it has always been, is to preserve the status quo? If the NBA has been so weakened as to have discarded its sense of rectitude, then you can be sure that the rot has eaten deep into every area of Nigerian life. One man who knows this too well is Emeka Ngige, the SAN who “lost” to Okey Wali in the (s)election. What played out in that hotel in Abuja is nothing but a reflection of the enduring decadence that has knocked the country into a perpetual coma. Unless a saviour shows up soon enough. . . . . Forget it.
- Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist based in Abuja