The Ill-Health of NBA Elections

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Still on my London Trip
Before I go into the topic for today, which is about members’ eligibility to vote in the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Lagos Branch elections now scheduled for sometime in July, I must tell you about another experience I had on my recent trip to London. Remember that I told you how smoothly and peacefully the General Elections went on June 8?

As you may be aware, all British Citizens (and God knows who else), are entitled to free healthcare on the National Health Service (NHS). I was born in London on the sunny summer of afternoon of May 23, 1965, so naturally, I am also entitled. My GP (General Practitioner) had sent me a letter to come in and do some routine medical tests, so I had booked my appointment for the morning after my arrival in London.

It was my first time at this particular clinic, as my old clinic had merged with another one. As I entered, it occurred to me that the NHS non-fee paying clinic, was better in appearance than most of the private hospitals that I have visited in Nigeria.
On arrival at the Clinic, I simply registered my name on the list, and within 15 minutes, I was called. I did not need to see the doctor to do the tests, just the ‘Oga” Nurse. Within 30 minutes, I was in and out of the place. The Nurse told me that I would receive my results in the post within 2 weeks. Shi ke nan (that was that)! I didn’t pay even N5 for the whole experience. I have since received my results, which were prefect by the way!

As I was leaving the Clinic, I thought to myself, “when will we ever have this kind of service in Nigeria?” My visit to the NHS Clinic was akin to a visit to a Primary Health Care Centre. There, Government Revenue is put to good use, for the benefit of the people. Even though Sections 17(3)(d) & (g) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(1999 Constitution) provide that “there are adequate medical and health facilities for all persons;” and “provision is made for public assistance in deserving cases or other conditions of need;”, those provisions are more or less useless in Nigeria, just for decoration in the Constitution, as they do not obtain here, and the chapter in which they are contained in the Constitution, is not justiceable! I believe that if Chapter 2 of the Constitution is not made justiciable, Government will continue to get away with shirking its responsibilities, as Chapter 2 of the Constitution being justiceable is a way of holding Government accountable.

I don’t know about today, but in the past, when Nigerian Citizens went to Government Hospitals, you paid for card, medication, supplies if you were on admission etc. I was watching some Nigerian National Health Insurance Scheme debate on television the other day, where the participants were saying that the scheme is also more or less useless and doesn’t work. That the allowance for an operation was a paltry N60,000 and that the Insurance Companies do not usually pay the claims, so unless you want to die in the hospital, they advice you to pay cash, as the hospitals are not keen on attending to those that come in on that insurance scheme!

Some people say that Britain has been in existence for much longer than Nigeria and has therefore, had much more time to evolve. I simply do not buy that argument. It is a weak, lazy and defeatist argument. It is not “how long, but how well”. Nigeria has been a rich oil country for so many years. How have our successive governments made use of our oil revenue? Definitely not for the benefit of the people, or the development of decent infrastructure.
Take Rwanda for example, which was ravaged by war less than 30 years ago, the GDP per capita has more than doubled since 1994 when there was war, and today. The GDP is even higher than it was pre-war. Rwanda has made a remarkable transition from its post-war status. It has concentrated on rebuilding infrastructure that were destroyed during the war. In fact, Rwanda is now considered to be one of the more successful post-conflict development models in Africa. This feat has been achieved in much less time than Nigeria has had oil. Shame on the Nigerian Leadership.

NBA Lagos Branch
Anyway, on my return from London, a young friend of mine informed me that she would be running for office in the upcoming NBA Lagos Branch Elections. I happily told her that I had paid my National and Branch NBA dues timeously, so I would be there to vote. To which she replied “ah Aunty, qualification for voting is more complicated than that o. You are still relying on the 2003 NBA Lagos Branch Bye Laws. It is not just about dues, have you attended up to 5 monthly meetings within the last 1 year?” I told her that I had only attended 1 meeting during the relevant period.

The 2003 NBA Bye Laws states – Eligibility to Vote – “To be eligible to vote a member shall be a financial member of the Branch, and shall have paid his/her annual dues for at least the current legal year of the election”. That provision makes me eligible to vote. However, the Third Schedule to the NBA 2015 Constitution, Part 1 NBA Uniform Branch Bye Laws Section 16(1) provides that I must have paid my Practicing Fees and Branch dues for 2 years as and when due, and attended 5 monthly general meetings of the Branch within 12 months preceding the election.

I will not bother to go into the judgement of Honourable Justice Tsoho of the Federal High Court, and whether the NBA Lagos Branch can lawfully and validly, use the amended 2015 NBA Constitution, as a basis for its activities and elections, since the said Constitution was declared null and void by the Court, by reason of its failure to comply with Section 598 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA).

I would however, like to say that I believe that the afore-mentioned Section 16(1) is strange and repugnant, to say the least. I can understand if people that are running for office are required to be active in Branch activities, and therefore, have to attend X number of meetings to qualify to run, but why should this condition be extended to members voting? I believe that being paid up at National and Branch levels, should be the requisite and appropriate criteria for qualification to vote, as provided for by the 2003 Constitution.

What if I am a registered financial member of NBA Lagos Branch, also an active member of the Branch, and the company which I work for transferred me to Maiduguri for say 9 months. I had only attended 2 meetings before my transfer. Luckily I was transferred back to Lagos 1 month before the Branch Elections, only allowing me to attend a total of 3 meetings. As you may be aware, Section 15(4) of the same 2015 NBA Constitution Branch Bye Laws prohibits membership of more than one NBA Branch; I would imagine that means that you cannot be a member of more than one Branch at a time. Where would that leave me? Unable to vote in the Lagos Branch elections on my return from Maiduguri. On the other hand, what if I am only interested in Branch Politics to the extent of only voting in elections, and I rarely attend Branch meetings? It is my prerogative.

I think Section 16(1) should be amended or eligibility to vote be left as it is in 2003 NBA Constitution. I think Section 16(1) is an unfair provision. Lawyers what do you think?