Akpata, an Underdog, is New NBA President

Olumide Akpata

With a towering following among the ranks of young lawyers across Nigeria, Olumide Akpata made history last week, when he defeated two of his rivals and fellow contestants, who were Senior Advocates of Nigeria to emerge the 30th President of the Nigerian Bar Association, writes Davidson Iriekpen

Olumide Akpata etched his name in history on Friday, when he was declared the first non-Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) to become the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). He polled a total of 9,891 votes out of the total 18,256 ballots cast to defeat his fellow contestants. His closest rival, Dr. Babatunde Ajibade (SAN) polled 4,328 votes, while Mr. Dele Adesina (SAN) polled 3,982 votes.

The outcome of the NBA election was generally regarded as a huge revolt by the growing ranks of young lawyers, who feel concerned about what they regard as the monopolistic politics of the NBA by the ranks of SAN. While many holders of the SAN title were busy endorsing, Ajibade and Adesina, not many thought that Akpata would pull off an upset.

Right from Wednesday night, when the elections started till the wee hours of Thursday, when the election closed, Akpata maintained the lead with more than 50 per cent of the votes at every quarter-hourly update, and he maintained the lead. About 29,636 eligible voters were registered, and the election committee sent the voting link to the registered members via emails and SMS.
Akpata’s victory is the first time in over three decades that the president of the NBA will be emerging from the outer bar, and not among the rank of senior advocates. The last non-SAN, who became president of the association was Alao Aka-Bashorun between 1987 and 1989. He was widely regarded as one of finest President of the Bar.

THISDAY gathered that other lawyers had used Aka-Bashorun’s example as a campaign weapon to wrest the leadership of the association from the privileged class of senior advocates.
Beyond the defeat of the SANs, the election also broke many other ceilings, as three women emerged as national officers in the eight-man national executive that was conducted online. The women were elected as general secretary, assistant secretary and treasurer respectively.

John O. Aikpoko-Martins emerged First Vice-President with 34 per cent of the vote shared with five other contestants while Kazeem Debo Adeyemo emerged the Second Vice-President.
A lady, Joyce Oduah is the General Secretary and another lady, Esther Nwadialo emerged Assistant Secretary. Another lady, Mercy Agada is to serve as Treasurer while Olakunle Edun emerged the Welfare Secretary, while Raphael Anagor was returned unopposed as Financial Secretary.

While many lawyers are saying the emergence of Akpata was good and would bring fresh breath to the Bar, others accused the electoral committee of managing a rigged process.

But one of the contestants, Ajibade, has congratulated Akpata, saying he was particularly proud of the level of the debate and the quality of the ideas that were brought forth during the elections.
Pointing out that the processes leading to and during the election itself were not devoid of controversy, he expressed hope that the repeated challenges with conducting objectively free and fair elections in the association would be resolved over time.

Akpata, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) and an expert in corporate and commercial law, will take over from Paul Usoro, whose tenure will come to an end this month.

At 48 and with a practice experience of about 20 years, Akpata may not be called a baby lawyer. However, he may be so-called compared with his rivals who are both SANs.

With 62 per cent of the votes turned in at 23.00, Akpata won with 54 per cent of the votes with his two rivals, Ajibade and Adesina polling 23 and 21per cent respectively of the votes.
Akpata, a young lawyer was known to have mobilised social media and appealed to the younger lawyers for their votes. He passed over the traditional authorities of the Senior Advocates by appealing directly to the younger lawyers, who in the one man, one vote culture heeded his call for radical reforms in the operations of the NBA.

However, the desirability for Akpata’s presidency of the bar has been called to question as some allege that being an oil and gas corporate lawyer, his partners might rein him in if he so desires to use the body to confront the government.

Akpata was born on October 7, 1972 into the famous Akpata family. He schooled at the famous King’s College in Lagos, and was subsequently called to the Nigerian Bar on December 15, 1993 following acquisition of his LLB degree from the University of Benin in 1992.

Young Olu began his legal career at the Law firm of the late Dr. Mudiaga Odje (SAN) while he was serving his mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Upon completion of his NYSC, youthful Akpata enlisted in the Law firm known as Templars. It is on record that he has spent well over 20 years with Templars.

In recognition of his exemplary expertise, teamwork and hard work, he was made Senior Partner and Head of the Corporate and Commercial Department at Templars. His areas of specialty include Nigerian corporate and commercial law, mergers and acquisitions, capital markets, corporate law, labour and employment, media entertainment, technology and regulatory compliance, among others.

Akpata has been Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Business Law (SBL) section council since 2012. He was later elected as the Vice-chairman in August 2014, and then the substantive Chairman in 2016. He is also the Vice-Chair (West-Africa) of the International Bar Association’s Africa Regional Forum. He comes to his new role with great dynamism, youthful energy, expertise, knowledge and great foresight.

In his acceptance speech, Akpata said when he decided to throw his hat into the ring, he realised the election was really not about himself. He equally promised some transformational reforms, which would put the association on the right path.

“Throughout the electioneering process, I saw many Nigerian lawyers, who had either lost faith, or never been interested in the NBA, participate with utmost enthusiasm in the hope that things would become better. This further goes to show that the extraordinary movement that heralded this electoral victory was not, and could never have been about me.

“The victory of last night is for our young lawyers, who have become disillusioned with the way the NBA has been run over the years and how the profession appears to be disconnected from the challenges that face them and their future. It is for the progressive senior lawyer, who refused to accept the status quo and took firm steps to ensure that things are done better.

“It is for the corporate counsel, law officers, law teachers, the police and military lawyers, and lawyers in all components of the profession, who for long have been treated as unequal members of an Association that ought to be the umbrella body for all legal practitioners. The victory of last night is for the lawyer with disability, who has long suffered neglect and indignity by the profession.

“Above all, our victory is for non-lawyers and the general populace, who took an unusual, but a special, interest in the conduct of our elections, thus lending credence to my long- held belief that the Nigerian society has always yearned for a legal profession and indeed a Bar that stands tall as an unwavering bastion of the rule of law, an advocate for the sanctity and independence of the judiciary, and a bulwark against tyranny and oppression.

“I was driven by the passion to use my time, talent and resources to improve our Association by making it fit-for-purpose, beneficial to all members and responsive to the needs of the society,” he stated.

Akpata, who thanked the electorate for the confidence reposed in him, reassured them that he would do his best to deliver on their mandate. He also urged them to unite in order to achieve the goal of revitalising the Bar and ensuring that their voices are firm and unshaken when he speaks.
Acknowledging that he could not do the job alone and would be counting on their support and counsel as he works towards securing the future through a united Bar, he called on Adesina and Ajibade, who contested the seat with him to join him to build a virile association.

“One thing that remained unshaken throughout the election process was my utmost respect for these distinguished and respectable gentlemen. May I humbly assure them that my respect remains intact. The election is over but the work ahead of us is immense.”

With the election over, the next agenda for Akpata is if he could give the NBA the strong voice it was known for. The association, over the years, has been in the vanguard of promoting the rule of law and the entrenchment of good governance in Nigeria. It also acts as the voice of the voiceless and the watchdog that barks when things go against order as well as bites when necessary.

Observers are also wondering if the Akpata presidency would be able to reconcile the growing divisions in the legal profession and the deep quest for the salvaging of ethics among lawyers. Certainly, the days ahead would be the judge.