The Dame of the Bar Speaks

0

The Dame of the Nigerian Bar is 80! Dame Priscilla Olabori Kuye (knighted by Pope John Paul II in 1981), has served the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in several capacities at Branch and National levels, including being National Financial Secretary, 3rd Vice, 2nd Vice and 1st Vice President, before becoming the first and only female President of the Nigerian Bar Association in 1992. As she turns 80 today, she went down memory lane with her daughter, Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi, and spoke fondly of the lost glorious days of the Bar, her momentous tenure as President, her brushes with the military junta which almost cost her her life, and her pains with the present faulty NBA electoral system

The Dame of the Nigerian Bar is 80! Dame Priscilla Olabori Kuye (knighted by Pope John Paul II in 1981), has served the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in several capacities at Branch and National levels, including being National Financial Secretary, 3rd Vice, 2nd Vice and 1st Vice President, before becoming the first and only female President of the Nigerian Bar Association in 1992. As she turns 80 today, she went down memory lane with her daughter, Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi, and spoke fondly of the lost glorious days of the Bar, her momentous tenure as President, her brushes with the military junta which almost cost her her life, and her pains with the present faulty NBA electoral system

Dame, we wish you a happy 80th birthday today. Are you fulfilled? You happen to be the first and only female Lawyer who has ever attained the Presidency of the NBA. What does this say about the place of women in the Nigerian Bar Association, even almost 30 years later? Surely, there are just as many women as men, who are capable of leading the NBA. How much opposition did you face? How can this narrative of gender discrimination be changed?

Thank you for your good wishes. Yes, I am fulfilled. There are more male Lawyers at the Bar. You know that we vote at elections, and though many women Lawyers are capable of leading the Bar, will the male Lawyers vote for them? Nigeria is a patriarchal society. I served the N.B.A at the Lagos Branch, and also at the National level. I was National Financial Secretary, Third Vice-President, Second Vice-President and First Vice-President, before I served as the President in 1992. Men opposed me. I contested the position of First Vice-President, with late Mr Segun Onakoya. The Lagos Branch requested him to step down for me, but he refused. By the grace of God, I won that election and became the First Vice-President of the N.B.A.

We pray that there will be more female Lawyers who will offer themselves to serve the N.B.A. in the capacity of President and other positions, in the near future. To change the negative narrative of gender discrimination, well qualified and competent female Lawyers need to campaign, maybe that more vigorously for the positions they want. They must continue to solicit for the votes of male Lawyers who are in the majority, as well as securing the support of their fellow women. It is a hard battle, as men do not want to cede the position of National President to women.

There are criteria for becoming a Senior Advocate. So, female Lawyers must work that much harder to satisfy the criteria, especially because of the responsibilities on the home front. As I said before, male Lawyers out- number female Lawyers. We pray that more female Lawyers who will be legal practitioners and academicians, will emerge in the future.

Some have said that the activism of the NBA during the Alao Aka Bashorun days, are long gone. During your time, going to Kuje Prison to secure the release of Femi Falana and late Beko Ransome-Kuti and so on. Are you a member of the school of thought that believes that the NBA may have lost some of its focus, even to the point of seeking Government patronage, and is in urgent need of repositioning?
N.B.A is in urgent need of repositioning. The N.B.A is not as vibrant as it used to be. The N.B.A, as the watchdog of the society, should promote the rule of law and ensure that Nigeria remains a democratic country, and not a Hobbesian State where things are nasty and brutish. Courts were boycotted for cogent reasons during Mr. Alao Aka Bashorun’s tenure, and the N.B.A upheld its Constitution strictly.

The N.B.A Executive and the Bar went enmasse to Kuje Prison during my tenure, to ensure the release of the ‘Kuje 5’ – Mr Femi Falana S.A.N, late Dr Baba Omojola, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi S.A.N., Olusegun Mayegun and late Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti. The Magistrates Court released the five detainees. That was victory for the N.B.A, and the rule of law. We also spoke fervently, about disobedience of court orders by the Government. Needless to say, I was persecuted by the Government, and my Passport was seized. The Federal Government through her agents, ensured that the 1992 N.B.A Port Harcourt election did not hold. The Government also scuttled our meetings using soldiers for many years, all because the N.B.A was vibrant during a military regime.

The recently concluded election of the Nigerian Bar Association has continued to elicit criticisms. Many are of the opinion that the entire exercise was more or less a sham, as it was allegedly trailed with fraud/malpractice. We understand that even you, a former NBA President who was accredited as an eligible voter, was disenfranchised. How does that make you feel? Kindly, comment on the election generally.

Many members were disenfranchised including myself, a former N.B.A President. The voting link was not sent to many members. Names of Lawyers, were found outside their Branches. Mrs. Funmi Falana and many others, were listed outside their Branches. There were serious flaws in the accreditation. It was alleged that 4,000 Lawyers without Branches, were on the voters list. Incredible! The N.B.A Constitution (as amended in August, 2019) has been breached. There was another list of voters referred to as a Diaspora Branch, contrary to Article 13 of the N.B.A Constitution.

I feel very sad that the electronic voting was not conducted fairly. In my view, the election should be cancelled. An audit should be conducted. There are too many complaints. We are Lawyers – we should give a good example to Nigerians. The matter is now before the Trustees of the N.B.A. We have no right as Lawyers to be the watch-dog of the society, if we cannot conduct our own election honestly. It is a shame that two people are not only being investigated by the EFCC for electronic fraud in the penultimate election that was won by Mr. Paul Usoro, S.A.N, but have been charged to court. Let truth prevail in the N.B.A.

Mr. Adesina S.A.N has sent a petition to Past Presidents and Trustees. He wants the election cancelled. The Board of Trustees can conduct a new election which must be just, free and fair. Mr. Akpata in the Punch of 9th August, 2020 stated that “I did not conduct the election….the are flaws in it, more people would have voted though the flaws are not substantial” he stated.

The voters list was not published in accordance with the provision of the Constitution. It was certainly not published at least 28 days before the election, as our Constitution demands. We must organise a credible and fair election. We are professionals, who should lead by good example. As Lawyers who are expected to uphold the rule of law, we are called to an even higher standard of behaviour than others in the society.

The umbrella body of Yoruba Lawyers, Egbe Amofin has lodged a petition to the Board of Trustees of the NBA calling for the cancellation of the election results and a fresh election. Do you support such a call? Is there justification for it? Many are sceptical and have already concluded that nothing will come out of these calls by Egbe, justification or not; and that instead, we should lend our support to the declared winner of the election, encourage him to reposition the Bar and fine tune the election process so that it will be unimpeachable in 2022. Kindly, comment on this.

The umbrella body of Yoruba lawyers, Egbe Amofin has lodged a petition to the Board of Trustees of the N.B.A calling for the cancellation of the election results, and a fresh election. I support the call by Egbe Amofin. Let the truth prevail. There are many breaches of the N.B.A Constitution (as amended in 2019).

I stand for justice and truth. We must put our house in order. Please, remember that Mr. Gadzama S.A.N went to court and lost his case. Chief Obi Okafor too sued. At least, he has been vindicated. You can read about “How N.B.A 2018 Elections was rigged; EFCC File, the 2020 connection, http://thegavel.com.ng/2020/08/07/2764//”.
This is shameful. This is the third time in a row, that Lawyers are alleging that the conduct of our N.B.A. general elections were fraudulent. Let truth prevail, let justice prevail; let us put our house in order, so as to avoid future embarrassment.

Egbe Amofin, EBF and other regional and ethnic Lawyers’ bodies didn’t exist in your time as President of the Bar. Looking at the past few elections of the NBA, how would you assess the relevance of such bodies, considering the fact that it is usually the candidates who are not endorsed by their ethnic bodies that emerge as winners?
Yes, other regional and ethnic Lawyers’ bodies did not exist in my time. However, I see nothing wrong with such bodies, if they can truly arrive at a consensus. But, it appears as if this is difficult, as seen from the “Egbe Amofin’s” example. Other issues apart from elections can also be discussed by such bodies to empower their members, or raise members’ living conditions, especially the junior or young Lawyers.

Given the myriad of complaints and criticisms that are trailing the just concluded NBA `elections, would you support the continued retention of the present universal suffrage by e-voting, or a return to the old delegates system?
Definitely, I think that the old delegates’ system was better. We did not have many complaints then. The three universal suffrage electronically conducted elections, have had multiple complaints and litigation. But, unfortunately, the serving Presidents had finished their tenures before judgement was delivered. We need a transparent electronic voting system at our elections, if the universal suffrage e-voting system must continue. The N.B.A Constitution must also be strictly adhered to.

The Buhari Administration has been in power for five years now. How would you rate the Administration vis-a-vis their campaign promises of fighting insecurity and corruption, revamping the economy, and of course, upholding the rule of law? How do you see the recent scandals rocking the NDDC and the EFCC?

The Buhari Administration has done its best, but its best is not good enough for Nigeria. The Buhari Administration can do better, in fighting Insecurity and Corruption. Killing of Innocent citizens in Kaduna, Taraba and the North-East of Nigeria, is a daily occurrence. Shedding of innocent blood is a GRAVE SIN before God. Corruption has not abated. The economy is not buoyant. Many young Nigerians are unemployed. There is hunger in the land. The Federal character principle in the Constitution has been abandoned by President Buhari. In fact, some people say that Nigeria is a failed State. The Buhari Government has not upheld the rule of law. Why was the former Chief of Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen removed in such an unconstitutional manner? Even if there were valid allegations against him, due process should have been followed. Why are some detainees (whom courts of competent jurisdiction have granted bail or released), still being held in prison or detention centres? For example, El-Zakzaky and his wife.

Court orders are flagrantly disobeyed by the Federal Government. Nigeria’s debt, is in trillions of Naira. We should stop borrowing from China and other International banks, if there’s not much to show for it. We should concentrate on harnessing so many of our untapped resources, instead of relying almost solely on oil revenues.
The recent scandals rocking NDDC and the EFCC, are a big shame and disgrace to Nigeria. Investigation into the scandals, should be thorough and just. There can be no peace in a country, without justice.

What would you say were your achievements as President of the N.B.A?
Our executive worked very hard, and upheld the Constitution of the N.B.A.
I, as President of the N.B.A, always spoke up when it was necessary. We issued many releases against disobedience of court orders by the Government, even though it was a Military Government. We were not silent on the Abiola detention. The N.B.A was truly “the watchdog” of the society, when I was President. I remember that I was teargassed on one occasion, when we protested against government’s disobedience of court orders and other issues. My passport was seized, and I had to report to S.S.S. frequently during my tenure as President of the N.B.A.

Following the release of the Kuje 5 (during my tenure, as I explained before), the Military Government continued to harass us. The N.B.A could not hold national meetings, as all meetings were disrupted by soldiers. We had a turbulent time during our tenure, but, we still spoke.

Many Lawyers still remember the botched 1992 N.B.A Conference in Port-Harcourt. Some of our members and the Federal Government planned to disorganise and kill at the conference, so that Priscilla Kuye will not be President of the N.B.A in a new tenure. The Almighty God took charge of the conference, and I was not assassinated. The Bar must be vibrant. We must be active again. We must continue to be the watchdog of the society, promote the rule of law, uphold the Independence of the Judiciary, and uphold our N.B.A Constitution. The N.B.A. President must speak to the Government as and when necessary, praise them when it is right to do so, and criticise constructively when it is necessary. N.B.A is buoyant enough, and does not need Government patronage.

I forgot to mention that Chief Gani Fawehinmi published a book. In it he praised the N.B.A and its President, for their release from Kuje Prison. I am deeply touched by the contents of the relevant chapter in the book.
Thank you for congratulating me on my 80th Birthday. I pray that the activism of the N.B.A will be rekindled, in the near future. The N.B.A must remain vibrant, and relevant to the Nigerian society.

I pray that Nigeria will become an economic giant in the world, and truly be a country where the rule of law prevails; where MERIT is enthroned for offices; where tribalism and its relatives become a thing of the past; where the independence of the Judiciary is guaranteed; where our constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of expression is protected and peaceful protests are not scuttled by the authorities. That the Government of Nigeria will promote the common good. Insecurity will be eliminated – No Boko Haram, No Killing by herdsmen and No shedding of innocent blood. Education for all, Justice for all, Provision of clean water, good roads, constant electricity supply, hospitals, primary health care, and cheap food – basic amenities that must be present in any society, will be abundant.

Yes, may God make it possible in my lifetime. Amen.
Thank you for the interview.
Thank you very much Dame. We wish you many happy returns of the day, and we hope that you will see the NBA and indeed, the Nigeria which you desire, during your lifetime.

Quote
“THIS IS SHAMEFUL. THIS IS THE THIRD TIME IN A ROW, THAT LAWYERS ARE ALLEGING THAT THE CONDUCT OF OUR N.B.A. GENERAL ELECTIONS WERE FRAUDULENT. LET TRUTH PREVAIL, LET JUSTICE PREVAIL; LET US PUT OUR HOUSE IN ORDER, SO AS TO AVOID FUTURE EMBARRASSMENT”