By Ogunsakin Ade
A few weeks to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) 2020 elections, tempers have continued to rise as two senior female lawyers, Mrs Funke Adekoya SAN, and Prof Ogugua Ikpeze disagree over the minimum wage for junior lawyers policy of the 2002-2004 administration of former President of the association, Chief Wole Olanipekun.
The two ladies of the bar were both National Executive officers of the administration. While Mrs Adekoya served as the first Vice Chairman, Prof Ikpeze, a law lecturer at the Anambra State University, Awka, was the Assistant General Secretary.
The bone of contention was an article written by a young lawyer, Mr Adeke Aondongu, commending the administration for its policy on minimum wage for junior lawyers at the time.
One of the contestants for the post of Presidency in the upcoming 2020 elections, Dele Adesina SAN was the General Secretary of the Olanipekun administration.
Aondongu in his article titled, “NBA Elections 2020 and the Salaries of Young Lawyers” had stated: “Sometime in 2002, a successful motion was raised before the NBA NEC for a minimum wage for Lawyers. One of the current aspirants for the Office of the NBA President was instrumental to that decision as the then General Secretary of the NBA. Till date, no other administration has improved on the little achievements of that administration;
Unlike other aspirants who are making promises, Dele Adesina, SAN, has actually been successful in ensuring a minimum wage for generality of lawyers in Nigeria, and I am sure he can do it again.”
Mrs. Adekoya however refuted Aondongu’s claims, saying the young lawyer was “misinformed”.
Adekoya said: “I have read the article. The young Lawyer who wrote it was misinformed. I was the 1st Vice-President of the NBA when Dele Adesina was General Secretary and Wole Olanipekun was President. We did not institute or mandate any minimum wage for Lawyers during our tenure”.
Mrs Adekoya’s comments had gone viral on social media, debunking the young lawyer’s claims, and denying one of the major policies of the administration, all in an attempt to dent Adesina’s campaign.
Prof Ikpeze, who was the Assistant General Secretary in the administration deferred, saying Adekoya’s position was “very wrong”.
Prof Ikpeze said that since Adekoya had personally decided to join issues with the young but erudite lawyer (Aondongu), she too had decided to reply to “put the records straight”.
Prof Ikpeazu said: “With respect, Mrs. Adekoya SAN was very wrong in her assertion and Adeke stated the absolute facts. Contrary to Mrs. Adekoya SAN’s wrong assertion that there was no mandate on any minimum wage for Lawyers during our tenure, I want to remind her that this was one of the highly deliberated policies of that administration and both of us were National Officers;
I was the 2nd Assistant General Secretary. The Minutes of the NBA NEC Meeting which held at Grand Hotel, Asaba, Delta State on the 20th – 21st of March, 2003 stated inter alia under the caption WELFARE OF JUNIOR LAWYERS: “The President suggested the setting-up of a Welfare Committee to be chaired by the 2nd Vice-President, Prince Lanke Odogiyan, with the Welfare Secretary, Reuben James Esq., as Secretary. The Committee is to look into the issue of remuneration for junior Lawyers working in Chambers and on other related welfare issues.”
She stated further: “Among the prominent members of NEC who contributed to the discussion were Mr. O.C.J. Okocha SAN, Past President; Mr. Ibrahim (Jam-Jam of blessed memory); Mr. Richard Ahonaruogho; Mr. Okey Ohonda; and, Mr. Awoniyi Alabi, the National Legal Adviser. On the suggestions by some of the discussants that the issue of welfare of junior Lawyers should be reserved for the Branches so that the Branches should handle it, the General Secretary, Dele Adesina SAN, responded that the matter would be better handled at the National Executive Committee level so as to make it an NBA National Policy on remuneration of junior lawyers. That since members of the Committee will come from different Branches; the recommendation of the Committee will of necessity accommodate the peculiarity of the Branches”;
The Committee was subsequently set-up by the NEC at that meeting. Records show that Mrs. Funke Adekoya SAN was present at the said NEC Meeting;
The Minutes of the NBA NEC Meeting held at Leadership Institute Hall, Dandaura Road, off Ibrahim Taiwo Road, G.R.A., Jos, Plateau State on the 24th to 25th of July 2003, took the matter further. At this meeting, the Chairman of the Committee, Prince Lanke Odogiyan, presented the Committee’s Report. After a long discussion which witnessed some of the following discussants who included Mr. Bisi Ademuwagun, Mr. J.K. Gadzama SAN, Mr. Oyelola, Akuzamus Esq., Chief Mamman Mike Osuman SAN, and Mallam Yusuf Ali SAN, the following decisions were taken by the NEC:
- “That the Executive should proceed with the implementation of the recommendations of the Committee pertaining to the Insurance Scheme.”*
- “NEC approved and fixed the minimum wage for Lawyers serving in Chambers thus:
Group A to consist of Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt, Kano, Kaduna and Ibadan with a minimum wage of One Hundred and Eighty Thousand Naira (N180,000) per annum;
*Group B comprises State capitals created before 1996 but including Onitsha and Warri with the minimum wage of One Hundred and Forty-Four Thousand Naira (N144,000) per annum.*
*Group C comprised other State capitals with the minimum wage of One Hundred and Twenty Thousand Naira (N120,000) per annum.”*
iii. *“NEC also approved the placement of Two Million Naira (N2,000,000) Endowment Fund in a fixed deposit for distressed Lawyers as suggested by the Committee.”*
All the above decisions of the NEC were submitted to the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Association which held on the 29th of August 2003 in Enugu;
At the Conference of the NBA on the 22nd to 27th of August 2004 at Abuja, the Brochure of the Conference contained the President’s Report at pages 21 and 22, where the President stated inter alia as follows: “At the Annual General Meeting which held on the 29th of August 2003, approval was given to our recommendation to fix minimum wages for practising Lawyers through-out the country;
Pursuant to this decision of the General Meeting, the country has been grouped into three (3) zones. Group A comprised Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt, Enugu, Ibadan, Kaduna and Kano… Although, there is no means or power of enforcing these minimum wages, senior colleagues and principals all over the country are enjoined to adhere strictly to them and ensure that their juniors are fairly treated”;
He went further to say that: “I note with satisfaction that a good number of the seniors and principals across the country have not only complied but are also improving on the recommendations”;
On the Endowment Fund, the President’s Report also stated as follows: “At the same time and further to the Resolution of the last Annual General Conference, an account has been opened with a fixed deposit of Two Million Naira (N2,000,000) to commence the Endowment Fund for distressed Lawyers through-out the country. Branch Chairmen are enjoined to always inform the National Secretariat in case any of their members who deserve to benefit from any of the policies.”;
This information can be confirmed from the official records of the NBA at the National Secretariat. I am compelled to reply to Mrs. Adekoya SAN so as to put the records straight and to state that she was the one that conveyed a misinformation to the public and not Adeke Aondongu Abel Esq. My humble self and Mrs. Adekoya SAN were National Officers of the Association and members of the National Executive Committee at the material time;
We, as members of the Bar, and particularly Senior Members, must be able to draw the line between playing politics and misrepresentation of facts. We are not politicians. We are Lawyers. Why Mrs. Funke Adekoya SAN had to deny one of the achievements of the administration in which she was the 1st Vice President, only she can tell”, Prof Ikpeazu concluded.
Investigations however reveal that Mrs Adekoya’ s stance may not be unconnected with her support for one of the candidates, Dr Babatunde Ajibade SAN, who many see as not well grounded in the affairs of the bar like Adesina who rose through the ranks and can point to several achievements.
Besides, the Olanipekun presidency is regarded as a watershed, just like the late Alao Aka Bashorun administration. Prof Ikpeze, according to sources, was irked that Adekoya wanted to dent the image of the glorious administration on the altar of politics.
Adekoya does not pull the brakes when it comes to her comments on Adesina. On the adoption of Adesina as the sole candidate of Egbe Amofin, the South Western umbrella platform for lawyers, Adekoya derisively said:
“If you don’t support the adoption of your zone, you are seen as a “traitor”. When DASAN (Dele Adesina) came to see me late last year, his position was that I should convene a meeting to agree on a “consensus” candidate (i.e de facto adoption). I refused because as I told him I thought Ajibade was the best candidate and so I was already partial and could not act in the role he requested. I also reminded him that in 2014, Chief Akintola SAN, had indicated he would withdraw for me if DASAN did likewise;
However DASAN had refused to step down for me on the grounds that in 2020, he would be too old to contest again and 2014 was his last chance. Also God had told him that he would be elected. But, I am his elder in age and told him 2014 was also my “last chance”. I thank God that He had other plans for me as seen by my unsolicited appointment to the World Bank Sanctions Board in November that year”.
A member of Egbe Amofin, and former Chairman of NBA, Ondo branch, Mr Kunle Adetowubo explained the intrigues to Gavel International. “It was all about the 2014 NBA elections where three persons from the South West, Adekoya, Adesina, and Chief Adeniyi Akintola SAN contested, and lost to Augustine Alegeh SAN, the candidate of the MidWest Bar Forum.
Adetowubo explained further: “While Adekoya wanted Adesina to step down for her because she is older, Adesina wanted the branches to vote for the candidate that will represent them. Adesina had the support of 16 branches, Akintola 4, while Adekoya had control of only 3 branches;
The tussle was complicated with the fact in 2008, Adesina in obedience to the request of the leadership of the Egbe, had stepped down for Mr Rotimi Akeredolu SAN (incumbent governor of Ondo State). In 2014, the leadership was divided because some people felt it was wrong again to ask Adesina to step down;
The three candidates Adesina, Adekoya, and Chief Adeniyi Akintola SAN therefore went into the 2014 elections divided and lost”.
Adetowubo said Adekoya is now supporting Ajibade to spite Adesina for not stepping down for her in 2014. “Even Ajibade knows that he is no match for Adesina. He also knows that he is only fighting a war of revenge orchestrated by Adekoya.”
A University of Ibadan lecturer, Dr Kazeem Olaniyan also opined that it was wrong for Adekoya to say Adesina deprived her of the 2014 presidency. “It is the other way round. Within Southwest and outside, Adesina was more acceptable to Nigerian lawyers as reflected in the outcome of the delegate polls. Adekoya scored 250 votes, Adesina scored 350 votes, while Alegeh scored 630 votes”.
Asked if the 2014 experience will not repeat itself and create a situation where both Adesina, and Ajibade will lose to another aspirant from the MidWest, Mr Olumide Akpata, another member of Egbe Amofin, Hon Olubunmi Olugbade, former Chairman, Ikere-Ekiti branch said it is “not likely”.
Olugbade said, “Egbe Amofin has put its house in order by reconciling all members, except a few that refused reconciliation efforts. It was the spirit of that reconciliation that led to the adoption of Adesina. For instance, Chief Akintola who contested in 2014 was the chairman of the committee of branch chairmen that produced Adesina. Other contestants like former General Secretary of NBA, Aare Muyiwa Akinboro SAN, and former NBA Legal Adviser, Chief Awoniyi Alabi respected the wish of Egbe Amofin by stepping down, and pledging support for the adopted candidate. The Yoruba lawyers are therefore solidly in support of Adesina’s candidature”.
What have the Yoruba elders and senior lawyers done to call all parties to order? Olugbade said that virtually all senior lawyers including Chief Afe Babalola, the Aare Bamofin of Yoruba land, Chief Felix Fagbohungbe SAN, Chief Mrs Priscilla Kuye, and the late Chief Ajomale who died about two weeks ago had pleaded with Ajibade to step down for Adesina all to no avail. Frustrated, Aare Afe Babalola was reported to have said, “A wise man does not need advice, and a fool will not take advice”.
Olugbade said that it is clear that what is at play in this contest is hatred and vengeance. “If not, it would have been a straight journey. It is no longer about Adesina, but about the Yoruba race. If Adesina loses, it is because some people betrayed their race”.
However another senior lawyer, Mr Yomi Aliu has pleaded with Mrs Adekoya to sheathe her sword in the interest of the Yoruba race.
He said: “Aunty Funke, I am sad reading this and I know the same is applicable to numerous supporters in whose hearts you have created a larger than life image. You can NEVER be a traitor or seen by anybody as such.
You are one of the best that the Yoruba race has ever produced. Your achievements locally and internationally speak volumes! Let me borrow the words of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in referring to you, ma, as “a jewel of inestimable value” to Yoruba race!
However, I sincerely plead with you to forget the past and refuse the temptation to throw away the baby with the bath water. The baby this time is not DASAN but a common good of Yorubas! DASAN/AJIBADE SAN CASE will soon become history! After Mama Priscilla Kuye we all look up to you for leadership in Southwest. Taa ba ni kaa begi n’igbo, Anti Funke, a be eeyan mo! Eyin agba tun p’owe pe, “t’aaba binu ka ma se f’aso ya”! Maami, e je bure!
I support the best by far, DELE ADESINA, SAN!”.
-Ogunsakin is the publisher of Gavel International