Unarguably, Nigerian Bar Association’s (NBA) new President, Mr Olumide Akpata, is a kid on a mission. He is having his long hours in the sun and enjoying every moment of it after he was sworn in as the 30th president of the prestigious legal association.
As long as unionism in the legal profession in the country is concerned, he is the man of the moment as the buck stops on his table. But more than that, he is the man whose ways and will in the coming days might alter the life and longevity of the NBA.
Akpata on August 2, 2020, dusted well established and other legal luminaries in a keenly contested election, winning with a massive 9,891 votes representing 54.3 per cent of the total votes cast. He defeated Babatunde Ajibade (SAN) who scored 4,328 votes and Dele Adesina (SAN) who garnered 3,982 votes to finish third.
As he begins his leadership journey, he has to develop broad shoulders that would carry the weights ahead.
Coincidentally, Akpata is known as a man of great stature. Sturdy, stocky and blessed with an awesome build and imbued with intelligence garnished by more than 20 unbroken years of legal practice. So, he looks poised to deliver. All eyes are on him and indeed he knows that many of the young generation of lawyers who earnestly yearned for an NBA with youthful blood and drive anchor their faith in him.
In his speech after his emergence, he declared: “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.”
However, his sweet victory appears to have been trailed by the rage of controversy threatening the life of the NBA and promising to divide it from top to down. This came on the heels of the controversial withdrawal of an earlier invitation extended to the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, to participate in the NBA’s 60th annual conference, which was held virtually on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor’s invitation was withdrawn because of his alleged penchant for disregard for the rule of law and indifference to the wave of killings going on in Southern Kaduna.
This move had triggered off ripples in the water, leading to the formation of a parallel union that is populated mainly by members from the Muslim North under the aegis of the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria (MULAN).
Their angst was over the perceived treatment meted out to el-Rufai. This pushed them to form the New Nigerian Bar Association (NNBA) with the members alleging that ethnic and regional considerations were imputed into the travails of the Kaduna State helmsman. It is this group that Akpata right now has an onerous task of returning to the fold of the mainstream Nigerian lawyers.
Happily Akpata who knows this too well had said to the admiration of all: “I am not unaware of the very recent events and agitations that have tended to divide our bar along regional and religious lines. This is rather unfortunate for an egalitarian association like ours. The Bar that I want to lead henceforth is one that is united on all fronts and that recognises that our diversity is, perhaps, our greatest strength. I plead with all Nigerian lawyers to bear this philosophy of unity in mind as we commence a new journey together today.
“This enormous task cannot be achieved if we continue to fan the embers of division at a time when we desperately need to unite and speak with one firm voice. We must be kind, magnanimous, respectful, and sensitive in our words and actions, as doing otherwise would be a great disservice to our vision of building a stronger and formidable Bar. Now is the time to come together because a divided Bar is a defeated Bar.”
Happily again, Akpata demonstrated his man-on-a-mission mien coming through as one to usher in revolutionary changes to the NBA. And he served this notice free of charge when he declared: “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.
“In my inaugural address to the members, I outlined our policy direction for the next two years while also assuring the members of our intention to fulfill the promises that we made during the electioneering period.”
Certainly, the two positions he has taken, for the discerning mind, appear necessary for ensuring greater respect and firmness to the NBA, which seems to be limping on one leg at the moment.
Akpata was born on October 7, 1972, in Warri, Delta State. He had his primary education in the city and later moved to Lagos, where he had his secondary education at King’s College, Lagos. He attended University of Benin (UNIBEN), where he studied law, graduating in 1992. Thereafter, he was called to the Nigerian Bar on December 15, 1993.
After his mandatory national service in Kano, he joined the law firm of Mudiags Odje & Co, in Warri.
In 1996, Akpata moved over to Lagos to team up with his cousin, Oghogho Akpata, after the latter had established the Templars law firm. He is currently the head and senior partner of the firm and actively involved in corporate and commercial law practice.
He was also the former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL).