The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has described allegations against it by Rivers state Governor Nyesom Wike as “baseless”.
NBA also vehemently disagreed with the governor that the association is not effective.
Wike, a presidential aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had at an event held in honour of Mary Odili, retiring justice of the supreme court, criticised the NBA for caving in to the “intimidation and erosion of its independence by the All Progressives Congress-led federal government”.
The Rivers governor said the association “is only good at issuing statements of condemnation without doing more” to ensure an effective justice system.
But in a statement issued by its President Olumide Akpata, the NBA cautioned the governor against such comments.
He warned that the NBA should not be used to score political points for his presidential ambition.
“As President of the NBA, it is not usual for me to respond to criticisms regarding the activities or performance of the NBA, and indeed our philosophy has been to welcome all such criticisms and take useful lessons therefrom,” the statement reads.
“But I am unable to allow the Governor of Rivers State make such baseless allegations against the NBA, particularly as he is a senior member of the legal profession who will be presumed by many to be speaking from a position of knowledge.
“It is indeed quite ironic that Governor Wike made these unfortunate statements at an event held in honour of the Honourable Justice Mary Peter-Odili in support of whom, the NBA stood firm in the face of that brazen attack on her home in Abuja by some persons who are now standing trial in our law courts.
“That Governor Wike has chosen, so quickly, to either forget or ignore this and other actions of the NBA in support of the Judiciary is suggestive of a dissonance that is most disconcerting and should give one serious cause for concern.
“It is very convenient for Governor Wike to ask Nigerian lawyers (as he did at the Book Launch) to emulate their more courageous Pakistani colleagues when the issues at stake do not concern him directly, but when, in 2019, the very same Nigerian lawyers had the “temerity” to question his handling of the security situation in Rivers state and threatened to boycott the courts if there was no abatement of the rising insecurity in the state, he was only too quick to lambast the lawyers and to withdraw his “support” for the NBA in the state.
“While we understand that Governor Wike is currently on the political soapbox and, like a man with the proverbial new hammer, to whom any and everything is a nail, he will latch unto any chance to sell his candidacy, he cannot and should not be allowed to use the NBA as a fodder of any sort for his vaulting ambition.”
Akpata also cited several instances in which the NBA had played “commendable” roles, adding that the association remains committed to being “a primary defender of the rule of law and protector of the judiciary in Nigeria.
“Short of taking the law into our hands and carrying ammunition without a licence to defend the Judiciary, the NBA insists that it is doing its best in the circumstance, and in an atmosphere that is widely acknowledged to be characterised by recklessness and little regard for the rule of law by governments at all levels.
“It is in this respect that the NBA views Governor Wike’s invectives as inconsiderate and uncharitable.
“One does not suggest that there isn’t room for the NBA to do more in maintaining and defending the integrity and independence of the Judiciary, but it would be mean-spirited to make such far-reaching and ridiculing statement about the NBA, at least given its engagements and activities in defence of the Judiciary since August 2020 when the current leadership assumed office.
“The NBA would continue to do all that it can to defend the Judiciary, the rule of law and indeed, Nigeria’s democracy. We will not pass that buck.”