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Opinions of Thursday, 25 June 2020

Columnist: MyNigeria

NBA Decides 2020: A response to Gidan Wankey’s flawed ratiocinations on Olumide Akpata’s candidacy

Raymond Nkannebe Raymond Nkannebe

I recently read the write up written by one A. S. Gidan Wankey Esq entitled, NBA Elections: Advertisement of Promise to Abandon One’s Law Firm, If Elected, is Mere Unavailing Showboating and Play-to the-Crowd, published on ‘The Law & Justice’—an online platform that seems to be dedicated to promoting the candidacy of one of the aspirants. I had resisted the temptation of responding to the article until last night when I came to the conviction. If anything, to set the records straight and to expose the vacuity of Wankey’s juvenile ratiocinations.

Though Mr. Wankey was not bold enough to tell his readers the subject of his acerbic and incoherent write up, it is clear that he was referring to Mr. Olumide Akpata, the most popular of the aspirants provisionally cleared by the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association to contest the forthcoming election for the office of the President of the NBA.

Mr. Wankey in his emotion-laden write up, was reacting to Mr. Akpata’s recent declaration in an interview with The PALM, that if elected President, he has the leave of his partners at Templars to convert the two-year period of his term to a sabbatical leave, to enable him concentrate on the arduous task of leading the NBA, especially during these difficult and uncertain times.

It is instructive to note that Mr. Akpata was merely reacting to the question regarding how he intends to manage his busy practice with his official duties as the NBA President, if elected. It was therefore not a gratuitous declaration in the region Mr. Wankey seems to suggest. It is also important to note that Mr. Akpata made this point in recognition of the enormity of the tasks of the office of the President of the NBA and was quick to express the optimism that after dedicating such amount of time to dealing with the administrative and leadership issues in the NBA by creating a viable and well-structured institution out of it, no other President after him would have to abandon work in the same manner.

Ordinarily, one would have thought that such an altruistic declaration which speaks to Mr. Akpata’s appreciation of the tasks ahead at the NBA House, would elicit commendation from all quarters as it is geared towards achieving fulsome dedication to the business of the Association. It is, however, preposterous that Mr. Wankey takes gratuitous umbrage at it. Perhaps this is understandable as Mr. Wankey seems to be rooting for the candidacy of one of the other candidates, and so on that note, one may be inclined to pardon his indiscretion.

However, to the extent that he asserts that the reason behind such a declaration from Mr. Akpata, was on account of his non-involvement at Templars, it is apposite to correct the erroneous impression and disingenuous effort aimed at scandalizing the person of Mr. Akpan and reducing his involvement in the core operations of Templars (a law practice which, by the way, he helped to build long before Mr. Wankey saw the inside of a court room), to that of a non-executive director in a company who would not be missed at his Firm. Nothing could be more ridiculous.

Mr. Wankey’s position one imagines follows from a poor understanding of the structure, management and operations of a modern law firm, and particularly the management structure at Templars where Mr. Akpata sits as a senior partner heading the corporate/commercial group. If he does, he would have known that such a declaration accords with global best practices particularly when one is part of a law practice that does not necessarily revolve around a single “strong man” as is the case with the other Presidential aspirant(s) with whom Mr. Wankey has found favour and who may not afford the luxury of giving the Bar the full attention that it deserves at this critical time.

To be sure, there have been several cases where senior members of firms have taken time off their busy schedule to pursue causes that they were passionate about. For instance, Sir David Hugh Wootton (reputed to have a strong interest in governance) who until 2015 was a corporate partner in the international law firm of Allen & Overy (one of the largest and most profitable law firms in the United Kingdom), took a hiatus to focus as the 684th Lord Mayor of London, from 2011 to 2012.

In any event, regardless of how busy Mr. Akpata might be at Templars, the size of the Firm (about 100 lawyers including 15 partners) and the organisational structure that exists thereat means that Mr. Akpata is only able to proceed on a sabbatical without worries of how the leading law practice will fare during his absence, having been in the trenches for the past 25 years alongside his partners and colleagues, toiling to build a world-class institution which will hopefully outlive the founders and be a reference point in the foreseeable future. To suggest therefore, as Mr. Wankey labours, that the decision of the Firm to grant him a 24-month sabbatical leave was as a result of the supposedly limited role that he plays in its operations, is the height of mischief and perhaps the crudest manifestation of ignorance. Letting Mr. Akpata embark on a 24 month sabbatical does not suggest that he will not be sorely missed, rather it buttresses the fact that his colleagues understand the enormity of the work to be done at the NBA and are willing to lend support to him to drive the desired transformation. In my considered opinion, nothing could be more altruistic.

As John C. Maxwell said, a leader who produces other leaders multiplies their influences. The hallmark of a successful leader is the ability to raise successors or lieutenants who can succeed him or sufficiently hold the forte in his absence without losing the value and goodwill that such a leader initially worked to create. Olumide Akpata has demonstrated good leadership in this sense by enabling and empowering several others within his Firm who can effectively carry on with the affairs of the Firm even in his absence. One would struggle to say the same about other aspirants in the 2020 NBA Presidential race whether such aspirants practice at Macarthy Street, Lagos Island or elsewhere. The continuity and succession plan that Olumide Akpata’s Templars and a handful of other Nigerian law firms have put in place are attributes that one should encourage many law firms to strive to adopt.

Mr. Wankey wobbles in his arguments. In one breath, he acknowledges that the task of NBA presidency is arduous hence the tradition has been for its former presidents to leave their law office and focus on the business of the Office of the President. In another breath, he takes umbrage at Mr. Akpata for declaring to take that tradition notches higher, if elected. No doubt, he was a victim of the bile and emotion that occupied his mind while he wrote: a situation, known to keep the human faculties at their lowest ebb.

Apparently overtaken by this rage, like an egungun, he veers into the collateral subject of the welfare initiative articulated by Friends of Olumide Akpata in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but driven by the executive committee of the Lagos Branch to bring succour to many young lawyers who were most hit as a result of the lockdown. He describes it as a form of voter inducement and even desperation. How petty! Happily, while people like Mr. Wankey are entitled to their opinion, they do not amount to facts. The COVID-19 welfare package for young lawyers was a thoughtful and good spirited gesture by Friends of Olumide Akpata which many senior lawyers of both the Lagos and other branches of the NBA quickly keyed into. That incident was yet another clear example of Olumide Akpata setting the pace and leading by example.

At a time when it is becoming clear that Mr. Olumide Akpata would coast home to victory at the scheduled polls with massive followership and support across the country and with endorsements coming from young lawyers, in-house counsel, lawyers in the academia and very senior members of the association such as Madam Hairat Balogun, OON, Chief Femi Okunnu, SAN, CON, Supo Shasore, SAN to keep the list short, the cold shiver in opposition camps from where Mr. Wankey writes has caused a crisis of confidence, and typical of the drowning man, trying to clutch at anything, it is Mr. Akpata’s declaration of fulsome commitment to the business of the NBA House, if elected, that engages Mr. Wankey and his co-travellers.

Suffice to say however, that none of these would distract Olumide Akpata from continuing to articulate the original, innovative and pragmatic ideas encapsulated in his transformational leadership agenda, to the teeming population of Nigerian lawyers whose future would be on the ballot at this election.

Raymond Nkannebe, a legal practitioner, writes from Lagos. He tweets @Raynkah

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