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Thursday, 25 October 2012 00:00
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‘Why Nigeria needs more lawyers in politics’

He is the immediate past chair-man of the Ekiti branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). Mr. Owoseni Ajayi, who led the association for two years, speaks on Nigeria's security challenge, economy, lawyers as social engi-neers and sundry issues. ADESINA WAHAB met him.

HOW would you describe your tenure as the Ekiti NBA chairman?
I am very appreciative of the NBA members in Ado-Ekiti and the opportunity to serve as the chairman for two years. When I was contesting, I made some promises and I thank God that I had the opportunity to serve and fulfill those promises. A number of programmes were held during my tenure.

The Law Week was introduced, the Bar Centre project that had been in limbo was commissioned by God’s grace and the benevolence of the legal icon, Aare Afe Babalola (SAN). The centre was equipped and I can say, it is one of the best in the country if not the best. I also promised that those who made contributions to the society would be honoured and we started with the introduction of the Aare Babalola Public Lecture. It is to let Aare Babalola know that he deserves to be honoured while alive.

The second edition of the lecture was delivered a few months ago by Prof. Amos Utuama (SAN), the Deputy Gov-ernor of Delta State.

I also promised to get a bus for the association to ease our movement and we got one, an 18-seater bus from the Ekiti State Government. I thank Governor Kayode Fayemi for donating the bus to us. The Moot Court Trial competition among Faculties of Law in universities around this region was introduced to honour Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) , who donated a cup for the winning institution.

In the South-West geopolitical zone, our branch was rated the best among the 23 branches of the NBA in the zone and we won a trophy and N50,000 cash. I defended and pro-tected the rights of members when the issue of appointment of judges came up and we took up the matter and now two of the nominees have been inaugurated and we are hopeful that the remaining nominee will be in-augurated soon.

We also defended the rights of our members in the Ministry of Justice to rise to the position of So-licitor-General of the state when some-body was to be brought from outside, we resisted. It was not that we antago-nised the government, but acted in the interest of our members.

Thank God that after two years, though there was a pressure on me to continue, but I believe that a good actor should leave the stage when the ovation is loudest. We successfully conducted a free and fair election to usher in new executive members without hitches. And as a sign of passing a vote of con-fidence in our leadership, my vice-chairman and most of my executive members were returned to office.

Were there any challenges? If yes, how were they overcome?
It was a smooth sail for the executive and we were united and able to carry out our programmes. The only chal-lenge we had was with the state govern-ment.  The  state  government  took positions on a number of issues and challenged them as a legal body. I was part of the legal team that worked for the actualisation of Fayemi’s mandate and he acknowledged that. The dis-agreement between us is a matter of principle.

How would you describe the level of legal practice in Ekiti?
It is average. Ekiti is not an industrial state but a civil service state. We draw our clients from the poor people who can only pay within the limit of their earnings. We cannot charge the people as in Lagos or Abuja. They will not be able to pay. We are adjusting to the sit-uation and God has been kind to us. I have been here for over a decade. I have served in various capacities, as the Chairman of the Ekiti State Sports Council, as the Commissioner for Jus-tice and Attorney General of the State among others. I have four lawyers in my chambers.

People have been making their money here. One of the issues I fought is that people do not need to leave the state to become what they want to become. You can become a judge, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria like the current Commis-sioner for Justice who got elevated while here in Ekiti. He had practised for years in Ilorin, Kwara State. I thank the Commissioner for Justice and Governor Fayemi for their support.

Many lawyers are rooting for the abolition of the coveted title of the Senior Advocate, what would you say is wrong with the selection process? I mean, do you support its abolition?
Nothing is wrong with the process. It is the aspiration of all hard working lawyers to become a SAN one day. Wanting to become a SAN makes you to struggle and work hard for it, if you do not have a goal, your aspirations are limited.

The possibility of becoming a SAN makes you work harder. In my cham-ber, I work hard everyday and struggle for cases so that if I am inspected for el-evation I will pass. Even though some have criticised the method of selection, personally, I believe no system is perfect, as people raise these shortcom-ings , they are being addressed every-day. My friend, Femi Falana has been elevated after many years and it means the system is improving. All of us cannot be SAN one day, it will become worthless.

Many lawyers have abandoned the profession for politics, why is this so?
The legal profession is special. It is not out of pride that we say we are 'learned' people. Our experience spreads across all professions. If you have a case in medicine, engineering etc, you have to study the issue and do research relating to the matter to be able to defend your client.

We learn everyday, write everyday. The more you learn, the more your brain becomes sharper. In fact, we are Jack of all trades and masters of all.

Moreover, the seeming dominance of the political landscape by lawyers is because we have a name to protect in public office for if you misbehave, your profession is at stake.

Remem-ber the case of Chief Michael Aon-doakaa (SAN), when he had some issues to clear, he was suspended as a SAN. He fought tooth and nail to restore his reputation. Anybody can misbehave in public office, not lawyers.

We don’t even have enough lawyers in politics because of the dirty way some politicians play the game. There are even few lawyers in the National Assembly and our legisla-tive houses, if we have more lawyers in there, it will help in guiding good legislation. We need more lawyers in politics to help us salvage the situa-tion the country finds herself now.

Look at Governors Babatunde Fashola (SAN) of Lagos State and Chief Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, are they not doing well? In-terestingly, the duo and I were in the Law School at the same time. Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, did well as the President of the Senate and that quali-fied him for his present position of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

After your tenure,will it be right to say that politics is your next bus stop?
I have always been in politics, but I suspended my political activities be-cause of my position as the NBA chair-man because I must be non-partisan so that my views will not be colourated. Now I want to go back to it.

You need a platform if you must be in politics, which of these would you consider?
I am still studying the political terrain in the state.

How would you describe the secu-rity situation in the country?
It is precarious to say the least. I do not know which word to use to describe it. Even when we were fighting a civil war we did not lose the number of peo-ple like we have witnessed in the last two years. The United Nations building in Abuja that was bombed, the October 1, 2010 bombing in Abuja, numerous Boko Haram attacks across the country.

We are not fighting any conventional war and the tactics employed by the ter-rorists are unconventional. I pity our se-curity agents, it is beyond anybody’s understanding.

President Goodluck Jonathan has changed the Inspector-General of Police and the service chiefs on a number of occasion. He will not go to the battlefield himself.

The aggressor is hidden, the victim not prepared for attack. We do not have enough policemen, but the people themselves must be vigilant as to what happens in their society and cooperate with the security agencies. Bombs are planted by people not ghosts.

Activities towards 2014 governor-ship election in the state is in top gear, what are your expectations?
I hope that our politicians will not bring fire to the state. We are a peace-loving people. Politics is played with mouth. If you are in government, showcase your achievements, if you are in the opposition, convince the people that you can do it better.

We speak the same dialect, cam-paigning should be issue-based.

Any advice for the newly inaugu-rated national leadership of the NBA?
I congratulate our new National President, Chief Okey Wali (SAN) and his team. They should not forget that we are the defendants of the people’s cause.

The national president has started on a good note by opposing the planned introduction of the N5,000 note by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

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