opinionBy By Ike Uko
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) almanac for 2011 listed Alhaji Jibril Martin as the first president of the Nigerian Bar Association without stating the date he held office.
The NBA calendar for 2002 named Chief F.R.A. Williams as the first president and he is said to have held office from 1960 to 1968.
These pieces of conflicting data elicit the question: who is the first president of the Nigerian Bar Association? When was the all-inclusive national body of lawyers in Nigeria formed?
Is chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association the same as president of the same association? That may lead to a search for who is the leader of the bar and what is the difference between official and unofficial leader of the bar? Who are those named first presidents?
Lawyers in Nigerian have always been organised into associations even as far back as 1933 when the name was mentioned in a statute. Lawyers met in towns where they were in good number principally in Lagos. Some other towns such as Calabar, Onitsha and Ibadan also had lawyers congregating before independence.
Jubril Martin was sworn in as a lawyer in Nigeria in December 1926. He is also reputed to be the first Muslim lawyer enrolled in Nigeria and he had his practice in Lagos.
In 1952, he was elected as chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association with Chief Oladipo Moore (who later became Queens Counsel) as the secretary. Other members of the executive council include: Mr. L. J. Dosunmu as treasurer, Dr. G.B.A. Coker as financial Secretary and Mr. Adewale Thompson as assistant secretary.
The other members of the executive committee without portfolio were Chief F.R.A. Williams, Mr. H.U. Kaine, Dr. Udo Udoma, Mr. R.O. Fani-Kayode and Mr. A.O. Lawson.
Jubril Martin was re-elected in 1958 but the post of secretary went to G.N.A. Okafor called March 15, 1952. Jubril Martin died in June 1959 and the announcement is contained in the Nigerian Bar Journal of the year.
The 1960 conference of the Nigerian Bar Association was held at St. Georges Hall, Broad Street, Lagos. At the said meeting, the assistant secretary under Jubril Martin's chairmanship, Adewale Thompson, moved a motion that the name of the head of the bar association be changed from chairman to president. The motion was seconded by Chief O.B. Akin-Olugbade called to the Bar on January 2, 1954 and the motion was carried thus changing the name of the leader of the bar association from chairman to president.
The first contest for NBA presidency was between Chief F.R.A. Williams called to the Bar in 1943 and Chief Gabriel Chike Michael Onyluke called to the Bar in 1947. Williams won and thus became the first president of the Nigerian Bar Association from 1960 to 1968.
Jubril Martin was a very eminent bar leader but it is unlikely that he was ever addressed as president for there was no such title while he was alive. He was a dynamic bar chairman and was involved in his profession and his Muslim religion where he was instrumental to the establishment of many Muslim Mission Schools in Lagos and its environs.
In 1968, Peter Thomas, called January 28, 1957 became president and was in office till 1969. Chief B.M. Boyo called on July 30, 1955 took over from him and held office from 1969 to 1970.
Chief Richard Akinjide of Ibadan branch, called on March 2, 1956, became president in 1970 and was in office till 1973. Chief Adebayo Ogunsanya called on September 15, 1956 won election and held office between 1973 and 1974. He came from the Lagos branch.
Dr. Mudiaga Odge of Warri branch called on June 24, 1961 was president between 1974 and 1975. Dr. Nwakanma Okoro called July 1958 of Enugu branch became president in 1976 and left office till 1978. Chief B.O. Benson enrolled August 28, 1959 and a former general secretary, became president in 1978 and left in 1980.
Chief Adetunji Fadairo of Abeokuta branch was the president from 1980 to 1982. He was called to bar on December 7, 1962. After him, came Mr. A.N. Anyamene of Enugu branch called to bar on April 28, 1961 and he was in office between 1982 to 1984.
Prince Bola Ajibola, former Judge of the World Court, was the president from 1984 to 1985 when he became Attorney General of the Federation. He was called to the Bar on July 13, 1963.
Mr. Ebele Nwokoye of Abakaliki branch took over from him and was in office from 1985 to 1987. He was enrolled in 1962.
The next president was Mr. Alao Aka-Bashorun of the Lagos branch. He was in office from 1987 to 1989 and was enrolled as a lawyer on January 13, 1964. His successor-in-office is Charles Idehen of Benin branch. He was enrolled on July 27, 1966.
Chief Clement Akpamgbo of the Enugu branch of the association became president in 1991 but stayed on for just a year when he was appointed the Attorney General of the Federation.
His vice president, Mrs. Priscilla Kuye, took over as the president in 1991. She was in office when the 1992 conference took place in Port-Harcourt and the attempt to elect a new president was in-conclusive.
Thereafter from 1992 to 1998, the Nigerian Bar Association had no president and so no central leadership/national executive committee but functioned only in branches. After series of efforts, the national body of NBA was revived. At the conference of 1998, Chief T.J.O. Okpoko, SAN, was elected as the first president after the crisis. He was called to bar in 1971 and is of the Warri bar.
After him, came the millennium president, O.C.J. Okocha, (SAN), who held the office for two years from 2000 to 2002. His regime amended the constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association in 2001 and created the sections of the bar association. He was called to the bar in 1978.
Chief Wole Olanipekun, (SAN), mounted the saddle of the bar leadership from 2002 to 2004. He was called in 1975.
In 2004, Chief Bayo Ojo, (SAN), became the next president and was in office for about a year when he was appointed Attorney General of the Federation. He was called to the Bar in 1978.
His first vice president, Prince Lanke Odogiyo of Kaduna branch took over from him and completed the two-year term in 2006. He was called in 1982.
In 2006, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba won the presidential election and held office from 2006 to 2008. He is of the Lagos branch and was called to Bar in 1978.
Next, we had Chief Olurotimi Akeredolu, SAN, of the Ibadan branch as president from 2008 to 2010. He was called in 1978.
The current president, Joseph Bodurin Daudu, (SAN), of Kaduna branch was elected last year and will hold office till 2012. He was called to bar in 1980.
It is necessary that the NBA set the record straight for its members and the general public for today and tomorrow. Leadership of the bar is an essential national service. The various presidents were valued commentators on national issues and I hope their contributions to the development of this country will be appreciated.
In conclusion, I think it is not possible for Jubril Martin to be president before his death in June 1959 for there was no such post for what we had then was Chairman. Adewale Thompson, who moved the motion to change the name of the head of the executive committee from chairman to president in 1960, was in Jubril Martin's executive.
If we admit him as the first president because he was chairman from 1952 to 1959, there may be a need to consider his predecessors-in-office, as chairman, as presidents.
The list would then include: Christopher Sapara Williams enrolled January 30, 1888 and was chairman between 1900 to 1915, Sir Kitoyi Ajasa enrolled August 14, 1893 and was chairman from 1915 to 1937, Eric Olawale Moore enrolled February 10, 1903 and who was chairman 1937 to 1944, E.J. Alex Taylor called September 11, 1905 and was chairman between 1944 to 1950 and Sir, Adeyemo Alakija enrolled June 17, 1913 and who was chairman from 1950 to 1952.
Uko, Notary Public was former National Assistant Publicity Secretary of the Nigeria Bar Association.