The recent EFCC arrest and subsequent arraignment of Port Harcourt based legal practitioner and the immediate past 1st Vice President of Nigerian Bar Association, Blessing Emomena Ukiri, at a Port Harcourt Federal High Court should not come to watchers of NBA politics in Port Harcourt and in Nigeria as a surprise. Ukiri has been a thorn in the flesh of some power brokers in the local NBA branch in Port Harcourt. OCJ Okocha, SAN, a former NBA President and an Ikwerre irredentist lead the power brokers. In Port Harcourt branch of NBA, non-indigenes are forbidden from holding the post of Chairman of the branch.
Ukiri who is a non-native from Isoko in Delta State teamed up with likes of Beluolisa Nwofor and Lucius Nwosu, SANs to fight against this obnoxious policy. Nwofor contested for the chairmanship of the branch on two occasions but the likes of OCJ Okocha rallied Ikwerre lawyers to stop an Igbo man from holding a post said to have been reserved exclusively for a son of the soil. Ukiri had in the past served the branch as Publicity Secretary and Secretary but was told that Chairmanship was a ‘no-go’ area.
In the year 2011, Ukiri applied for the rank of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) but the clique in Port Harcourt wrote a petition to the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Katsina Alu alleging that Ukiri was not a fit and proper person worthy of taking the silk. Acting on the petition, Ukiri was disqualified and he went to Federal High Court, Abuja to challenge the exercise. The matter is still pending in court.
Ukiri applied again in the 2012 exercise for conferment of the SAN title, he managed to get to the second round of the exercise but was eliminated at the last stage and so could not make the list of successful candidates apparently based on petitions from the same Ikwerre/Daudu clique.
In August 2010 at Ibadan, Ukiri, a veteran of NBA national politics (having won in the past, the posts of Financial Secretary, 3rd Vice and 2nd Vice President) braved all odds and won the post of 1st Vice President of NBA with JB Daudu, SAN as the President. Because of his independent mindedness it did not take long before the relationship between Ukiri and Daudu fell apart. Daudu wanted to run NBA alone but Ukiri opposed him. Ukiri was subsequently sidelined in the running of NBA. As time went on, the entire officers of NBA were equally sidelined in the running of NBA. Daudu became the ‘Emperor’ running the NBA like ‘JB Daudu and Co’, his private law firm. Ukiri on some occasions complained publicly about the imperialist tendencies of the then NBA president but nobody listened.
In the wake of NBA elections of 2012, Ukiri contested for the post of the President. In the course of the campaigns he gave insight to the rot in the administration of JB Daudu; that officers meeting were held only twice in 18 months, that Daudu was acting as the President, 1st Vice President, Treasurer, Financial Secretary all combined; signing the cheques of the Association without the counter signature of the Treasurer etc. In the heavily rigged election Ukiri was allocated a mere 2 votes by the handpicked Election Committee led by Lanke Odogiyan, a Daudu supporter practicing in Kaduna. After the announcement of the results Ukiri joined Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN who is believed to have won the election but was rigged out, in condemning the outcome of the election. In his post election statement Ukiri stated inter alia:
“I have been too dumb founded to speak on the NBA elections. My family and I were attacked on 1st June in Port Harcourt by a gang of criminals who had come specifically for my phone. On Friday, 13th July at 9.21pm a threatening SMS was sent to me warning me to withdraw from the race before it was too late. Less than 9 minutes after my receipt of the SMS, my son was mysteriously attacked in PH. He was hospitalized;
“I managed to travel to Abuja on Sunday, 15th July hoping to formally withdraw in line with the decision of the Mid-West Bar Forum. You recall that I even told some of my close friends that I would announce my withdrawal at the manifesto night.
“On Monday 16th July, I received the shocking news at about 2pm that my younger brother was killed that day. I am being persuaded not to link the attacks and death of my brother to the NBA elections. I hope I would be able to resist the urge............
“………..I have now studied the delegate list which I had not seen at the time I made my comment on the elections. No one can deny that some names of delegates from Branches were removed and replaced in Abuja. If delegates had been elected by Branch members on whose authority would any person remove and replace them? What of NEC members? There were persons I had nominated as NEC members and rejected specifically by the President in Gombe NEC who were later co-opted as NEC members, days to the election. An example is Barth Okoye Aniche, former 3rd Vice President under Akeredolu, whom I pleaded with the President to co-opt into NEC but was rejected. Few days to the election he was given a letter of co-option signed by the President but backdated to a date in November 2010.”
At the Annual General Conference of NBA held in Abuja on the 28th of August 2012, Ukiri in his capacity as 1st Vice President presented a report. Paragraph 5.00 of the Report captioned “Attacks, Threats and Intimidation of the 1st Vice President” is very instructive. He stated:
“The 1st Vice President was subjected to an overdose of personal attacks, threats, deprivation and intimidation in the discharge of his functions within the period under review. I have reported on some of them to NEC and the 2011 Conference. They continued to increase in their numbers and intensity. A few instances are highlighted here. As a fall-out of my report and recommendations to the NEC meetings held in Akure which were not rejected, the Aba Branch embarked on several attacks on my person. They appeared to have been emboldened and encouraged by the President who after the NEC meeting, allegedly urged them to ignore the report, a decision he did not take at the NEC meeting over which he had presided.
In 2006 as 2nd Vice President under Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, Akuro George, Esq. and I, were nominated benchers, after NEC approval. The President then, sent me a letter confirming my nomination. Somehow, there was no space to accommodate two NBA nominees in 2006 and throughout Chief Rotimi Akeredolu’s tenure. However, in this Administration, where I am supposed to be 2nd in command, several vacancies (up to 20) occurred in the Body of Benchers. The President did not deem it fit to re-submit my name. I am therefore praying conference to approve my nomination to the Body of Benchers as approved since 2006 whenever a vacancy exists in the body of Benchers for the NBA to fill.
In March,2012, Dele Oye, Esq one of the NBA Prosecutors handling the disciplinary trial of a Port Harcourt based Lawyer requested me, in my capacity as the vice President in charge of South South, to inquire to inquire from the Lawyer if had been called to the Bar and to request for a copy of his call to Bar certificate. That was to make further proceedings against the Lawyer unnecessary, if he had not been called. I obliged him (Dele oye). The Lawyer sued NBA, the Body of Benchers and I in the Federal High Court, the Port Harcourt Judicial Division in suit No. FHC/PH/CS/145/2012. The President directed and approved funds for the Legal Adviser (a member of Aba Branch) to defend NBA in the suit. No defence was filled for me. I am, therefore, praying Conference to approve and authorize me to engage a Counsel to defend my interest at the expense of NBA, including the one filed by E.E.J. Agwulonu, Esq, another Aba Branch member.
ON 1st June, 2012 my family and I were attacked in Portharcourt by armed criminals who were interested only in my smart phone and contacts. On Friday,13th July,2012 after our meeting with the Leadership of the Western Bar Forum and my agreement to withdraw from the race, I received an anonymous sms threatening me to withdraw from the race before it was too late. Shortly after the sms, my son who was alone in the sitting room got mysteriously attacked at 9.30pm. He was hospitalized and placed on intensive care. On Monday, 16th July,2012 at 2.00pm while putting finishing touches to my withdrawal speech for the manifesto night that day, I received the shocking news that my younger brother had been killed and left on the road. I was shattered and could not attend the manifesto night. For me that was the sad end of the “NBA 2012 politics of hatred, threats and manipulation”. I shall, however, remain grateful to the God-fearing, kind-hearted and ever straight-forward past-President and Chairman of the NBA 2012 Elections Planning Conference, Prince Lanke Odoginyan,who stood firm and allowed my representative to announce my bereavement, despite the heartless and noisy opposition that I was seeking sympathy votes. In an election which my supporters and I had agreed to withdraw from? We did not announce our withdrawal because we did not want the criminals and those threatening us to take any credit and be encouraged in their nefarious activities. But my numerous friends understood that we had to withdraw.”
Ukiri concluded his report thus:
“These past 24 months were the longest in my life. I thank God we survived the meanness, unprovoked attacks, unjustified deprivations and the threats. I lost my brother within the period under review. I hope he did not die for a cause he knew nothing about. I thank those who contributed in any form, either positively or negatively, in my attempt to discharge the functions of my office. Without them this piece of history would have passed away like a dreamless slumber. I believe I have offended a sizeable number of Colleagues too. To them I tender my unreserved apology. I believe I tried to play my role the best way I could. But how well, I cannot be the Judge. I salute you for entrusting me with responsibilities as your national FINANCIAL-SECRETARY,3RD,2ND and 1ST VICE-PRESIDENT. I think this is the right stage to take a bow. But is the ovation of only two persons loud enough?
With the above revelations from Ukiri, it was a matter of time before the PH clique will fight back. With a high wire conspiracy between Bello Adoke, the Federal Attorney General and his cousin, JB Daudu in collaboration with OCJ Okocha and Okey Wali, the plan was hatched to exhume an old criminal complaint written to the EFCC by one of Ukiri’s client-Samuel Onowighose. Ukiri had recovered about N35 Million on behalf his client and decided to take his professional fees at source. The client protested that the amount Ukiri deducted was too much and wrote a petition to EFCC in 2007. Ukiri went to court and got a judgment ratifying his actions. But in 2012 his traducers struck. On Friday 12th October 2012 they obtained a Warrant for the arrest of Ukiri from one Hon Justice U.F Agomo of Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt. The interesting thing is that the lady judge who issued the warrant- Uche Agomo was a former junior counsel in the chambers of JB Daudu at Abuja Office. Upon his arrest, Ukiri was arraigned before the same judge on Monday the 15th of October 2012. After the charges were read and Ukiri pleading not guilty, the judge promptly remanded him in prison custody and adjourned the case to 18th of October 2012 for the hearing of an application for bail that was promptly filed by Ukiri’s lawyer . It is expected that on the adjourned date, after taking argument on the bail issue, the judge will adjourn for a week or thereabout to give her ruling by then Ukiri would have spent close to 2 weeks in prison custody. It is also expected that the judge in granting bail will impose onerous conditions that will be difficult for Ukiri to surmount.
The deduction from the above development is that the OCJ Okocha clique in Port Harcourt wants Ukiri to leave town and return to his native Delta State. They had openly threatened Ukiri that unless he leaves Port Harcourt for good, his days as a practicing lawyer in Port Harcourt are numbered. With what is now happening the questions on the lips of lawyers is –who will save Blessing Ukiri?
Cyprian Amanke (email@example.com) is a Port Harcourt based Legal Practitioner.
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