Court nullifies suspension of NBA’s General Secretary, Joyce Oduah
Posted: 24/Aug/2022

The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Tuesday, reversed the suspension Joyce Oduah as Secretary General of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). Mrs Oduah’s suspension by the NBA national officers was based on allegations of “gross misconduct” and dereliction of duty.

Principal among the allegations levelled against her was her recent unilateral withdrawal of notices for the amendment of the association’s constitution. The constitution amendment, by the earlier notices, was meant to be considered at the association’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) which began on 19 August in Lagos.

The NBA president, Olumide Akpata, had issued a disclaimer reversing the withdrawal of the notices for the constitution amendment.

Fighting back to overturn her suspension from office, Mrs Oduah filed a suit before Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking the court’s order reversing her suspension.

On Tuesday, the judge set aside the action of the NBA’s National Executive Committee (NEC) on the grounds that it constituted an affront to the rule of law and overreaching court’s proceedings in the suit.

Mr Mohammed, while ruling on an application filed and argued by Ayotunde Ogunleye on behalf of Mrs Oduah, held that the NBA-NEC which gave legal effect to the General Secretary’s suspension acted in “bad faith and in utter disregard for the proceedings of the court.”

The judge agreed with Mr Ogunleye that the ratification done on 21 August ought not to have been carried out by the NEC in view of the pendency of a suit challenging Mrs Oduah’s suspension.

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He further said, “The purported ratification (of the General Secretary’s suspension) was not only an affront to the court but a denigration of the sanctity of the judiciary which on several occasions has been condemned by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”

The plaintiff’s lawyer cited Supreme Court authorities to establish that the National Executive Committee of the NBA acted against the established law in taking steps in a matter pending against them.

He added that the purported ratification was a deliberate and desperate ploy to foist helplessness on the court.

In his ruling, Mr Mohammed agreed that having submitted to court’s jurisdiction –   joined issues with the plaintiff in court and with or without express order of court, no party ought to have taken any further steps on the subject matter of the litigation.

The judge said that the action of the NBA-NEC in relation to the unlawful ratification was “irritating, annoying, condemnable and liable to be set aside since the actors in the illegal ratification cannot claim ignorance of the position of law on such contemptuous attitude.”

Judge faults NBA’s defence
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Goodwin Onuakwu, made spirited efforts to justify Mrs Oduah’s suspension, arguing that the NBA’S NEC only acted on a completed act.

The senior lawyer urged the court not to hold that the action of the NBA-NEC amounted to self-help or attempts to foist a situation of hopelessness on the court because the suspension can be voided and set aside by the court if the plaintiff’s case was meritorious.

But the judge disagreed with Mr Onuakwu, saying the action of the NBA was a direct attack against the court and must not be allowed to stand.

The judge particularly noted that the action of the NBA leadership was painful because of their standing legal practitioners.

Meanwhile, the court fixed August 31 for hearing in an application seeking a mandatory order of injunction against the defendants (the NBA and Mr Akpata) in the suit.

Backstory
It has been reported that Mrs Oduah’s suspension came few days before the commencement of the NBA’s week-long Annual General Meeting (AGM) currently holding in Lagos.

Rising from its emergency meeting on Monday, 15 August, the National Executive Committee passed the resolution suspending Mrs Oduah from office as the General Secretary.

Mrs Oduah and 10 other members of the committee, including the NBA President, Olumide Akpata, were present at the meeting, according to a copy of the ‘final resolution’ issued at the end of Monday’s meeting.

The meeting was presided by the 1st Vice President, John Aikpokpo Martins with the NBA president, Mr Akpata voluntarily withdrawing to play the role.

With the exception of Mr Akpata and Mrs Oduah, nine members in attendance signed the resolution suspending the General Secretary.

The nine members of the committee who signed the resolution had, in a letter dated 9 August and addressed to Mr Akpata, called for the emergency meeting to address recent actions recently taken by Mrs Oduah

The decision was hinged on the need to ensure a hitch-free AGM “and to prevent the General Secretary, Mrs Joyce Oduah from imperilling the Annual General Meeting.”

“…the National Executive Committee has unanimously exercised its emergency powers under section 9(6) (d) of the NBA Constitution 2015 (as amended in 2021) to suspend Mrs Joyce Oduah from office as the General Secretary of the Association with immediate effect pending the Pre-Conference meeting of the NBA-NEC scheduled to hold on Sunday 21st August 2022,” the resolution read in part