I find it difficult to understand why some lawyers are complaining vehemently about the conduct of the Bar Association’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) held in Kenema. Firstly, their complaint about being late for the AGM because a truck broke down across a narrow bridge does not hold water. Being lawyers, they have obviously not learnt about the “broken axle theory”, which is not in modern day textbooks- “A broken axle on a vehicle at speed always turns the vehicle in a 45-degree angle to the direction of travel.” Every credit to the driver for avoiding a catastrophe by not going headlong into the river. OK, one tyre was removed from the truck, but has anyone considered that this dutiful driver’s motive was probably to avert the theft of the only good tyre under the vehicle? Besides, because of the urgency of getting into Kenema from Bo, could they not have hired a fleet of okadas? These lawyers….not imaginative at all!

Those who complain about our revered ACC Commissioner handing out ballot papers to voters without any authentication process easily forget that the man is a veteran lawyer with 17 years’ experience in the bar. He has a photographic memory and knew every legitimate lawyer who had voting rights in that hall. Besides, questioning the integrity of the man whose ACC has markedly improved our corruption rankings and won so many international awards for successfully fighting corruption would be an exercise in futility.

As for those who complain about the AGM’s order for the agenda being changed, what is wrong if an important item like Agenda item 8 for Elections trades places with number 2. As the ACC boss says, the Bar Association is registered as a company limited by guarantee. This probably means that the possibility of any event happening is guaranteed! As the spokesman for the Association mentioned over radio, it made sense for the elections to be brought forward so that lawyers can leave town in time and return to base because of that “bondo business” in Kenema. As one observer has noted, some could have unwittingly strayed into “forbidden bondo areas of town” and be faced with the indignity of forcibly speaking in tongues on the Sunday following which was Pentecost Sunday.

As for the complaint by some of being tear gassed, give me a break! What did they expect the police to do? With enough experience of tear gassing protesters, the lawyers could not expect any different treatment. Wearing their wigs and gowns under the current hot weather we are experiencing could be worse than wiping the tears from their eyes and coughing.

And as for those complaining about the Association not countenancing voting by proxy, any patriotic lawyer worth his/her salt will make the sacrifice of travelling the 200 miles to Kenema from Freetown, sleeping over in Bo to enjoy the night life and travelling to Kenema to cast his/her valuable vote as long as the ballot paper does not end up on the floor.

I can’t believe my legal friends have forced me to spew out so much gibberish in jest! The firestorm of information coming from Kenema on social media does not shower our legal friends in glory. These puerile antics should not be associated with such an important organisation that demands respect. The Bar Association to its credit has been proactive on some issues, including calling for the curbing of police excesses, criticizing the government for unlawfully interfering into the functioning of some media institutions, advocacy training and support for delinquent juveniles.

Bar associations, created to provide a unified voice within the legal profession play other roles including: the regulation of the legal profession; the protection of the rule of law; and engaging in law reform. They defend the independence of the legal profession, ensuring that it is free from state interference and that individual lawyers are able to carry out their work free of harassment or threat. They also should provide support to individuals in accessing the law, particularly the poor and marginalized. Their role to defend the rule of law may sometimes necessitate activities critical of the government in power.

It is in the area of defending the rule of law that the Bar Association has always faced the greatest challenges. We have seen blatant political interference into the functioning of the Bar, aided and abetted by senior members of the Bar itself. Instead of defending the rule of law, lawyers have perfected the act of defending their preferred political parties and throwing the interest of the country down the abyss.

The Bar Association has often faced problems-both within its ranks and purportedly instigated by those in authority. Over the years we have witnessed several foiled meetings by splinter groups, falling out over weighty political issues like the VP Sam Sumana ouster, leading to conflicting positions and disparaging of Bar Presidents who have dared to be too critical of the government of the day and several other happenings that have threatened to split the association. The Bar basically has not spoken with one voice on issues of national concern threatening the rule of law. As much as some past administrations may have been politically tainted, this recent AGM in Kenema truly drops the bar and lawyers have sunk to a new low. Right now, it is embarrassing to be called a lawyer. I heard one aspirant remark the other day that even his Ataya Base organisations runs more credible elections.

We are currently faced with serious national issues bordering on the law and constitutionality that threaten to dismantle our democracy. After skirting around this issue of a new constitution for a good sixteen years, it seems the government is finally ready to finalise one. This will be made even more complex by the need to incorporate some recommendations from the ongoing Tripartite Committee’s report. We are still at a stage in this country where the police are loath to entertain demonstrations of any type for fear of “causing unrest”. There are concerns about the fair trial of cases that may have political ramifications. In all of these cases the voice of the Bar gets drowned out because the legal people on whom we pin our hopes are too enmeshed in their own political fights and getting to a position in which they will acquiesce to the whims of those in power to be bothered about little things like preserving the rule of law.

The Bar Association should be given the latitude to work alongside government and civil society partners to both strengthen government institutions—with a focus on the justice system—and reinforce people’s capacity to demand justice and accountability, two basic components of sustainable peace. It is heartening to note that nine past Presidents of the Association have roundly condemned the recent happenings in Kenema and called for re-run of the election. The core role of the bar association is to maintain the honour, dignity, integrity, competence, ethics, standards of conduct and discipline of the profession. The Kenema incident indicates the reverse may be true of the Bar Association in its present state.

Our lawyers have allowed themselves to be called to the Bar one more time. This time it is not the bar that demands years of serious study and commitment. As one observer wryly noted-“Now I know what they mean when they say they have been called to the Bar.” This AGM with all the brawls and happenings is reminiscent of a proper bar fight. It is one in which after a drunken stupor, there is road blocking, scattering of ballot papers, shouting and desk thumping and a little bit of election rigging on the side. My bar at least is more sober-they give you goat pepper soup to sober you up if you start getting too animated for comfort!

Ponder my thoughts.