You and I know there are several capacities in which the Supreme Court may act, or officers of the Supreme Court may act. Yes, the apex court guides us in several ways. The Supreme Court possesses four distinct jurisdictions under our laws— (a) Original jurisdiction; (b). Appellate jurisdiction; and (c). Supervisory Jurisdiction and (d) Disciplinary Jurisdiction. The Supreme Court recently gave some clarification on computation of the post-Call years for legal practitioners in Nigeria. The clarification is not, though, in a Supreme Court judgment. The clarification given by the supreme court, which I think constitutes the apex court’s position, is contained in a Counter Affidavit, filed by the Registrar of the Supreme Court on 22 November 2018 as the Defendant in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/925/2018: (Olumide Babalola v The Chief Registrar, Supreme Court of Nigeria) currently pending at the Federal High Court in Abuja. The counter affidavit states, inter alia, as follows:
4(c) “….upon call to bar, enrolment in the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the subsequent payment of the first annual practicing fees, a legal practitioner becomes one year old at the bar.
4(d) “… upon the payment of the second practicing fee at the first anniversary of the person’s Call to the Bar, the legal practitioner becomes two years at the Bar and the counting and reckoning continues in that order.”
It must be recalled that an earlier suit/case on the same issue (filed by my bosom friend, the popular Steve Sun) was struck out by Honourable Justice Akintayo Aluko of the FHC, Abakaliki Division, Ebonyi State, for want of jurisdiction. The court had held that the suit (See Suit No. FHC/AI/CS/31/2017-Stephen U. Nwankwo Esq. V. Registered Trustees of the Nigerian Bar Association & 13 Ors.) was incompetent, and that that it therefore lacked jurisdiction to entertain same. But the Presiding Judge proceeded to make a statement I love so much, because it aligns with the interest of justice and meets with the requirements of the Latin legal maxim that insists on Ubi Jus Ibi Remedium (for every wrong, the law ought to provide a remedy). Says his Lordship: “I enjoin the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association both at the national and state branch to wade into the matter, particularly on the computation of post-call age of members of the Association as it affects the Plaintiff with a view to resolving the issue revolving around his qualification to contest in the forthcoming Bar elections of his branch.” I respectfully believe what the NBA Leadership has just done in the official statement issued by it on January 04, 2019, was to comply with the wise, just and fatherly counsel/directive given by His Lordship, Hon Justice Akintayo Aluko of the FHC. I think NBA is in order in having exercised the jurisdiction given to it by a court of law to ensure that there is no void or lacuna. It is not me that the FHC had asked to look into the matter and make a statement to guide all Bar Men. The judicial directive was given to the NBA leadership which has now in its wisdom decided to align itself with the position of the Supreme Court on the controversy, as cited above. I respectfully expect that we should abide by it. However, permit me to quickly note that it is heartwarming that Olumide Babalola’s case is in court. The suit, filed on 28 August 2018, and now pending before the FHC, Abuja, seeks a clear interpretation of section 8(3) of the Legal Practitioners’ Act and Legal Practitioners (Bar Practicing Fees) Notice vis a vis the phrase – “Post Call”. In it, the plaintiff seeks the following reliefs, inter alia:
(1) a declaration that the phrase “Post Call” excludes the year of call since a lawyer cannot clock one year immediately after his call to bar. (2) a declaration that upon call to bar, enrollment in the Supreme Court and subsequent payment of the first annual practicing fees, a legal practitioner becomes one year old at the bar;” (3) a declaration that upon payment of the second practicing fee at the first anniversary of the person’s call to bar, the legal practitioner becomes two years at the bar and the counting and reckoning continue in that order.”(4) an injunction restraining the respondent and its officers from including or further the Applicant’s year of call in the computation of his post-call years.”
Although I can immediately respectfully spot some palpable contradiction in the reliefs sought by my very good friend, Olumide Babalola, I am nevertheless optimistic that a judicious and just determination of this case may bring to a conclusive end this continual controversy over computation of post-call years. Meanwhile, pending the determination of Mr Babalola’s case, i humbly suggest that it is only fair, wise and reasonable that all lawyers in Nigeria should rely on and comply with the position of the NBA leadership, which itself was informed by a judicial directive of the Federal High Court and which is in line with (based on) the position already taken by the Supreme Court on the issue. As Oliver Weldell Holmes said in The Path of the Law, “the prophecies of what the courts would do in fact, and nothing more pretentious, are what I mean by the law.” The court does its work in two major ways; it either does it by itself or it would direct action to be take by an appropriate authority. In the present instance , following Mr Steve Sun’s case, the court in its wisdom had chosen to empower the NBA Leadership to take the decision. The NBA leadership has in turn spoken, aligning itself with the apex court. It is now for us, all Nigerian lawyers, to faithfully follow, abide and comply, until a competent court says otherwise. I rest my case on this note. But before I drop my phone, I need at this juncture to thank respected learned friend, Mr Steve Sun, whose proactive activism had triggered the FHC directive that provided a good foundation for NBA’s leadership guide as seen its statement of January 04, 2019. Further, Mr Olumide Babalola, author of the excellent book, *Babalola’s Law Dictionary of Judicially Defined Words and Phrases, * also deserves our praise for once again throwing up an opportunity for the courts to settle this issue once for all. On a personal note, Mr Babalola has graciously given me the privilege of writing a review to his quintessential reference book. Cooperation is key for members of the bar. “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success” (Henry Ford). Long live NBA! Long live Nigeria! I remain yours in service,
(January 04, 2019).h