Twenty Senior Advocates of Nigeria have put themselves out as reformists. That is good news to a sad situation that has plagued the bar for many years. However, their emergence is tainted by some form of apprehension among some lawyers.
The group lacks diversity as most of them come from particular region of the country, it is made up of mostly those who supported candidates that did not win in the last election of the Nigerian Bar Association and more worrisome, they are mostly Senior Lawyers who are close to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who have never criticised the excesses of the Present Federal Government of Nigeria.
The concerns are no doubt Germaine and may cast doubt on their true intentions and motives.
No matter their intentions, they have listed areas of reform in both the legal profession and the Judiciary. I agree with them that those areas need reforms; real reforms devoid of self-serving agenda.
Another cause of worry about these reformists is that many of them have been directly and indirectly involved in the affairs of the bar even at the time things started detoriating many years ago.
According to this group, there is an urgent need for action. I agree and wish to add that the urgency of the need arose more than fifteen years ago when Senior Lawyers went to bed with politicians and stripped themselves beyond the customary standard of decency. Now they have given birth to what is plaguing everyone now.
The need arose when Tunji Gomez floated his Movement for the abolition of the rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria and other judicial reforms. The urgent need arose when lawyers started turning legal submissions upside down to suit their political or tribal leanings. The urgent need arose when Senior Lawyers aided and abetted the admission of unqualified students into Law Faculties. The urgent need arose when Senior Lawyers enjoyed harmful privileges in Justice Ajumogobia’s court where she comes in and takes the case of Senior Lawyers and adjourn the cases of young lawyers for no good reason and the seniors saw nothing wrong in it. The urgent need started when some Senior Advocates will sit alone in the front seat while many lawyers stand up without a seat to sit down. The urgent need arose when the disciplinary committee started punishing young lawyers for spending incorporation fees from their clients but will give senior lawyers safe landing in the same committee even when the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal have warned them about frivolous suits. The Urgent need arose when senior advocates of Nigeria suo moto tagged themselves leaders of the bar yet have shown no real leadership, the urgent need arose when the DSS invaded the houses of Judges and told the world that they recovered thousand dollars and Euros in their houses and lawyers supported that those lawyers should recuse themselves before they were found either guilty or innocent. etc.
This group has declared their intentions to work with stakeholders including the Nigerian Bar Association. That is great news if some of them who still harbour animosity for the present leadership of the Bar will not allow it becloud their sense of reasoning.
The NBA needs the support of all lawyers especially at this time it is going through an unprecedented bullying and is putting up an unprecedented resistance in decades.
The events of the past few months show that the legal community has become vulnerable as a result of unreasonable animosity among lawyers.
Two months ago, the President of the NBA was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes commission for what they called breach of trust. They expected him to enquire from his client the source of his money before receiving his Professional fees for work already done.
The Governor of Akwa Ibom State who was supposed to be the first accused was never arraigned (he has immunity) the commissioners who resume at their duty post everyday were said to be at large. Paul Usoro whose first shot against the Federal government was his statement condemning the Nigerian President’s position on rule of law.
If this suit succeeds, what that means is that a burden will be placed on lawyers requiring them to enquire from their clients the source of their wealth before receiving any payment. This will turn lawyers into quasi law enforcement agents who will receive no payment for the job.
In spite of the consequences the success of this trial will bring to lawyers in general , some Lawyers, some of whom are members of the G20 SANs have argued that the issue was a personal problem of the NBA President. That is sad.
In another development, the Chief Justice of Nigeria was removed in a cow boy manner .He has failed to declare some of his assets and the law governing asset declaration gives him the right to admit and regularise, he admitted but was never given the chance to regularise. While his matter was being considered at the tribunal, he was removed by the President of Nigeria relying on an irregular motion exparte. A new Chief Judge was sworn in under controversial circumstances.
Nigeria’s President in justifying his actions said that some monies were found in his account. The NBA called for a boycott which was though substantially complied with but had some lawyers arguing that the NBA was supporting corruption. They stood on bogus moral high grounds to defend their positions against the NBA directives. Some of the members of the G20 were among.
The NBA President had made it clear on why lawyers should oppose the removal of the CJN. The directive was not just about the CJN Walter Onnoghen but a resistance to unlawful procedure. Removing Onnoghen, amounted to punishing him before putting him through the complete process of trial as required by the cardinal principle of justice that a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The NBA has also said that even if suspicious monies were found in his account, it was not the duty of the executive to enforce it. An accused person even if he was caught red handed committing murder must be given his day in court.
That is the position of the NBA and indeed the position under our laws yet these lawyers came out with self-serving, politically tainted and tribally charged argument to support their positions. Like I said, some of them are members of this reformist G20 group.
The NBA has never said that a guilty person should not be tried but he or she should be tried in accordance with the laws of the land.
The G20 needs to do more to build confidence among lawyers that they mean well. The also need to convince a lot of weary lawyers that they are not pursuing any animosity or protecting any political ally.
In the past 20 years, many groups with reforms in mind have come and gone without achieving anything. Most of them did not survive because they were built on parochial ideals. We just hope the G20 will not be found in the thrash can of legal history sooner than later.