Tunji Gomez is Nigeria’s oldest Practicing Lawyer in Nigeria. He has been in the fore front of the agitation to Abolish the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria through the association he founded,Movement for the abolition of the rank of senior Advocate and other Judicial reforms(MARSAN). Courtroom mail paid him a visit in his Lagos office and he granted us this interview conducted by Anthony Atata, the founding editor of courtroom mail who has been documenting the activities of the abolition movement since 2009.
- On the 20th of August 2009, you moved the historic motion to abolish the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria at the annual conference in Lagos, This is 2016, is the movement still alive?
The movement is still on, very active. Austin Alegeh is the only NBA President that engaged with the Movement for the Abolition of the Rank of Senior advocate of Nigeria and other judicial reforms (MARSAN) .He promised to push for some reforms. He appealed to us to be a bit patient and said that we will sit down and end the matter. The movement is not dead.
- The LPPC has amended the rule of appointment of SAN. Do you consider it a way forward?
I do not consider it a way forward. It makes it rather complicated. The basic wrong of discrimination is still there. It gives advantage to some lawyers by making them super lawyers based on reasons that that are not on merit. No examination, no tutelage, no special seminar, no special training which violates the constitutional provision of freedom from discrimination. It’s more geo political. If a lawyer is in Nasarrawa for instance and the other one in Kaduna ,the one in Nasarrawa stands a better chance of being a Senior advocate than the one in Kaduna because there are more Lawyers in Kaduna. What type of merit is that? It is like the cut off mark we have in JAMB examinations. That is not merit. That is favouritism and nepotism. It deprives a majority of lawyers a reputable and respectable earning. For instance, if a client employs a lawyer say Mr X and his opponent employs ySAN, the client of Mr X will ask him to employ a SAN or relinquish the brief. It encourages brief snatching. It has happened to a lot of lawyers. So what has the amendment done? The discrimination is still there.
- MARSAN agitated for Universal suffrage in Nigerian Bar Association Elections. The NBA has it now. How do you rate the first election?
Austin Alegeh started well. The Universal suffrage has put to an end the waste of money that candidates get involved with in running for the position of the NBA President.Money on pamphlets, inducement, mobilisation, free transport, lodging and commandeering hotels to prevent supporters of an opponent from having a place to lodge during elections. The cankerworm has been taken out. The last election showed a huge difference in the cost of campaign.
- Are there improvements you desire in the profession?
I am of the opinion that the Lagos State Civil procedure rules, as good as it is, is in need of urgent attention in some places. The time between filing of a case to the time the case is heard should be shortened. The number of days given to a defendant to file his defence is 42days. That period is too long. It should be reduced to 21days. The time to reply should be reduced to 7days. At present, we have 42days, 14days and taking into consideration the time it will take to effect service, everything sums up to about 60days that a claimant will wait to have his matter slated for mention. The time should be reduced so that litigants can have justice. This should apply to all rules of court across the country.
- Many people believe that your appointment as a member of the body of Benchers compromised the struggle. Is it true?
They said it to my face at the Federal High court. They have been saying it.
I do not compromise principle. The MARSAN fight is a matter of principle. As Lawyers, we should uphold justice at all times and where we see injustice, we are expected to speak out. The rank of SAN constitutes injustice to Non Senior Advocates. Therefore we must speak out.
- On the state of the Judiciary-Corruption and Conflicting Judgements
The Judiciary is part of the Nigerian system and it’s supposed to be an independent arm of the government. The corruption if any (non has been proved) flows from the action of Government and their officials when they refuse to obey court orders. This renders the courts a toothless bulldog. So the corruption starts from there. From such reckless situation, it degenerates down to the Judges themselves some of whom are influenced by the power of politics, friendship, school ties, politics and the desire by the Judge to please the powers that be.
In such Scenario, it is not surprising that the conflicting Judgements of courts are rearing their heads to satisfy two conflicting interests.
It is so bad now that even the layman who doesn’t know the meaning of the word will publicly ridicule the Judgement of the Appeal court or the Supreme Court on a matter which he is ignorant of and even condemn the Judge.