(By Chief I. W. IDOWU)
My attention has just been. drawn to a news report titled, “Unilateral Amendment of RPC: We are estopped from challenging the power of AGF – Bar Council Member, Okutepa SAN,” published by the BarristerNG media platform. With the greatest respect to Mr. Okutepa, Nigeria lawyers are not estopped from challenging the action of AGF in this respect; Nigerian lawyers have no powers to amend, or to acquiesce to any violation of, any provisions of the Legal Practitioners Act (LPA), CAP L11, LFN, 200 or any of its successor-Acts, or amendment thereof. Only the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria possesses the powers to amend or repeal the LPA, and until validly amended, all provisions of the LPA remain binding and enforceable. Accordingly, where there’s any violation of the LPA, a court can set such violation aside by nullifying the offending action and declaring same null. The mere fact that Nigerian lawyers didn’t Challenge the RPC, 2007, purportedly made by the then Hon Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) does not in any manner detract from
or diminish the powers of Nigerian lawyers to challenge any amendment purportedly, unilaterally made to the RPC, 2007, by the AGF in 2020, if such (the 2020) amendment is considered null. Even the RPC, 2007 itself may still be challenged as illegal and also set aside, if it was not properly made. No statute of limitation says that the RPC made in 2007 cannot be voided in 2020.
Let me now analyse Mr. Okutepa’s postulations and see to what extent any one of them may stand.
(1). The fact that J. S. OKUTEPA, SAN, a member of the General Council of the Bar(GCB), made the following declaration, has confirmed the claim by Nigerian lawyers, that the AGF did not call any meeting of the GCB before unilaterally amending the RPC, 2007: “This morning I woke up to read from social media that the Hon the Attorney General of the Federation has amended the Rules of Professional Conduct in the Legal Profession 2007.”
Meanwhile, I recall the earlier observation by another member of the GCB, Mazi AFAM OSIGWE:
“The twenty members representing the Nigerian Bar Association were elected at the Association’s Annual General Meeting held in Abuja on August 27, 2015. The Attorney General of the Federation has not convened a meeting of the Bar Council. The Bar Council has neither considered nor approved any proposed amendment to the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007. Even though the Attorney General of the Federation is the President of the Bar Council, he cannot unilaterally exercise the powers of the Council.”
(2). Now, Mr. J. S. OKUTEPA, SAN agrees that “the appropriate organ saddles with the duty and responsibility to issue and make the Rules of Professional Conduct in the Legal Profession is the General Council of the Bar pursuant to section 12(4) of the Legal Practitioners Act as amended by law No 21 of 1994.” This means that the learned silk agrees that the AGF lacks the power to unilaterally make or amend the RPC, 2007.
(3). With due respect to the learned silk, it reasonably amounts to approbating and reprobating for the learned silk to turn around (as he has done) to describe “the condemnation by some legal Practitioners as belated and not well rooted in good faith.”
If the Hon AGF lacks powers to UNILATERALLY make or amend the RPC, then one may ask whether Mr. OKUTEPA, SAN’s declaration that “as lawyers, we collectively led the office of the Hon the Attorney General of the Federation to believe that it has power and duty to issue the Rules” can remove/erase the illegality inherent in the AGF’s actions in this respect. What is illegal is illegal and remains illegal and invalid, notwithstanding our own acquiescence to it. If the AGF lacks the powers to make or amend any RPC, any such action by the AGF remains illegal and ought to, not only be condemned, but should also promptly be set aside using the appropriate procedures and channels.
(4). This being the case, I hold the respectful opinion that Mr. OKUTEPA, SAN, completely missed the point when he issued the following query to Nigerian lawyers who are bitter and complaining over what they see an illegal action of the AGF: “What is the hullabaloo on the alleged amendments said to have been made by the Hon the Attorney General of the Federation then for? Did we not use the old one made by the HAGF?”
(5). Honestly, I had expected, that MR. OKUTEPA, SAN, should feel seriously concerned as a distinguished member of the GCB, whose lawful and exclusive authority and powers have been so unabashedly usurped by the unilateral action of the AGF in this respect. Besides, if it’s true that only the GCB can validly make or amend the RPC, then Mr. Okutepa, SAN, as a member or the GCB, should feel disrespected by the AGF’s action because, as I think, any disrespect or disregard for the GCB is gross disrespect/disregard for all its members, collectively and individually, including Mr. OKUTEPA, SAN. Every member of the GCB should indeed feel disrespected if it’s true that (1).only the GCB can make/amend the RPC and (2). The Hon AGF has now effected an amendment to the RPC, 2007, without first convening a meeting of the GCB to exercise powers that are exclusive to it.
The mere fact that the AGF is the president of the GCB doesn’t mean that the AGF can exercise the powers of the GCB. By law, only the GCB can exercise any lawful powers assigned to the GCB; Even if the AGF decides to exercise such powers on behalf of the GCB, he has an obligation to obtain the prior go-ahead of the GCB, which go-ahead may only be given at a properly convened meeting of the GCB. There is no evidence yet that the AGF had done any of these before purporting to amend the RPC, 2007.
(6). In view of the aforesaid, Nigerian lawyers have the responsibility of taking urgent steps to immediately reverse this desecration of rule of law as allegedly perpetuated by the Hon AGF! Illegality must not be condoned under any guise; one illegality tolerated begets multiple illegalities, until illegality overdoes us and becomes the rule, the norm, the necessary result of which would be doom and damnation, these in turn being the forerunners of chaos.
Chief I. W. IDOWU