By Dele Adesina SAN
The conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria started in 1975 when it was conferred on Chief F.R.A. Williams SAN and Dr. Graham Douglas SAN pursuant to the Legal Practitioners Amendment Act, No 25 of 1975. These two great gentlemen wore the rank between 1975 and 1978 by which time the rank was conferred on another set of thirteen Legal Practitioners including Chief Obafemi Awolowo SAN, Prof. Ben Nwabueze SAN.
Others were Dr. Augustine Nnamani SAN. Chief Kehinde Sofola SAN, Chief R.O.A Akinjide SAN, Chief G.O.K. Ajayi SAN, Chief Olisa Chukura SAN, Dr. Nwabama Okoro SAN, Chief T. A. Bankole Oki SAN, Chief E. A. Molajo SAN, P. O. Balonwu SAN, Chief R. A. Fani Kayode SAN and Dr. Mudiaga Odje SAN. Dr. Augustine Nnamani later became a Justice of the Supreme Court.
The inspiration for the award of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria came from the award of Queen’s Counsel (QC) and Kings’ Counsel (KC) depending on whether the Sovereign in England is a Queen or King respectively. The first QC was one Sir Francis Bacon who was given the patent given him precedence at the Bar in 1597. The QC system was later to become part of our system in 1958 upon the passing into law of a Bill to create QCs among Nigerian Lawyers.
Upon the enactment of QCs ordinance No. 54 of 1958, Chief H. O. Davies SAN and Chief F.R.A. Williams SAN were appointed QCs in 1959. However, the rank of QCs in Nigeria was short lived as it was abolished in 1964 consequent upon the Nation’s attainment of Republican status in 1963 via the Queen Counsel (abolition) Act No. 12 of 1964. With the abolition of the rank of QCs in Nigeria came the replacement rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria through the platform of the Legal Practitioner Act of No. 25 of the 1975. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we are talking here about a tradition that dates back to 1597 about four (4) centuries and twenty-five (25) years. It is with this recognition that I congratulate you once again for attaining this Professional distinction.
SAN – LEADERSHIP POSITION
- B. Mahmoud SAN, OON, President Nigerian Bar Association between 2016 and 2018 accurately addressed the point in his speech at the September 19, 2016/2017 Legal Year and the Conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria at the Supreme Court. The now past president stated as follows: “This is indeed a mark of professional excellence that each and everyone of you richly deserved. You now share with other leaders of the Bar the burden and responsibility for professional leadership that the rank of SAN imposes. By your new position, you are role models for the profession. The rank must carry with it some notion of quality assurance… I must therefore remind us on this solemn occasion that there are huge responsibilities that accompany this rank. The responsibility to promote justice delivery to fellow citizens on the basis of the highest ethical and professional standard… We have a duty to promote the independence and integrity of the legal profession. We must recognize that the prosperity of this country depends among everything else, first and foremost, on our ability to promote the rule of law and guarantee justice and fairness to our communities and our fellow citizens.”
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, permit me to say that your success and legacy will not be the function of how much you have in the bank but a function of how many you are able to mentor either through direct or indirect mentorship, your commitment to Judicial independence, your commitment to accountability, discipline and integrity in the profession. We need upright men and women of integrity, sensitivity and honesty in the profession in general but more particularly in this rank.
THE RULES AND REGULATIONS
I will take it that we are all familiar with the provisions of the Legal Practitioners Act cap L11 Laws of the Federation which unfortunately and un-successively we have been trying to amend since about 2002 in order to accommodate societal changes and bring it to be in tune with modern realities. I believe we are also familiar with the Rules of Professional Conduct for the Legal Practitioners, 2007.
As members of the inner bar; you have a greater responsibility to work within the Code and the rules.
Within the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria hereinafter referred to as “BOSAN”, I am aware that a deliberate attempt is in progress to give to ourselves a “Code of Conduct of Senior Advocates of Nigeria” pursuant to Section 5 of the Legal Practitioners Act. The Code is expected to complement the Rules of Professional Ethics in the legal profession. The code is also expected to be “observed by all Senior Advocates of Nigeria regardless of the area or branch of law they are involved in and whether or not in active legal practice.”
Some of the outstanding provisions of this code are as follows:
1.1“A member shall adhere to and observe all the rules of professional ethics in the legal profession, all subsidiary legislation made under the LPA and this code.
1.2A member shall not act in any manner prejudicial to the ethics, ethos and conventions of the legal profession.
2.0All members shall observe at all official functions, in courts and other places, the rules of seniores priores and shall as between themselves accord priority of position to seniority at the inner bar.
2.1It shall be the duty of any member to ensure that members of the outer bar also observe the age long tradition of seniority at all official functions that has to do with the profession.
3.0All members when they appear before any court, tribunal, administrative body or quasi-judicial body shall accord the greatest respect to those presiding and shall not in words, deed or behaviour do anything to diminish the dignity of any adjudicatory body.
3.1Any member that appears as counsel in any matter before any court, tribunal, administrative body or quasi-judicial bodies shall provide leadership in terms of decorum, comportment, language and learning.
5.0All members shall in all circumstances shun corruption, abuse of office and shall maintain the highest standard of integrity in all circumstances.
5.1All members of the Body shall not knowingly do or engage in doing anything that will undermine the ethics of the Legal Profession and the esteem with which the members of the public hold the Profession.
6.1Any member involved in any matter shall avoid conflict of interest or any conduct that will jeopardize the interest of his Clients.
7.0A member engaged in the professional sense in any matter shall be faithful, observe the relationship of trust that exists between him and his clients and shall disclose any conflict of interest to his clients.
8.2A member of the Body shall not take undue advantage of any member or members of the outer bar in any matter in which the member is involved.
8.1 All members shall use their best endeavours to promote the Rule of Law, the cause of justice, promotion of constitutionalism and good governance.”
Our society is getting impatient with our justice administration which many have contended to be ineffective, inefficient and dysfunctional to meet the needs, aspirations and expectations of our people. That is why in recent times you hear literate and illiterate, learned and unlearned men and women freely discussing and rendering opinions on matters that are pending before the courts including what should be the decision of the court on that matter. When the decision of the court goes contrary to the opinion expressed earlier in the public space, to them, the Judge has taken a bribe.
The body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria must take proactive steps to address the following challenges, some of which I believe are responsible for the gradual loss of confidence in the judiciary of our dear country.
- Delay in the administration of justice.
- Congestion in our courts.
- Attitude of the practitioners such as
- endless preliminary objections warranting endless rulings,
- frivolous appeals,
iii. frivolous adjournments,
- petition against opposing counsel.
- Unproven allegation of corruption.
- Inadequate funding.
MAINTAINING HIGH PROFESSIONAL STANDARD
Many of us, though wrongly, believe that our skill can only be determined by the protracted arguments we make and the delay and procrastination with cause particularly when our clients’ cases are bad. For others, the side they represent as counsel determines how fast or how slow the proceedings must run. All these and many more are contributing to the dysfunctional administration of justice in our country. The day we take the liberty to do the right thing professionally, even at the expense of financial loss to us as practitioners, is the day we will begin to have a speedy administration of justice and enhancement of the public confidence in our profession.
In a paper titled Towards a better administration of justice in Nigeria, case for systemic, structural and attitudinal transformation delivered on the 11th of July 2019 to the Nigerian Bar Association Ijebu-Ode, I stated that “we must recognise that a fair characterisation of a legal practitioners’ responsibility is the fact that he stands as a shield in defence of a right and stands to ward off wrong. In a profession charged with such responsibilities, there must be exerted those qualities of truth speaking, of a high sense of honour and of a strictest observance of fiduciary responsibility.” In the case of NBA v. Monyel (2013) 8 NWLR Part 1386 page 454 at 466, the Supreme Court said inter alia “which of the above qualities can the Respondent, given the litany of his tendentious, shameless, unabashed contrivance said to possessed? He is neither a shield in the defence of right nor with this kind of character to ward off any wrong. With a man of this kind of sly character like the Respondent, where lies the quality of truth in him? Is the word “honour” not a strange bedfellow with the Respondent? Given his elaborate attempt to cover up the recovery of part of the debt he was contracted to recover, can anyone credit him with an iota of fiduciary responsibility of fidelity?”
My prayer is that this shall not be said of any of you.
Also, in the case of Shashangi Airlines V. AP Plc (2015) 4 NWLR Part 1449 page 256 at 275, the Court of Appeal also had this to say; “I think Counsel for the Appellant at the lower court and on appeal should bear responsibility for this charade and clear attempt by the Appellant to seek the cover of illegality of contract to defraud the Respondent or to frustrate the recovery of the money outstanding on the aviation fuel supplied to the Appellant. No counsel should aid or assist a client to pursue ignoble of fraudulent cause.”
Finally, for a good measure, let me also recall the words of admonition by Hon. Justice Idigbe J.S.C. in Atake V. Attorney General of Federation & Anor (1972) 11 SC 175 to the effect that “any conduct which tends to bring into disrespect, scorn or disrepute the authority and administration of the law or which tends to interfere with and or prejudice litigants and or their witnesses in the course of their litigation is punishable.”
We must strive at all times to take deliberate steps to create a good and positive impression first about ourselves and then the profession.
Learned gentlemen of the inner bar, let me affirm once again that the role of a lawyer in any democratic setting is to consistently defend the truth and justice and some of us have dedicated ourselves to this noble course. Like a public commentator said, “in a country where noise is more important than reason, where allegations are packaged as truths and villains behave like Victims, the Legal Profession should always seek to remain the voice of reason, truth, justice, equity and good conscience.”
As Senior Advocates of Nigeria, you have a greater responsibility to see to the achievement and actualisation of this critical statement of truth.
I think all that is left for me is to once again congratulate you on your well-deserved elevation. I wish you more Grace and more success.
Thank you and God bless you.
Dele Adesina SAN, LLM, FCI Arb is a former General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and life member, Body of Benchers
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