By Dayo Benson, Abdulwahab Abdulah & Bartholomew Madukwe
IF they meet the criteria and are subsequently recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC), the body vested with the constitutional power to appoint and discipline judges, some of the nine Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) short listed by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) will be appointed Justices of the Supreme Court (JSC) subject to President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval.
Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Walter Onoghen, had requested the NBA to nominate senior lawyers for appointment into the apex court as part of on-going reforms in the administration of justice system.
Besides, there had been clamours from critical stakeholders on the imperative to appoint justices to topmost echelon of the nation’s judiciary from the ranks of senior practising lawyers and distinguished academics.
Qualified legal practitioners
Sequel to the CJN’s request, the NBA President A.B. Mahmoud, had in a letter sent to the e-mails of all registered lawyers invited applications from suitably qualified legal practitioners to be appointed to the Supreme Court as provided in Section 231(3) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
The section provides that: “A person shall not be qualified to hold the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria or of a Justice of the Supreme Court, unless he is qualified to practice as a legal practitioners in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period not less than fifteen years.” Consequently, nine silks were short-listed by the umbrella body of lawyers from 89 Expressions of Interest that were received. The nominees are – Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Anthony Idigbe (SAN), former Abia State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Prof Awa Kalu (SAN), Yunus Usman (SAN) and Babatunde Fagbohunlu (SAN). Others are Miannayaaja Essien (SAN) (1985, Rivers), Prof. Awa Kalu (SAN) (1978, Abia), Prof Awalu Yadudu (1979, Kano), Tajudeen Oladoja (1985, Kwara) and Ayuba Giwa (1983, Edo).
The names had been forwarded to the CJN who would then send them to the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) for screening and recommendation before final recommendation by the NJC. The Supreme Court at present has 17 Justices, four less than its full compliment of 21.
The implication is that only four of the nominees may scale through and the figure may be less. Those who will eventually be appointed would be following the footsteps of Teslim Olawale Elias (JSC) and Justice Augustine Nnamani (JSC) as they then were. Both were the first Justices to be appointed outside the Bench to the apex court. Who are these nine nominees?
Olisa Agbakoba, OON, SAN was born on May 29, 1953 to Chief Justice Godfrey Ubaka and Mrs Phina Agbakoba in Jos. He later moved to Onitsha in 1965, two years before the Nigerian civil war. He is a maritime lawyer but more popularly known as a human rights activist in the Nigerian human rights movement from the early to late 90s. He is also a former President of Nigerian Bar Association. Fresh out of law school, he served as a research fellow in the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) Law and Intelligence Department. Agbakoba left NIIA after a year and formed his law firm, Olisa Agbakoba and Legal (OAL).
Chief Anthony I. Idigbe SAN is a seasoned legal practitioner with 28 years experience in advocacy, arbitration, dispute resolution, privatization, capital markets, mergers & acquisitions, aviation law and telecommunications. Elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate in 2000, he has worked closely with regulators of privatization, capital markets, investments and corporate finance industries on the one hand, and companies involved in privatization, capital markets, investments and corporate finance transactions on the other hand.
He is the lead partner of the Legal Advisory Partnership (LAP), a consortium of law firms that provide advisory services to the BPE on privatization process issues.
Yunus Ustaz Usman SAN is the fifth Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) from the North. Born on November 15, 1957 in Ogbogodo Village, Dekina LGA of Kogi State, Nigeria. On July 30, 1983, he was called to the bar and later conferred with the honour of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). Between 1983 and1984, Usman was a lecturer in law during his NYSC with the Kaduna Polytechnic.
Among other positions held by him are from 2009 to date include Member, Body of Benchers, Member Osun State Truth And Reconciliation Commission in 2011, chairman, local organization committee Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Confernce in 2010, chairman, Electoral Committee Nigeria Bar Association, Kaduna branch in 2009, Trustee, International Islamic Resources Organization in 2008. He was elected second national secretary Nigeria Bar Association in 1988, Chairman, committee to investigate the existence of fake lawyers in 1989, re-elected second national secretary Nigeria Bar Association from 1989-1990.
Babatunde Fagbohunlu (SAN) is a partner at Aluko & Oyebode in Lagos, Nigeria. He specialises in commercial litigation and has litigated on extensive range of issues, including maritime law, banking, intellectual property, contract law, receiverships and insolvency, both at trial and appellate levels. He regularly represents Nigerian as well as foreign and multinational clients in arbitration and before arbitral institutions, such as the International Court of Arbitration of the ICC, and has served as an expert witness in an American Arbitration Association case. In 2008, Tunde was conferred with the rank of senior advocate of Nigeria by the Nigerian Legal Practitioners privileges committee.
Miannaya Aja Essien, SAN, FCIArb, chartered arbitrator and notary public, is the managing partner and one of the founders of Principles Law Partnership, a firm of legal practitioners, arbitrators and notaries public with offices in Port Harcourt and Lagos Nigeria.
Commercial dispute resolution matters
She is an alumnus of the universities of Nigeria and Lagos and obtained her LLB (Hons) and LLM respectively in 1984 and 1991. She was called to the Nigerian Bar in August 1985. As counsel she leads complex corporate and commercial dispute resolution matters in Nigeria and internationally across the oil and gas, banking and insurance sectors. She was made a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2007. She is a chartered arbitrator and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK). She lectures at the Nigerian Law School, Abuja, where she is a member of the adjunct faculty.
Awa Uma Kalu (SAN) is a lawyer with over thirty-eight years on the bar. He was born on March 9, 1953, in Umuahia, Abia State. He attended a number of primary schools as a result of the nature of his father’s job which required constant movements. He gained admission into the University of Ife in 1973 to study law. At Ife, he distinguished himself as an academic numero uno. He received a number of awards of excellence in acknowledgement of his brilliant performance in school. Some of such awards were Olu Ayoola Prize as Best Over-all LL.B Part One Student; Irvine & Bonner Scholarship as Best Over-all LL.B Part II Student and Justice Madarikan Prize as Best Over-All Final Year Law Student.
He graduated in flying colours in 1977 and earned the LL.B (Hons) Degree of the university. Soon after graduation, he was admitted to the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos, where he graduated on July 6, 1978, with his Barrister at Law (BL).
Professor Auwal Yadudu, was a delegate from Kano at the former President Goodluck Jonathan National Conference.
Tajudeen Oladoja, Year of Call: 1985 State: Kwara
Ayuba Giwa Year of Call: 1983, State: Edo
Speaking on the development a senior advocate, Mr Babatunde Fashanu, said: “It is a welcome development if practising lawyers are appointed to the Supreme Court. The Constitution does not bar it as all that is required is 15 years post-call experience insofar as those appointed have a wealth of knowledge and experience in actual law practice and are approved as to that and their character by the National Judicial Council.
I did not apply because I am not interested in such venture at this time but the senior lawyers who applied deserve commendation in opting to leave their respective law practices and serve on the Supreme Court bench.
“I have no doubt they are motivated by a desire to serve and contribute their quota to the development of law and justice dispensation from that angle more than anything else.
Actual law practice
This has precedence in the appointment of late judicial icons, Justice (Dr.) Taslim Olawale Elias from the academia and also Federal Attorney-General and late Justice Augustine Nnamani who was an Attorney-General of the Federation. ppointing senior lawyers to the Supreme Court bench is a win win situation for everyone because it will enable these seasoned lawyers to add their wealth of experience to the proper dispensation of justice by the Supreme Court in conjunction with the already vastly experienced justices who rose all the way from their respective High Courts through the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court.
In fact, I wish that a quota was set aside for practicing lawyers in appointments to, not only the Supreme Court, but also the Court of Appeal.”
Also, the 2nd Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr Monday Ubani said: “People resist change actually but without change the world cannot witness improvement in any sphere. The recent act or determination of using lawyers directly from the Bar to the Bench is necessitated by several factors.
“This step in the way may bring the desired change all of us have been clamouring? for. It is a policy worth trying. Let us all support it and see how far it will go in giving us a fearless, independent, corrupt free and service oriented judiciary with an eye for justice and equity. I will advise a mix of both the Bar and Bench members, especially those identified with integrity and honesty in their works. It is a commendable one.”