By Ise-Oluwa Ige
ABUJAâ€”THE age-long cordial relationship between the bar and the bench suffered a major strain, yesterday.
This followed a directive issued by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, barring the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria from making any speech during the swearing-in ceremony of 19 senior lawyers recently admitted into the inner bar.
Before now, it was the tradition that the incumbent NBA president who is the leader of the private bar, the Attorney-General of the Federation who is the leader of the public bar and the most senior Senior Advocate of Nigeria to address the court during the special session.
Each of them would use the occasion to make observations on the running of the country by the executive office holders, and problems in the legal profession and give suggestion on how to move the country forward.
Often, such observation could be critical of the conduct of members of the executive and the legislature and, at times, lawyers and judges.
But yesterday, the CJN said the ceremony was not an occasion to make such an observation.
Justice Musdapher worsens situation
Justice Dahiru Musdapher, the next in rank to the CJN at the occasion worsened the situation when he asked anybody aggrieved by the directive of the Supreme Court to walk out of the ceremony venue.
But for the timely intervention of elderly members of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, members of the Nigerian Bar Association under the leadership of Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, would have walked out on the CJN while delivering his speech at the occasion.
Although the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Alhaji Musale explained that the sitting of the apex court was not a special court session in which leaders of both the public and private bar were allowed to make speeches, Vanguard gathered, yesterday, that the directive was issued because the CJN allegedly got a hint that the President of the NBA was planning to deliver a speech that would attack his style of administration.
For instance, Vanguard gathered that NBA planned to condemn the position of the Supreme Court on the order issued by it stopping the Court of Appeal from delivering its judgment on the Sokoto State gubernatorial election petition pending before it.
Although no speech was delivered by leaders of the public and private bar, yesterday, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Akeredolu, SAN, however, led a delegation of senior lawyers including past presidents of NBA and leaders of the bar present to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, to protest the treatment meted to them.
The decision to meet with the CJN came after a meeting of members of the bar on what exactly should be done to tackle the problem.
Those that spoke at the meeting held at the Supreme Court, the venue of the swearing-in ceremony included Akeredolu, SAN, who suggested that a strongly worded letter be done to the CJN to condemn his directive. Others were, Thompson Onomigbo Okpoko, SAN, who supported Akeredoluâ€™s position; O C J Okocha, SAN, who also supported Akeredolu and Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, who suggested that a delegation should be sent to tackle the CJN on the issue.
Akeredolu who addressed lawyers at the end of the meeting with the CJN encouraged NBA members to attend todayâ€™s valedictory session organized for Justice George Oguntade, formerly of the Supreme Court, stressing that the CJN had apologized to them.
Justice Katsina-Alu was said to have explained that what happened was not intended to embarrass the bar but rather a communication problem.
The NBA members had said that they were embarrassed because they were not informed that those who used to deliver speech during such occasion would not and that there was no need for them to be robed.
Katsina-Alu swears in 19 senior lawyers
Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Katsina-Alu, yesterday, swore in 19 senior lawyers who were recently admitted into the prestigious rank of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
The 19 new senior lawyers include, Nella Andem-Ewa, Joseph A Nwobika, Offiong Effiong Bassey Offiong, Mike A Ozekhome, Sylvia E. Shinaba and Dorothy Udeme Ufot. Others were Francis Dike, Chukwuma Uchenna Ekomaru, Arthur Obi Okafor, Etigwe Owa, Jadegoke Adebanjo Badejo, Abiodun Ishola Layonu and Adekunle Babatunde Ogunba.
George M Oguntade, C O Toyin Pinheiro, Olusina R Sofola, Samuel E Mosugu, Andrew I Chukwuemerie and Fabian Ikenna Ajogwu, also made the list.
Of the total 19 lawyers sworn in yesterday, 17 were advocates while the two others were academics.
Yesterdayâ€™s ceremony laid to rest serious controversies that trailed the process for selection of the qualified lawyers for the 2009 legal year.
In the history of the award of the title, the committee received the highest number of petitions. Even the Nigerian Bar Associationâ€™s President, Chief Oluwarotimi Akeredolu,Â SAN, wrote a petition wherein he castigated the process for the award.
The letter itself polarized the bar as some members of the executive that he leads wrote another letter to the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi dissociating themselves from his position. When the time for the ratification of the final list came, most members of the committee, refused to turn up which made Justice Kutigi, the immediate past CJN, to cancel it.
But the Secretary to the Committee, Alhaji Musale said that no petition was eventually left unattended to. The new Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Katsina-Alu chaired the meeting that produced the final list of fresh entrants into the prestigious rank after attending to the deluge of complaints.