As NBA, Body of Benchers, eminent lawyers shun event
By IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI, Abuja
The crisis of confidence rocking the judiciary reached feverish heights yesterday, as the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, called the bluff of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, by swearing-in 30 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, despite the conspicuous absence of the legal body at the event.
The occasion, which was equally bereft of the presence of the Body of Benchers and legal luminaries across the federation, marked the last official assignment that would be performed by the CJN who is due to retire on Sunday upon clocking the 70 years mandatory retirement age for judicial officers within that cadre.
NBA which was having its annual general conference in Port Harcourt, had specifically warned lawyers and the recipients of the SAN award, to boycott the swearing-in ceremony, stressing that, “any legal practitioner that attends the ceremony will not be referred to by members of the NBA with any rank he possesses and if in any NBA body such as the Body of Benchers will lose all privileges and be stripped of membership of any committee or body that the NBA participates in.”
As the umbrella body of legal practitioners in the country, NBA had written to the CJN, asking him to follow the tradition of the judiciary by deferring the ceremony till September 19, which was not only the originally slated date for the event, but equally marks the beginning of a fresh legal year.
It queried the urgency on the part of the CJN to conduct the swearing-in ceremony before vacating office, noting that it would not be in the interest of the celebrants to host the event within the Muslim Ramadan period.
More so, it is customary for every sitting president of the NBA to deliver a speech at such legal event, a period that accord them ample opportunity to offer constructive criticism on any perceived anomaly in the profession.
Such tradition was yesterday sidelined by the retiring CJN who insisted on swearing in the new silks no matter whose ox was gored.
Meantime, despite NBA’s threat, all the 30 SAN awardees, yesterday presented themselves for the purpose of being administered oath of office by the retiring CJN.
They justified the decision on the premise that their primary allegiance should be to the Supreme Court of Nigeria which they said granted them licence to practise as lawyers in the country and not the NBA.
While confirming them with the revered rank, Justice Katsina-Alu, who described the event as “unique”, said they should refrain from “engaging in useless arguments” or sell their integrity and conscience at any price.
According to the CJN, “We have just witnessed the swearing in of 30 new SANs. This ceremony is very unique considering that in spite of threats and intimidation from certain quarters, the event still took place.
“Today is indeed the day the Lord has made and we shall rejoice. Every one of you is eminently qualified and deserves the rank and I am convinced that you will not let us and yourselves down. When you go out there, don’t engage your colleagues in useless arguments. Don’t sell your integrity and conscience at any price as there is no price that is enough to buy you. The legal profession is an honourable one, please help us keep it so,” he added.
In his own address, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, lauded the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, LPPC, which is headed by the CJN, “for discharging their mandate creditably”, in the appointment and swearing-in of the new SANs.
“I have no doubt in my mind that the new SANs have over the years contributed directly to the growth of our jurisprudence and imbibed the sterling qualities associated with the practice and discipline of the legal profession. They have also been subjected to thorough and very rigorous screening and therefore are deserving of our congratulation.”
“As SANs, you owe a duty and responsibility to the profession and the country. You are leaders of the Bar, and as such, you must conduct yourselves in both your private and public lives in a befitting manner. You must display a very high standard of integrity and professionalism in your official calling. You must also discharge your official and unofficial duties with candour, integrity, transparency and diligence befitting of a SAN. Anything short of this high expectation will be a disservice to your status and a betrayal of the trust and responsibility reposed in you.
“Distinguished colleagues, as major stakeholders in the legal profession, we should be concerned about the spate of complaints on the conduct of some members of the profession that border on professional misconduct, tardiness and outright chicanery. We cannot as respected leaders of the Bar allow the profession to degenerate to such low level; rather, we should be in the forefront of championing the noble ideals of this profession”, he implored.
Speaking on behalf of the new SANs, Mr Pat Onegbedan, expressed their gratitude to the CJN, even as they called on the judiciary to fully implement section 230(2) (b) of the constitution which provides for the appointment of twenty one justices of the Supreme Court and a division of the court of Appeal in every state of the federation in respect of which section 237(1) (b) did not prescribe any limit.
“We loudly commend the National Assembly for injecting section 134(2) &(3) respectively into the Electoral Act 2010. The provisions provide time limit for the disposal of both tribunal and appeal judgments.
“We call on the National Assembly and State Assemblies to sustain the momentum and initiate another Bill making a similar Act/Law to prescribe time limit for the adjudication of all matters in litigation in our courts. Speedy justice will attract foreign investors, render the resort to self help unnecessary, grow peaceful co-existence, boost our economy and engender greater confidence in our justice system.”
The 30 new SANs were selected to represent the 2010 and 2011 legal years.
The newly sworn-in SANs for year 2010 are; Pat Onegbedan, Isaac Nwazue Ijioma, Agatha Obiozo Mbamali,Dan Ose Okoh, Kenneth Ekene Mozia, Yahaya Mahmood, Ferdinand Oshioke Orbih, Olanrewaju Ayodele ogunlesi,Anthonia Titilayo Akinlawon, Oluwemimo Adepoju Akinlanwon, Oluwemimo Adepoju Ogunde. Prof. Imran Oluwole Smith [Academics] Ikechukwu Ezechukwu, Okechukwu Amechi,Nnadi Jude Ositadinma and Abiodun Jelili Owonikoko.
While those for the 2011 legal year are; Faye Dikio,Garba Shamatu Pwul, Granville Isetima Abibo, Hassan Muhammad Liman, Babatunde Adekunle Aiku, Dr. Peter Terkaa Aper [Academics] Adesegun Muhammed Ajibola, Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, okon Nkanu Efut, David Oghenovo Ezaga, James Uko Kalu Igwe [Academics] Norrison Ibinabo Quakers, Jibrin Samuel Okutepa and Solomon Eyibo Umoh.
Meanwhile, their family and well wishers, including the Governor of Sokoto State, Aliyu Magartakada Wamakko, besieged the Supreme Court complex yesterday to facilitate with them.