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Lawyers and Alleged Forgeries: Do We Still Have an NBA?

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By Linus Usen

Just a few days ago, the National Judicial Council (NJC) headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, His Lordship, Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen, sacked Justice Rita Offili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court, Lagos and Justice James Agbadu-Fishim of the National industrial Court from the Bench for their involvement in alleged acts of corruption. The NJC also set up a panel to hear petitions written against 26 others.

File: Lawyers

The picture that emerges from the NJC under the current CJN, therefore, is a body that does not tolerate misconducts by judicial officers.

Conversely, not long ago, His Lordship, the CJN revealed to the embarrassment of the entire nation, particularly the legal profession, that some lawyers forged court judgments to facilitate their conferment with the prestigious rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN).

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Speaking at the ceremony to mark the commencement of the 2018/2019 legal year of the Supreme Court and inauguration of new Senior Advocates, His Lordship said: “I have to point out the fact that in the just concluded exercise, some applicants were found to have engaged in dishonourable conduct such as forgery of judgments, resulting in their being reported to the police for investigation and possible prosecution”.

In those golden days of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), this would have been unimaginable. Unfortunately, NBA has kept mute and doesn’t feel outraged. In those days, the NBA would have come out smoking, condemning the dishonourable conduct and assuring Nigerians that it would clean its house.

Very sadly, the NBA, for long, appears to have become a ghost of its old self, living on past glory. Time was, when the NBA sneezed and dictators caught cold. Time was when the NBA led from the front as the voice of the voiceless masses and bastion of democracy.

Unfortunately, what we have today, especially under the past leadership of the body, is an NBA that fiddles and snores while Rome burns; a rather timid NBA beclouded by ethnic-religious and political sentiments that easily capitulated when the homes of Supreme Court justices were raided at midnight and wouldn’t say a word when the court complex of Rivers State was overrun by gunmen allegedly over the intra-party squabbles of the All Progressives Congress (APC). We now have an NBA that looked away like a child that stumbled on the mother’s nakedness when armed hoodlums invaded the hallowed chamber of the Senate and carted away the mace and when security forces laid siege to the residents of the presiding officers of the Senate and subsequently to the National Assembly in desperate bids to illegally remove the Senate leadership.

Unlike the days of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, even some of Fawehinmi’s protégées have since abandoned his selfless activism to join the oppressors, human rights abusers and defilers of the rule of law on their sumptuous table. And of course, basic table manners demand that you do not talk while eating. Some have even stood the law on their head to keep in office people, whose nominations were rejected by the Senate, while others have tried to defend every ignoble action of government, including the palpably indefensible. Rather than serve as the moral compass of the society, their commentaries depend on what side their bread is buttered.

A classic example is  Prof. Itse Sagay, a SAN and the Chairman of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Advisory Committee,  whom, regarding the National Youth Service Corps exemption certificate saga that engulfed the  former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, remarked: “I do not see anything serious about it; if I were President Buhari, I would never, ever touch that woman because she’s damn good”.

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Another example is the case of the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla. In its report laid before the House of Representatives on 24thJuly 2018, the House Ad Hoc Committee on the Legality and Mode of Operation of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP), held that Chief Obono-Obla, who doubles as the SPIP, parades a fake West African Examination Council (WAEC) O’ Level result.

According to the House of Representatives Report, whereas the WAEC result (Examination No. 09403/247 May/June 1982) with which Chief Obono-Obla gained admission and studied Law at the University of Jos as Okoi Ofem Okoi showed that he made five credit passes, including Literature-in-English, official letters from WAEC dated 11th  and 17th  April 2018 signed by Mr. A. A Okelezue and Mr. Olu Adenipekun, respectively, point to the fact that he did not even sit for Literature-in-English as it is marked “Absent”.

To be double sure, the Committee invited WAEC to the public hearing to testify under oath. The Deputy Registrar, Mr. Femi Ola, represented the examination body on Wednesday, June 5, 2018. Asked how he would describe Obono-Obla’s WAEC result, when compared to the one tendered by WAEC, he said Obono-Obla’s result was “altered”, “not genuine”, and “invalid”.

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The Committee also reports that a letter by University of Jos dated 11th  July 2018 referenced as UJ5/8765/85-86 and signed by the Registrar, Monday Danjem coupled with the documents (photocopies of purported WAEC statement of result, completed registration form for undergraduates, completed JAMB form, and admission requirements for Law) forwarded by the University, confirmed that it was the same controversial WAEC result that Obono-Obla used to obtain admission and study Law. In order words, it is on the basis of this result that he obtained his Law degree, was admitted by the Nigeria Law School, called to bar, and now practices as a lawyer and presidential aide.

Therefore, the Committee recommended that “the law degree obtained by Chief Okoi Obono-Obla having been done fraudulently should be withdrawn by the University of Jos”. It also asked the Body of Benchers to withdraw the Law School Certificate awarded to Ofem, Okoi Ofem (now known as Chief Okoi Obono-Obla) as this was based on the degree, which he obtained from the University of Jos through fraud. It further called on President Muhammadu Buhari to discharge Obono-Obla of his responsibilities as Special Adviser and as Chairman of the SPIP. It additionally directed the Inspector-General of Police to prosecute the presidential aide.

In a sane society, news of the alleged forgery would have shaken the entire government and moved it to immediately investigate the scandal to redeem its image. But not surprising to Nigerians, the presidency, which prides itself on anti-corruption, change, and integrity, has arrogantly played the deaf and dumb over such a very grievous matter. From the cases of Babachir Lawal, Abdulrasheed Maina, Ikoyigate scandal, and a host of others, Nigerians have learnt that it is a tall order to expect this government to bring their erring officials to book. The laws and the coercion of powers of state are reserved for opposition leaders and voices of dissent only.

Reading government’s body language also, the University of Jos, doesn’t see any need to investigate the Obono-Obla WAEC certificate saga and withdraw his Law degree if established to preserve the integrity of its certificates and graduates.

As far as Nigerians are concerned, what is rather alarming is NBA’s deafening silence in the face of such grave issue raised by WAEC. The NBA doesn’t feel obliged to take up the matter to protect the integrity of its members or itself as a body.

Despite petitions by the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, to the NBA, Attorney-General of the Federation, Body of Benchers, etc. on the Obono-Obla’s certificate scandal, these bodies have continued to carry on as if forgery is nothing serious, even if the certificate upon which a lawyer’s Law Degree, call to Bar, and practice are predicated is a forgery.

Now, with the revelation of the CJN, maybe it is time the NBA embarked on an ethical revolution and self-cleansing to win back its respect and dignity among Nigerians. There are times when silence is not golden. This is one of such times.

Usen lives in Lagos

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