By Tunde Olofintila
FRONTLINE Legal icon and Founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, ABUAD, Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, has advocated that reputable Colleges/Faculty of Law in Nigerian Universities should henceforth be saddled with the responsibility of training Law graduates preparatory for their final Call to Bar Examinations at the Law School.
With this proposed arrangement, Law graduates from Nigerian universities will proceed to these reputable Colleges/Faculties of Law, like ABUAD College of Law, with up-to-date facilities and Faculty members of international repute for their post-LL.B training and only go to the Law School to write their Call to Bar Examinations without being residential student in the Law School as is currently the case.
This way, Babalola, who spoke over the weekend at a reception in honour of the Director-General of the Nigerian Law School, Prof. Isa Ciroma, SAN, said Nigeria would have borrowed a leaf from the practice in England, thereby frontally addressing the problem of funding and myriad other problems which the Law School had had to contend with over the years.
According to him, the problem of paucity of facilities and accommodation space have been some of the major problems the Law School had had to contend with and its attendant bottleneck of having backlog of students because it does not have the capacity and the resources to cope with the number of Law graduates being churned out by the various Law Colleges/Faculties annually.
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Babalola who lamented that the Nigerian Bar is different from what he met when he was called to the Bar in 1963 or what it was before he made up his mind to study Law in the first instance, said a lot needs to be done to turn things around for better in the profession for it to recapture the reverence the legal profession used to attract and enjoy many decades ago.
Now fishing in most familiar waters, Babalola recalled how many lawyers have been asking for the abrogation of the SAN title in the last few years. Their grievance is that they apply year-after-year with as many as 70 qualifying for the award every year. But at the end of the day, the Legal Privileges Committee of the Bar which admits Legal Practitioners into SAN-ship, would lean so heavily on the law that says they cannot appoint more than 15 in any particular year, thereby leaving (having) a backlog of those who are qualified, but not awarded, almost on a yearly basis.
Corruption, sectionalism and favouritism and corner-cutting by some junior lawyers
The question then arises: if a person is qualified at a particular point in time, at what point does he become unqualified again? Perhaps one may ask those who are charged with the duty of appointing 15 out of 60 or 70 qualified practitioners what criteria they use to jettison those who are qualified. The problem here is that without knowing it, this practice of appointing 15 out of the several that are qualified has led to corruption, sectionalism and favouritism and corner-cutting by some junior lawyers, thereby lowering the standard of practice in the country.
That practice has unwittingly led to the “man-know-man” syndrome and other extraneous influences were those who appoint Legal Practitioners to SAN-ship tend to favour those they know ahead of those they don’t know very well.
Nigeria should copy England where the idea of the silk (SAN title), the equivalent of QC in England was borrowed from root, stem and branch. From time immemorial in England, no matter the number that qualifies in a particular year, be it 60 or 70, all of them would be appointed, leaving no room for any backlog. Nigeria must do the needful in this regard if it must not be left behind.
His words: “The practice in those days was that successful Legal Practitioners are invited for appointments on the Bench. Now, the standard I met then is not the standard any more. Only 10 years after my arrival, I was invited to the Bench by Hon. Justice Oyemade, the Chief Judge of the Western Region. I told him I still needed some money of my own. You know the impression then was that when you go to the Bench you will be corrupt”.
We added:”We were hearing of cases of some Justices of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal being removed on grounds of, according to them, corruption…. I did not know of a successful legal practitioner who wanted to go to the Bench then. The practice which I know is that when you are a successful practitioner, you want to retire to the Bench and adorn it with your years of knowledge of legal practice.
“So all over the world, the best judges are the best legal practitioners, that is why in England up till today, judges are recruited from Queen’s Counsel (the equivalent of our Senior Advocates of Nigeria), who have distinguished themselves. Now, the standard I met then is not the standard any more”.
But today in Nigeria, many extraneous qualifications have crept into the appointment of judges so much so that people working in public limited liability companies have been appointed judges to satisfy geographical spread.
His words:”Our Bench must be populated with qualified people who have practised Law and not just who rose from the Magistrate Courts to the High Courts. When you read some judgments by some High Court Judges, you wonder and marvel because they are not more than the pronouncements of Magistrates”.
He added: “In England, it is only those with QC, the equivalent of our Senior Advocates that are invited to occupy the Bench and this has helped the quality of judgments in England over the years. Why can’t we do the same here? It will help our practice of Law and the quality of judgments from the Bench”.
Babalola, therefore, suggested that if people who qualify to be made Senior Advocates of Nigeria are not restricted in number, there would be a ready pool of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who have made good money in their practice years, and ready to accept elevation to the Bench like the late Hon. Justice Taslim Olawale Elias, and the late Hon. Justice Augustine Nnamani thereby increasing/improving the quality of judges and reducing corruption.
He thanked Ciroma for visiting ABUAD, adding that it was his love for quality and functional education that propelled him to visit ABUAD for the first time. Babalola commended the DG-Law School for being on top in several ways: A Professor of Law, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and above the Director-General of the Nigerian Law School.
Ciroma commended Babalola and the ABUAD community for changing the face of Education in Nigeria within the short history of the university, stressing that if more people invest in Education, Nigeria will be the better for it.
*Olofintila writes in from Ado-Ekiti