President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Olumide Akpata has frowned at the actions of some senior members of the NBA who are bent on whittling down the powers as well as importance and relevance of the Nigerian Bar Association as the umbrella body of all Nigerian lawyers.
Akpata, who spoke, Tuesday at the Valedictory Court Session held in honour of retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Ejembi Eko, said that no person or organization within the legal profession is greater than the NBA.
In his address to the Court, the President of the NBA drew the attention of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Mohammad to the order of precedence adopted by the Court in recent times, with respect to the delivery of addresses at valedictory court sessions and other such ceremonial proceedings, wherein the Chairman of the Body of Senior Advocate, BOSAN, is invited to speak before President of the NBA.
Registering his displeasure over the procedure which, according to him, was fast becoming the norm, the NBA President urged the Chief Justice of Nigeria not to allow the Supreme Court to be used as a platform to ridicule the Bar.
According to him, “Whoever has attained any height in this profession did so because the institution of the NBA permitted and supported such an attainment and therefore no such person or institution is bigger than the NBA.”
Mr. Akpata, who noted that he was constrained to draw the attention of the Chief Justice of Nigeria to this unbecoming trend only after he had unsuccessfully engaged the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court in respect of the same subject-matter.
According to the President of the NBA, the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court appeared to have attempted to correct the order of precedence in preparation for the valedictory session in honour of retired Hon. Justice Ejembi Eko JSC, but she was apparently pressured by some unidentified lawyers to withdraw the programe of events which had already been distributed and to alter it by placing the Chairman of BOSAN before the NBA President in the order of precedence.
Recalling a similar experience during two separate valedictory sessions held in the High Courts of Oyo and Lagos States, Mr. Akpata noted that the Chairman of BOSAN was also invited to address the Court before the NBA President. He however went on to state that:
“In both instances the representatives of the Chairman of BOSAN, in the persons of Chief Folake Solanke, SAN and Chief Tunji Ayanlaja, SAN, in due deference to the best traditions of the Bar, declined this invitation and invited the NBA President to deliver his address before them noting that nobody from the Bar speaks before the NBA President.”
Akpata who reaffirmed the commitment of the Bar to the protection of the Judiciary and Judicial Officers however called on the Chief Justice of Nigeria, as the head of the Judiciary, to reciprocate this gesture by also protecting the Bar and ensuring that it is not ridiculed or undermined by any persons whether they be from within the Bar or without. He stated as follows, “as I have earlier noted, this may probably be my last address to this Court, at a special court session, in my capacity as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association and therefore I am not doing this for myself. I merely seek Your Lordship’s kind intervention, in reciprocity, to protect the Bar from ridicule or, as is being experienced, the whittling down of the importance and relevance of the Nigerian Bar Association.”
The NBA President also commended the Justices of the Supreme Courts for carrying out their responsibilities despite many challenges including that of overloaded dockets. Mr Akpata called for constitutional reforms that would ensure that the Supreme Court only entertains relevant appeals noting that the current practice of referring all manner of interlocutory appeals to the Supreme Court must be reviewed.
The NBA President also poured encomiums on Hon. Justice Ejembi Eko JSC, praising him for his uncommon brilliance and noting that “for those who have had the privilege of reading the judgments of Hon. Justice Eko JSC, it is undeniable that My Lord has a deep understanding of the law. The judgements of My Lord are always well reasoned, with deep analysis of the law and are devoid of undue legalism. His judgements do justice to the litigants.”