Corruption and Underdevelopment

Stratification of legal profession by SANs reckless, Falana warns

By Paul Michael

Human rights activist, Femi Falana (SAN) has added his voice to the recent controversies rocking the legal profession.

In the past few weeks, various constituting blocs and prominent lawyers have been taking sides against each other on various issues ranging from the just concluded elections into National offices, the alleged client solicitation scandal involving a Partner at the law firm of the Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Wole Olanipekun SAN, the controversial letter of the NBA President, Olumide Akpata for the resignation of the BoB Chair, and subsequent reactions from Senior Lawyers who have mostly berated the letter.

Falana while reacting to the developments, warned against the entrenchment of class stratification within the Association by Senior Lawyers.

According to him, such stratification which he described as “reckless”, led to the abolition of the rank of Queen’s Counsel in the first republic, and fears recent actions by Senior Advocates may reawaken an agitation by junior lawyers for the abolition of the rank of Senior Advocate.

“Ours is a class society. Hence, some senior lawyers are bent on sustaining the status quo. It is doubtful if such senior lawyers are aware that the reckless stratification of the legal profession into inner and outer bar led to the abolition of the rank of Queen’s Counsel (QC) in the first republic.

“The rank was, however, reintroduced as Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) under the defunct military junta in 1975.

Wole Olanipekun SAN

“I won’t be surprised if young lawyers are compelled to resume the campaign for the abolition of the rank of SAN!,” the learned Silk stated.

He cited examples of similar common law jurisdictions where the rank of Queen’s Counsel or Senior Advocate has been abolished as a result of agitation by junior lawyers.

“Like Nigeria, Ghana had abolished the rank of Queen’s Counsel. In 1990, the members of the Ghana Bar Association had resolved to institute the rank of Senior Advocate of Ghana (SAG). But it was struck down by the High Court of Ghana in the case of Ward-Brew vs. Ghana Bar Association (NO 1) [1993-94] 2 GLR 439-453.

“In the UK and many other commonwealth law countries, the campaign for the abolition of the QC and similar ranks has not ceased,” Falana added.

He also canvassed that rather than engage in unhelpful and unhealthy bickering, lawyers, both Senior and Junior, should come together and focus on using the law to effect change in our country.

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“It is in the interest of senior and junior lawyers to have one virile and indivisible bar. Instead of engaging in sterile debates we should use the law to address insecurity in the society, mismanagement of the economy, grand corruption, human rights abuse of the masses and unemployment of young lawyers.

“For instance, the Attorney-General of the Federation has refused to prosecute 400 sponsors of the satanic boko haram sect and 61,000 terror suspects detained in the north east zone.

“The Police Establishment Act, 2020 prescribe that a legal practitioner shall be assigned to every police station in Nigeria. Since there are not less than 5,000 police stations that means job opportunities for at least 5,000 young lawyers,” he said.

Recall that few days ago a former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof Chidi Odinkalu had tackled a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Jibrin Okutepa over an article wherein the latter supposedly castigated the actions of junior lawyers.

According to Odinkalu, “Junior lawyers are legitimately concerned about the fate of a profession in which the only rules that seem applicable to their seniors is impunity, while all the rules of professional conduct apply only to lawyer No-Names.

President, Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Olumide Akpata

“If seniors are going to insist on creating an exception for themselves from rules supposed to apply to us all lawyers and then monopolise avenues for holding them accountable, Okutepa should not complain if the young lawyers resort to the only platform that seniors cannot control.”

The subtle contest for supremacy between Senior and Junior Lawyers in the NBA reached its peak in the prelude to the 2020 national elections of the Association, which brought the Olumide Akpata-led administration on board.

Following the out of the election, a letter was written by a Life Bencher, Adegboyega Awolowo SAN to a former President of the Association, Chief T.J.O. Okpoko SAN titled “NBA: HER FUTURE”, alluded to a grand conspiracy by junior lawyers to compromise the influence of Senior Advocates in the Association by electing a Non-Senior Advocate as President of the Association for the first time since her return in 1998.

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