By Kayode Olabanji
This peak comes with the conferment of the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), yearly on Nigerian lawyers who have distinguished themselves in the legal profession and have been practising actively for not less than ten years.
The rank is conferred by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, LPPC, (headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, and comprising of the Attorney-General of the Federation, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, five SANs among other people) in line with Section 5(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act of 2004.
According to Section 5(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act, for a lawyer to get the award, he must have achieved distinction in the legal profession in such a manner as the Committee may from time to time determine.
The award started in 1975, modelled after the Queen’s Counsel rank in England, with its conferment on Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams and Dr. Nabo Graham Douglas.
As of 2017, there are more than 75, 000 lawyers in Nigeria but only 510 of them are Senior Advocates of Nigeria (about 70 of them are dead).
This shows how coveted and prestigious the award is that the criteria for meriting it is so strict that a vast majority of lawyers don’t qualify.
Of course, the perks that come with the rank are enormously appealing: more pay than a junior lawyer, more respect and reverence and the fact that a SAN gets to always present his case first before any court when the opposing counsel is a junior lawyer.
It is worthy of note that the award can also be conferred on academics in Law who have distinguished themselves and have made meaningful contribution to jurisprudence through research, teaching and published works in any reputable Nigerian University, Research Institute, Nigerian Law School and other recognised institutions.
To get into further details of what qualifies one to be so conferred, by the provisions of the guidelines for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the candidate must be a legal practitioner called to the bar and practicing in Nigeria as an advocate, and must have been in active and current practice and has been so for at least ten (10) years immediately preceding the date of application; and must also be of good character and have no pending disciplinary case or complaint relating to professional misconduct against him/her.
The individual should also demonstrate clear qualities of leadership and loyalty to the legal profession, and must have paid his/her practicing fee and branch dues in the last ten (10) years preceding his/her application form; and should demonstrate tangible contribution to the development of the law which could be through publications in recognised journals or scholarly presentations at national or international conferences considered by the LPPC to be of particular significance, among others.
This is a long list and considering the juicy nature of the award, it seems that some lawyers are trying to cut corners, via submission of forged documents to the LPPC for scrutiny to qualify them for the prestigious award.
This disclosure form part of the remarks of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, at the event held recently to mark the opening of the 2018/2019 new legal year of the Supreme Court and the inauguration of new Senior Advocates of Nigeria in Abuja.
He added that the cases have been reported to the Police for action.
Although he did not make the names of the offending lawyers public, the CJN vows that the culprits will be prosecuted if found culpable.
His words: “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 judgment, resulting in their being reported to the Police for investigation and possible prosecution. We have to know that if one is not for any reason qualified to wear silk as a judicial officer, he cannot wear it as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“I would like at this point to thank the distinguished members of the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee tasked with this assignment of scrutinising over 4,000 judgments, trial proceedings and publications, and at the same time conduct disciplinary proceedings on petitions received against Senior Advocates of Nigeria”.
He, also, reiterated the commitment of the Supreme Court to remain at the vanguard of the protection of democracy, human rights, rule of law and expeditious dispensation of justice in the nation.