‘Rather than abolish award of SAN, we should reform it’

Quakers, SAN

Quakers, SAN

The Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) last Friday conferred on 21 lawyers, the award of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Over the years, there have been calls for the abolition of the title following the circumstances that surrounds it and in some cases, the personalities that get the award. In this interview with GODWIN DUNIA, a Lagos based senior advocate of Nigeria, Norrison Quakers, expresses his views about it. He also spoke on other important legal issues.

WHAT is your view about the call to abolish the award of SAN?
Those who are agitating for the abolition of the SAN title have not taken time to reflected on the good side of it. What they must have seen so far is a few bad eggs among the members of SAN who had misbehaved in one way or the other. Some of us aspired to be SAN because of the seniors we saw, it is just because some of them are no longer the same. We cannot say it is oppressive or that it is not good. It is a reward for hard work, industry and advocacy and largely based on merit, so I see no reasons why anybody will want to call for its abolition. It is like when you want to call for abolition of professorial appointment or a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountant or Arbitration. Even when people call for the abolition of the Queen Counsel (QC), a committee was set up that looked at the various complaints and grouse, it was reformed. Rather than call for abolition, we should look at issues raised and complaints and make necessary reforms, and not certainly abolition.

Just recently, Chief Afe Babalola SAN talking about reform, said as practiced in England, if 40 lawyers apply for the SAN and if they are qualified they should be given instead of selecting fifteen or seventeen of them. Do you agree with such proposal?
We don’t want a situation whereby it will be proliferated and you have a high number. For instance, if you have five SAN’s in a court and you have to hear their cases, what now happens to those who are not Senior Advocates and their cases? I think that is why most people are advocating for the abolition because it is oppressive. Even some of the cases they advocate are not supposed to be in court, but you have a Senior Advocate who spent four or five hours in court. So you have this kind of people coming in and I think the way it is been done should still stay. Chief Afe Babalola is passionate and believe that if anyone is capable of making the list and good he should be conferred with the title.

Ordinarily, no one should be dropped, but we should know that they have a way to determined who will scale through. I actually started applying in 2001 and got it in 2011, it took me about ten years to get it. It is something everyone looks up to, some get it once and others after a period.

For me, I don’t think we should tinker with the process as it is. If you start giving everyone that is qualified, don’t forget the law says two third of those who apply and qualify should be given.

Now if you want to give everybody, it means you have to tinker with rules or change the laws and that means you have to abrogate them to accommodate anyone that is fit in the list. I think some of our members are good materials for the Supreme Court. There is no place in the constitution that says appointment to the Supreme Court should follow hieratical process of the court. Justice Elias was taken right from the academia to the Supreme Court and he became the Chief Justice. Justice Nnamani was a Queen Counsel and he went straight to the Supteme Court. I think the time has come for us to be doing just that and not following the hard practice of from High Court to Supreme Court.

Recently, the National University Commission gave a directive that Law graduate from Open University will not be allowed to go to the Law School. What is your reaction to this?
I don’t know the rationale behind this, but if I should go back to time, some of our prominent first generational lawyers did not go to the conventional universities to read law and they were called to bar and some of them are still practicing till today. You don’t shut people out on account that they went to Open University. What we should consider is the quality of the grade or certificate and the quality of the individual. Today, people now read and earn certificate through correspondence. Not everybody will find himself or herself in a University setting, but the point is looking at the certificate and the quality of the individual to determine whether he or she can practice or not. Is like you want to throw the baby and the bathwater away. Most of the people involved in policy making today earned their certificate through correspondence. Recently, a Judge told me that Nigerian are complex people, that they are just like a man who conceived the idea of constructing a bridge and just as he got to the other side and realized that others are trapped at the other side, he then decided to destroy the bridge so that others would not be able to cross. This is just what is happening and if not, what is wrong in having everybody educated? There are lots of Nigerians who graduated as lawyers but refused to go to Law School, many graduated from University as an off-campus student. But then Law is very important. In America, before you are allowed to study law, you must have had a first degree. If you can get your degree online why would you want to waste time going to a conventional university setting? Even the Open University is a source of employment to lecturers. The world is developing and we can’t afford to be docile.

What do you think must have informed the decision by the Federal government to relocate suspected Boko Haram members to the Eastern part of the country?
Recently, I read in a paper about the outcome of the conference of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in that part of the country saying the people are scared with the presence of the Boko Haram suspects and they raised certain issues. That what could be the guarantee that there will not be a reprisal attack? Two, that their indigenes who ran back home for safety from the Boko Haram infected States will continue to leave in fear and trauma.

Nigeria is a Federating State on paper and Prisons is not on the concurrent list and as such, if a Prison has been set up it is not something that could be questioned and movement of prisoners is also the prerogative of the Federal government.

If the prisoners were moved to that part of the country, it is a security decision because if they are left in their state it is possible to have a case of jail break. People are not supposed to know where such suspects are kept, movement of prisoners all over the world are done desecretly even the suspects themselves should not know where they are kept. Now there is awareness and this is dangerous for the polity.

In Lagos alone, it has over 2000 prisoners with 80% of them awaiting trial. We have a situation where prisons facilities are overstreghted, so that must be the reasons they are now looking at other states that can accommodate them. To me, it has nothing to do with traumatizing the people. I don’t think this government will want to do that.

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