As part of activities marking the commencement of the 2020/21 new legal year, the Supreme Court, on Monday, conferred the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on 72 legal practitioners.
A Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Bode Rhodes-Vuvour, who performed the activity on behalf of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, noted that the new SANs emerged successfully from a total of 172 earlier shortlisted for the rank.
Justice Rhodes-Vuvour urged the new SANs to be more committed to their work and the legal profession, an attitude he said earned them the rank in the first place.
The swearing-in ceremony which held at the main Courtroom of the Supreme Court started exactly by 10 am and was in strict compliance with the COVID-19 protocols, as a lot of dignitaries including spouses of awardees were barred from the main courtroom.
Among the new SANs are the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, Akwa Ibom State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Uwemedimo Nwoko, Delta State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Peter Mrakpo and Uzoma Azikiwe.
Justice Rodes-Vivour said: “It is the fervent desire of every legal practitioner in Nigeria to be a Senior Advocate, but it doesn’t come that way, as hardwork, perseverance, endurance and courage are required to touch the finish line. You must roll up your sleeves and get down to work with unrestrained enthusiasm and dexterity; then you can begin to coast home to victory.
“Legal practice is not for the mentally docile or those averse to breaking new grounds, even in the face of daunting challenges,” he said.
While describing the outgoing legal year as, “An unusual year in the history of mankind that many wished it never existed, Rhodes-Vivour noted that the Judiciary, in spite of the enormous challenge was able to hear 697 civil, 168 criminal and 35 political cases, totalling 700 out of 908 cases filed in 2019/2020 legal year.
“In the same vein, the court considered a total number of 208 appeals, being 134 civil, 52 criminal and 22 political. In all, a total number of 189 judgments were given within the legal year under review”, he added.
Worried by bad behaviours of some lawyers, the CJN warned that, any lawyer involved in any unprofessional conduct shall be severely sanctioned.
In urging lawyers to show ability and capacity to counsel their clients rightly and, “not mislead them for pecuniary gains,” he stressed that, “obedience of lawful court orders has no alternative in any society. A threat to this is simply a call for anarchy,” he said.
In his address on the occasion, the National President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Olumide Akpata (SAN), made case for improved welfare for judicial officers at all levels, adding that it is high time true autonomy is instated for the Judiciary.
Akpata, who noted that the, “Fight against corruption is best fought by tackling the incentives for corruption such as the extremely inadequate compensation packages for our Judicial and public officers generally.”
The NBA boss charged the National Judicial Council (NJC) not to relent in its efforts to rid the bench of corrupt and to continually tackle the issue of the discipline of judicial officers.
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), in his speech, admonished the newly sworn-in SANs to uphold justices at all times and work for the smooth cause of justices.
Malami said: “As a leader of the bar and defender of the law, a senior advocate is expected to bring to bear in the profession, high standard of diligence an honour and preparation of his cases.”
The AGF, who was represented by the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata (SAN), also reminded the new SANs that their new status confers no immunity on the disciplinary processes of the legal profession.
He noted that judges, not been wholly free to defend themselves, are peculiarly entitled to receive the support of the bar against unjust criticism and clamour.
In a vote of thanks, Obafemi Adewale (SAN), who spoke on behalf of the 72 new SANs while thanking the CJN and the Supreme Court for their conferment, however, called for an increase in the number of legal practitioners receiving the award yearly.
“We must, however, respectively urged my Lords and the LPPC to please go a step further. In the UK from where we copied this tradition, there are about 1,700 barristers on the roll (2019 records). 1,700 are Queen’s counsel about 10 per cent.
“In Nigeria, on the other hand, we have a little over 120,000 on the roll, an estimated 30,000 of them are inactive legal practice. Yet, with the addition of 72 today, the total number of SAN from inception in 1,975 is now just 620.
“This, in fact, include the 108, who have passed on to the great beyond. The remaining 512 constitutes less than 2 per cent of the total population of lawyers in active practice, and certainly less than 1 per cent of the names on the roll,” he said.
Supreme Court swears in 72 SANs, begins new legal year