Any Floodgate of Senior Advocates of Nigeria? I Do Not Think So [MUST READ]
Some years ago, some young lawyers, under the aegis of the “Abolition Movement” and led by Pa Tunji Gomez (called to the English Bar in 1961), a very elderly senior member of the Bar (now late; may God rest his kind soul), trenchantly called for the abolition of the title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). The major grouse of the “Abolitionists” as the members became known, was that acquiring the SAN title had become deliberately too circumscribed and mostly restricted only to those they termed the “high and mighty” in the legal profession. Such revolt had also once taken place in England leading to the suspension of the title of Queens Counsel (QC) in 2003, until great reforms were made before its resumption.
I was one of those who had fought valiantly then for the retention of the SAN rank, through the Bar and public debates. Majority of lawyers, especially senior lawyers, mobilized and were able to shoot down the obvious insurrection anchored especially by the younger ones. This, notwithstanding that I was not even a SAN at that time. I knew then and still know now, the importance of this historic honour.
There exists this lingering fear (even if pretentiously not expressed openly and publicly), that there are, in existence, too many Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs). Predicated on this unproven and fallacious fear, there appears to be a deliberate and sustained pruning down, over the years, of the number of legal practitioners that are elevated to the Inner Bar, even after meeting all the statutory requirements and sundry laid down criteria for such elevation. It is this needless fixation and mindset that have collectively kept the SANs’ docket brimming with unending applications by numerous disappointed applicants, year after year.
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There is this mythical fear that awarding the revered honour to TOO MANY LAWYERS may water down its legendary importance, defang it, shred it of its fabled aura and myth; and probably cheapen it, and subject it to charlatanism.
Most respectfully, I do not agree with this view, as attractive as it appears on the face of it. Nor do I entertain these fears. Due to no fault of theirs, some legal practitioners find themselves applying, again and again, to acquire the exalted silk, year after year; some for between 5 and 12 years. This is a legitimate aspiration, as every lawyer looks forward to wearing the much-admired toga of distinction. Medical doctors go for specialized courses to be made Consultants; whilst in the field of engineering, practitioners within its rank, study very hard to acquire fellowships.
It took me 8 solid years of perspiration, pains, pangs and persistent applications before my eventual elevation to the Inner Bar in 2009. Of those 8 years, I was well qualified for at least 5 years, having fulfilled all statutory and laid down criteria! At this critical stage, it is believed that one needed godfathers. Some believe one who has God the father does not need a god father. I fell into the former category. I have God the father.
Yet, some young men whom I had lectured at the University of Ife (now OAU) in the early 80s, acquired the Silk before me. Some of them indeed led me in some cases. I recall that one of them was late Mr Seeni Okunloye, SAN, a very cerebral and brilliant young man, then of Aare Afe Babalola, SAN’s chambers (may his beautiful soul rest in perfect peace, amen). He had led me in a murder trial of persons who had futilely attempted to assassinate late celebrated Professor Dora Akunyuli (the then Director-General of NAFDAC), over her sustained war against fake drug manufacturers and peddlers. The trial took place before the then trial Judge, the Hon Justice Ishaq Bello, who has now honorably retired as the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, Abuja. The Judex had, after the announcement of appearance, used very kind words for both Seeni and I in the open court (I, for my humility in readily agreeing to be led by, and take notes for, my junior at the Bar and once-upon-a-time student of mine; and Seeni, for his great hesitation, tentativeness and reluctance, and for not “rubbing it in”, in leading me, as some juniors who oxymoronically became seniors to their mentors would readily and arrogantly have done.
As for me, I had however enjoyed every moment of it, as I verily believed (like my Weppa-Wanno people would put it in our local adage), that both the hands and legs of a snake remain inside the snake; which is why they do not protrude out of the crawling reptile. The figurative interpretation of this is that a mentor should always be very proud of the success and great strides of his mentee who has surpassed him, since the prayer of every father is that his children should out-perform him.
MY THESIS: MY PERSONAL OPINION
My thesis in this humble intervention is my very PERSONAL OPINION. And in so doing, I am exercising my FREEDOM OF SPEECH in putting forward my thoughts herein. This obviously calls for a debate amongst us and all stakeholders for possible fundamental reforms in the mode of taking this revered title.
My personal opinion is well protected by section 38(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (1999 Constitution), which provides:
“Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impact ideas and information without interference”.
This right of mine to exercise my freedom of speech, is also recognised and protected by Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR); Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), 1948; and, Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). See JOSEPH MANGTUP DIN V. AFRICAN NEWSPAPERS NIGERIA LTD (1990) LPELR-947 (SC).
My thesis is neither a populist one; nor is it designed to stir needless controversy. It is based purely on present realities which definitely call for introspection and self-evaluation. My thesis is quite simple: Upon all the various exerting and stringent filtration hurdles being surmounted, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) should go ahead and award the rank to EVERY legal practitioner who is deserving of it after he/she has been finally adjudged to have met all statutory requirements, FULFILLED all laid down criteria; survived all petitions; is highly recommended by the Bench and Bar; and is held to be a legal practitioner of nobility and distinction. There should be no further microscopic picking and choosing from this pool, based on any unwritten rules and unseen criteria!
THE PRESENT CRITERIA FOR THE AWARD OF SAN
The Legal Practitioners Act, LFN, 2004, establishes in its section 5, “Conferment, etc, of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria”. Section 5(2) of the Act provides:
“A person shall not be conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria unless he has been qualified to practise as a legal practitioner in Nigeria for not less than ten years and has achieved distinction in the legal profession in such manner as the Committee may, from time to time, determine.”
Section 5(3) identifies this Committee as “The Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee” (LPPC). Its composition, as stipulated in section 5(3) is “the Chief Justice of Nigeria, who shall be the Chairman; one Justice of the Supreme Court; the Attorney-General of the Federation; the President of the Court of Appeal; five of the Chief Judges of States; the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court; and, five legal practitioners who are Senior Advocates of Nigeria”.
Apparently aware that the qualifications for the conferment in section 5(2) appear too bare, and that the phrase, “and has achieved distinction in the legal profession”, may be too hazy to decipher, section 5(7) empowers the LPPC (with the approval of the Body of Benchers), to “make rules as to the privileges to be accorded Senior Advocates of Nigeria, as to the functions of a legal practitioner, which are not to be performed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, as to the mode of appearances before courts by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and generally, but without prejudice to the foregoing, for ensuring the dignity of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria”.
It is by virtue of this subsection that the LPPC has rightly made rules for the conferment of the SAN rank. These rules have always been tinkered with, serially updated, reformed and invariably usually made more stringent with each amendment, so as to prevent a floodgate of SANS. This means that to become a SAN has figuratively become the case of a camel passing through a needle’s eye. Need this be the case? I humbly think not.
THE SAN RANK MUST NEVER BE GIVEN TO LAWYERS OF QUESTIONABLE CHARACTER
Do not get me wrong here, please. I am not advocating that undeserving legal practitioners, or those with questionable character or tainted image should be accorded this revered honour. No. Never. We must also never award it to those who have pending petitions before the LPDC or courts of law. Such people may only be considered in the future where they would have successfully defended themselves and had been absolved of such allegations of professional misconduct or infamous conduct unbefitting of a legal practitioner.
IS CONFERMENT OF SAN A PRIVILEGE OR A RIGHT?
I am also acutely aware that the award of the SAN rank is a mere privilege; not a right. This means that an applicant may still not be awarded the revered title even if he/she is qualified and has roundly met all the set criteria. A privilege is defined as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group”. Some synonyms of privilege are advantage; benefit; prerogative; entitlement; birth-right; due; concession; right. A privilege is therefore lower in strength and efficacy than a right. The latter can be enforced; the former cannot be. Because it remains what it is: a privilege.
Thus, the Oxford Dictionary defines a right “as a moral or legal claim to have or get something or to behave in a particular way”. A right is therefore an entitlement to something, as distinct from a mere privilege. This invariably means that it remains within the discretionary purview and prerogative of the LPPC to decide to admit a far lesser number than those who actually qualified. It is absolutely within its domain to so decide. And its decision, like any discretion, is not justiciable in any court of law. I agree.
THE ONGOING SAN AWARD EXERCISE
The ongoing SAN exercise by the LPPC is for now still subject to Chambers/libraries inspection by a sub-Committee of the LPPC. The exercise is still subject to paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of the LPPC’s 2018 Guidelines, which empowered it to publish a Public Notice, made pursuant to paragraph 12(2) and 20 of the said LPPC Guidelines, 2018. The LPPC, in those paragraphs, as is conventional, had called on members of the public to comment, in 20 written copies, with a verifying affidavit, on “the integrity, reputation and competence of the above candidates”. Such comments or complaints “must be received at the office of the Secretary, LPPC, not later than 4.00pm on Tuesday, 28th September, 2021, or email: mailto:email@example.com”.
DON’T AGAIN SHORTLIST THE SHORTLISTED SHORTLIST
My thesis, therefore, is quite simple. Any further subjective, selective winnowing from those who eventually qualify from this painstakingly filtered pool is absolutely unnecessary. Selecting, for example, about 50-70 out of the fully qualified applicants from the above shortlisted shortlist, after they had been adjudged eminently qualified with distinction by the same LPPC, becomes absolutely discriminatory.
SOME UNWHOLESOME AND UNWRITTEN CRITERIA
At the level of further shortlisting the shortlist, it is no longer excellence or distinction that is at play; because those members of the shortlisted shortlist had already met the full criteria and had been adjudged qualified by the LPPC itself; after its filtration, public notice and Chambers/libraries inspection. It becomes a contradiction in terms for the same LPPC to again reject applicants it has itself adjudged fully qualified to take the silk. This is where, perhaps, other inappropriate considerations and unfair criteria of the much abused quota system and “god-fatherism” creep in. This is what, most respectfully, I am against. Such bewildering factors are apparently anchored on unwritten considerations of gender; language; religion; status; place of birth; wealth; political opinion; place of practice; state of origin; station in life; tribal connections; sectional reach; pedigree; social or political clout of the Applicant; parents, siblings or classmates; if and whether the Applicant’s place of origin or practice had been awarded some slots the previous year; whether the applicant is flamboyant; reticent; recluse; or heavily publicised; etc, etc. I thought, respectfully, all these had already been carefully taken into consideration before the LPPC’s shortlisted shortlist. Why, again after? I cannot understand this. Or, can you?
AVOID THE LOOMING DISCRIMINATION
In my humble opinion, these hidden and unwritten criteria are absolutely otiose, superfluous, unnecessary, redundant and gratuitous. They constitute nothing but pure discrimination, contrary to sections 16(2) and 41(1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution; Articles 2, 3 and 20 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights; and, Article 2 of the UNDHR, 1948.
The Nigerian courts have readily interpreted the right against discrimination to be a shield which can be employed by people to prevent being denied their entitled rights and benefits. In OKOYE & ORS v. NWAVU & ORS (2003) LPELR-12330(CA), the intermediate court held, on the right to freedom from discrimination, thus:
“Let me briefly comment on the application of Section 39(1) and (2) of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This provision of our grundnorm, then in vogue, is against discrimination on grounds of place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion held. Section 39(2) which is more in point here reads thus: “39(2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth”. I should restate it here once more that the makers of our Constitutions have very large hearts. They are very accommodating. They know the peculiarities of our polity. In the same vein, in interpreting same, a Judge should have a large heart. He should be accommodating since he equally knows the peculiarities of our polity…If a stranger element in a society acquires a legal right and there is an attempt to dislodge him of same, he can take umbrage under the above provision of the Constitution.” (coran JOHN AFOLABI FABIYI, JCA (Pp 15 – 17, Paras A – A). See also the case of ALAJEMBA UKE & ANOR v. ALBERT IRO (2001) LPELR-6964(CA).
THERE IS NO FLOODGATE ANYWHERE
I do not agree at all with the apparent fear that there would be an open-ended floodgate of new entrants if all QUALIFIED applicants were admitted into the Inner Bar in one fell swoop at a given period of time. Where, for example, 100 applicants who qualified in a particular year are awarded the silk, they WILL NEVER AGAIN APPLY for it. The recurring docket of BACKLOG will DISAPPEAR. Indeed, I foresee, like Nostradamus (the man who saw tomorrow), that there may be some years when no applicant will be qualified enough to apply at all. This is because over 90% of applicants year after year, are merely recycled. They are those who had been serially denied the rank in previous years. Even if we were to have 100 new SANs every year, it would still amount to a mere 1000 SANs in 10 whole years. For a UN projected population of 212,627,048 as at October 11, 2021, that would still sum up to just one SAN per 212,627 citizens of Nigeria. Is this a floodgate let loose? I think not. I will still speak to this issue later.
WHAT IS THE SAN RANK ALL ABOUT?
The prestigious honorary rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is a title conferred on legal practitioners in Nigeria who have distinguished themselves and attained distinction in legal practice. It is the highest conferment of distinction that can be attained in the legal profession by any legal practitioner, and is the equivalent of the rank of Queen’s Counsel (QC) or ‘King’s Counsel’ (KC) (during the reign of a king) in the United Kingdom. The SAN rank is also the equivalent of Senior Counsel (not in the sense of its literal word usage in Nigeria to suggest an experienced lawyer), State Counsel, Senior Advocate and President’s Advocate, in some other parts of the world.
The rank of SAN is therefore the pinnacle of every lawyer’s professional journey and a position which bestows special privileges on a legal practitioner who has practised for a minimum of ten years at the Nigerian Bar; and has made exemplary contributions to the legal profession. Prior to 1975, the rank of Queen’s Counsel (QC) was still bestowed on distinguished Nigerians, even after our flag independence from English Colonial rule in 1960. Section 5 of the Legal Practitioners Act, 1975, Cap 207, however created the rank of SAN, by empowering the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee to confer such a title on lawyers adjudged so qualified. The history of the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria on individuals can be traced back to the 3rd of April, 1975, when the title was first conferred on Chief F.R.A. Williams and Dr. Nabo Graham-Douglas, for their remarkable and distinguished contributions to the early stages of the legal profession.
PRIVILEGES OF THE SAN RANK
The privileges attached to the rank of SAN are more statutory than conventional (as in the UK). These privileges are provided for in section 5(7) of the Legal Practitioners Act, 1975, and in the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (Functions and Privileges) Rules, 1979. These privileges are mainly 3:
1.The right to wear a silk gown
2.The right to sit at the Inner Bar or front row. The tradition is that while legal practitioners are called to the “Outer Bar”, SANs are called to the “Inner Bar” and therefore sit in the inner bar. Traditionally, the UK courts had inner bars specially retained for legal practitioners who had attained the rank of QCs. But the UK courts no longer have Inner Bars, as well as most (if not all) courts across the world. Rather, the practice is that SANs sit at the front row (usually termed “Inner Bar”), whenever a SAN is appearing before the court.
3.The right to mention cases out of turn.
Section 5(8) of the Legal Practitioners Act, 1975, restricts a SAN from practising other than as a Barrister. Apart from this restriction, there seems to be no other statutory restriction placed on the rank of SAN. Conventionally though, a SAN has an obligation to appear with a junior counsel, a practice retained from the QCs in England and Nigeria, during the colonial times. However, QCs in the UK have long abandoned this custom, as they can now appear in court without any junior counsel.
THE KNOWN CRITERIA FOR THE AWARD OF THE RANK OF SAN
Consequent upon its prestigious nature, the eligibility criteria for SANS focuses on competence in advocacy, integrity and good standing in the legal profession. Paragraph 1 of the SAN Guidelines, 2018, provides for the rank of SAN to be conferred only on legal practitioners that are in full time legal practice, have distinguished themselves as Advocates and have otherwise made significant contribution to the development and growth of the legal profession. Such a candidate must be no less than 10 years post-call; and must provide evidence of judgments which he/she played a significant role in as an Advocate. This shall consist of twenty final judgments in the High Court, five in the Court of Appeal and four in the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The candidate must also be of good character and have no pending disciplinary complaint against him/her.
As regards competence, paragraph 19(1), (3), (6) and (7) of the SAN Guidelines, 2018, sets out what a candidate must possess: (a) high professional and personal integrity; (b) diversity; (c) sound knowledge of the law and excellent skill as an advocate; (d) tangible contribution to development of the law through writings and/or lectures at national or international conferences; (e) leadership qualities and loyalty to the legal profession including payment of practising fees and undertaking pro bono cases. Members of the academia are also conferred with the rank based on their scholarship, research and intellectual discourse.
THE DESIRABILITY OF EXTENDING THE SILK TO CORPORATE LAWYERS
Let me also therefore use this a dissertation to call for an amendment to the LPA and the LPPC Rules, to include elevating corporate lawyers as SANs. For me, it is inexcusable and inequitable that we award the silk to practising lawyers and scholars; yet deny our corporate lawyers, who are actively engaged in wholly commercial practice the same SAN rank. These are our colleagues in specialised and critical areas of the law, some of the areas quite recondite and novel. They generate the policies, legal frameworks, and financial platforms on which the Advocates and Scholars themselves rely. I do not mean to sound overtly radical or patronizing here. Never. I speak straight from my heart. A calm consideration of this suggestion will show its great advantages. After all, the Section on Business Law of the NBA is invariably usually headed by these accomplished Boardroom lawyers. So, why deny them of the silk, simply because they are not courtroom Advocates or classroom Professors? I humbly beg to disagree with their being sidelined. They could at least be made SANs (honoris causa), as done in England, for their great impact in the corporate world that affects all legal practitioners. Alternatively, we may coin a name for them – Senior Advocates of Commercial Practice (SACP).
THE SAN AWARD IN OTHER COUNTRIES
QCs IN ENGLAND AND WALES AS PRECURSORS
In 1994, Solicitors of England and Wales became entitled to gain rights of audience in the higher courts. Some 275 were so entitled in 1995. In January, 2020, 114 Barristers and Solicitors were appointed as Queens’ Counsel (QCs). In addition, 10 honorary QCs (Honoris Causa) were appointed. QCs and Honorary QCs are usually appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Lord Chancellor.
SUSPENSION OF THE QC RANK IN 2003
The appointment of new Queen’s Counsel was suspended in England in 2003, and it was widely expected that the system would be abolished. However, a vigorous campaign was mounted in defence of the system. Supporters included those who considered it as an independent indication of excellence of value to those (especially foreign commercial litigants) who did not have much else to rely on; and those who contended that it was a sure means by which the most outstanding Barristers from ethnic minorities could advance and overcome prejudices, as well as better represent members of an increasingly diverse society.
REFORMING THE QC RANK
The government’s focus thereafter switched from abolition to reform; and, in particular, reform of the much-criticised “secret soundings” of Judges and other establishment legal figures upon which the old system was based. This was held to be inappropriate and unfair, given the size of the modern profession. They also feared a possible source of improper government patronage (since the final recommendations were made by the Lord Chancellor, who is also a member of the government). It was also found to be discriminatory against part-time workers (especially women) and ethnic minorities.
In November, 2004, after much public debate in favour of and against retaining the title, the government announced that appointments of Queen’s Counsel in England would be resumed but that future appointees would be chosen, not by the government, but by a nine-member panel, chaired by a lay person. This would include two Barristers, two Solicitors, one retired Judge, and three non-lawyers. Previously, the appointment had remained a royal one made solely on the advice of the Lord Chancellor. However, they no longer comment on individual applications. The Lord Chancellor supervises the process and reviews the panel’s recommendations in general terms, to be satisfied that the process as operated is fair and efficient.
HOW THE REFORMS LIBERALISED THE QC AWARD IN ENGLAND
When application forms under the new system were released in July, 2005, appointment of a whopping 175 new Queen’s Counsel was announced on 20th July, 2006. Of the 175 appointed, 33 were women; 10 were ethnic minorities; and 4 were Solicitors. Six people were also appointed QC Honoris Causa (this is given to recognise those in the profession who have made a major contribution to, and impact on, the law of England and Wales, outside the courtroom).
Under the new dispensation, a Barrister that desires to be conferred the title of QC must have a minimum of twelve years’ experience at the Bar. The title is mostly restricted to practising Barristers, except for a few exceptional cases. A QC must also have a history of honesty, discretion and diligent dealings with both professional colleagues, their clients and also the courts.
As at 2017, there were about 17,000 Barristers in England and Wales, of which approximately 10% were QCs. Can we say this of Nigeria, or anything near it?
IRELAND AND SENIOR COUNSEL
The Irish Free State came into existence in December, 1922, as a dominion within the British Commonwealth of Nations. Shortly after the Courts of Justice Act, 1924, came into effect, Chief Justice Hugh Kennedy, in conjunction with the Bar Council of Ireland, revived the issue of patents of precedence, which had been used in the 18th and 19th Century as an alternative to a patent as KC. Under the Free State patent wording, the recipient would be styled “Senior Counsel” (SC). According to the view held at the time, the “privilege of patent” was part of the royal prerogative within the Free State.
Of about 2,300 Barristers registered with the Bar Council of Ireland, about 325 (well above 10%) are SCs. On 1st September, 2020, the cabinet approved the first batch of 37 recommendations of the LSRA Advisory Committee. These were appointed Senior Counsel the following day, including the first 17 Solicitors. The wording “approved the first batch of 37 recommendations of the LSRA advisory committee” signifies that every recipient recommended by the LSRA advisory committee were approved.
QCs IN CANADA
In Canada, the honorary title of Queen’s Counsel (QC), is used to recognize Canadian lawyers for exceptional merit and contribution to the legal profession. Queen’s Counsel appointments are formally made by the provincial Lieutenant-Governor from members of the Bar of the relevant province, on the recommendation of the provincial Attorney General.
The practice of making Queen’s Counsel appointments is not consistent across Canada, and the eligibility criteria vary. Reforms have attempted to depoliticize the award, making it a recognition of merit and community service. Committees composed of representatives of the Bench and the Bar screen candidates and advise the relevant Attorney General on appointments.
Nationally, the Canadian government discontinued Federal Queen’s Counsel appointments in 1993, but resumed the practice provincially in 2013. In 2015 alone, 102 lawyers were given their silks, joining the ranks of the Queen’s Counsel — a centuries-old tradition that honours outstanding legal careers and is still carried out by many provinces, as well as the federal government. Nigeria’s Gbenga Shoyole, QC (my classmate at Ife) and Dr Foluke Oyedeji-Laosebikan, QC, are some outstanding Nigerian lawyers conferred with the rank of QCs (SAN) in faraway Canada.
DO WE REALLY HAVE A GLUT OF SANS IN NIGERIA?
The rank of SAN is a pedigree intended to engender expectations of excellence, not only in advocacy, but also advisory legal services. Its rarity therefore makes it a most-sought-after rank in the legal profession. Since its inception in 1975 (aside 1976, 1977 and 1994 when there were no conferments), the LPPC has conferred only 616 candidates with the prestigious rank of SAN. Of course, this rarity could be seen as an attempt to protect and preserve the uniqueness and prestige of the rank of SAN. However, on the other side of the coin, it can be viewed as a deliberate circumscription and denial of qualified candidates of the prestigious rank. This denial of deserving ones is what my thesis has been all about.
The clear and obvious answer to the question of whether we have a glut of SANs in Nigeria is NO. The number of legal practitioners that have so far been conferred the rank of SAN since the inception of the LPPC is just 616. This is certainly miniscule compared with Nigeria’s population of over 212.6 million. Of course, this automictically means that the number of practising SANs are even not enough because the ratio of practising legal practitioners and practising SANs is quite disproportionate. Let us do some arithmetic and data analysis here.
THE NUMBER OF QUALIFIED APPLICANTS ELEVATED ARE TOO FEW
Although the number of advocates called to the Inner Bar in one year significantly increased to 72 in November, 2020, this figure is still quite insignificant when compared with the hundreds of qualified legal practitioners that apply for the honour every year; or when compared to those appointed annually as QCs in England and Wales; or/and other parts of the world. It seems to me to amount to injustice when candidates who apply are deemed qualified, after passing through the needle’s eye by going through all the various rigorous filtration processes; yet denied the SAN rank for several subterranean reasons, other than merit. People from humble backgrounds like me who do not have these god-fathers, long societal reach and connections would forever be denied being made SAN. God forbid! I hereby humbly call for wholesome DEMOCRATISATION of the SAN space in Nigeria.
THE TALE OF 197,000 LAWYERS AND 616 SANS!
What is beyond dispute is the fact that over 197,000 law school graduates have passed through the Nigerian Law School to become legal practitioners. But, only 616 have made it to become SANs. This means that Nigeria has only conferred a 0.31% of legal practitioners with the rank of SAN. The glaring statistics of 0.31% SANs out of the overwhelming pool of qualified legal practitioners is a dismal and saddening outing. Compare this with that of 10% OF 17,000 Barristers in England made QCs, and you would weep.
HOW MANY SANS REALLY PRACTISE IN COURTS?
Of the 616 legal practitioners so far conferred with the prestigious rank of SANs since 1975, a great number of them have since peacefully departed this world to go and join their Creator. Many are teachers in our universities, and who never really advocate in courts of law. Many others are no longer engaged in active legal practice for age or health-related reasons. Till date, there are still some states in Nigeria that do not have a single RESIDENT SAN, let alone LGAs. Ekiti State, as educated as its indigenes are, produced the first RESIDENT SAN only in 2020, in the person of Chief Obafemi Adewale, SAN, a former General Secretary of the NBA. This is not good enough. Let the LPPC open up new vistas and broaden the frontiers of the award of SAN; and accord the silk to all those who are deserving and have been adjudged eminently qualified with distinction by the LPPC itself, without any known pending petitions and cases bordering on professional misconduct or infamous conduct. The heavens will not fall. There is no pond of SANs in Nigeria, let alone a floodgate or torrent of SANs. The sky is large enough for all the birds to fly. LET US REFORM THE RANK NOW BEFORE THE RANK RANKLES US TO OUR ANKLES. I beg to respectfully submit.
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