I have just gone through a 17 April 2022 piece titled, “Senior Advocates Of Whatever” and credited to distinguished learned Professor and inimitable human rights activist, Chidi Odinkalu. I completely agree with distinguished Learned Prof, that the conduct of some Senior Advocates of Nigeria leaves very much to be desired, and that this is worrisome because it sets bad examples for younger lawyers, However, I beg to disagree with the learned professor’s conclusion that, “young lawyers particularly now aspire with an overwhelming sense of desperation to join this coven, safe in the assurance that it will sanctify them as witches and wizards of professional impunity. To fully reflect its current evolution, it may be time for the Body to upgrade its name to Body of Senior Advocates of Whatever (BOSAW)”.
First, I seriously doubt that reasons for young lawyer’s diligent aspiration to become members of the BOSAN include that being a member of the distinguished body will “sanctify them as witches and wizards of professional impunity”. With due respect, I don’t think so. And I will give just one example to buttress my point. If being a SAN offers one an immunity from professional discipline, why then was Mr. Aondoakaa suspended by the LPPC and later declared by a High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, to be unfit to hold any public office in Nigeria. The pronouncement of the apex court is well reflected in respected Prof Odinkalu’s piece thus: ‘On 10 December 2021, the Supreme Court of Nigeria determined that “Mr. Aondoakaa “had, by his conduct, undermined and subverted the administration of justice and the independence, authority and integrity of the judiciary” and “ought not to be entrusted with any other public office at all.”’ In my opinion, suspension from holding any public office is serious punishment and constitutes a sufficient sanction for Mr Aondoakaa’s reprehensible conduct in office as the HAGF. Note that the mere fact he’s a SAN did not stop the apex court or the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) from so proceeding against him. This is sufficient testimony that SANs are not immune from professional discipline for breach of Legal Ethics.
Second, there is no doubt that some SANs misbehave, but we should know that so many non-SANs equally misbehave. And just as there exist some SANs who are yet to be punished for their professional misconduct, there are very many non-SANs who have trampled upon the Legal Ethics with impunity. It must be admitted there is a general problem with discipline in the Law Profession in Nigeria; it’s not about SANs nor about BOSAN. In a statement made available to newsmen on 2 April 2021, the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) had advised the general public as follows:
“The attention of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has been drawn to the video making the rounds where the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) – Danladi Yakubu Umar was seen, together with his security detail, allegedly assaulting a citizen at Banex Plaza, in Wuse Abuja. We understand that this citizen turned out to be a 22-year-old employee of Jul Reliable Guards Services Limited, posted as a security guard to the Plaza and who is now reportedly hospitalised… Further, as a member of the legal profession, Danladi Yakubu Umar is expected, by the extant rules that regulate the conduct of legal practitioners in Nigeria, to maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and not to engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a member of the legal profession. Prima facie evidence available at the moment raise questions regarding whether such standards have been met. In view of the foregoing, the NBA shall through its relevant committee, investigate the circumstances leading to the altercation, and depending on its findings, will ensure that appropriate action is taken to address this occurrence”.
The news that made round on the same day was, “NBA to Investigate CCT Chairman’s Alleged Assault on Security Guard”. Danladi Umar is not a SAN. Yet, till date, nothing more has been heard from the NBA or about actions taken by the NBA leadership on the matter. “Has the matter been swept under the carpet?” is the question on many lips, till date.
Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is that misbehavior in the law profession in Nigeria is not exclusive to members of BOSAN. I therefore respectfully submit that one shouldn’t rely on the unbecoming conduct of some SANs to brand the entire membership of BOSAN evil or misbehaving as such would amount to discrediting all SANs in Nigeria on account of the misconduct of only a handful of their colleagues.
Also, following from the example I have given above, if we should begin to look down on the rank/title of SAN or on all SANs, simply because of the misconduct of few of the holders of the title, maybe, then applying the same (albeit faulty) reasoning, the entire membership of the legal profession as a whole, should be condemned or discredited since there are many non-SANs whose conducts also leave very much to be desired, and who have yet to be brought to book before relevant professional disciplinary authorities. Similarly, we should also begin to see Nigeria as a country of criminals or terrorists simply because terrorism and criminality have pervaded the environment landscape.
What is more? Let’s even take specific examples in the case of Body of Professors in Nigeria: (1) The Guardian of 26 March 2021 reports under the title, “Court jails professor three years for electoral fraud” that “an Akwa Ibom State High Court 2, sitting in Ikot Ekpene, has found a professor of Soil Physics at the University of Uyo, Peter Ogban, guilty of an electoral offence and consequently sentenced him to three years imprisonment”. According to reports, the court had found him guilty of altering the results of the election to favour the APC. (2) Also, in June 2018, a professor of Accounting at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Richard Akindele, was dismissed for demanding sex from one Monica Osagie for better grades in exams. Recall that Professor Akindele was later on 17 December 2018, convicted after he pleaded guilty to a 4-count charge. (3) On 16 April 2022, the gazettengr reports that “Another OAU professor busted for attempted rape, battery of female student”. (4) Further, on 17 December 2019, it was reported in the Guardian that “The University of Abuja… has dismissed a professor and former Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, Adeniji Adedayo Abiodun over alleged sexual harassment”. (5) On the same date, the paper reported, the same university approved the dismissal of Professor Agaptus Buzo-Chibuzor Orji of the Department of Science and Environmental Education for falsification of academic records and for aiding and abetting exam malpractice in the university. (6). On March 04, 2022, it was in the news that “Professor Richard Solomon Musa Tarfa, co-founder of orphanages for vulnerable children in Kano and Kaduna states, has been convicted by a High Court in Nigeria’s Kano State of forging a certificate of registration from the Kano state Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development”.
(7) On 20 August 2021, Daily Post reported that “The High Court sitting in Birnin Kudu, Jigawa State, has on Thursday sentenced Prof. Steve Uchella and Boniface Afifa Oru to five years’ imprisonment for forgery.” (8) On 10 December 2020, an “Akwa Ibom State High Court in Uyo has remanded a Nigerian professor, Ignatius Uduk, in prison for his alleged involvement in election fraud during the 2019 general elections in the state. Professor Uduk was arraigned on Wednesday by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), for allegedly declaring false election results in 2019”. The list is endless. Should we then rely on these few cases of professor-misconduct to draw a hasty generalization and conclusion about professors, that the Body of Professors in Nigeria is a body of mostly criminals, fraudsters and sex maniacs? Noooooo. Such a conclusion would be faulty, and especially tantamount to commiting a falacy of Hasty Generalization. Hasty generalization is a fallacy in which a conclusion is not logically justified by sufficient or unbiased evidence. It’s also called an insufficient sample, a converse accident, a faulty generalization, a biased generalization, jumping to a conclusion, secundum quid, a neglect of qualifications or over-generalization. Hasty Generalization fallacy is basically used to refer to making of a claim based on evidence that is just too insufficient or based on unrepresentative samples; drawing a conclusion based on a small sample size, rather than looking at statistics that are much more in line with the typical or average situation.
The gravamen of my submission is this: there are very many disciplinary bodies in the law profession in Nigeria; anyone who thinks that any lawyer, SAN or non-SAN, has acted contrary to the Legal Ethics, owes the profession a duty to report such erring member or members to the appropriate disciplinary body or bodies, and to follow up with such report in order to get the affected lawyer or lawyers subjected to relevant professional discipline and sanctions where liable. Rule 55 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007, is clear enough: “(1) If a lawyer acts in contravention of any the rules in these Rules or fails to perform any of the duties imposed by the Rules, he shall guilty of a professional misconduct and liable to punishment as provided in Legal Practitioners Act, 1975. (2) It is the duty of every lawyer to report any breach of any of these rules that comes to his knowledge to the appropriate authorities for necessary disciplinary action.
In the meantime, we should not paint an entire community evil simply because few of its inhabitants are misconducting themselves. The BOSAN remains BOSAN, respected and distinguished in all ramifications, irrespective of the obvious misconduct of some of its members. The respected BOSAN doesn’t translate to “Body of Senior Advocates of Whatever (BOSAW)” on account only of the misbehavior of just a handful of its members. Non-misbehaving members of BOSAN (and these are in the majority) shouldn’t be made to pay for, or to bear part of, the taint or ignominy caused by the sins of some of their colleagues. Let those SANs who misbehave be fished out and punished in line with law and Legal Ethics, but let the BOSAN as a body remain a respected Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria and not a “Body of Senior Advocates of Whatever”.
(17 April 2022)
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