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Barr. Mike Ozekhome (SAN) Calls for Democratisation of SAN Space

Barr. Mike Ozekhome (SAN) Calls for Democratisation of SAN Space

-     Says 0.31% of SANs in Nigeria a Dismal & Saddening Outing

-     Some states in Nigeria have Never Produced a Resident SAN

By Frank Ajufo

Renown Human Rights Lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN) has raised concerns over the number of lawyers conferred with the position of Senior Advocate since its inception.

Barr. Ozekhome’s concern was laid bare in a statement entitled, “ANY FLOODGATE OF SENIOR ADVOCATES OF NIGERIA? I DO NOT THINK SO”, where he noted that the number of advocates called to the Inner Bar in one year which increased in November 2020 to 72 is still insignificant when cocmpared to the number of applications received each year.

The legal icon further compared the Nigerian context with what is obtainable in England and Wales where out of the 17, 000 barristers in England, 10% of them have been appointed as Queen’s Counsel (QCs).

“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.

“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.”

He lamented that over 197, 000 lawyers have graduated from the Nigerian Law School, yet only 616 have become SANs.

“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.

“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.

“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.”

“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.

“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.”

Ozekhome also pointed out that out of the 616 SANS, there are states in the country that have never produced a single resident SAN, worse off are many Local Government Areas.

He said the development is not healthy and stressed the need for the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) to open up new perspectives in the award of SAN-ship to qualified applicants.

“The LLPC needs to adopt 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 Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (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.

“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.”