The great American Legal Philosopher, Ronald Dworkin, once intoned that “we are all a product of Law’s Empire, liegemen to its method and ideals”. From all reasonable standpoints, this logic is purely flawless. This is because for all of human history, the implement of law has been the only indispensable tool which has shielded humanity from the dangers and doom of perilous vices and global anarchy through its tool of regulation and moderation. Indeed, the examination of a life under law and that outside the law reveals that if the law had not existed, human existence would be a manifestation of the Hobbesian state of Nature, “Nasty, Short and Brutish”.
But of what effect is the law without the legal profession? In sheer reality, the legal profession is the heart of the law. Perhaps, it was to this knowledge that the Ancient French thinker and Historian, Alex de Tocqueville once uttered that, lawyers are the natural bond and connecting link of the two great classes of the society”. Without the legal profession, the law would be a mere beauty without a benefit. Premised on Medieval and Early modern traditions, it has been revealed that the legal profession is one of the three pillars of the learned profession, one which is conjunctively defined by the Bar and the Bench. In Nigeria, this profession has been championed by the best and brightest minds for many decades even till today.
But sadly, the story is gradually changing; one which seems as though this was not the same great profession that was once idolized and revered. Today, there are diverse challenges which are gradually staining and degrading the integrity of this great profession. For sure, the fact that challenges are inevitable in the course of life is indisputable. But of course, the medium and manner in which they are approached and addressed will go a long way in determining what the end of such impediments becomes.
In this modern age, it is grim a metaphor to legality and every form of justice that manifolds scourges greatly threatens the Nigeria Legal profession. Condemning such unpleasant reality that now defines the Nigeria legal profession, the venerable Justice Oputa of Blessed memory once remarked that “looking back at the legal profession in Nigeria in the forties, fifties and even early sixties, one sees in retrospect a rather dignified, respectable and self-respecting profession-the pride of lawyers, the ambition of many, and object of reverence by the generality of our people. Nowadays, things seem to be falling apart”. It is to this many, perhaps, threatening challenges that we must now take a proactive approach at the future of the Nigerian legal profession.
To begin with, what actually are the difficulties which are now threatening the progress of this once revered and respected profession? Surely, this menace are nothing but crumbling corruption, delayed adjudication, inadequate enforcement of rules of professional conduct, dependent judiciary, abuse of judicial power, inadequate training for young lawyers, just to mention a few. But the million-dollar question now is, how then can these challenges be resolved?
Of course, it is no longer news that incidence of corruption pervades the Nigeria legal profession. With regards to the judiciary, there are now several cases where these men and women of the bench now dishes out injudicious judgments after their palms have been greased by litigants and even counsels. Sadly, this menace has now transmogrified into a cankerworm which is now eaten real deep into the judiciary. A case in point is the issue of a recently disbenched Chief Justice of Nigeria who was alleged of being in possession of some unaccountable funds. Obviously, these are issues which now challenge the potency of the Nigerian Legal Profession.
But the big question is, how and when did the Nigeria Judiciary which used to be the pride of the country descend into such state of professional decadence and corruption? Surely, the time itself is not really known, but the means and manner by which these ills are engendered today is not untraceable to the dependence of the Nigerian Judiciary. For a fact, the home truth is that independence of the Judiciary is still a fantasy in today’s Nigeria. This dependence can be clearly seen from the way many of these men and women of the bench are forcefully subjected to the harassment and dictates of the executive and the legislature.
Although this claim of dependence of the judiciary might puzzle many due to the widely held supposition that the Nigerian judiciary is independent, the true reality is that such independence exists only in theory and not in reality. To therefore defeat this many challenges that now besets the Nigeria legal profession, the construction and creation of a functional system where judges are independent of the other arms of government is foundational.
In this connection, it is fundamental that there should be in place an effective and functional national structure to materialize the judiciary’s independence, one where judicial officers do not answer to neither can they be removed by the President or the Governor. This can be further achieved through ensuring an absolute financial autonomy for this distinguished men and women of the bench. After this is in place, there must also be in place a coherent and functional policy where judges who still subject litigants and counsel to illegal dues and fees can be exposed, reported and thereafter sanctioned. Importantly, in doing this, due process must be religiously followed.
But this corruption in the legal profession is not just defining of the bench alone; it has in recent times become an occupier of the bar as well. This unpleasant reality become glaring from the way diverse men and women of the bar are alleged of professional misconducts of bribing certain judicial officials to illicitly give judgment in their client’s favour, no matter the cost. But this is only one side of this menace. How about the way many are alleged of purchasing the heretofore revered title of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria? Of course, this is corruption at its Peak.
To restore the Nigerian legal profession to its glory, this cankerworm of corruption must be swiftly dealt with. For starters, the rule of professional conduct for legal practitioners must be swiftly restructured and revamped to meet and address this many challenges. Not just this, this rules must be properly enforced and their violations adequately sanctioned. To fully achieve this, it is foundational to revitalize the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary committee which possesses the power to sanction erring members of the bar. Essentially, it is high time the title of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria is properly reformed. Whilst some have called for its absolute abolishment, it should be noted that such proposition does not present itself as a suitable solution. In this light, the title should rather be overhauled and not extinguished. Thus, those who have done exceptionally well and brought to bear unequalled laudable achievements in the profession must be recognized and honoured, but this honour must be rid of the politics and corruption it is today ravaged by.
Although, it is a well-worn legal axiom that justice delayed is justice denied. In today’s world, a judgment delayed is now justice denied. If this observation is anything to go by, then many injustices have been materialized in the Nigeria Legal territory. Surely, the fact that many cases take years, if not decades before they are adjudicated upon in Nigeria courts are no longer new. On the one hand, this delayed adjudication may either be as a result of some Counsel’s sharp practices to frustrate the other party out of court through diverse adjournments when there are no valid basis and arguments for their clients, on the other hand, such delay might be due the facts that certain concrete evidences which are needed to decide on the case are yet to be completely garnered. This frequent adjournment of cases has therefore led to the epidemic of court congestion in nearly all Nigerian Courts, since new lawsuits now meet old ones in court.
To battle this menace, firstly, there must be a functional and coherent pre-trial analysis system where cases which are brought to court are firstly and punctiliously analyzed before they are filed in court. This will help ensure that cases which lack the necessary evidence or substantial merits are not allowed to be used as an instrument of court congestion. To fully achieve this, certain judicial officers can be specifically employed to carry out this task as swiftly as possible. This process must essentially be done through analyzing the validity or otherwise of the cause of action, admissibility and also adequacy of available evidences.
Resultantly, this pre-trial analysis will help to rid the Court of cases which lack the necessary legal merit for adjudication and also to avoid the unnecessary delay which usually arose from lack or inadequacy of admissible evidence. In this light, pre-trial hearing becomes a pre-condition to court trials. In criminal cases, it is essential that the prosecutions are fundamentally trained in the act of garnering concrete and convictable evidences before they file cases in court, having in consideration the fact that they must prove their case beyond all reasonable doubts. When their evidences are therefore not solid enough to convict a suspect, such cases must not be allowed to pass through the pre-trial stage.
After this is done, it is essential that the Multi-door court house system is functionally employed in all courts in the Federation. In this light, relevant cases which hurdle passed the pre-trial analysis stage should preliminarily and foundationally be referred to other alternatives mode of resolution dispute such as mediation, conciliation and arbitration. Thus, it is only after this medium has been exhausted that the litigation option of the court room trial should be brought to the table. This medium if religiously employed will therefore go a long way in helping to bury the hatchets between or among disputing parties without them having to come in contact with the courtroom trial.
Lastly, the potency and prevalence of Information and Communication Technology in today’s world is absolutely undeniable. Thence, ICT inherently possess an indispensable vista which must be employed in the Nigerian Legal profession to tackle its many challenges. In this connection, there must be in place a coherent judicial database where cases which will be addressed by the court are electronically scheduled. This will help to ensure organization and orderliness in the adjudication of issues before the court. To fully achieve this, it is high time where law reports are electronically documented. Not only will this help to ensure a speedy law reporting system whereby recent cases are swiftly brought to the knowledge of the populace, it will also help to ensure easy and swift access to judicial decisions as against the current rampant practice of absolute manual reporting.
Surely, the importance of enforcing a coherent and comprehensive legal order in the Nigeria Legal profession cannot be over emphasized. Concretely, if the end of Law is really to make life meaningful for all through the concept of justice, then overcoming this many challenges that currently plagues the Nigerian Legal profession is the right place to start from.