The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Mr. Paul Usoro SAN in his address during the special session of the Supreme Court to mark the beginning of the 2019/2020 Legal Year and the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria advised the newly elevated silks to wear humility as cloak in their new status.
“Traditionally, the Supreme Court’s New Legal Year ceremony is always a double-barreled event, to wit, the celebration of the New Legal Year and also the more colorful and celebratory preferment of the ranks of Senior Advocates of Nigeria on newly elevated members of the Inner Bar. Today is no exception; 38 new members have been inducted into the ranks by My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Dr. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR. On behalf of the NBA, I congratulate these new leaders of the Bar who have been found worthy by their superiors and peers of wearing the coveted rank of SAN.”
“You were obviously chosen from the large number of applicants based on your outstanding qualities of, inter alia, intellectual fecundity, hard work, diligence, unparalleled advocacy skills, sense of purpose, consistency, integrity and not least, humility. As I mentioned during the elevation of your colleagues last year, I include “humility” amongst the qualifying attributes because, sometimes, our colleagues of the Inner Bar tend to forget that the rank of SAN is best worn with and in humility. Humility, in general terms, exalts the person. In specific terms, humility stands out and elevates a Senior Advocate of Nigeria – to wit, humility to the Courts, humility towards your colleagues of the Inner and Outer Bars, humility towards your clients and indeed humility towards members of the public. It is the humility in you that would oil your words and speeches in a way that makes them soothing and respectful to everyone, not least, the courts; it is the humility in you that would persuade you to share your deserved front-row seats with members of the Outer Bar who are not entitled to the front-row seats as of right when you are in court but who are unfortunately consigned to stand in a crowded and sometimes, stuffy courtroom and wait while you conduct your case because all the seats to which they are entitled are occupied. Humility is actually the hallmark of great men and you must not forget that fact while adorning your SAN rank.”
“Your elevation comes at a time that the profession – both the Bar and the Bench – is under siege, mostly at the instance of agencies that ordinarily should be our partners in law enforcement. It is no longer news that some law enforcement agencies seem to derive sadistic pleasure in locking up lawyers and imposing impossible bail conditions for their release, mostly in the course of investigating the professional functions of these lawyers. Indeed, the practice of law is now being criminalized by these agencies all in an effort to demonize and humiliate lawyers and the legal profession.”
“The practice of law has consequently become very dangerous and risky. To illustrate, it used to be the practice that lawyers under investigation by law enforcement agencies were routinely granted administrative bail based on selfrecognizance; the NBA has no record that any of those lawyers subsequently refused to honor the invitation of those agencies or absconded in the course of any such investigation. So, what justification is there, other than abuse of powers and egotistic humiliation and degradation of lawyers and the legal profession by some law enforcement agencies, for the now commonplace imposition of horrendous bail conditions including the depositing of travel passports consequent upon the investigation of lawyers by these agencies? Do these agencies truly believe that these lawyers, some of whom are Senior Counsel, will jump self-recognizance bail? No, they do not so believe but they are sworn to humiliate and desecrate our profession. In a number of these cases, the lawyers are investigated and so humiliated for carrying out their professional duties and nothing more.”
“I underscore these issues because you all, by your elevation today, are leaders of the Bar and have a sworn duty to safeguard and promote the rule of law, an indubitable component of which is the independence of the legal profession. That independence is eroded when lawyers have to be choosy in accepting briefs and/or instructions solely because they do not want to incur the wrath of any law enforcement agency for performing their professional duties. The society suffers when we descend into that abyss. Access to justice and fair hearing suffers and this is because persons in need of legal services are not permitted and/or enabled to engage the lawyers of their choice. That is the pathway to self-help and anarchy not to mention the deleterious effect such a descent has on our economy. It behooves us therefore as lawyers and leaders of the Bar to stand up for the independence of our profession and, by so doing, push back on authoritarianism and malevolent abuse of power. We must, as members of the Bar, speak with one voice in this regard and you, as members of the Inner Bar, must join the NBA in taking the lead.”
“That said, I must continue to emphasize the imperative for us, as lawyers, to imbue our everyday conduct and practice with utmost integrity and professionalism. It is not for nothing that ours is referred to as the noble profession. That nobility must show in our uprightness, professionalism and utmost integrity. We must not by our conduct give cause for denigration and debasement of our profession by detractors and naysayers. To this end, the NBA will be working very shortly with relevant stakeholders in the profession to strengthen our self-regulating internal mechanisms including enforcement and disciplinary processes in order to ensure their enhanced robustness, effectiveness and efficiency in identifying and weeding out the bad eggs, if any, in our midst while protecting the consumers of legal services.”
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