- Introduction and Context
It is a great privilege and honour to have been invited to address this distinguished audience. For this, permit me to express my deep gratitude to the Chairman and esteemed members of Egbe Amofin Ni Eko. When my friend and brother, Martin Ogunleye, a highly respected leader and former Chairman of the biggest Branch of the Nigerian Bar (Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos Branch) mentioned the idea of delivering the first Pa Tunji Gomez Memorial Lecture to me, I immediately expressed my excitement at the prospect. When he further mentioned the title of the Lecture, I concluded within me that no other topic could have been more befitting of the memory of this pre-eminent legal practitioner, who in his lifetime earned for himself the sobriquet ‘matter of conscience’.
Without question, Pa Tunji Gomez, in whose honour the Egbe Amofin Ni Eko has befittingly established this annual lecture was a man totally dedicated and committed to social justice lawyering. He was never enamoured by the subtleties of substantive law and layers of procedure where they dilute and grind down the idealism behind commitment to social justice, which has been defined as the commitment to act with and on behalf of those who are suffering because of social neglect, social decisions or social structure and institutions. Pa Gomez was convinced that social justice is pervasive in Nigeria because majority of Lawyers want to remain conventional and not willing to swim against the tide. Pa Gomez saw social justice as the core and foundation of a stable, peaceful and virile society, and that in the absence of it, the legal profession will only be paying eloquent lip service to justice.
I will talk a bit more in the course of this lecture about lawyers as crusaders of justice, but, at this juncture, permit me to acquaint us with who Pa Tunji Gomez was. Pa Gomez was born on March, 18 1928 to the Doherty and Gomez families of Lagos. He had his early education at the CMS Grammar School, Lagos; Abeokuta Grammar School; and Kings College, Lagos, and was called to the Bar in England in 1961. Pa Gomez, in the words of Chukwuma Ikwuazom, the current Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos Branch, was a quintessential Bar man, whose deep devotion to the Bar was well known. At the time of his demise at the age of 90 years, Pa Gomez was easily the oldest practicing lawyer in Nigeria, and in spite of his old age, he never missed the meetings and other activities of the Lagos Branch. It is quite instructive to note that such passion and commitment to the legal profession demonstrated by Pa Gomez was inspired and encouraged by a European Lawyer, Alex Taylor, who defended students of Kings College pro bono aftermath of a students’ unrest. That event ingrained in him a desire to always fight for the oppressed. Till his death, he was devoted to his late wife of Scottish parentage, and that according to him was why he never re-married. They had two children who are also Lawyers.
As an intellectual anchor for critical thinking, among the several legendary crusades that this independent minded and courageous social justice activist fought were: his agitation for better welfare for young lawyers; the need to abolish or reform the award of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria in a way that will ensure a level playing field; the struggle to stem the falling standards of the Bar; respect for the judiciary by lawyers, and the protection of the judiciary through rigorous discipline. Pa Gomez was in the team of lawyers that defended the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the celebrated treasonable felony case in 1962, and had the reputation of being the first to ever take the military Government to court in the case of Madam Shapara Williams v. Lagos State Government. Pa Gomez would never mind being the lone voice when fighting a cause that he believed in.
In a thrilling and highly fascinating poem, Ode to Pa Gomez, written as a tribute to Pa Tunji Gomez on his 90th, Bolaji Ramos, a younger colleague in the profession wrote:
ODE TO PA GOMEZ
But for difference in time
And the unwillingness to alter
The vastness of human history,
I would call you the Nomos of our time.
Son of Eunomia
Son of Themis
Son of Gomez
Son of Doherty…
I would call you the Nomos of our time.
Let the Keatians sing
Of Ode to the Nightingale
Let the Wordsworthians sing
Of Ode to Duty
Let the Shelleyians sing
Of Ode to the West Wind
But just give me the minstrel’s throne
That I may raconteur Pa. Gomez’s legal Odyssey
In poeto-legal language, fit and proper.
Talk of lawyers that lingered longer
That even Death found then stronger—
Talk of Lord Denning of England
That lived for a hundred years,
And I’ll speak of our Pa. Gomez—
Ninety, and counting.
Talk of Edgar Fay of England
That spanned a hundred and one,
And I’ll speak of our Pa. Gomez—
Ninety, and counting.
Talk of Jack Pope of America
That attained a hundred and two,
And I’ll speak of our Pa. Gomez—
Ninety, and counting.
So, when upon my minstrel’s throne
I sit with you to purge my raging tone,
With my poeto-legal lyre
And my Muse-invoking fire,
Grant me the leave
That I may speak freely of memories…
Of Alex Taylor in 1944
The whisperer that whispered
Becoming a lawyer into your ears;
Of the KC strike in 1948
Of Simon Olakunle & Fola Sasegbon
Of Minister Zonah in Cameroons
Of the judicial bravery of JIC Taylor
And of Madam Shapara and Lagos State
Nomos of our time
Mover of mighty motions
Matter of conscience
Son of Eunomia
Yet Son of Themis,
I would call you the Nomos of our time.
Let the Keatians talk
Of Ode to the Grecian Urn
And the Shelleyians sing
Of Ode to the West Wind,
I would sing you an ode
(Mightier than Keat’s, Wordsworth’s and Shelley’s)
About a period of 90 years well-spent
As an elder statesman of the Bar.
It must be obvious to this distinguished audience by now that the topic of discourse is one that aligns with the imprint, legacy and enduring desire of Pa Gomez, notably that the legal profession should be the catalyst for nation building and that, by virtue of their training as social engineers (problem solvers) which helps them to understand the context of activities, the objectives they seek to achieve, the potential challenges that will be encountered and the appropriate response to deal with the challenges, lawyers are the architects of nation building.
I am not unmindful that the topic of discourse is on the role of the Nigerian Lawyer. However, it is almost impossible to focus on performance of lawyers without reference to judicial conduct and behavior. Afterall, both judges and lawyers are cut from the same cloth, but, with different obligations in their service in the temple of justice. Both are answerable to professional and ethical questions at the intersection of justice and are the backbone of the rule of law. By way of example, if a nation is to come to terms with nipping violation of human rights in the bud, or achieving strict observance of the rule of law, it must begin with an independent judiciary (i.e. the independence of the judiciary as an institution and the independence of individual judges), and an independent legal profession. Consequently, our focus will be on the landscape of lawyers and judges.
Interestingly, should we, in the present circumstances of our nation, make an attempt to assess the impact of lawyers and the judiciary in terms of contributions to the promotion of justice, delivery of the dividends of democracy, and her perception by the citizens with respect to equal treatment under the law, the result will be damning. We are daily confronted with the constant presence of corruption and misconduct alleged either against legal practitioners or judges. Unlike yesteryears when lawyers were seen as the conscience of the nation, today, there is a crisis of consciousness, a crisis of integrity, character and competence. Today, the legal profession that is supposed to be venerated by members of the society is now the subject of satirical poems bordering on reprehensible conducts. By training, lawyers are engineered to induce the personal consciousness of others to enable them to reach the ideal. Regrettably, the false consciousness of the legal profession has become the falseness of consciousness that is now seriously haunting and hurting her.
The reality of the crisis that has now become the lot of the legal profession has been clearly and aptly captured by Yusuf Ali, SAN:
…It is quite unfortunate that the legal profession in Nigeria has in recent years, witnessed escalating reports of professional misconduct, corruption and sharp practices with attendant negative consequences on the standard of practice. From my privileged and vantage position as a member of the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee, one has witnessed many of our erstwhile colleagues, whose cases were concluded within the last two years, being debarred, while others were suspended for a number of years. The decline in the standard of practice constitutes a threat to the future of legal practice in Nigeria.
In the same vein, Justice Isa Ayo Salami was more passionate and lethal in enunciating the problem with the Nigerian judiciary:
The problem with the Nigerian judiciary is that some dishonourable people not cut out to be judges got into the system and, after that, made it to the highest level of their judicial careers. Another major factor the problem has festered is that many Nigerians do not want the truth to be told. Whoever dares to tell the truth is marked down for persecution. Members of the Bar often narrate horrible stories or tales of certain high-ranking judicial officers who act as courier of bribe, but, they are never ready to come out with details.
He states further:
Such a person is engaged at a fee to reach out to judges in order to influence decisions in certain sensitive cases. At times, the bribe they collect for and on behalf of such designated judges never come to their knowledge, not to talk of its being delivered to them. It is also alleged that some legal practitioners, in addition to their legitimate fees, demand fees from the clients purportedly to influence the judge or judges handling their cases. It is the activities of these wicked legal practitioners and retired judges who can rightly be described as interlopers that have given the Nigerian judiciary a negative image.
Of course, His Lordship acknowledged the pride of place of honourable gentlemen in the judiciary who will not accept a farthing from anyone and who can stand up to anyone. In this respect, he noted that many of the justices and judges in Nigeria are hardworking, patriotic and honest and can compare favourably with judges and justices from any of the Commonwealth countries. The challenge as that popular saying goes, however, is that one bad apple has the tendency to spoil the whole bunch.
What has been the perception of the public? I call it perception because, unlike verifiable reality that exists, perception may not be true. Sadly, however, in the performance appraisal of institutions, perception is what fuels satisfaction or discontent on one hand, and motivates legitimacy or distrust on the other hand. I will start with a quote from an anonymous author titled “Judicial Mischievousness!!!’:
When the sex for marks Professor from OAU, Ife was exposed the University authorities promptly probed and suspended him until he was jailed by a court! The University Professor and ASUU did not threaten nor blackmail the University Authority, Judiciary nor Government in defence of their erring colleague!
But every time a Judicial Officer is nabbed committing a crime or indulging in corruption you find Lawyers shamelessly ganging up to harass and blackmail the Government in his defence as if becoming a Lawyer or a Judge comes with inbuilt immunity from investigation and prosecution!
Say no to a Rogue infested Judiciary because the Judiciary is meant to serve as the last hope of the common man and not the comfort of the Big Thieves and the Corrupt!!!
My understanding of the above piece is not that legal representation should not be afforded a judge or legal practitioner who is alleged of a violation. Rather, the angst of this author would appear to be more against the vociferous statements that come from such respected bodies like the Nigerian Bar Association among others which tend to give the impression that there are sacred cows either at the Bar or on the Bench in the hallowed temple of justice. It also gives vent to the view of non-lawyers that lawyers see the idiom ‘let a man have his day in court’ as nothing but hollow platitude when it comes to one of them. In corroborating this narrative, the wordsmith and erudite Wole Soyinka, in what he called charitable, recently observed that:
… our lawyers appear to be confused about what their role should be when confronted by the spectre of impropriety within their own Guild – note, I did not even say ‘corruption’. Impropriety will do for now. Is it really that hard to pursue the letter of the law and provisions of the constitution, simultaneously with the pursuit of an ethical imperative and thus, guide this nation in the morality of balanced perspectives? Is it really impossible to interweave both? The latter – the ethical imperative has gone missing in the overall collective voice of the NBA over the affair of the Chief Justice of Nigeria. The scantiest lip-service has been done to that social plinth, and I find this most disdainful.
Without doubt, the foregoing raises and foregrounds a dialectical question: whether, indeed, as lawyers in Nigeria we truly understand our role in the society with its complexities and continuing struggles; and the reason for raising such concerns should not be far-fetched. It is only when lawyers have this understanding that they can act right.
2. Understanding the Concept of Nation Building
Nation building according to Carolyn Stephenson is a normative concept that means different things to different people. One conceptualization states that it refers to dysfunctional or unstable economies (failed or failing states) or economies requiring assistance, in order to increase stability. Another view suggests that it refers to the process of constructing or structuring a national identity using the power of the state. The process aims at the unification of the people within the state so that it remains politically stable and viable.
The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development which was released in 2001 by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard defined nation – building as ‘Equipping First Nations with the institutional foundation necessary to increase their capacity to efficiently assert self-governing powers on behalf of their own economic, social and cultural objectives’. The study identified four core elements of a nation-building model:
- Genuine self-rule (first nations making decision about resource allocation, project funding and development strategy);
- Creating effective government institutions (non-politicized dispute resolution mechanisms and getting rid of corruption);
- Cultural match (giving first nation institution legitimacy in the eyes of their citizens;
- Need for a strategic direction with long-term planning.
If we benchmark Nigeria against the above indicators, many will conclude that Nigeria currently is in a state of pathological abnormality. A reference to few of the mutations and delimiting specters would suffice. How do you reconcile the position that Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa with the screaming headline of TIME Magazine of February, 2019 that Nigeria is the worst place in the world to give birth? The analysis of the magazine was backed by grim empirical statistics: thus, one cannot naively consign the objectivity of the headlines to no more than prejudice and bias. We operate in a system where poverty, environmental violations, insecurity, growing inequality, unjust distribution of economic wealth, social and political power, elevated ambivalence towards democracy, and blatant lawlessness have become the norm.
Permit me to make the point that these are issues for which the blame cannot be totally heaped on only the last few years: they are issues that successive governments have battled since independence. Whatever perspective one takes, the goal of national building is to make the state is functional and the beneficiary population live in dignity i.e. have access to basic economic and social services which enable them to develop their potentials and shape their own lives. The nexus of this with lawyers is that the increasingly powerful machinery of law is recognized as that critical tool that can foster social change and guarantee that the principle of equality is established.
3. Lawyers and Nation – Building
The formulation of law or policy and their consequent administration are critical to the survival of any nation. Consequently, when we ruminate over critical issues such as free elections, rule of law, protection of human rights, corruption, incompetent leadership, indolent followership, peace and security, poverty, brain drain, misuse of power, lack of infrastructure, ineffective service delivery, food security, economic and political stability, unemployment, lack of basic essential services among several challenges; the dislocation is traceable to either formulation and or implementation of laws and policies.
In all of these, Lawyers have critical roles to play. My reference to Lawyers here should be construed broadly: Lawyers in Law Firms (practicing either wholly as Barristers and/or Solicitors), In-House Lawyers (private and public sector), Lawyers in Politics, Professors of Law training and inculcating the idea and ideals of law to aspiring lawyers both at the University and Law Schools, and lawyers now serving as judicial officers. The study of law gives a comprehensive system of knowledge which in turn provides a framework for human order and behavior. Where legal training has been done properly, it will equip Lawyers with precision with language, thorough understanding of wide body of rules and regulations, ability to think deep, capacity for intensive and extensive research, facility for critical thought, confidence to speak in public, attention to details and good ethics comprising of candour, humility and integrity.
If Lawyers are faithful to their training, the fundamental functions and purposes of law which is to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes, and protect liberties and rights will be served. The beneficial impact of this on the society is that social stability and cohesion will be maintained alongside the promotion of social solidarity. Where the law appropriately protects the foundational fundamental and social rights of members of the society, particularly the minority and the vulnerable, it will imbue trust of all and sundry in the legal system, propel the state’s action to duty, and give vent to correctness of social justice in public policies. Why is trust in the legal system fundamental? Trust is the evaluative measure for public opinion concerning an institution’s fulfillment of its purpose which in turn legitimizes it and ensures its authority.
Distrust, on the other hand, results from the institution’s incoherence relative to its ability to coordinate the fulfillment of its purpose. With respect to our discourse, the society is fully aware of the normative value and purposes of the judiciary. To this end, values such as probity and impartiality were the normative expectations. We all cannot run away from the fact that law as an institution in Nigeria has not been able to account for the conditions of its own legitimation. In many situations, our judiciary has shown itself unable to accomplish justice, thus, nourishing the distrust of the society.
The dismal outcomes and inconsistencies of some decisions emanating from Nigeria’s judiciary speak to why there is so much distrust of our legal system. In July, 2017, a Pankshin Magistrates’ Court in Plateau State sentenced one Lavwet Kelap, 40 years, to two years imprisonment for stealing a goat valued at N40,000. In pleading guilty, the accused urged the court to be lenient with him. He informed that he committed the offence due to the ailment of his son whom he claimed was on admission at Shendam General Hospital.
Now, let’s contrast the above with the case of Cecilia Ibru, former Managing Director of now defunct Oceanic Bank who was accused of granting bad loans running into N100billion as well as granting non-performing loans to seven companies amongst other charges. On October 8, 2010, Ibru pleaded guilty to three amended charges aftermath of a plea bargain arrangement with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The court convicted her and sentenced her to six months imprisonment on each of the counts, but, the sentences to run concurrently. The court also ordered her to forfeit shares in 298 unlisted and blue-chip companies, all valued at N191.4 billion. She also forfeited 94 choice properties in Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Abuja, Delta and Rivers States, United Arab Emirates and the United States of America. The court further directed that she should be returned to a private hospital from where she was brought to ‘continue with her treatment until she is fit to return to prison’. She served her term out in the highbrow hospital.
In the case of Erastus Akingbola, former Managing Director of now defunct Intercontinental Bank, he was accused of theft, market manipulation, insider trading, abuse of office and economic crime involving several billions of Naira. He first departed the country pursuant to which EFCC got the International Police (Interpol) involved. This led to the freezing of his assets in the High Court of Justice in London to the tune of GBP Sterling 10,500,000 and by the Federal High Court in Lagos to the tune of more than N346 billion and GBP Sterling 1,085,515. It also covered real estate assets in Lagos, London, Ghana and Dubai and shares in different Banks and Companies.
Following Akingbola’s return to the country, he was first charged before Honourable Justice Mohammed Idrs of the Federal High Court, and later before Honourable Justice Charles Efang Archibong. By April, 2012, Honourable Justice Archibong discharged the embattled banker of the charges preferred against him without taking his plea and further barred the prosecution from appearing before his court or another judge of the Federal High Court over the matter for what he termed lack of diligent prosecution. Of course, the scandal generated by this development led to the eventual retirement of Justice Archibong.
Akingbola also had a pending case before Justice Habeeb Abiru of the Lagos High Court. When the trial started, the prosecution led evidence to the effect that Akingbola diverted over N30billion from Intercontinental Bank for his personal use without documentation. Evidence was led to also show that he illegally transferred various sums to his wife and crony companies. By the time the case went to the Court of Appeal and back on an interlocutory appeal which failed, and the substantive case drew to a close, Honourable Justice Abiru was elevated to the Court of Appeal. The case went before Honourable Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo to commence de-novo. In July, 2013, five months after Justice Onigbanjo started, His Lordship was moved from the Criminal Division to the Civil Division of the same High Court, and the case was re-assigned to Honourable Justice Lawal-Akapo. On the day scheduled for arraignment before the new court, an objection was taken on issue of jurisdiction. For seven months, the matter was again delayed till the court of Appeal ruled that the Federal High Court and not the Lagos High Court had jurisdiction.
With respect to the case that was struck-out by Justice Archibong, it ended-up before the Supreme Court, and it was not until May 2018 that the apex court held that Akingbola had a case to answer. The court directed that the case be remitted to the Federal High Court to be presided over by another judge.
In the case of James Onanefe Ibori, he was charged in December, 2007 for theft of public funds, abuse of office and money laundering. By December, 2009, a Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, Delta State, discharged and acquitted Ibori of 170 charges of corruption. In April, 2010, the case was reopened on allegation of embezzlement of 40billion Naira (US$266million). He fled Nigeria following which the EFCC sought the assistance of Interpol. By May, 2010, he was arrested in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and subsequently extradited to the United Kingdom and charged before the Southwark Crown Court, London. By April 2012, the UK Court sentenced him to 13 years imprisonment and also confiscated 2 houses in the UK, a house in South Africa and fleet of porsche cars.
I have referred to the above three cases to show that while we may all too easily argue that the fault in botched prosecution lies in police investigation, there is much about the law and interpreters of the law that are seriously a conundrum for justice. Beyond the challenges of delayed justice (which itself is justice denied), the judiciary is enmeshed in controversies of corruption. When citizens no longer see the legal system as a space for the achievement of justice, it exacerbates discontent, deepens inequality, corruption, social injustice, corrodes democratic principles and normative values of democracy, and prompts citizens to resort to self-help.
When reification of persons as against respect of the principles of law has become the norm, it becomes unjustifiable to claim that the rot that has become pervasive in the Nigerian system is what has affected the legal profession. That obviously will be begging the question. The judiciary should have been the institution to stem the tide. In terms of checks on impunity, the most formidable influence that Nigeria has at the moment is the media. Beyond identifying issues and setting the agenda for public discussions, the media has been the prime watchdog of the society. Often time, I hear many deride the media by asserting over sensationalization and generally criticizing ‘media trial’. What we fail to realize is that the gaps and disconnects in the system constrained the resort to media trial in the hope that it would whip up public support against perceived violations and ensure that issues are not swept under the carpet. Sadly, the media tool is grossly inadequate for its lack of capacity to prescribe sanctions or offer any remedy for whatever wrong that might have occurred.
It is to enable for independence of the judiciary that the legitimacy of the judiciary does not stem from majoritarian processes of election as is the case with the Executive and the Legislature. Unfortunately, the low-level of public trust in the entire legal system has jeopardized the judiciary’s capacity to coordinate society and establish social cohesion.
I should not be presumed, in any way, to play down on issues that have been raised in relation to intimidation, victimization and harassment of lawyers and judicial officers, or those made in respect of threats to independence of the judiciary. Far from it, my contention, however, is that if our legal system has been running the way it should, affected persons would have had immediate and appropriate remedies under the law.
4. Of Due Process and Rule of Law
Two main concepts that resonate most often when lawyers talk about their role in nation-building relate to the task of ensuring the strict observance of ‘due-process’ and ‘rule of law’, and that the moment they do this, all will be well. These are concepts that are abstract and nebulous, and thus, susceptible to abuse in the hands of the mischievous.
The concept of Due Process which derives from clause 39 of the Magna Carta is the requirement that established laws and standards of behaviours must be followed during an official act or on the part of the state to ensue that the individual’s rights are not infringed upon. In the case of Rule of Law, the four cardinal principles embodied in the concept are that government as well as private actors are accountable under the law; laws are clear, publicised, stable, just, applied evenly, and protect fundamental rights; the processes by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced are accessible, fair and efficient; and that justice is delivered timely by competent ethical and independent representatives and neutrals who are accessible, have adequate resources and reflect the make-up of the communities they serve.
Both legislative and administrative actions are subject to the rule of law and its companion due process, and when there are allegations of non-compliance, it is the lot of the judiciary to review the lawfulness or otherwise of the action in question. This means that lawyers and judicial officers have wide opportunity to impact on judicial review in the interest of justice. I have emphasized this to underscore the differences in conception of rule of law. For instance, unlike the position under the English Law where power and rights are vested in individuals, and the government is limited in its power to infringe upon these rights, the conception in Germany (Reshtsstaat) and in Japan posits that all powers and rights are vested in government, which then allocates rights and powers to its citizens. This is why it has been argued that in practice, rule of law in a place like Japan does not work as a principle to protect the rights and liberties of the people. Rather, it is no more than an ideology to legitimize domination.
Rule of Law is not self-sustaining. For it to be meaningful in nation building, it must be nurtured by the sincere and determined act of the relevant role players, in this case lawyers and judicial officers in particular. I will use my personal experience to explain this further. When I assumed office as Vice-Chancellor at the Lagos State University in January 2016, the University was facing unprecedented challenges and an epidemic of unrests that were seriously threatening her cherished tradition and heritage of excellence in teaching, research and scholarship. The first plank of my five-point strategic imperative was to restore peace to the Institution.
To achieve this first objective, I knew I must have the trust of all. I made clear and lived by the principle that the fact you are a friend of the Vice-Chancellor will not entitle you to what you are ordinarily not entitled to have under the law. Conversely, the fact that you are not a friend of the Vice-Chancellor will not disentitle you to what is yours under the law. I also ensured that violations are neither ignored nor trivialized. If you are bold enough to violate, then, you must be bold enough to face the consequences. Now, three years down the line, the question is: what have been the dividends? And to this, I want to acknowledge that the following have been achieved: consistency in the application of rules; high sense of obligation by members of the University community to obey rules and regulations; insulation of the Vice-Chancellor and the administration of the University from undue attacks; discipline within the University; respect for the laws of the University by all and sundry; and total support for the administration by majority of members of the University community (staff and students).
What this has shown is that due process and rule of law will ultimately depend for their practical realization on transparency and consistency. Often times, Lawyers come up with legalistic and sovereigntist interpretation of these concepts. We mainstream regular misinterpretation of the concepts and give such misinterpretations appearance of legality in ways that are even opposed to common sense. We blatantly oversee subversion of rights and selfishly defend these as safeguarding the rule of law. When judicial officers zealously uphold these positions, we end up making a mockery of the concepts and thereby undermine nation-building. Relying on technicalities that are rested on rule of law, cases are inordinately delayed. When rule of law and due process are observed in the breach as above noted, injustice festers, and this in turn constrains people to resort to self-help.
5. Sequencing a Way Forward
What do I see as a way forward? Throughout his life, Pa Tunji Gomez made strident calls for every lawyer to be prepared to question the fairness and justice of laws and policies, and not to compromise the ethics of the profession. Pa Gomez desired that judicial officers will consistently fall back on rules of interpretation to distinguish one case from another in a way that can give truth to law and thereby achieve justice. Nothing can be further from the truth. Rule of law will not become ingrained nor law begin to count until every lawyer conducts his or her affairs in accordance with the ethics of the profession. It will also not amount to much if judicial officers who are called upon to interpret and administer the law do not do so with honesty and dedication to the cause of justice. This is the base of nation-building.
Of course, it is rare, and indeed, it will be extraordinary to expect every lawyer and judicial officer to act responsibly. Consequently, there is a need to strengthen relevant regulatory institutions such as the Nigerian Bar Association and its disciplinary arm, the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee in the case of lawyers; and the National Judicial Council in the case of judicial officers. It is instructive to note that the NBA has already recognized the challenges that young lawyers are faced with. Legal practice has become more sophisticated. The competition is stiff and only the fittest can survive. If young practitioners are to be able to walk the path of professional excellence that is critically vital for nation-building, then, the profession must be able to do more for them.
I commend the Egbe Amofin Ni Eko for this great honour that the body has done to Pa Tunji Gomez. I also congratulate the family of Pa Tunji Gomez. To say that you had a statesman worthy of being celebrated is an understatement. His legacy of courage, desire for social justice, and of the great life he lived will continue to endure. I consider it a privilege to attest to that legacy on this enviable platform and I salute everyone who thought me worthy of that privilege.
Text Of The 1st Pa Tunji Gomez Memorial Lecture
Professor Olanrewaju .A. Fagbohun, SAN
Vice – Chancellor, Lagos State University
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