The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) has again expressed worry over the huge number of applicants recently shortlisted for possible award of the rank of senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
In a later obtained by CITY LAWYER and addressed to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) and to the attention of its Chairman/Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, BOSAN warned that unless a holistic review of the award is undertaken by the LPPC, the rank risks losing its prestige and standing among stakeholders.
Dated September 21, 2021 and signed by Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN), Chief Folake Solanke (SAN) and BOSAN’S longstanding Secretary, Mr. Seyi Sowemimo (SAN), the letter is titled “RE: LEGAL PRACTITIONERS PRIVILEGES COMMITTEE’S LISTING OF 130 LAWYERS AS SHORTLISTED IN THE PROCESS FOR CONFERMENT WITH THE RANK OF SENIOR ADVOCATE OF NIGERIA FOR THE YEAR 2021: REITERATION OF THE BODY OF SENIOR ADVOCATES OF NIGERIA’S (BOSAN) STRONG NOTE OF CONCERN ON THE QUALITY OF THE PROCESS AND PROCEDURE FOR THE CONFERMENT OF THE RANK.” It was copied to all LPPC members and the Attorney-General & Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN).
BOSAN referred to the response to its earlier letter signed by LPPC Chairman, Justice Muhammad and noted that “Upon receipt of the letter from the Committee, we were hopeful that necessary changes as conveyed in our letter would be implemented to preserve the dignity of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.”
The body expressed disappointment at the recent turn of events, saying: “However, following the recent announcement of the shortlisting of 130 candidates shortlisted in the process for conferment with the rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, we are of the considered opinion that the concerns raised in our earlier referenced letter have not been addressed.”
Lampooning the shortlist, BOSAN said that “It is not willy-nilly that all candidates that meet the set criteria should be appointed in any given year, as such an approach cannot but result in the degradation of the rank. It is those that prove to be outstanding within the shortlist that should be conferred with the rank. This is the time honoured rule applied in relation to admissions to all reputable institutions in situations where competition is high and spaces are limited and where it would be inappropriate to accommodate all those persons who appear to have met the criteria.”
Turning to the conferment of the rank to academics, BOSAN warned that “There is even a greater need for more stringent approach in cases where appointments are to be made on the basis of academic accomplishments.”
Noting that “It has now become necessary that we reiterate, respectfully, the concerns raised in the body’s earlier letter, BOSAN said: “The members of the Inner bar are concerned that the current procedure and criteria for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria would result in a watered-down perception of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. We are also of the considered opinion that it is imperative that the Committee pauses and reassesses the procedure and criteria for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria as we fear that that (sic) the process could be reduced to a ‘mere compilation and submission of the listed documentation’ in the next few years, with no attention to excellence or distinction in the practice of law.”
Insisting that the award of the rank should be suspended to allow for a holistic appraisal, BOSAN said: “In light of this, we write to reiterate our earlier recommendation that the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria be put on hold to enable the Committee to conduct and publish a credible and comprehensive review of the process for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.”
Pledging its support of the review process “in any way possible” and as a “dominant stakeholder” in the entire exercise, the body advised that the review process “should re-evaluate the criteria, guidelines and administrative processes leading to the selection, including the personnel at the SAN/LPPC Administrative Secretariat/Department, proper pre-screening of applicants, competitive processes and independent assessment free of lobbying, all geared towards attaining and sustaining continuous improvements and retaining the dignity, respect and reverence of the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria and the legal profession in general.”
Noting the urgency of its Save-Our-Soul letter, BOSAN said: “We would like to point out that a comprehensive review of the screening process is an urgent and necessary step to retain the dignity, respect, and reverence of the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria and the legal profession in general. The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria is still committed to providing its expertise and support at every stage of the review process and we are anticipating a positive feedback and implementation of the recommendations in this letter.”
BOSAN had in similar manner condemned the 2020 award process which threw up 72 senior advocates, saying: “BOSAN struggles to understand the rationale for the over 100% increase from the previous year and a 600% increase from a 45-year average. We are dismayed at this out-stepping from the norms and standards established over nearly five decades of our legal history.”
Delivering its final verdict on the exercise, BOSAN said: “We are of the strong and painful view, and it would appear to many, that the criteria have been whittled down and the bar/benchmark lowered to the extent of defeating the description of excellence as a sine qua non for attaining the prestigious rank.”
This is notwithstanding that Justice Muhammad had in LPPC’s response assured BOSAN that the Committee had considered BOSAN’s concerns “in detail,” adding that a review would be undertaken to strengthen the conferment process.