Reforming the SAN Rank: Oliyide, Idornigie Back Ojukwu


The argument is on whether or not the award of SAN to law teachers should be abolished outrightly as proposed by Adegboruwa SAN and supported by J.S.Okutepa SAN.

Prof. Paul Idornigie, SAN and Prof. Olusesan Oliyide argue against the proposal. 

Prof. Paul Idornigie, SAN

I found that the discussions on the 2018 Guidelines stopped at paragraph 17 of the 2018 Rules. Paragraph 18 of the Rules (which is the next paragraph to paragraph 17) deals with ‘Award of Academics’ and provides thus: “(1) In any given year the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee may in appropriate circumstances appoint an academic who has distinguished himself and has made substantial contribution to legal scholarship and jurisprudence through teaching, research and published works in any Nigerian University, Research Institute, Nigerian Law School and other Recognised Institutions; (2) An applicant for the award of Senior Advocate of Nigeria under this category shall furnish at least 15 copies of his published works to the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee along with his application; (3) In the light of the above provisions, in paragraph 21(1) and (2) the Applicant (sic) published works or books shall be by a reputable publisher, whose reputation shall be assessed and determined by the academic sub-committee; the Applicant shall also show substantial contribution to legal scholarship and jurisprudence through teaching, research and published works in any Nigerian University, Research Institute, Nigerian Law School and other Recognised Institutions; (4) An Applicant under this category must present – (a) evidence of supervision of students, mentorship and leadership qualities along with his application form; (b) references from at least three professors of Law (with not less than ten years experience as a Professor who must be resident in Nigeria); evidence of having paid consistently as and when due his National practising fees and Local Bar dues in the 5 years preceding his application. (5) Every application for the award of the rank on the ground of academic distinction shall be subject to evaluation by an academic sub-committee comprised of (a) a Justice of the Supreme Court who shall be the Chairman; (b) two members of the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee, one of whom must be an academic; (c) Three law professors from renowned Nigerian Universities.”

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Lastly paragraph 20 of the Guidelines provides that “the list of academics that have scaled the pre-qualification filter shall be published along with successful advocates that have scaled the first and second filters or (sic) such other date as the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee may direct.”

With due respect, therefore, I do not think that the 2018 Rules make the award of the rank of SAN an exclusive preserve of legal practitioners who are in full time legal practice only. I would like to add that the Committee that awards the rank is known as ‘Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee’. It is a privilege, not a right. In any given year, the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee “may in appropriate circumstances appoint an academic……” The award of the rank is at the discretion of the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee. As Legal Practitioners, whether in practice or academics, we know ourselves and our standing in the legal profession

Prof. Olusesan Oliyide, Lecturer Faculty of Law, Olabisi Onabanjo University

I have followed, with keen interest, the ongoing debate about the aptness of conferring the highly esteemed status of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on distinguished academics. The arguments of Learned Silks Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, Jibrin Samuel Okutepa, AbiodunOwonikoko, et al, admittedly, have been as forceful as those of Learned Silks Olanrewaju Fagbohun, Ernest Ojukwu, Edoba Omoregie, Paul Idornigie, et al. Unfortunately, as forceful as they are, the arguments of the former (Adegboruwa, et al) smacks of resounding fallacy and appears a little bit pedestrian. Conversely, those of the latter (Fagbohun, et al) are not only forceful, they are as convincing as they project the truth and nothing but the truth regarding the subject.

Having said that, there appears to be a missing link in the arguments of both schools, which is: simple understanding of who an advocate is. An advocate has been generally, and undisputably, described as “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy”. Within the context of this suitable definition, it will, certainly, be wrong, as Learned Silks Adegboruwa, et al, will want the public to believe, that the SAN status should be the exclusive preserve of Lawyers who have distinguished themselves in litigation. Undoubtedly, academics who have, through their top-notch teaching, research and publications, made substantial contributions towards expanding the frontiers of jurisprudence, eminently deserve to be conferred with the SAN rank.

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In this connection, I also disagree with the suggestion, in certain quarters, that the SAN rank is a “follow-follow” exercise, blindly, modelled after the position in England. Contrarily, it is a reward system that our forebears wisely fashioned as a way of encouraging distinction in law practice in Nigeria. If the reward mechanism is similar to that in England, so be it. I also differ from the suggestion that has been proffered by some that the current English position where academics are recognised as Honourary QCs should be adopted in Nigeria. I am of the firm view that this English position suggests, wrongly, that academics are not advocates. Academics are, certainly, advocates and the only difference between them and litigation lawyers is that the realm of their advocacy, unlike that of litigation lawyers, transcends the frontiers of the courtroom. Therefore, the Nigerian position is much better and should be sustained with the modification that much more slots should be reserved for academics.

By way of emphasis, the arguments of Adegboruwa, SAN, et al, suggest that, whereas a ltitgation lawyer who cites Sagay on Contract in court, in support of his case, is entitled to the rank of SAN, renown Professor Itsejuwa Esanjumi Sagay, the accomplished author of the book, is not. That seems a thoroughly uneventful arugument. Same example, as Professor Sagay’s, will pass regarding Professors Benjamin Obi Nwabueze, Gabriel Adesiyan Olawoyin, Jelili Adebisi Omotola, Imran Oluwole Smith, Taiwo Adetayo Ibitola Osipitan, Oluyemisi Adefunke Bamgbose, Olanrewaju Adigun Fagbohun, Ernest Maduabuchi Ojukwu, Joash O. Amupitan, Yemi Akinseye-George, Mohammed Taofeeq Abdulrazaq, Bankole Adekunle Akintoye Sodipo, Abiola Sanni, Olaniyi Ismail Olatubosun, Dakas C.J. Dakas, Oludayo Gabriel Amokaye. The list is, definitely, inexhaustible.”

The argument here is accentuated by the global culture of the courts inviting accomplished academics as amici curiae in knotty-cases before them. In Nigeria, we cannot remember how many times the Supreme Court invited Professor Jelili Omotola, SAN, as amicus curiae, to guide them on the interpretation of the Land Use Act. This was, definitely, in recognition of his outstanding scholarship and knowledge enhancing understanding of land law.

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Furthermore, the argument that the apogee of the career progression of a law academic should be the rank of Professor, with respect to the Silks Adegboruwa, et al, is inapt and disappointing. This is because there is a clear difference between a Law Professor and a Law Professor who doubles as SAN.

The former is one who has attained distinction in teaching, research and community service and has generally met the requirements specified for promoting academics in the University where he works. The latter, on the other hand, has attained distinction in teaching, research and community service, generally met the criteria specified by the University where he works and has, additionally been certified as contributing meaningfully towards the progression of the legal profession, by virtue of the depth, profundity, pervasiveness and creativity exhibited in his teaching and research output. He has shaped legislative reforms, judicial thinking and opinions of litigation lawyers and academics like him, through his exemplary scholarship. In this regard, I recall, with nostalgia, how Professor Omotola, while stressing an argument against a decision of the Supreme Court, in the course of teaching us in class, would retort: “I feel like going to wake (His Lordship, Hon. Justice) Idigbe from his grave. He would have given the correct interpretation of that statute”. Are we suggesting that such a personage who felt so strongly about the cause of law advancement, was undeserving of the SAN rank?”

It is a worthy legacy of our progenitors and it behoves on us all, not only to uphold the sanctity of the legacy, but also to ensure that many more conferrment slots are reserved for deserving academics than presently are. Let me conclude by saluting all the academics that have been conferred with the rank and say that we are extremely proud of their accomplishments. Permit me to also say, unequivocally, that I look forward and pray fervently, to join their prestigious comity in no distant future.



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