By Sylvester Udemezue
In Re: “SAN Application: Controversy Over One Million Naira Application Fee By LPPC” (6 January 2023: TheNigeriaLawyer). Section 5(2) Legal Practitioners Act, CAP L11, LFN, 2004 provides that “A person shall not be conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria unless he has been qualified to practise as a legal practitioner in Nigeria for not less than ten years and has achieved distinction in the legal profession in such manner as the committee may from time to time determine”.
Now, if this SAN award is about recognition of excellence and distinction in the legal profession, why should people be made to apply for the rank before deserving lawyers could get it? And why would the LPPC wait until there is an application, before someone is considered for the award? Shouldn’t the award process start by way nomination under the concept of “there is nothing hidden under the sun” flowing from the wise saying that “the golden fish has no hiding place? Thus, shouldn’t excellence and distinction in the legal profession be a matter of the facts speak for themselves, leading to handwritings on the wall for all to see, judge and speak by way of nomination leading to consideration and then possible award based on the LPPC’s considered assessment and conclusions, which, as I have earlier observed would remain unquestionable, the privilege of SAN being an absolute privilege?
Shouldn’t it be when one has been nominated for consideration, that the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) would now request from all nominees, their CV’s, court cases, literary or other contributions which speak to their suggested excellence and distinction? Thereafter, the LPPC, guided by the Guidelines, would do a selection process leading to award under the principle of “many called, few chosen”, because not all that glitters is gold?
Have we not turned the SAN rank from the “award/privilege” which its founding fathers had in mind to a trading process which its founding fathers had not in mind? Put differently, is the LPPC still “awarding” SAN or just “selling” SAN? If it has been for sale, I would love to know how much Prof Ben Nwabueze paid to get awarded the rank of SAN in 1978 or thereabouts?
Most times, and I may be wrong, I compare this SAN award in the legal profession, to the award of Professorial Chair (in the teaching profession) or the National Honours Award at the national level in Nigeria, only that no one has ever been reported to have been required to pay any “application fee” as part of the process of award of the rank of professor or the national honours of GCFR, GCON, MON,OFR, CFR, etc. Thus, have we not ruined the original intentions of our forebears in instituting the rank of SAN as an award/privilege by turning it to a commodity to be paid for, negotiated for or traded off? Alternatively, is SAN meant to be an award, a privilege bestowed on any lawyer who reasonably merits it (in terms of his excellent contribution to the legal profession) or a commodity to be bought by the highest bidder?
Even if we leave out the word “award” and rather prefer to call the SAN rank a “privilege”, should one be made to pay in order to get considered for a privilege? If one truly has distinguished oneself or otherwise attained excellence in the legal profession, why does one have to pay for the SAN “award” or “privilege”, described as the highest award in the legal profession?
Finally, does section 5 LPA envisage the making of an application, let alone the payment of a mandatory Application Fee, as a condition precedent for the award of, or the privilege of having, a SAN rank? Please, I repeat, do not forget it’s meant to be an honorary award/privilege given to persons considered by the LPPC to have attained excellence or distinction in the legal profession! Don’t forget!
Now, does the LPPC have the locus to impose any such mandatory conditions precedent as payment of an application fee? Or, is this just one way of making the prospective awardee to demonstrate that he has attained excellence or distinction in the legal profession as required by section 5(2) of the LPA? Or, is payment of an application fee reasonably envisaged by the expression “in such a manner ad the LPPC may from time to time, determine” found in the LPA?
One more question, and please pardon me because I hate writing very long stories: does section 5 of the LPA authorise the LPPC, the CJN or anyone within the profession to unilaterally, whether through a Rule, Guideline, or other subsidiary legislation, exclude any segment of the legal profession from the award of SAN or to otherwise impose any conditions aimed to frustrate or make it impossible for lawyers (bona fide members of the legal profession) from any segment of the Legal Profession, to ever be able to attain such level of excellence or distinction as may be necessary for their possible consideration for the award/privilege of SAN?
1) In the Nigerian Law School where there is currently obviously not in existence any possibility or provision for award of or promotion to “professorship”, does section 5 of the LPA not envisage that it’s possible for a Law Teacher (other than the Director-General) to still be able to attain such level of excellence or distinction in the legal profession as to make him/her eligible to be considered for the award/privilege of SAN, even though the one cannot be a professor at the Law School? If we agree that section 5 of the LPA reasonably does so envisage, then by imposing a ban on award of SAN to non-professors in the academic category, as the LPPC has done through the Revised Guidelines 2022, could the Guidelines (Guidelines For The Conferment Of The Rank Of Senior Advocate Of Nigeria And For Related Matters) not be held to be in breach of section 5 of the LPA by purportedly excluding Law School Lecturers from being considered for the award/privilege in a manner that could reasonably by seen as unjustly and unlawfully discriminatory — a thing never intended by the makers of the Legal Practitioners Act: members of the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?
2) In the universities, are you saying that until one becomes a professor of law, it’s not possible for one to have otherwise achieved any distinction in the legal profession?
Final Take-away Questions:
If attainment of the SAN rank in the legal profession is not a prerequisite for the award of the professorial chair (for lawyers) in the teaching profession, why should attainment of the rank of professor be a prerequisite for award of SAN to Law Teachers? Or are you saying that until a Law Teacher has become a professor in the teaching profession, the Law Teacher could never have otherwise attained any form of excellence in the legal profession? So, you would not agree that in the teaching profession, there are Law Teachers who have not been given the professorial chair even though they deserve same while on the other hand, there are Law Professors who do not deserve to be called by that name “professor”? Why then exclude non-professor Law Teachers when it is possible there are persons in that category who may have contributed much more to the legal profession, and attained greater distinction in the legal profession, than a law professor of countless years?
You see, dear LPPC, there may be times oppression, suppression and victimization may have rendered one powerless. But there should never be a time such oppression, suppression and victimization could deter one from at least raising one’s voice in protest against one’s oppressors. (a for another day though; this is not end of discussion)
Meanwhile, all I have done above was to ask questions, you may say, in protest; in the manner of the trademark concluding-expression of one of my ogas (names withheld): Just Asking!
Sylvester Udemezue (udems)
(January 06, 2023)