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FACE-OFF AT S'COURT

By NBF NEWS
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The chill in the relations between the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Supreme Court worsened on Monday in the chambers of the apex court as the body of lawyers threatened to boycott the ceremony for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on some of their colleagues.

A drama played out shortly after when the Chief Registrar of the apex court, Alhaji Usman Musale announced that the court would not take speeches from anybody other than the Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN) and the leader of the new lawyers being conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate. Irked by the announcement, President of the NBA, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) sprang to his feet and demanded to know if he had the right to make his speech.

Responding to the question, Justice Dahiru Musdapha said the ceremony was for the conferment of the rank of SAN and not the beginning of a legal year where the NBA and others were allowed to make speeches.

According to Justice Musdapha, 'we have said today's ceremony is for the conferment of the rank of senior advocate. It is not the beginning of another legal year where the association and others are allowed to make speeches.

'Only the leader of the new senior advocates and the CJN will speak. All other persons present here are invitees. If anybody does not want to stay, the person is at liberty to go out.'

This did not go down well with members of the NBA leading to an emergency meeting of the body immediately after the ceremony.

The NBA president said, 'we offer ourselves to lead this profession. I say it with all emphasis, I, as the leader of this association, I am prepared to leave that position today if the bar is not prepared to be forthright and be courageous in the face of this assault. I see it as an assault and a calculated and deliberate one.

'The Attorney General of the Federation is here; he was never informed that he would not be making any speech. It will certainly not be right to come here and not allowed to contribute.

'In the invitation sent to me, I was told that I would be making a speech here today. We were told that there was an error in the invitation sent to me. It could not have been an error. We have always been following a procedure here. The NBA president and the AGF usually speak at this occasion. If the procedure is changed, we need to be informed. There was a duty imposed on the CJN to inform us that procedure has changed.'

At the meeting, it was unanimously agreed that Akeredolu should lead some past presidents of the body to protest to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu over what they described as an embarrassment.

Earlier, Akeredolu disclosed that while the court session was going on, he had asked his colleagues to stage a walkout but was prevailed upon to stop.

Others who spoke at the meeting were two past presidents of the association, Chief Thompson Okpoko SAN and Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN.

The development almost marred the conferment of the rank of senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on 19 lawyers.

Former president of the association, O. C. Okocha minced no words in condemning what he called 'this kind of behaviour by the court,' saying there could be no court without lawyers and that a situation whereby lawyers were addressed anyhow would make the profession a laughing stock in the public.

In fact, the lawyers had to shun the food usually provided for the entertainment for guests.

Meanwhile, copies of Akeredolu's speech had been circulated before the face-off and it was difficult to retrieve them.

In it, the NBA insisted that the involvement of the association in the choice of who wore the silk would help in getting candidates who would be accepted by all stakeholders in the profession.

Akeredolu lamented a letter written by the Secretary to the Legal Practitioners Committee, Usman Alhaji Musale, 'as uncouth, insulting and totally at variance with the issue raised in my letter.'

'The letter suggested that the conclusion of the members was that you have jumped the gun by writing to his lordship before presenting the matter before the National Council of the Bar.'

He said Musale's letter remonstrated him to always exercise due discretion because it considered the '….letter as baseless, unmeritorious and disrespect to the person of the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria '.

Meanwhile, the CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu fired a salvo in his speech, though inaudibly presented, which lamented the indiscipline of some lawyers who preferred to argue their cases in front of the media.

'Those who make allegations of corruption or other misconduct against serving justifiable reason, I would like to remind them that all freedom of expression has limits and that they are walking a dangerous road. I say no more at this time.'

Nineteen lawyers including Mr. George Oguntade and Mike Ozekhome who were sworn in yesterday were appointed by the Legal Pratitioners Privileges Committee, the body charged with the responsibility of appointing senior lawyers into the inner bar on February 1, 2010.

The announcement was made by the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Alhaji Musale who said the committee led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Jusice Aloysious Katsina-alu considered all the applications submitted by applicants.

A total of 126 legal practitioners and academics, he said, applied for the rank and only 19 were lecturers and 107 practising lawyers.

The committee, he said, accepted the applications of 19 in line with the guidelines and the list of other new senior advocates are as folows: Nella Andem-Ewa, Joseph Nwobika, Offiong Bassey, Dorothy Ufot Francis Dike, Chukwuma Ekomaru, Obi Okafor and Sylvia Shinaba.

Others are; Etigwe Owa, Adebanjo Badejo Ishola Layonu, Babatunde Ogunba, Toyin Pinhero, Olusina Sofola Samuel Mosugu, Andrew Chuckwumerije and Fabian Ajogwu.

Musale said the swearing-in ceremony would be conducted by the CJN on the new silk on April 12, 2010. He disclosed that application forms for this year's applicants would be available from next week and were due for submission in March.

He said the guidelines for the appointment into the rank of the senior advocates had been streamlined by the privileges committee.

Responding on behalf of others, Dr. Samuel Efurosibina Mosugu said the honour was a crown to all of them and they would continue to cherish it and use the title for the benefit of the common man.