The recent disclosure by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, that lawyers resort to extreme measures, including the forging of court judgments in their desperation to attain the SAN status must come to all well-meaning citizens as a rude shock. The CJN chose no less auspicious occasion than the opening of the 2018/2019 legal year and the inauguration of the 24 new SANs in Abuja last month to make the extremely alarming revelation.
In case anyone was still wondering if this could be true, the matter has left the realm of mere speculation as specific individuals have been fingered in the unfolding national disgrace and the matter is presently being investigated with a view to establishing definite culpability before appropriate sanctions would be meted out to whoever is found wanting.
This revelation is most astounding. The legal profession is built on integrity and knowledge. It is not for nothing therefore that it is generally referred to as “the noble profession.” So, one can only imagine the trauma this latest attempt to tarnish the good reputation of the legal profession would have caused custodians of the profession like the CJN and indeed all other stakeholders in the country.
What justification can anyone find for this extremely disingenuous act of desperation that seeks to tarnish the age-old and well-earned reputation of the legal profession?
It is an attempt to drag the reputation of the profession through the mud, it is a despicable and unspeakable evil and an attempt to defame the profession of law.
The mad rush for the award of the SAN-ship amongst lawyers in the country has become intolerable and perhaps speaks to the general corruption and desperation for unusual gain that pervades the society. For the uninitiated, one of the definite qualifications for consideration for the award of the SAN today is that applicants for the prestigious award must have won a certain number of cases up to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
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Now, one can understand why some desperate legal practitioners would stop at nothing including the forging of the apex court judgments to purportedly meet the mark.
This kind of desperation and attempt to cheat the system should ordinarily be unheard of amongst anyone associated with the legal profession, much less attorneys of the law who have been engaged in practice for considerably long periods and who are the ones that can apply for the prestigious award. That lawyers are ready to descend to this extent means that there may be outsized privileges the attainment of the SAN status confers on holders such that some practitioners are ready to go to this despicable length to achieve it.
Some of the privileges that are often associated with the privileged status include the right to get your case mentioned first in court no matter the number of other cases lined up for the day. Of course, a SAN has the privilege of being accompanied by a number of junior lawyers any time he appears in court and may charge higher or privileged fees for his briefs. Many practitioners consider these privileges to be too much that there have been subsisting agitations to either review them or abolish the award altogether.
While we applaud the CJN’s courage for speaking out on this disgraceful trend, perhaps this is the opportune time to look at the necessity of the SAN award and the excessive privileges that may be attached to it. At the end of the day, for the law profession to continue to retain its preeminence in the estimation of the generality of the populace, it must not only remain noble, but as much as possible, provide a level playing field for all who engage in it.
The scandalous actions of those presently being investigated for attempting to fraudulently attain the Silk does not justify it in any way and it is very good that the police are presently investigating the matter. Those who are found culpable should be punished and shamed as a deterrent to others who may want to engage in such reprehensible behaviour in future.