Henry Okonkwo

Glitz and the spirit of camaraderie usually characterise most old student associations’ parties. But this was not totally correct in the case of the Class of 1984, Faculty of Law graduates of the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.

Members of the set went beyond jollification when they converged on Lagos recently for their annual class reunion dinner.

Aside from the throwback banter, cheers and merrymaking, the group sought to give back to their alma mater, and to debate on key national issues in their bid to proffer suggestions that would improve the lot of the common man in the country.

The event, which was held at the Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos, witnessed the gathering of classmates of yesteryear who, decades after, have now morphed into judges, lawyers, lecturers, politicians, accomplished entrepreneurs and sundry other professionals.

“We started this forum seven years ago, when I met and was discussing with one of our classmates, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye,” said Prof. Ayo Atsenuwa, a law lecturer at the University of Lagos (UNILAG).

“In the course of our interaction, it occurred to us that many of us have all gone on to different paths in our life’s endeavours since we left school. Although social media has connected us again, we wanted to create a forum where we could get together, enjoy ourselves, network and do something to improve our faculty.”

Another law graduate who today is a judge, Sesan Fasanya, set the ball rolling, as he said that the 1984 batch at the Faculty of Law, University of Ife, was indeed the greatest class to ever graduate in Nigeria: “Our set was unique and produced true professionals. I am an example of the grace of God, and then being a member of this class has also contributed a lot to my life.”

The dinner, tagged “Promoting Healthy Relationship Between the Bar and the Bench,” offered the opportunity of discourse presented by two accomplished professionals with the aim of easing the frosty relationship and mutual suspicion between lawyers and judges, and to oil the wheels of law practice and judiciary in Nigeria.

Justice Wale Abiru of the Court of Appeals stressed that lawyers and judges were equal partners in the judicial arm of government, and, unless there is cohesion and mutual respect, justice would suffer.

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Said he: “There used to be mutual respect between the bar and the bench, but, over time, this changed, and we ask, why did the relationship go awry? Our understanding of justice has changed. People now believe that justice can be gotten through the back door. Hence lawyers and judges need to redefine what justice really is.

“Again, the poor relationship between the inner bar and bench festers because the bar expects the bench to respect them. We have lawyers that look down on the bench, instead of them respecting the bench. This causes lots of friction and disagreements thus breeding the ugly situation of writing petitions against judges.”

Moving forward, Abiru decried the antagonism of lawyers toward judges, and harped on the need to protect the judiciary for the good of the common man.

“Judiciary is still the common man’s hope and it must be protected. So, we must advocate stronger judiciary because we all need it to survive,” he said.

Mr. Richard Akintunde, a senior advocate of Nigeria, identified lack of mutual respect as a big factor affecting the relationship between judges and lawyers.

“Judges must also treat lawyers with respect. Nowadays, we have judges who yell at lawyers. They must act wisely even when they face lawyers that throw tantrums in the courtroom. Judges have a duty to manage the situation. 

“Another malady affecting lawyers and judges is lateness or delay in passing judgement. And then corrupt practices among judicial staff that create unnecessary impediment for a lawyer to have access to vital documents,” he said.

Akintunde also admonished lawyers that write petitions against judges to appeal judgements rather than traumatise judges with petitions.

“Communication between the bar and the bench should be encouraged, but this seldom occurs. Lawyers and judges are both strong pillars that the judiciary stands on, hence, they need to meet more regularly to deliberate and rub minds on how to move the practice forward,” he said.