Some persons have opined that Nigerian lawyers are the root problem of this nation (though lawyers have disputed this accusation as untrue and derogatory)! Some persons even opine that lawyers are liars! Though these are opinions of these persons and these their views are not new to majority of us as lawyers. Then, if these are the opinions of these persons (though not all citizens as some still appreciate and respect lawyers generally, may be due to the roles performed by some members of the legal profession and their legacies left undefeated), then, it calls for deep thoughts and a sober reflection as it shows that our societies are losing (if not that they have lost total) hopes in our roles as lawyers in our societies and in the nation as a whole. What then are the purposes of evolving a caliber of professionals called ‘lawyers’?! Is there any role for evolving these lawyers?! What then are the roles of lawyers as advocates for a better Nigeria?! This is the question that this paper aims to answer to the best of my knowledge.
Who is a lawyer?
First and foremost, it is important to consider who is a lawyer? According to Wikipedia online, ‘A lawyer or attorney is a person who practices law, as an advocate, attorney at law, barrister, barrister-at-law, bar-at-law, canonist, canon lawyer, civil law notary, counsel, counselor, solicitor, legal executive, or public servant preparing, interpreting and applying the law, but not as a paralegal or charter executive secretary. Working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services. The role of the lawyer varies greatly across different legal jurisdictions.’.
Terminology of a ‘lawyer’ (according to Wikipedia online):
‘In practice, legal jurisdictions exercise their right to determine who is recognized as being a lawyer. As a result, the meaning of the term “lawyer” may vary from place to place. Some jurisdictions have two types of lawyers, barrister and solicitors, whilst others fuse the two. A barrister is a lawyer who specializes in higher court appearances. A solicitor is a lawyer who is trained to prepare cases and give advice on legal subjects and can represent people in lower courts. Both barristers and solicitors have gone through law school, completed the requisite practical training. However, in jurisdictions where there is a split-profession, only barristers are admitted as members of their respective bar associations.
In Australia, the word “lawyer” can be used to refer to both barristers and solicitors (whether in private practice or practicing as corporate in-house counsel), and whoever is admitted as a lawyer of the Supreme Court of a state or territory.
In Canada, the word “lawyer” only refers to individuals who have been called to the bar or, in Quebec, have qualified as civil law notaries. Common law lawyers in Canada are formally and properly called “barristers and solicitors”, but should not be referred to as “attorneys”, since that term has a different meaning in Canadian usage, being a person appointed under a power of attorney. However, in Quebec, civil law advocates (or Avocats in French) often call themselves “attorney” and sometimes “barrister and solicitor” in English, and all lawyers in Quebec, or lawyers in the rest of Canada when practicing in French, are addressed with the honorific title, “Me.” or “Maître”.
In England and Wales, “lawyer” is used to refer to persons who provide reserved and unreserved legal activities and includes practitioners such as barristers, attorneys, solicitors, registered foreign lawyers, patent attorneys, trademark attorneys, licensed conveyancers, public notaries, commissioners for oaths, immigration advisers and claims management services. The Legal Services Act 2007 defines the “legal activities” that may only be performed by a person who is entitled to do so pursuant to the Act. ‘Lawyer’ is not a protected title
In South Africa, the profession is divided into “Advocates” and “Attorneys” having comparable descriptions to “Barristers” and “Solicitors” in the UK. Advocates spend one year under Pupillage and Attorneys spend two years under Articles of Clerkship before being admitted in the High Court to the role of Advocates or Attorneys as the case may be. “Lawyer” is a generic term referring to anyone qualified in law, however, its use is not widespread, especially not within the profession. “Legal Practitioner” has gained limited usage with the introduction of the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014, under which the functions of Attorneys and Advocates overlap and are less distinct. This is not prevalent, however. “Legal Advisor” is commonly used to describe in-house or corporate advisors.
In Pakistan, the term “Advocate” is used instead of lawyer in the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act, 1973.
In India, the term “lawyer” is often commonly used, but the official term is “advocate” as prescribed under the Advocates Act, 1961.
In Scotland, the word “lawyer” refers to a more specific group of legally trained people. It specifically includes advocates and solicitors. In a generic sense, it may also include judges and law-trained support staff.
In the United States, the term generally refers to attorneys who may practice law. It is never used to refer to patent agents or paralegals. In fact, there are statutory and regulatory restrictions on non-lawyers like paralegals practicing law.’.
In Nigeria, for instance, the practice as a legal practitioner is fused as a ‘Barrister and Solicitor’ of Nigeria and those persons qualified to practise as lawyers have been listed under section 2 of the Legal Practitioners’ Act, Cap N11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, as follows:
‘2. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, a person shall be entitled to practise as a barrister and solicitor if, and only if, his name is on the roll.
(a) an application under this subsection is made to the Chief Justice by or on behalf of any person appearing to him to be entitled to practise as an advocate in any country where the legal system is similar to that of Nigeria; and
(b) the Chief Justice is of the opinion that it is expedient to permit that person to practise as a barrister for the purposes of proceedings described in the application, the Chief Justice may by warrant under his hand authorise that person, on payment to the registrar of such fee not exceeding fifty naira as may be specified in the warrant, to practise as a barrister for the purposes of those proceedings and of any appeal brought in connection with those proceedings.
(3) A person for the time being exercising the functions of any of the following offices, that is to say–
(a) the office of the Attorney-General, Solicitor-General or Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federation or of a State;
(b) such offices in the civil service of the Federation or of a State as the Attorney-General of the Federation or of the State, as the case may be, may by order specify, shall be entitled to practise as a barrister and solicitor for the purposes of that office.
(4) A certificate signed by, or by a person authorised either generally or specially in that behalf by, any of the persons mentioned in paragraph (a) of the last foregoing subsection stating that a particular individual is exercising the functions of a particular office shall, without prejudice to any other means of proof, be conclusive proof for the purposes of that subsection that the individual is exercising the functions of that office; and any document purporting to be a certificate under this subsection shall be admitted in evidence and, until the contrary is proved, be deemed to be such a certificate.’.
Other nations tend to have comparable terms for the analogous concept.
Responsibilities of being a lawyer (according to Wikipedia online):
‘In most countries, particularly civil law countries, there has been a tradition of giving many legal tasks to a variety of civil law notaries, clerks, and scriveners. These countries do not have “lawyers” in the American sense, insofar as that term refers to a single type of general-purpose legal services provider; rather, their legal professions consist of a large number of different kinds of law-trained persons, known as jurists, some of whom are advocates who are licensed to practice in the courts. It is difficult to formulate accurate generalizations that cover all the countries with multiple legal professions because each country has traditionally had its own peculiar method of dividing up legal work among all its different types of legal professionals.
Notably, England, the mother of the common law jurisdictions, emerged from the Middle Ages with similar complexity in its legal professions, but then evolved by the 19th century to a single division between barristers and solicitors. An equivalent division developed between advocates and procurators in some civil law countries; these two types did not always monopolize the practice of law, in that they coexisted with civil law notaries.
Several countries that originally had two or more legal professions have since fused or united their professions into a single type of lawyer. Most countries in this category are common law countries, though France, a civil law country, merged its jurists in 1990 and 1991 in response to Anglo-American competition. In countries with fused professions, a lawyer is usually permitted to carry out all or nearly all the responsibilities listed below.’.
Our Nigerian Courts have also contributed to the explanation of the roles of lawyers in Nigeria, for instance, in the case of PDP v. JIME & ORS.(2019) LPELR-48229(CA)., the Court of Appeal of Nigeria statedthe role of lawyers in the administration of justice thus
“It is pertinent to remind lawyers that the administration of justice and the justice delivery system are in the business of service delivery to the members of the public, Thus, it behooves every stakeholder in the justice system to take all necessary Steps to promote a cost effective, timely and efficient system so as to engender public confidence in Our justice system. We must never lose sight Of the fact that justice rooted in public confidence and it is essential to social order and security. It is the bond of society and the cornerstone Of human togetherness, Justice is the condition in which the individual is able to identify with society, feel at One with it and accept its rulings. The moment members Of the society lose confidence in the System of administration Of justice, a descent to anarchy begins. I have consistently emphasized this point and have severally referred lawyers to the eternal words of a great jurist, J Wesley McWilliams, who writing in an American Bar Association Journal in January 1955 (41 ABA 1 8) wrote in an article he tided “The Law as a Dynamic Profession” thus: “We belong to an ancient, to a great, to an honored profession. The practice of Law is a worthy calling, It has rewarded us with success and with prestige and leadership in our communities. It has given much happiness and the good life. From it we have received the gratitude and respect of our friends and neighbors whom we have served. Our word affords intellectual pleasure with dignity and independence, in competition with our with whom we have cemented warm friendships and enjoyed happy for these blessings, We cannot but have a sense of gratitude and of Obligation. The most productive, unselfish and wholly repayment of the obligation is constructive work to increase the effectiveness of our judicial system and the of the profession.” It is hoped that lawyers will tow this line of honour and integrity and contribute their share to increasing the effectiveness of our judicial system, rather than clogging it with useless, baseless, selfish and egoistic litigations.” Per HABEEB ADEWALE OLUMUYIWA ABIRU, JCA (Pp 55 – 57 Paras E – D).
Also, the Court of Appeal of Nigeria has the following to say about the role of judicial officers, judges and lawyers in the administration of justice as follows TUOYO & ORS v. AGBA & ORS. (2014) LPELR-24533(CA), “Before putting the very last dot to this Judgment, I have deemed it expedient to reiterate the trite axiom, that the fundamental and primary duty of a Court is to most undoubtedly do justice according to law. Undeniably, justice cannot be administered in vocuo. It must be administered in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of the land. Most regrettably, the legal profession, exemplified by the Bench and Bar in this country, has been subjected to an age-long and orchestrated prejudice. Thus, there is an urgent need, more than ever before, for the legal profession to engage itself in a more realistically critical self appraisal, with a view to redefining its set goals and objectives. Very often than not, Court processes are used to frustrate or delay the administration of justice by making all sorts of frivolities and, useless applications for adjournment of cases. Undoubtedly, inordinate delay of cases in Court contribute in no small measure to (i) the vast expenses of litigation; (ii) frustrate litigants; (iii) create a pitiable figure of the lawyer, nay the Judge, thereby generating loss of confidence in the entire judicial system. As aptly observed by the Supreme Court: Lawyers may enjoy the splitting of hairs on obtuse legal points but that extravagant exercise has the result of weighing heavily on the pockets of litigants and unnecessarily exhausting the energies of the Appeal Courts. See BAKARE VS. ACB LTD (1986) 3 NWLR (Pt.26) @ 47; per Aniagolu, JSC (of blessed memory). In our considered view, there is so much that both the Bench and Bar can do to salvage the Nation by steadfastly ensuring that our legal system is right in tune with contemporary realities vis-a-vis “contemporary public opinion”. For, as Sir Samuel Coke, erstwhile Chairman of the Law Commission of England and Wales, once aptly remarked: The extent to which human activity is governed by law is enormous. Because of this, one such measure of the health of any society is the extent to which is legal system is in tune with contemporary realities and contemporary public opinion. It is the aim of all those who are responsible for legal policy to ensure that the legal system satisfies all these requirements; but they will not succeed in that aim unless they are able to discern contemporary realities and to assess contemporary public opinion with a fair degree of accuracy.” Per IBRAHIM MOHAMMED MUSA SAULAWA, JCA (Pp 74 – 76 Paras D – D).
Also see the case of NKA v. EZE (2017) LPELR-43451(CA), where the Court of Appeal of Nigeria held thus on the role of judicial officers, judges and lawyers in the administration of justice “…it is pertinent to remind Legal Practitioners of their importance in the administration of justice and adjudication in our Courts. The celebrated learned Law Lord, DENNING, MR., in Pett v. Grey Hound Racing Association (No. 1) (1968) 2 ALL E.R. 545 at 549, had this to say on the importance of lawyers, hear him: “It is not every man who has the ability to defend himself on his own. He cannot bring out the points in his own favour or the weakness in the other side. He may be tongue-tied, nervous, confused or (even) wanting in intelligence. He cannot examine or cross-examine witnesses. We see it every day! A magistrate says to a man: You can ask any questions you like, whereupon the man immediately starts to make speech. If justice is to be done, he ought to have the help of someone to speak for him, and who better than a lawyer who has been trained for the task?” Furthermore, the lawyer’s eloquence, dexterity, skills in argumentation and power of oratory and persuasion, was also reiterated in Waugh v. British Rails Board (1979) 2 ALL E. R. 1169 at 1176, per Lord Simon, L.J., thus: “As it rarely happens that a man is fit to plead his own cause, lawyers are a class of the community, who by study and experience, have acquired the art and power of arranging evidence, and applying to the points at issue, what the law has settled. A lawyer is to his client all that his client might fairly do for himself, if he could.” Further see Dr. Johnson’s Observation in 5 BOSWELL’S LIFE OF JOHN (BIRBECK HILL Edition) 26. I think with that, I should only add that a word is enough for the wise lawyer.”Per TOM SHAIBU YAKUBU, JCA (Pp 18 – 19 Paras C – F).
The above case laws, underscore the importance of lawyers in the administration of justice for a better Nigeria, the failure which has gained lawyers a fallacious accolade of being addressed as ‘lawyers are liars’! Therefore, we as lawyers must rekindle our honour and public trust to change the status quo and to then reecho a new dimension of appreciation in the heart and on the face of the members of the public.
Furthermore, as lawyers, it is our roles to be ‘advocates’ and ‘activists’ for positive change in the societies. The word ‘Advocacy (the noun form of the verb advocate)’ according to the Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th Edition, Electronic copy, means ‘the work or profession of an advocate. The act of pleading for or actively supporting a cause or proposal. While an ‘advocate’ is defined by the same dictionary as ‘1. A person who assists, defends, pleads or prosecutes for another’.. And the word ‘Activism’ according to the same dictionary is defined as ‘a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue’. Therefore, every lawyer must ginger the activism accustomed with the legal profession. In the same vein, the words ‘to ginger’ according to the Webster On-line Dictionary means ‘to make lively’. With due respect, it is worse for a community where there is a single lawyer to have bad road, not to have constant electricity supply, not to have good and portable water, to be harassed in one way or the other! This is because, the community expects a pay back from the lawyer as a defender of the right and assurer of justice for all. Some persons would call such lawyer as ‘Barrister’! This is because they expect some concerns from such lawyer. Rather than for the lawyer who is expected to save them or protect their interests or to advocate for them to perform his roles, whether they have money or not, such lawyer disappoints his people and join them in complaining and pleading! There is need for our improvement in our roles as lawyers! As a human rights activist, I have a principle which is that ‘I do not beg anyone to do that which he ought to know that is right (not a pride, though, far from it!)’. I may draw your attention to that thing that is right and also remind you of the implications of doing contrary to that right thing! But where there will be trouble is to insist in doing that which is wrong! That is why some persons have thought of me as a very strict person, but they would not understand the kind of concession and opportunity that I would have given before I react! My principle is ‘let’s settle, there is no need to fight or quarrel!’. ‘Just do the right thing!’. But when such person proves to be unrepentant, then, the law would take its cause! So, we can imagine a society or a nation where both the citizens and the leaders do the right thing! That is the kind of nation where all is right with Nigeria and lawyers are engineers of these positive changes!
Furthermore, therefore, every lawyer must rise up in activism against injustice, oppression, inhumanity of one against another and must keep standing for someone’s right, environmental and societal sanitation, sanitation of the corrupt system, speaking against abuse of powers and office. Etc., even though we make money from the profession. So, if a lawyer does not take the side of public interest with great concern, how then would the society be reformed?! The roles of a lawyer as a reformer is even well informed in Rule 1 of the Rules of Professional Conducts for Legal Practitioners, 2007-herein after referred to as the RPC which provides thus ‘A lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner’. That is why a lawyer who has failed in his roles to the society and the nation would suffer just as the members of the society would suffer and such a lawyer will be among the complainants without finding solutions to the complaints of his people! A lawyer to me, is a saviour to his people! He is their great positive hope! He is their trust! He is their guide and if I may be permitted to say, with due respect, that if the society is in disarray, a lawyer should be held responsible for the evil that has befallen his people, with due respect! This is just an analogy of the extent of the importance of a lawyer to reforming his society, his people and the nation at large! That is why being a lawyer is sometimes referred to as ‘a call to serve’ (that is serving God through humanity).
Furthermore, it is my humble submission that the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009.herein after referred to as FREPR is an exception to Rule 47(1) of the RPC which prohibits instigating litigation.See: THE RULE AGAINST INSTIGATING LITIGATION UNDER RULE 47 OF THE RPC, 2007: WHETHER FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS MATTER IS AN EXCEPTION? By: Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq., www.nigerialawyer.com. In my humble view, for lawyers to actively perform their roles to the society, the indigent, the vulnerable and the voiceless, they must instigate litigation as the circumstance might determine and or justify! My submission here in this respect isclothed by my legal arguments that ‘… the RPC was made two years before the FREPR was made in 2009, so, it is submitted that the provisions in Rule 47(1) and the entire provisions of the Rule 47, RPC, can no more stand as a restrictive law when human rights matters are contemplated. This submission is made to the effect that even where the RPC has restrained lawyers from ‘instigating litigation’, especially in the public interest, the FREPR has allowed and permitted lawyers to institute action for and on behalf of a prospective applicant to seek redress in court. For instance, by Rule 3 (e) to the Preamble of the FREPR which provides thus ‘The Court shall encourage and welcome public interest litigation in the human rights field and no human rights case may be dismissed or struck out for want of locus standi. In particular, human rights activists, advocates or groups as well as non-governmental organisations, may institute human rights application on behalf of any potential applicant. In human rights litigation, the applicant may include any of the following; i. Anyone acting in his own interest; ii. Anyone acting on behalf of another person; iii. Anyone acting as a member of, or in the interest of a group or class of persons; iv. Anyone acting in the public interest; and v. Association acting in the interest of its members or other individuals or groups’. Also see: section 46(1) of the Constitution.For the purpose of clarity, instigating litigation as argued and submitted by me above is in a way of encouraging the victims of violation of human rights to approach a court to seek redress where there is an allegation of violation of their human rights rather than dying in silence or dying out of the trauma of the violation and either committing suicide or seeking revenge by the means of jungle justice or unlawful retaliation. Therefore, our rich and well to do or influential lawyers are hereby encouraged to always to take up case in public interests and human rights violation or to sponsor another lawyer to take same up in the interest of justice and for a better Nigeria.
Also, it is the trite position of law that fundamental rights matters are sui generis, as held by the Court in the case of Enukeme v Mazi. (2015)17 NWLR (1488)411 C.A. at page 434 paras. A-C, Mbaba, J.C.A. (delivering the leading judgment). The case of Loveday v Comptroller, Fed. Prisons Aba (2013) 18 NWLR (pt. 1386) 379 C.A. is humbly referred to.Also, the emphasis laid down by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of A.C.N. V I.N.E.C. (2013)13 NWLR (pt. 1370) 161 SC., is very noteworthy where the Supreme Court held thus ‘Without law and its rules regulating the enforcement and enjoyment of rights under the law, chaos will reign supreme, with every man pursuing and enjoying his real or perceived rights without regard to the rights of others, and organised society may come to an end’. More so that the FREPR is made pursuant to the provision of the Constitution. See: the case of Abia State University, Uturu v Anyaibe (1996) 3 NWLR (pt. 439) 646 at 661, per Katsina-Alu, JCA (as he then was). In which case, such a provision has equal force of law as the Constitution itself.
Therefore, it is my humble submission that any law or Rules or legislation, such as the Rule 47(1) of the RPC, that runs contrary and or breaches the FREPR has run inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution and shall subject to such inconsistency, be declared null and void. See: the provisions of section 1(1) and (3) of the Constitution.Also, the RPC being a subsidiary legislation made pursuant to the Legal Practitioners’ Act, 2004 (as amended). The Supreme Court of Nigeria has held in A.C.B. V Losada (Nig.) Ltd. (1995) 7 NWLR (pt.405) 26, thus: ‘It has never been the case in our laws that the provisions of any ordinary statute would render nugatory the relevant provisions of the constitution. Therefore, if any law of the State including a subsidiary legislation… is inconsistent with the provision of the constitution, the provision of the constitution prevails and that State law is to the extent of inconsistency void’. Also see: Achu v C.S.C. Cross Rivers State (2009) 3 NWLR (pt. 1129) 475. Further see: the case of INEC v Musa (2003) 3 NWLR (pt. 806) 72 SC, page 157, at paras. D-G, (Ayoola, J.S.C).
Furthermore and finally, human rights activists are their brothers’ keepers and that is why it becomes necessary that human rights lawyers/activists (and every lawyer) instigate litigation for and or on behalf of a victim of human rights violation in order to secure justice against an oppressor and or an unjust fellow, as many times, those victims do not have the required courage, confidence and finance to pursue such redress in court and with this annoyance, Nigeria might have to pay a higher price on ‘anarchy’. This is one of the roles of a lawyer in his society to ensure that anarchy does not get any existence in Nigeria, rather democratic principles must be emphasised.
Furthermore, I must state that as lawyers, we have to understand that there are many roles that our societies expect from us for the betterment of Nigeria than we really understand. We must also understand that whether Nigeria would be better or otherwise lies on us the legal practitioners. It therefore means that our roles as lawyers transcend the economy purposes of being lawyers. We as lawyers are reformers and engineers of positive societies and Nigeria, hence, we are ‘engineers’.
Finally, it cannot be overemphasized to say that the better future of Nigeria lies on the Nigerian lawyers. Government should therefore invest more in the legal profession and Nigerian lawyers as the nation tends to benefit more from this investment now or later. Therefore, we lawyers must exert our efforts towards the growth of our dear nation as we seek our economic values and sustenance. It remains our roles as lawyers to give back to our societies what our societies have given to us or give back to Nigeria what Nigeria has given to us. Our young lawyers must also be taught these important roles as they grow in the legal profession. We lawyers should also try as much as we can to lay legacies that would not be forgotten even when we are long gone to the greater heaven.
God bless us all as Nigerian Lawyers! God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!