I feel privileged to be amid so many learned and very distinguished Senior Advocates of Nigeria, men, and women who, through hard work and dedication have been recognized by their peers and elevated to the pinnacle of their Having spent all of my adult life in a regimented profession that is considered by critics not to be democratic in nature, I almost feel like fish out of water in your midst except that I have been blessed to have a lifelong partner, friend, confidant and companion who is as learned as you all are and had risen to the pinnacle of the judiciary in Niger State as the Chief Judge, and I am referring to my dearest wife, Her Excellency Fatima Abubakar, CON. Through her, I have been assimilated into the culture and practice of law and I therefore do not have the trepidation I would ordinarily have had having to face this distinguished gathering of most learned and distinguished gentlemen. Incidentally, my wife, Fatima, had planned to accompany me for this gathering, but we sadly had a clash of programs for today and, in a democratic manner, therefore agreed that while she would represent me in the other programs, I should represent both of us at this eminent gathering of distinguished Gentlemen of the Bar. She however sends her best wishes and regards to the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
Let me start by wishing the Body and all its members, a Happy New Year and a most prosperous 2022, in good health with lots of celebrations in our personal and collective lives and, most of all, with Divine Grace and Given the amount of fees which I am told Senior Advocates deservedly charge for their services, perhaps, my prayer for prosperity for all of you in this New Year is superfluous. That, notwithstanding, I still pray for your continuing prosperity and good health in this New Year and beyond and for very good reason. We all need the legal institution, no matter our station in life. It is always said that the court is the only hope of the common man. In truth, it is the only hope for all of us, no matter our status in society. Beyond our personal needs for an assured legal institution, there is no gainsaying that the institution has been the mainstay of our corporate existence, notably, in some very perilous moments. The advocacy from the Bar and the judgments from the Bench have at critical moments saved our Nation from the precipice. And so, we all have a stake in the assured good health and prosperity of the legal institution and all its members, not least, the Distinguished Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
My wife and I also rejoice with the new entrants into the league of Senior Advocates of Nigeria who we celebrate today. The rank, we all know, is the highest status amongst legal I am told that the process for attaining the rank is extremely rigorous and involves, amongst others, the candidates recording a minimum number of concluded cases in the various superior Courts of record or having distinguished and peer-reviewed legal publications, having befitting law offices and attending physical interviews where their comportment and fitness for the elevation are assessed by very distinguished panels of their peers from the Bar and the Bench. In the last two years, I understand that the number of newly elevated members has jumped from the traditionally conservative less than 20 for each year to the more liberal 70 and above for each of the two years. I see that as evidence of the abundance of talent that we are blessed with in Nigeria and proof that there is ample talent amongst us to make our country great. Even more impressive is the diversity in the newly elevated members of the rank – diversity in terms of gender, region, religion and much more. That diversity which mirrors our national polity is a strength which, if well harnessed, will produce bounteous benefits and results. In no instance or respect therefore should our national diversity, just like the diversity in your ranks, be viewed as a weakness or fault-line. It is a strength in nation-building that should weld us together in common purpose and focus.
Wearing the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria automatically confers on each member of your Body the status of a leader and it therefore behooves you individually to provide the required leadership not only in the legal profession but nationally as Permit me to mention four areas of leadership in justice administration that I believe the Body and its members should be in the forefront of, thereby leading by example and setting the tone for national rejuvenation in that sector. First, it is always said, perhaps too glibly, that justice delayed is justice denied. This is true in all cases, be they criminal justice administration or in the resolution of civil disputes. Criminal justice administration has the greatest emphasis because the liberty of individuals is often involved not to mention the imperative for justice to be served for the victims of crimes and their families. It is disturbing that in Year 2022, criminal trials still take years to conclude with the attendant emptiness and anxieties in the lives of the victims of crimes as well as the complete disruption in and to the lives of the defendants who, in some cases, may ultimately be pronounced innocent but may never recover from the years of trauma and societal opprobrium that attend criminal trials.
No less disturbing is the time that it takes for civil matters to be disposed of by our I was this week made aware of a civil dispute involving the one of our national institutions that was commenced in 1996 and was finally determined at the Federal High Court on 18 January 2022 – 26 years after the commencement of the Suit! Children who were born in 1996 and who have been blessed with uninterrupted education up to tertiary level would have graduated from university and possibly earned post- graduate degrees within that timeframe. Think of commercial disputes that take such length of time to resolve and the damage that it does to our national economy and reputation. I mention “reputation” because one of the indices that investors outside Nigeria whom we need for the growth of our economy look out for in the determination of how investment-friendly we are is our justice administration system which includes the length of time it takes to resolve disputes in our courts.
What do lawyers have to do with these delays, one may I am told that sometimes these delays are caused by the dilatory practices of some lawyers who, sometimes as a strategy and in some other instances due to unpreparedness on their part, stand in the way of timeous hearing and prompt determination of their cases. Yes, I understand that there are several other reasons for the delays, but the ones that are caused by the learned members of the Bar are within your immediate control and capacity to curb. And that is where leadership from the Body of Senior Advocates and its members comes in. One of the admirable imperatives of being a Senior Advocate, I understand, is that you must have junior colleagues who work with you and whom you mentor and attend court with. Those junior colleagues learn from you which means, if you are a Senior Counsel who believes in and practice those dilatory tactics that impede and clog our justice administration, you are helping in no small measure to perpetuate that unwholesome practice. On the other hand, if you are the Senior Counsel who believes in timeous preparation and handling of your matters, brooking no dilatory tactics and delays, those are the qualities that you will pass on to your junior colleagues and the more of the BOSAN members who practice these wholesome qualities, the richer and swifter our justice administration would be.
Beyond the percolating effect, within the Bar, of your conduct in ensuring timeous preparation and presentation of your matters in Court and abhorring dilatory tactics of any sort, there is also the moral authority that this vests in you as a Body and as individuals in persuading the courts to also administer justice timeously. You would then be preaching to the courts what you practice and not telling the courts to practice what you preach but do not And that takes me to a second aspect of justice administration in which the Body of Senior Advocates can and should show strong leadership i.e., advocacy on the use of technology in justice administration which would greatly enhance speedy administration of justice. I understand that the global pandemic, COVID-19 has pushed some of our courts to now adopt virtual hearings for their proceedings. That is very impressive and is evidence that from adversity oftentimes comes strength and innovation. Technology has become all-pervasive in our lives whether as technocrats, businessmen, farmers, educationists, students, parents, children, just name it, and it differentiates us from our forebears. Without technology, it is impossible to compete globally or even to effectively join the comity of nations from absolutely any perspective – education, banking, political or even social interactions, etc. There is no reason why the use of technology should also not be pervasive in our justice administration. Yes, it is expensive and, yes, the various governments of the Nigerian Federation may have their priority spend areas that may not always favour the judiciary, but that is where leadership by individual Senior Advocates of Nigeria and as a Body comes in.
Having been married to a judicial officer all my life, I know that it is sometimes difficult for judicial officers to be advocates of their own And, by the way, the entrenchment of technology in our justice system for the enhancement of justice administration is not a cause for judicial officers alone. It is a cause for all of us. But even if we were to place it primarily at the doorsteps of the judiciary, leadership on the part of the Bar, led by the leaders of the Bar who are assembled for this dinner, demand that the Bar picks the gauntlet on behalf of the judiciary and stridently advocate for funds allocations for the implementation of pervasive technology in our justice administration all over the country. This is a fight that should be championed by the members of BOSAN who are serving in or are outside our various governments. Happily, some distinguished BOSAN members and very senior members and leaders of the Bar occupy very high positions in the various governments of the Federation, including but not limited to serving as Governors, Attorneys-General, Ministers, Commissioners, etc. It is in the place of your Body to collaborate with them in persuading the various Executive and Legislative arms of government in the Federation to allocate funds for the equipping of our courts, technology-wise. We all benefit when matters are disposed of speedily by our courts and this would be greatly enhanced by the implementation and entrenchment of technology in our justice administration.
A third and ancillary aspect of justice administration which I believe also needs leadership from your Body relates to the overwhelming and suffocating number of political cases that we have in our land which has been identified by various commentators, including lawyers, as one of the causes of delays in the hearing and determination of other non-political cases. Please, do not get me wrong: I firmly believe that it is important that our courts intervene in our often-combustible political However, I also believe that these judicial interventions must not be at the expense of and to the detriment of the other equally critical matters that are pending before our courts. I must confess my lack of competence to proffer definitive solutions to this hydra- headed problem, not being a member of your hallowed profession and therefore not being equipped with the skills, knowledge, and experience to know exactly how to bell this cat. But then, that is where your leadership skills, honed by years of experience and learning, comes in. Your members need to look at the larger picture and proffer solutions that would ensure the speedy resolution of our oftentimes intractable political dispute while also ensuring that the ordinary people with their criminal cases and civil disputes do not thereby suffer inordinate delays and neglect in the determination of their own matters. This is a balancing act that requires considerable acuity which I know is not in short supply amongst your members. And I emphasize this point given the pre-eminence of the first point that I raised i.e., justice delayed, whether in criminal or civil matters, is justice denied. My focus in that first point was on the non- political matters including but not limited to commercial disputes which require very speedy dispensation and criminal justice administration, time of which is always of the essence.
May I crave your indulgence to address you on the fourth and final aspect of leadership which I believe the Body of Senior Advocates should champion and that is, the active encouragement of your members to join the Bench at the level of the superior courts and lend to the Bench the benefit of your recognized learning, scholarship, and I understand that one member of your ranks, Honourable Justice Safiya Umar Badamasi, SAN, joined the Katsina State Judiciary as a High Court Judge not long after her elevation into the Inner Bar. That is most commendable, and I sincerely wish her the very best of her judicial career including, advancement up to the hallowed chambers of our apex court as a Justice of the Supreme Court. Think of the tremendous contribution she makes currently to our justice administration at the trial court stage, with her wealth of experience and learning, and think of the enormous contributions she could make to our body of judicial precedents if it pleases the Almighty to advance her to our appellate courts, possibly up to the apex level. But she should not be the only one. Our trial and appellate courts should be populated by your members who have distinguished themselves in practice and have the experience and knowledge, not to mention, the prosperity that would ensure their independence, all of which would be invaluable to justice administration. We would all be enriched thereby.
I know that one formidable hurdle that stands in the way of my ambitious proposition is the remuneration of our judicial officers, notwithstanding the acknowledged prosperity of your members. I should know, being married to a judicial officer who did not have the advantage of being a prosperous Senior Advocate of Nigeria before joining the But that is also where the leadership of the Bar and this Body is required. As I mentioned earlier, judicial officers, by virtue of their office, cannot be advocates for themselves, particularly in terms of their remunerations and benefits. It behooves the Bar and the Body of Senior Advocates to take up the fight for adequate remuneration of our judicial officers. The benefits that accrue from such an upwardly revised compensation package for our judicial officers are unquantifiable and, for the purposes of this our discourse, include, the attraction of the best brains in the profession to the judiciary such as the distinguished members of the Body of Senior Advocates. It is, to my mind, extremely restrictive that the body of knowledge of our Senior Advocates of Nigeria is practiced and finds outlet only at the Bar. If, as we all believe and know, members of your rank are our finest in the profession, they should proliferate all arms of the profession, notably, the superior courts of our land. Their knowledge and skills should be availed to all litigants who flock to our courts for the resolution of their disputes and issues, not only as advocates, but also as judicial officers in all the strata of our superior courts.
In conclusion, you would notice that the common thread that runs through my Address has been the role for BOSAN leadership in justice administration. The issues that could be discussed under that theme are not at all exhaustive; they span beyond the four issues that I have identified for this Time would not permit me to expand beyond these four areas, but I do hope that these four areas would give you, my distinguished host, sufficient food for thought, in the immediate, beyond the sumptuous dinner that I have been privileged to share with you.
I thank you all for the invitation that was extended to me to attend this distinguished event and, more importantly, for
General Abdulsalami A Abubakar, GCFR