Recently, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) published the final list of successful candidates for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) for the year 2015.
The Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court of Nigeria who also doubles as the Secretary to the Committee further announced that the new silks would be sworn in on September 21st at a special court session to mark the beginning of the 2015/2016 legal year.
The LPPC is one of the regulatory bodies of the legal profession in Nigeria established under section 5(3) of the Legal Practitioners Act Cap L11 LFN 2004.
The LPPC is statutorily empowered to confer the rank of SAN on deserving legal practitioners in Nigeria. The rank of SAN is a privilege reserved primarily for distinguished advocates in full time legal practice and those who have contributed immensely to the development of the legal profession in Nigeria.
The rank may also be conferred on academic members of the legal profession who have made substantial contribution to the practice of law through teaching, research and publications.
A successful applicant for the SAN membership is entitled to wear the royal silk and enjoy the privileges that goes with the rank, including the prestigious exclusive right to sit in the inner Bar in court.
A SAN whether coming from private legal practice, public practice (Ministry of Justice and other government agencies) or the academia, is seen as a thorough bred counsel whose skills are above that of his peers. He is meant to be sound in law and must be a person of integrity.
He is in the eye of the public seen as a man of immense importance and status. Whenever he lends his imprimatur on any task, one is not left in doubt that he is meant to be excellence personified.
In recent times, the number of successful applicants to the rank has increased. As the number swells each year, so also the controversy and disgust that trails the award raises. The complaints are mostly rooted in protest over the caliber of persons elevated.
This year, a total of 124 applicants applied for the rank when the application entry opened in January but 50 names were initially short-listed and called for interview and finally 21 made the final list.
It gives one with vested awareness of the seeds sown by some thick wigs great concern that none of the very senior and erudite lawyers from and or/in Cross River State, including our good-natured and learned Mba Ukweni Esq. and the human rights cum constitutional lawyer/anti-graft crusader, Chief Okoi Obono-obla, all of whom are long deserving of the silk for 2015, could make the list.
It is of moment to know that out of the total of 21 successful applicants for the silk this year, only one is from the South-South region (Emmanuel Aguma, the current Attorney-General of Rivers State).
Although our own Mba Ukweni, Esq. has met all the relevant criteria and qualification and was among the 50 candidates initially short-listed, his name could not make the final list under suspicious and questionable circumstances yet to be known.
The Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee is bound by law to draw up the final list of successful candidates taking into consideration gender representation and geographical spread. See paragraph 16 of the Guidelines for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, 2011.
These days, one can undoubtedly speculate that the man-know-who syndrome has penetrated the selection process.
It is hoped that in the years to come, the committee will once more restore the confidence of the members of the profession and indeed the general public, on the neutrality of the appointment procedure lest hope and trust might be lost in LPPC.
If this trend of excluding competent and qualified Cross River lawyers from taking the silk tag continues, in the nearest future one is afraid; it may be difficult to have any indigenous SAN in the State.
It is the practice of States throughout the federation to always firm out high profile government cases to private legal practitioners, usually of the rank of SAN. This practice is perhaps rooted in the belief (rightly or wrongly) that it takes a SAN to properly square up with another SAN at the opposing end.
Also, in the nearest future the State may have to be embarking on a long voyage to the far Western part of the country to get the services of this class of lawyers.
Presently, there are only five indigenous and practicing Senior Advocates of Nigeria from Cross River State namely; Kanu Godwin Agabi, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, Nelly Andem Ewa Rabana-Lawal, Paul Erokoro and Joe Agi.
However, it is doubtful whether any of these SANs is resident and accessible in the State which is worrisome.
Eno Iyamba, Esq. is a practicing lawyer with Basic Rights Counsel, Calabar. [email protected]