Lawyers, Ethics, Values And Corruption In Nigeria – By Dele Adesina SAN
Who is a Lawyer/Legal Practitioner?
The word Lawyer/Legal Practitioner can be used interchangeably. Lawyers are trained professionals in the knowledge and application of law. The Blacks Law Dictionary 10th Edition page 1021 defines the word “Lawyer” to mean “Someone who having been licensed to practice law, is qualified to advice people about legal matters, prepare contracts and other legal instruments and represent people in Court.” In Nigeria, we are not licensed, but we are “called to the Bar” by the Body of Benchers – the highest regulatory body in the profession.
The Body of Benchers is established by Section 3 of the Legal Practitioners Act CAP L11, Laws of the Federation 2010 (LPA).
Section 4(1) of the LPA provides as follows:
“Subject to the provisions of this Section, a person shall be entitled to be called to the Bar if
a. He is a citizen of Nigeria
b. He produces a qualified certificate to the Benchers
c. He satisfies the Benchers that he is of good character
A person who is not a citizen of Nigeria can also be called to the Bar once he produces a qualifying certificate to the Benchers, and he satisfies the Benchers that he is of good character by virtue of Section 4
Section 4(4) states that the Benchers shall issue to every person called to the Bar pursuant to sub sections 1 & 2 of this section, a certificate of Call to the Bar which shall be in such form as the Benchers may determine. You are either a Barrister/Advocate or a Solicitor.
On the definition of Legal Practitioner, the Supreme Court, per J.A. Fabiyi JSC (as he then was) in FBN Plc v Maiwada (2013) 5 N.W.L.R. 444 SC relying on Section 24 of the LPA stated as follows:
“… Legal Practitioner means a person entitled in accordance with the provisions of the Act to practice as a Barrister or as a Barrister and Solicitor, either generally or for the purposes of any particular office or proceedings…”
In support of the foregoing, Section 2 (1) of the Legal Practitioners’ Act, Cap. L11, LFN, 2010 goes further to provide thus:
“Subject to the provisions of this Act, a person shall be entitled to practice as a Barrister and a Solicitor, if and only if his name is on the roll”.
According to the Blacks Law Dictionary 10th Edition, at Page 670:
“Ethics is a system of moral tenets or principles: the collective doctrines relating to the ideals of human conducts and characters. Also, it is the study of behaviour as judged by moral rights or wrongs including the sources, principles and enforcement of behavioural standards”.
Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary simply defined the word Ethics at page 393 to mean “a system of moral principles or rules of behaviour”. The Legal Profession is a highly regulated Profession with profound rules of standard behaviour, the contravention of which is punishable either by warning, suspension from practice or outright striking-off from the role of legal practitioners, depending on the gravity of the offence.
The same Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defined the word Value with reference to profession as distinct from monetary value at page 1319 to mean “moral or professional standards of behaviour.” At dictionary.cambridge.com, the word Value is defined as “the principles that help you to decide what is right and wrong, and how to act in various situations”.
Corruption is the last key word of the topic under discuss. The word corruption hardly needs any introduction to the average Nigerian audience. According to dictionary.cambridge.com, Corruption means: “illegal, bad or dishonest behaviour, especially by people in positions of power”. Corruption is typified by dishonesty, exploitation or the misuse and abuse of public office, either directly or indirectly, for personal gains or unjust enrichment in negation of due process or established protocol.
The sitting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria once said that “if Nigeria fails to kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.” Corruption is a mountain that we must be brave enough to surmount, if Nigeria is to be a great nation. Only the brave ever becomes great.
Let us hear the opinion of some leaders of thought on the subject-matter of corruption in Nigeria.
Our Courts have not failed to make epochal pronouncements, in total condemnation of this cankerworm called corruption.
For instance, Hon. Justice Uwaifo, JSC (as he then was) in the case of Attorney-General of Ondo State v Attorney-General of the Federation said pointedly that:
“In foreign countries, Nigerians are recognised and regarded as corrupt people; unlike other nationals, no bank will allow Nigerians to open a bank account as of right. The Nigerian green passport, is synonymous with corruption…National Newspapers are filled with stories of loots with money stashed in foreign banks. The stolen resources lost by Nigeria through endemic corruption and abuse of office, have had inimical effect on the economy of the country…The crisis which endemic corruption has triggered off in Nigeria certainly poses exceptional peril to the economic, social and political stability, the national interest and integrity of Nigerian Nation…”.
These were the immortal words of the learned Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria when they were dealing with the interpretation and the nationwide application of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences ACT No. 4, 2000 which has now been replaced with the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2003. It was in this same case that the Supreme Court of Nigeria also held that
“In our own situation, taking the issue of corruption and abuse of power nationally, will best serve the interests of all and the general welfare of Nigeria both nationally and internationally, because corrupt practices have become an overwhelming menace for Nigeria. It can therefore, not be left totally to individual States in Nigeria”.
The Legal Profession and the Society
By our training and practice as Lawyers, we are given to appreciate the value of Democracy, as well as the virtues of Rule of Law and good governance. A Lawyer must therefore, not be restricted only to managing his affairs and/or solving the problems of his Clients. Otherwise, such a Lawyer will be justifying the age long criticism that Lawyers are guilty of extreme conservatism, with an unabashed preference for capitalism. He may even be accused of being guilty of primitive accumulation of wealth.
According to Kenneth Kaunda, former President of Zambia:
“The Lawyer in a developing society must be something more than a practicing professional man; he must be more even than the champion of the fundamental rights and freedom of the individual. He must be, in the fullest sense, a part of the society in which he lives and he must understand that society, if he is to be able to participate in its development and the advancement of the economy and social well being of its members”.
And then the bombshell:
“The Lawyer must go out beyond the narrow limits of the law, because while the law is the instrument through which the society is preserved in its shape and character, it is the reflection of the society”.
Lawyers must never forget the fact that, by virtue of their calling, they are social Engineers. Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, a leading member of the profession and a foremost Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in a paper he delivered at the 2003 Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, at Enugu said:
“Lawyers, by virtue of their calling, are looked upon by the larger society sometimes for rescue operations, (figuratively speaking) especially when the society is in dire straits. A good example is when a Nation is undergoing dictatorship, or civilian despotism”.
According to that very erudite and distinguished Judge, Hon. Justice I. C. Pats-Acholonu, JSC, CON of blessed memory:
“The Lawyer of the 21st century, should be astute enough to defend the rights of man. The rights are fundamental because they were not given by men, but by God. It is the duty of the Lawyers to watch the observance of these rights with eagle eyes. It is therefore evident that, a modern Lawyer should be everything to everybody. His learning, his experience in human psychology, his understanding and appreciation of the frailties of mankind, will bring to bear on the problems that are bound to arise in future, as the society becomes more and more complex”.
The Legal Profession, Ethics and Values
A discussion on the importance of ethics of the legal profession cannot be considered, without making reference to the rules provided for in the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC).
Rule 1 of the RPC provides as follows:
“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”.
The purpose and relevance of RPC was stated in the case of Ikeme v Anakwe (2003) 10 N.W.L.R. 548 C.A where the Court of Appeal held that:
“The rules of conduct in the legal profession, are designed to protect and preserve the high standard of professional ethics at the Bar”.
Rule 30 of the RPC also provides that:
“A Lawyer is an officer of the court and, accordingly, he shall not obstruct, delay or adversely affect the administration of justice”.
Sequel to the provisions of the RPC and other relevant regulatory authorities guiding the ethical conduct of Lawyers, the duties of a legal practitioner in Nigeria can be distilled into three distinct parts:
• The duties owed to his client;
• The duties owed to the court; and
• The duties owed to other Counsel.
Let me touch on these duties.
Duties of Counsel to his Client
This is the ultimate duty of any Counsel, as an Advocate. Before an Advocate can be held to be lawfully and properly performing his duties to his clients, the mandate of his client to him must always remain intact and in exercise of his apparent authority. He must demonstrate that the best interest of his client, is always uppermost in his mind. See the case of NNPC v Trinity Mills Insurance Brokers (2003) 9 N.W.L.R. 384 CA.
A Counsel is a Minister in the temple of justice, and an officer of the court. Let me state that, this duty imposes the obligation on Counsel appearing in court as a Minister of Justice, to honestly disclose all facts favourable and unfavourable, as doing so will assist and guide the court in the judicious discharge of its judicial functions.
The point must be emphasised however, that as much as the Judex cannot speculate, so also must the Bar not put the Bench in a state of factual uncertainties of material facts in the case. See generally the case of Umar v Federal Republic of Nigeria & Ors (2020) LPELR – 5252449 SC.
Let us emphasise that a fair characterisation of a Legal Practitioner’s responsibility, is the fact that “he stands as a shield in defence of a right, and to ward off wrong”, in the words of the Supreme Court. In a profession charged with such responsibilities, there must be exerted those qualities of truth speaking, of a high sense of honour and of the strictest observance of fiduciary responsibility.
The Supreme Court in applying the above principle to the conduct of a Counsel undergoing a disciplinary proceeding in the case of NBA v Monyel (2013)N.W.L.R. Pt 1386 Page 454 at 466 asked the following questions:
“Which of the above qualities can the Respondent, given the litany of his tendentious, shameless, unabashed contrivance, said to possess? He is neither a shield in the defence of right, nor with this kind of character ward off any wrong. With a man of this kind of sly character like the Respondent, where lies the quality of truth in him? Is the word “honour” not a strange bed fellow with the Respondent? Given his elaborate attempt to cover up the recovery of part of the debt he was contracted to recover, can anyone credit him with an iota of fiduciary responsibility or fidelity?”
Allegation of Corruption
Historically, Judges were seen as Caesar’s wife living above board. According to Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, past President of Nigerian Bar Association:
“It was very unusual in the past, in fact, a taboo, to accuse a Judge of corruption. In a research done some years ago in respect of British Judges, it was found out that, whereas, the Judiciary of Britain is several centuries old, only one allegation of corruption was made against a Judge, and same was proven to be frivolous when investigated. Today, we live in the unimaginable situation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) applying the big stick of dismissing some of our Judges, suspending some, and admonishing others for proven cases of corruption”.
The general perception today, most unfortunately, is that the judiciary of Nigeria is corrupt. It is on record that some Judges in this country, once stood trial for one form of allegation or the other.
Very recently, in a publication titled: “Senate Leader Accuses Wealthy Nigerians of Buying Court Judgements”, the Senate leader of the 8th National Assembly had this to say at a plenary session:
“Ours is a society where people who have so much money buy judgements”.
I ask, is the judiciary of Nigeria corrupt? Or some of the Judges in the Nigeria Judiciary? Are these statements one and the same thing? I do not think so. While it may not be contested that a few of the Judges are corrupt – and I dare say that, they are very, very few in comparative terms, I wish to submit that very many Judges and Justices of our courts are not only honest and principled, but also are incorruptible.
We must all rise up to refute this perception and stigmatisation of the Nation’s Judiciary, as a corrupt Judiciary. Perception can become real – more than reality, and even more dangerous is when perception attempts to change the reality, as we are being made to believe in Nigeria. The truth about the Judiciary of this country, is that it continues to live up to its historic and constitutional responsibilities.
We must not be helpless, otherwise we become captives of a situation we did not create. The corrupt ones must be located and be shown the way out; and the men and women of discipline, principle and integrity must be openly commended. I believe in purification rather than condemnation, in order to help ourselves and the nation.
The Profession of Law, is a Profession of leadership. It is first among equals. It is a noble profession, and the members of it must be noble men and women of high ethical standards, and high moral and superior value. That is the Profession you are aspiring to. I cannot wait to welcome you.
Deacon Dele Adesina, SAN, former NBA General Secretary