Cleared Hon. John Inyang Okoro, JSC: Shame on the "Name-and-Shame" Proponents
Do you know that three whole years after the ungodly hour crude invasion of the residence of Justice John Inyang Okoro, and some other Justices of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and Judges of Federal and State High Courts (some now deceased (probably due to the horrific trauma, humiliation and degradation suffered thereby), by gun-toting masked and hooded DSS operatives, he has been secretly cleared of any wrongdoing or misconduct, by the same DSS? This revered and fecund uncorrupt and incorruptible Justice of the Apex Court was unduly "named and shamed" on the 8th of October, 2016, by Nigeria's secret Service (the equivalent of FBI), which viciously raided his house and those of others, without any concrete, or even scintilla or shred of evidence, of having been involved in any acts of misconduct or criminality. It was simply enough that this "anti-corruption" government of “redemptive messianism”, was out to root out corruption. It didn't matter the ways and means, this was achieved. To these historical revisionists, the end simply justified the means. To them, all was fair in war.
How not to Fight Corruption
To these protagonists, it didn't matter if corruption was being fought with a bigger form of corruption-discretion of hallowed rule of law, and the fundamental rights of the citizens. Having been quietly cleared of any wrongdoing, how many members of the public today know of this new clearance and clean bill of health, given to Justice Okoro? Not many. Maybe a handful. Yet, he was severely inflicted with mental and psychological trauma and agony, humiliation, denigration, opprobrium and odium, for being innocent. Imagine the trauma of his family, friends and admirers! The DSS is said to have even returned to Justice Okoro, the $38,000 (about N13.68m) forcibly seized from his residence, viet armis, among other items, on November 8, 2019, over three years after their illegal and unconstitutional confiscation of same.
Another Supreme Court Justice, Sylvester Ngwuta, JSC, who was also humiliated in like manner during the so-called "sting operation.
" has since been cleared and discharged by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
No Charge or Arraignment
It is pertinent to emphasise here that, Justice Okoro was never arraigned nor tried for any corrupt practices, let alone being convicted. Indeed, it was said that, he was “not confronted with any petition or complaint from any quarters whatsoever by the DSS”, and that “nothing incriminating was found on or against him”.
Justice Okoro’s Final Vindication
Justice Okoro has thus, been completely vindicated in his insistence that he had neither done any wrong, nor misconducted himself in any manner howsoever. What should the DSS do now? Very simple. Rather than handing over Okoro's money and items back to him clandestinely and nichodemusly, or playing the role of the proverbial ostrich that buries its head in the sand pretending that its ass is not being seen, it should be honourable, humble and bold enough to climb down from it's high horse and publicly apologise to Justice Okoro. Members of the public who had been fed with the poisonous diet of indecent, lewd, obscene and salacious propaganda and media stigmatisation, trial and conviction of Okoro as a corrupt Judge, deserve to be told clearly by the same the DSS, the very truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, about Justice Okoro's innocence and integrity. Anything short of this will amount to fighting corruption with corruption and impunity, all of which constitutes a bigger form of corruption.
Protecting the Legal Profession from Extinction, Adulteration and Infiltration Introduction
I had delivered this Keynote address during the NBA, Onitsha Branch Annual Dinner, which was held at Onitsha, on Friday, 13th December, 2019. I hereby share same with my teeming readers, which from letters, SMS, whatsapp and phone call messages I receive daily, have since crossed the borders of legal practice stricto sensu, and extended to the mass majority of our people. I thank you, readers. You own this column.
Some Definitions and Contexts
Let us begin our series with definition of certain terms, which would open up the vistas of this write-up.
The “Legal Profession”
Attempting a definition of the term ‘LEGAL PROFESSION’ is more difficult than one may anticipate. It becomes apparent that the simplest definition, is perhaps, the most befitting. The legal profession is a vocation that is based on expertise in the law, and in its applications. Those who pursue these vocations collectively, form a body of individuals who are qualified to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. The learned occupation of these individuals is to study, promote, uphold and enforce the collection of rules imposed by the authority. They thus, form the ‘legal profession.’
The Encarta dictionary defines extinction as the, “the gradual process of which a group of related organism dies out.” It also defines it, “as state of being no longer valid or the process of ceasing to be valid or practiced.”
The same Encarta dictionary defines adulteration to be, “to make something less pure by adding inferior or unsuitable elements or substances to it”.
The same Encarta dictionary defines infiltration, “to become part of an organisation, or enter a place, surreptitiously in order to gather information or influence events, or send agents to do this.”
Accordingly, based on the various well captured definitions of extinction, adulteration and infiltration, the theme of the instant write up is targeted to suggest means by which our noble legal profession can be protected from the dangers of ceasing to exist, or making it less attractive to the society, while proscribing the enemies of the legal profession, in order to keep its efficiency and efficacy prominent in our society.
The Legal Profession and Schools of Thought
The legal profession is a noble profession, where many are called but few are chosen. Some scholars are of the view that, the legal profession is one of the oldest professions in the world.
The Positivist School of thought believes that, law is a command handed over from a sovereign to the led. The Natural School of thought, sees law as a divine law. The Realists see law as “the prophesies of what the court will do, and nothing more pretentious”. Scholars who belong to this school of thought include, the respected American Jurist, Oliver Wendel Holmes. The Historical School of law of Von Savigny, views law as being deeply rooted in the past of a Nation, the common consciousness of the people “like language; the law was developed by the character of a Nation its National Spirit (volksgeist)”.
In OKAFOR v NWEKE (2007) 10 NWLR (Part 1043) 521, 530 – 531 H – D and 531 -532 G – A, the Supreme Court, per Onnoghen, JSC (as he then was), held as follows:
‘’However Section 2(1) of the Legal Practitioner’s Act CAP 207 of the laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 provides thus:
Subject to the provisions of this Act, a person shall be entitled to practice as a Barrister and Solicitor if, and only if, his name is on the roll...
...From the above provisions, it is clear that the person who is entitled to practice as a Legal Practitioner, must have had his name on the roll. It does not say that his signature must be on the roll, but his name’’.
The above position of the learned law Lord, serves to emphasise who can practice as a Legal Practitioner in Nigeria.
According to Fred Rodell, Professor of Law, Yale University:
“It is Lawyers who run our civilisation for us, our governments, our businesses, our private lives... we cannot buy a home or rent an apartment, we cannot get married or try to get divorced, we cannot leave our property to our children, without calling on the Lawyers to guide us. To guide us, incidentally, through a maze of confusing gesture and formalities that Lawyers have created... the legal trade, in short, is nothing but a high class racket’’.
The Nigerian and English Legal Systems: Origin and Make up
The English Legal System
The English legal system forms the basis of many ‘common law’ legal systems throughout the world, and therefore, enjoys a superior international status. English law is comprised of criminal
law and civil law. The rules governing criminal and civil laws are derived from common law and legislation, which are essentially binding on all United Kingdom legal systems. Those within the legal profession have specialist knowledge of the various principles, rules and laws that govern the English legal system.
In the United Kingdom, the distinction between Solicitors and Barristers is not as clear-cut as it once was. Following the Court and Legal Services Act (CLSA), 1990, Solicitors now have the right to become certified Advocates (i.e. represent clients in court). There are serious suggestions that Barristers have consequently, lost their dominance over advocacy in courts. Although Solicitors are taking on a more active advocacy role in the lower courts, Barristers stricto sensu, still maintain an unrivalled monopoly over the higher courts.
In the United Kingdom, there are essentially two main branches of the legal profession – Solicitors and Advocates, or Barristers.
However, in Nigeria the distinction does not apply, as Lawyers act as both Solicitors and Advocates.
The Nigerian Legal System
The Nigerian legal system however, includes the customary laws of the different peoples that make up the Nigerian Federation, as well as the Sharia laws derived from the Islamic legal system. They are applied side by side the received English laws, to ensure law and order in the Nigerian society.
There are currently over 60,000 practising Lawyers in Nigeria, all governed by the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap L11, LFN, 2004. Lawyers represent clients in court and in corporate establishments, and give specialist opinions on complex legal and quasi-legal matters, after receiving instructions from clients.
Who can enter the Legal Profession?
A consistent requirement for those intent on entering the legal profession, is that of high academic achievement. This forms the basic criterion that the vast majority of candidates must meet, before any additional skills they may possess will be considered. Candidates will need a range of skills, which vary depending on the area of the legal profession they wish to specialise in.
To become an outstanding Barrister, eloquence, excellent articulation, confidence, an analytical mind and power of persuasiveness, are essential requirements. In contrast, the skills demanded of a Solicitor lean more towards an aptness for problem solving, an enquiring mind, and a flair for generating ideas on new business and winning clients. It thus, becomes clear that, in spite of the enactment of the CLSA, 1990, Solicitors cannot rival or replace Barristers, given their very separate and distinct roles within the legal profession.
The legal profession is renowned and heavily criticised, for its almost impenetrable nature. The first hurdle for many applicants hoping to enter the legal profession, is to secure that all-important place at a recognised university, to complete their law degree, and then at an equally reputable institution to complete their legal education at the Law School, as the case may be. The real competition begins, however upon completion of these two stages. The Lawyer then proceeds for pupillage, to prepare him or her for the task ahead. (To be continued).
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law, and in the name of justice.” (Montesquieu).