Tue. Dec 5th, 2023

Beyond The Roll Call, By Barr. Johnson Odion Esezoobo

Beyond The Roll Call, By Barr. Johnson Odion Esezoobo

I thank God for all of us, lawyers. And I particularly want to congratulate those of us who have just been elevated to the Inner Bar. You have worked hard for it and have got it. Glory to the Almighty God.  What you do next with this new status is the question. The rank of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria is a very prestigious one. But it is worthless if it is not used for development of the nation through the development of law, and enhancement of humanity, but just for self aggrandisement. When it was instituted years ago, the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria was supposed to be for those who have distinguished themselves in the practice of law; in terms of advocacy and integrity, and contributed to the development of law in Nigeria. But the situation has since changed.
Current State of the LawCurrently, Nigeria is facing the greatest challenges of her time. A look at the Constitution will reveal that the Government we run at both the Federal and State levels is a breach. We lawyers and Judges have failed to identify State differential it from Governmentbut are operating outside the Law of the Constitution.  This is why in a 21st Century Nigeria Mobile Court presided over by a *lawyer would forfeit a commercial vehicle to the State for a traffic contravention thereby rendering the owner/driver unemployed. This is against State Policy and Public interest  particularly in a depressed economy where such Government Policy as distinct from State Policy is bound to engender crime in the perpetuation of such acts of prodigality. I like to observe that since the return of democracy in 1999, perhaps, with the exception of a very few who still keep integrity, and would not compromise standards, Senior Advocates of Nigeria have served more as the hatchet man in the hand of the unscrupulous, including the Government of the day. The Omoyele Sowore case is illustrative of this. 

More than that, the Senior Advocates of Nigeria have been functional at valedictory ceremonies where showing off in the biggest of cars,  and flaunting round of wealth, is the vogue while the nation sinks, than in developing the law for the benefit of our country. Let me emphasize the point once again that, irrespective of status, no Nigerian lawyer or Judge who has not exemplified himself has justification for criticising the Government for the acts of lawlessness we complain about; we aid and abet them. It is worrisome that in a Nigeria of our time, the State or State functionaries can still exercise power in what brought us to the state of outlawry just witnessed in the #EndSARS saga.

Divided Bar and Fixated BenchOne other problem of our time us that the Bar is divided with the result that equality before the law of both the litigants and the counsel before the law has been eroded. This is also affecting the development of law in Nigeria. I was at the Court of Appeal Abuja on Tuesday the 10th of November 2020. With virulence, the Presiding Judge (PJ) turned down my observation that the absence of the 2nd Respondent was not critical to the hearing of the appeal. He said he was disappointed the way senior members of the Bar stand up to say….’ According to him, Is that the standard? You are supposed to guide us…I know you very well Mr. Esezoobo, you are a senior member of the Bar… You saw what happened with the Senior Advocates that just left..’.  And I said ‘My Lords,  I would not like to disappoint you. I thought I could guide you. And I will…’, No, no, no. Do not waste our time’, concluded the PJ.

.And the Law Slipped
Now,  in the Senior Advocates’ case, three parties signed Terms of settlement which was to be made judgment of the court. But while two of the parties were present through the two SANs, the third was absent. And the PJ aptly observed that it was necessary for the 3rd party to be present before the judgment could be entered. But in my own case, the 2nd respondent was a non-disputing garnishee who filed affidavit to show cause admitting the fact in 2014 and subsequently paying us the fund upon the order absolute. But the judgment debtor appealed the order absolute. Parties exchanged briefs, the 2nd respondent filed no brief, of course for obvious reason. Thus, the point of law sought to be impressed was that unlike in the two SAN’s case, the 2nd respondent  being a discharged garnishee, had no interest in the appeal requiring it’s hearing. Moreover, only a brief duly filed, were the garnishee a disputing one, could have   been the basis on which the 2nd Respondent could have been a party entitled to a hearing notice’ the failure of service of which would nullify the proceeding. Thus, the refusal of hearing robbed the court of the opportunity of the guidance I wanted to impress to distinguish the cases and move forward.

While therefore, congratulating you on your elevation to the Inner Bar, I like to appeal that you use your new status to influence a positive change in our legal practice, a change necessary to reposition the legal profession. May you all long enjoy the honour of the new status; bestowed by God. 

Johnson Odion Esezoobo Esq, could be reached via-: +#234803 320 0595