SAN-ship Rank: Opening the Can of Worms by Abdulrasheed Ibrahim

Abdulrasheed Ibrahim

There is no doubt that the Senior Advocate of Nigeria [SAN] is the most prestigious title in the Legal Profession that every lawyer will be very anxious to have. If you become a SAN today, your status changes as a lawyer because you become an automatic member of what is known as the INNER BAR. By this you have a privilege of having your cases being called first before other lawyers in court. If the Supreme Court being the apex court in the land arrives at crossroads in a very serious case before it, you may be among the senior lawyers to invite by the court as AMICUS CURIAE to give opinions before delivering a judgement in the case. Many years back, I was in a court where a very senior lawyer who was a former branch Chairman of NBA on one side and an old Professor of law on the other side who were both not Senior Advocates were having a trial session in the court, but when a young Senior Advocate strolled into the court around 12:00 PM when the trial was going on, the trial judge had to suspend the trial and attended to the case of the Senior Advocate. This is to let you know how powerful the title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria is.

In the bid to become the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), some lawyers have or are now embarking on act and conduct that is threatening the words NOBLE PROFESSION that the legal profession is known for by the general public. Few years back in an article titled EXAMINING THE NBA PRACTICING FEES published in the Daily Independent Newspaper of 14th March 2013, I asserted:

“The reality on the ground today is that the Legal Profession in Nigeria has become a big kind of cow that only very few of its members are milking the cow. The other day I overheard some lawyers complaining that some companies in Nigeria have declared members of the Outer Bar persona non granta in their companies, that is to say if you are not members of the Inner Bar (SANs) no any legal brief for you. Perhaps this is more the reason why every lawyer is desperate to become Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).There are applicants for the rank who are even ready to pay any price for it including buying judgments from their colleagues to boost the number of cases to be submitted to the Legal Practitioner Privilege Committee so as to have the title conferred on them.”

When I made the above assertion, some of our colleagues seemed not to be comfortable with this home truth, but I believe with the recent revelation by Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, I have again been justified. When swearing the new set of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria during the Supreme Court 2018/2019 legal year, the CJN said:

“I have to point out that the fact that in the just concluded exercise, some applicants were found to have engaged in dishonourable conduct such as forgery of judgment, resulting in their being reported to the police for investigation and possible prosecution. We have to know that if one is not for any reason qualified to wear silk as judicial officers, he cannot wear it as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.”

When we are complaining of politicians manufacturing fake certificates to claim what they are not, it is very unfortunate that some lawyers could descend so low to engage in dishonourable conduct such as forgery of judgment for desperation to earn silk. If this kind of thing is happening, then how do you condemn or dismiss with the wave of hand those who are agitating for the abolition of the rank. Not long ago I quoted the Editor of the Courtroom Mail as saying:

“In August 2009 at the Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association in Lagos, he (Pa. Tunji Gomez) moved a historic motion to abolish the status of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Many lawyers embraced it and the revolution began like the Arab spring.”

A lot of privileges that go with the rank have made it to be very attractive to every lawyer. While there is nothing bad in aspiring to be one, carrying the aspiration beyond what is reasonable must be strongly condemned and discouraged. While some lawyers who actually deserve the rank may perspire before they could get it, it may not be so for others. If either of your parents or your uncle or aunty who is prominent and being a holder of the title or Justices of the appellate court and you are equally involved in the practice of law, your road to the rank may not be as rough as that of the likes of the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) as captured in the LEGAL LUMINARIES:

“Gani’ s road to the rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria was not a smooth or easy one. He first applied for the conferment in 1980 but he was turned down. He applied again in 1984 but was given a condition that if he withdrew all the cases he instituted in court against the bigwigs in the profession he would be admitted into the inner bar. Gani fired back politely in his words: ‘So I stood up, and I said thank you my lord .I said I am doing this on principle and there is no way I can compromise the principle .I am not fighting the cases to win or lose .But to ensure that certain principles are established even as I attempt to do this, if I lose the SAN, so be it. But I cannot withdraw the cases, the SAN can be taken back.’ .Thus he lost the battle and thereafter refused to apply for the rank again until several years later when pressures were mounted on him by people from all works of life including his mother which according to Gani himself he bowed to the demand: ‘So, with this pressure from judges, friends and lawyers in my chambers, I decided to apply’. And that same year 2001, Gani was conferred with the rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria.”

Unlike the Gani’s experience, another thing that is very clear in the race for the SAN-SHIP is that we cannot rule out the fact that a lawyer that has good rapport with the government of the day may easy make it to the rank.

The latest report from the National Judicial Commission (NJC) wherein two Federal judges have been recommended for outright dismissal from the bench must continue be a great lesson for those still in the system. The report has shown the high volumes of petitions that trooped to the commission against judicial officers. It also shows that many people including lawyers wrote frivolous petitions against judicial officers that were found to lack merit and threw overboard while some officers got cleared. While some officers were given stern warning some are still going to face more investigations. There was a case of a lawyer recommended for disciplinary action for writing unsubstantiated petition against a judicial officer. A judge who was involved in faking his age and ought to have retired was sent packing and asked to refund the salary excess he has collected. There are a lot of lessons for all of us to learn from the said report because he who does not learn from history will surely become the victim of history.


On 3rd October 2018, the Supreme Court of Nigeria had a valedictory session in honour of Hon. Justice Dennis Onyejife Edozie (CON), the late retired Supreme Jurist who departed the world on 18th August 2018. Valedictory Session may be held by the Supreme Court for any of its Jurists on two different occasions and that is when a jurist is retiring from the Supreme Court bench or on the departure of a jurist to the great beyond. Hon. Justice Edozie was a great jurist who was elevated to the Supreme Court on 6th January 2003.He made his mark at the apex court where in left behind several judgments that have stood the test of time before he retired upon reaching the statutory retirement of 70 in 2005 .The LAW PRACTICE KIT shows below one of the REMARKABLE PRONOUNCEMENTS of this great late jurist. As the jurist finally departs the world, we commiserate and console the Legal Profession particularly the Supreme Court as well as the family of the departed Jurist. Adieu Hon. Justice Dennis Onyejife Edozie (CON).



“Similarly, the defence of laches and acquiescence do not avail the appellants as there was evidence accepted by the trial court that the appellant was duly warned when he commenced to dig the foundation for the erection of his building. This case underscores the need for any developer to satisfy himself with the validity of the title of the land on which he proposes to erect a building as the erection of a 6 storey building on land based on defective title can lead to the disastrous consequence of the developer losing the building to the owner of the land on the principle expressed in latin maxim as quic quid plantatur solo solo cedit, meaning whatever is affixed to the soil belongs to the soil. This is the unfortunate position in which the appellant has found himself.”

Per EDOZIE JSC in Owie Vs. Ighiwi (2005) ALL FWLR (Pt. 248) Pg. 1794 Paras E-G


On remedy available to client not satisfied with his counsel

“The well laid down position of the law is that when counsel is briefed to handle a case and he accepts the brief, he has authority to decide within his own knowledge of the law how to conduct the case, and the client is bound by how the counsel conducts the case. The remedy open to the client if he is not satisfied with counsel is to withdrawal the brief or sue for professional negligence if that appears to be the case.”

See NGERE Vs. OKURUKET “XIV” (2014) 3 PNLR Pg. 125 Para G

For more Settled Principles of Law and Remarkable Pronouncements from our Supreme Court Jurists from 1956-2016, obtain or order for your copies of LAW PRACTICE KIT and LEGAL LUMINARIES. Call or text 08055476823, 08164683735 or Your library is incomplete without these books.

7th October 2018

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