The ease with which these fakes do their business in courts is unprecedented and sometimes keeps one wondering whether the judiciary is closely knitted enough to ward off the activities of fake lawyers in the country.
Although a number of these fake lawyers have been arrested, arraigned and jailed, the development has not stopped those who earn their living through illegal acts from perpetrating the act.
Three years ago, an Igbosere Magistrate’s Court in Lagos sentenced a 74-year-old Ghanaian, Keinde Dodo, to five years’ imprisonment for pretending to be a lawyer and representing litigants in courts in Nigeria for 15 years.
Magistrate O.O. Martins did not give Dodo an option of fine but sentenced him to jail with hard labour. The Ghanaian pleaded guilty to the five-count charge on arraignment and that evidence before the court showed that he committed the crime.
The septuagenarian pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, forgery, stealing, escape from lawful custody and falsely representing litigants on February 10, 2012.
The prosecutor, ASP Goddy Emenogor, said Dodo was arrested following a complaint by Mr. Daniel Onwu that the fake lawyer defrauded him of N1 million.
Last year, the police at Ojokoro Division arrested a 34-year-old man who had been parading himself as a legal practitioner in Lagos State.
Interestingly, the suspect, Mathew Olayeye, was arrested at Ojokoro Magistrate’s Court where he was facing another criminal charge.
His arrest was said to be sequel to a report by Barrister Seyi Olawumi, the General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Ikeja branch, Lagos, that he was an impostor and the police promptly responded and arrested him at the court and detained him at their station for investigation.
Olayeye was said to have appeared before Magistrate Olayinka as a counsel in a matter which attracted suspicion among the lawyers present at the court, who contacted the chapter’s NBA which has been trailing the fake lawyer.
Olawumi disclosed that the NBA had received several reports concerning Olayeye’s activities and NBA members were told to report to the NBA executives whenever he was found.
Olayeye was in court where he was facing a criminal matter bordering on fraud on the day he was arrested by the police.
The fake lawyer was alleged to have issued a senator a dud cheque and was charged with the alleged offence.
Olayeye, who confessed to the police on interrogation, was later charged to court for impersonation.
Early this year, a man who has been impersonating lawyers in Akure was arrested by members of the Nigerian Bar Association in the city.
The fake lawyer, Olaoluwa Joseph appeared as a lawyer before Chief Magistrate Olarenwaju Adesanmi in Akure.
He reportedly dressed in a lawyer’s suit and sat at the bar before he was apprehended after signing lawyers’ attendance register for the day.
A lawyer in the court, Mr. Olomoniyo Oluwabunmi, alerted the presiding magistrate that Joseph who sat at the bar and had been appearing before the court was not a lawyer.
Policemen at the Area Commander’s office, Akure, who were immediately called to investigate the case, searched the fake lawyer’s house and discovered a bail bond he used to secure court bail for accused persons.
He made confessional statement to the police and was later arraigned at Chief Magistrate’s Court, Oke Eda, Akure, on a two count- charge of unlawful possession of lawyers’ bail bond and falsely representing himself as a lawyer before Chief Magistrate’s Court, Ondo Road, Akure.
In 2013, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) under the leadership of Okey Wali, SAN, inaugurated a 13-man committee to enforce the Stamp and Seal Policy of the association in order to differentiate authentic lawyers from fake ones.
Mr. Wali said the committee was mandated by the association to publicise and educate members, who had fulfilled the requirements to operate as lawyers, on the Stamp and Seal policy.
He said the committee also had the mandate of identifying fake lawyers through identification by seal and maintaining an accurate members’ directory through the information contained in the application form for the seal.
He further said the committee is also mandated to ensure that lawyers in practice paid their practicing fees annually, adding that the seal would be renewed annually upon proof of payment of practicing fees.
The outburst of the CJN penultimate week over rising number of fake lawyers in the country may have arisen out of the inadequacies of the Stamp and Seal policy to nip the activities of fake lawyers in the country in the bud.
Justice Mahmud Mohammed, was reported to have bemoaned that the prevalence of fake lawyers negatively affects the integrity of the legal profession and casts a shadow of disrepute on the judiciary as an arm of government in the country.
According to him, one of the major challenges facing judges today, “is how to differentiate between a “real” and “fake” legal practitioner”.
The CJN said: “Indeed, judges find it difficult to identify which counsel, appearing before them, is genuine or otherwise.
“Of even greater concern is the fact that members of the public are often left in a quandary over who they can place their trust, property and even lives in.
“We must not forget that the credibility of the bar has a direct impact on respect for the rule of law and the independence of the courts.
“This is why it is our collective responsibility to ensure that the stamp is used as a veritable means of authenticating a qualified legal practitioner and the documents emanating from him.
“I believe that the stamp can, if properly deployed, become a hallmark of a firm’s work and a way for prospective clients to better identify their counsel – a veritable means to “Know Your Counsel”.
Some lawyers, who spoke with our correspondent expressed displeasure over the rising level of fake lawyers in the country, saying it impugns on the credibility and image of the legal profession in the country.
Lagos lawyer, Barrister Festus Keyamo was of the opinion that fake lawyers are bad commentary on the legal profession in Nigeria, which prides itself in professionalism and good conduct.
He said that the current executive of the Nigerian Bar Association is up to the task to nip in the bud activities that could bring the image of the bar into the mud.
The issue also agitates the Alegeh-led Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), hence he is fine-tuning the area of the Stamp and Seal policy to nail quack or fake lawyers, as well as ensures that clients have in-depth knowledge of the counsel they intend to contract for legal services.
Alegeh said that “affidavits have become so abused that it is possible for a deponent to file an affidavit in court declaring himself dead!”
The proliferation of quacks in the legal profession, according to the NBA President, Austine Alegeh, has reached an unbearable limit.
“ We have left our doors so wide open that even foreign lawyers are practicing law in Nigeria in clear breach of the provisions of the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap L11 LFN, 2004. The introduction of the NBA-approved seal would address this problem,” he said.
This would also trickle down to the state chapters of the NBA, which would task their members to be on the alert for fake lawyers in their areas.
Stakeholders are of the opinion that the war against fake lawyers in the country is the collective responsibility of all and sundry.
They urged the bar to cooperate with the bench and multi-sectoral disciplines to get the quacks out of the temple of justice in the country, especially now that Nigeria is beginning a new dawn in governance.
The Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007 makes it mandatory for every legal document signed and filed by a lawyer to bear a stamp and seal approved by the Nigerian Bar Association. This requirement of law necessitated the recent decision of the NBA to provide adhesive paper stamps for lawyers.
“These stamps will only be issued to verified lawyers who have paid their Bar Practicing fees at the cost of N4,000 (Four Thousand Naira only) per pack of 120 stamps. The stamps are valid for one year only (1st April – 31st March yearly) and have distinctive high quality security features which make duplication and forgery close to impossible.
“The stamps are specially designed to bear the name and enrolment number of each lawyer. It is instructive to note that prior to this moment, there was no way of verifying the authenticity of legal documents said to have been prepared by lawyers. The introduction of the NBA stamp will address and resolve this issue and all documents which bear this stamp will prima facie be deemed to have emanated from the lawyer whose details are contained therein,” the NBA president said.
He said further that the NBA National Executive Committee approved the provision of two colours of the stamps – green and red. The green stamps will be issued to lawyers who are in private legal practice while the red stamps will be issued to lawyers in the public practice. The design and all the security feature of stamps are the same.