This is a Report of a Survey carried out in 2017 by Professor Ernest Ojukwu, SAN, among a cross section of Nigerian Lawyers, on the top ethical issues which they want to be tackled in the legal profession, in order to achieve improvements in the profession.
For more than ten years, I was deeply involved in the drafting of the Rules of Professional Conduct for legal practitioners and the conduct of many sensitization workshops on the Rules under the Institute of Continuing Legal Education and other ethics workshops under the auspices of the NBA Academic Forum and NBA Branch programmes. At these programmes lawyers complained of and listed many ethical challenges facing the legal profession. I also over these years collated many examples of indiscipline and ethical challenges at the Bar as stated by practitioners, public servants and members of the public which are all in the public domain such as the newspapers and on the internet. There have been calls for the legal profession especially the Bar to look inwards and tackle/stem the tide of indiscipline and unethical conduct among its members.
See for example the Nation’s (Newspaper) report of December 18, 2012 that NBA restates commitment to anti-corruption war (http://thenationonlineng.net/nba-restates-commitment-to-anti-corruption-war/) at the December 9, 2012 workshop- the International Anti-Corruption Day on the theme “Act against corruption today” organized by the Nigerian Bar Association at the Rockview Hotel, Abuja to mark the day. Excerpts of contributions at the mini conference are shown below:
Okey Wali, SAN (President NBA) :
Members of the Bar have a seminal role in this new initiative and should not subvert justice by prolonging trials through frustrating applications, including adjournments. The NBA calls on its members to promote professionalism, by shunning sharp practices in the interest of their client, against the society, as part of their contribution to the crusade against corruption.
YUSUF ALI (SAN) said:
“This is a day that represents a shift from what it used to be with us. It represents a day that shows that the NBA is ready and willing to give the battle against corruption its all. The NBA is also showing a signal that corruption in any strata of the Nigerian society is not going to be tolerated, whether it is among the profession itself, its staff and the generality of Nigerians”.
Ali (SAN) said:
“From the tone of the speech of our president, and the little comment that I made on that day, it is now clear that there is unanimity among NBA members even among our members who commented to start from within. We must ensure that lawyers themselves are corruption free”.
“The battle against corruption has started and we are starting from among ourselves. So, any lawyer who believes that corruption is the only way he could make it, should have a rethink and may be, join another profession”.
Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama SAN said:
“Well, it is a good thing that the NBA has equally keyed into the scheme of things using this platform to talk about corruption and fighting corruption. It is indeed a very good beginning, because we have had a kind of self appraisal, a kind of soul searching and we are being self critical”.
“ I believe that this is a good starting point, but we have to go beyond this to make sure that we fight it, not just from the lips, but from the bottom of our hearts and show 3
leadership by example. Those of us that are found to be corrupt, whether they are lawyers or judges should be seen to be punished and it is only then that the public would have confidence and faith in us as lawyers”.
“If lawyers and the legal profession do not fight corruption, then no other agency, or organ of the government or group of persons would fight corruption more than the lawyers because of the nature of our profession, the nature of our training, our experience and exposure. So, I think that the starting point is the lawyers and the judges because the complaint is everywhere, the searchlight has been in our courts against lawyers but lawyers should be seen to be living above board. This will be major plus for Nigeria as a country”.
Dr. Garba Tetengi (SAN) said:
“ I am optimistic, I believe that we all know the problems, so we should begin to look at how we can deal with this cankerworm”
“Well as the chairman has said and I associate myself with it there is a need to look inwards, possible organise a workshop or colloquium in order to sit down and address these problems at the very local level and see how we can make progress. Corruption is an endemic concept, it begins from the house. In fact, it is the culture of impunity that has been inculcated from time, therefore there is a need for us to fight it from all angles”.
M.U. Ibrahim (Jam-Jam):
“We can get rid of corruption by the NBA being very strict on our members, by seriously dealing those found to be corrupt among us, whoever is found wanting should be dealt with, there are no two ways about it.”
At a similar workshop organized by the Nigerian Bar Association, in collaboration with the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACC) in Abuja in July 2016, the Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Mahmud Mohammed through Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun was reported to have urged members of the bar to examine themselves, with a view to developing workable ways to curb corruption and charged them to look inward as individuals in the system, and collectively as a body, to improve the legal system. “You have a role to play as an individual and it is when we all change our attitudes that we can see it reflect in the society. “No doubt, the legal profession is crucial in the maintenance of a high quality of justice delivery within the justice system and such success or failure of our fight against corruption will depend on our willingness to take the right ethical path,” the chief justice was quoted as saying. According to the statement, the theme of the workshop was “Anti-Corruption, Ethics of the Legal Profession and Justice Sector”.
Statement of the Problem
The purpose of this study was to determine the response of lawyers to tackling ethical challenges within the profession in order of priority.
Significance of the Study
Everyone whether lawyer or non lawyer will benefit from this study. First the study has given lawyers an opportunity to give a voice to their concerns as it relates to ethical challenges within the legal 4 profession. This in turn gives the legal profession and its leadership a tool to work with at deploying its resources towards tackling the ethical challenges. The study also creates openness and transparency which in turn builds trust among members and consumers of legal services if the Bar sincerely begins to work to tackle the ethical challenges. People/Organisations will be ready to assist the legal profession begin to solve the problems.
Scope of the Study
This study was limited to the perceptions of lawyers from all sectors and from all geographical zones.
Method of Study
Data for this study were collected using a survey form developed by the reporter. The list of ethical issues listed in the survey form was based on the experience and research of the reporter. See “Introduction” above. The survey form had a list of 45 ethical challenges and issues and each respondent was asked to tick only five ethical issues they wished the bar to tackle immediately. The survey forms were administered face to face at lawyers meetings and conferences across the country between May and October 2017. The Bar meetings where the survey forms were distributed were: Afikpo Bar Meeting, FIDA conference Port Harcourt, Young Lawyers group Uyo, Bar meeting Enugu, Bar Abakiliki, and at the Annual Conference of the NBA Lagos. One thousand forms were given out but only 578 were returned.
Limitations of the Study
This study may be limited through the use of survey form as a data collection instrument. Main reason being that the list of ethical challenges on the form was based on the reporters own experience and research. Some of the issues listed may also be similar to each other.
Findings and Conclusion
The findings have been aggregated in the table below. Respondents indicated that the top 5 ethical issues or challenges they want tackled by the bar/legal profession are:
1. Bribery of Judges
2. Delay tactics in court/using litigation as an instrument of delay/delayed trials/file frivolous applications to delay trials or executions or proceedings
3. Bribery of court personnel for processes
4. Lawyers’ active role in disobeying court orders/blocking enforcement of orders and judgments
5. Rudeness to other colleagues/Impolite attitude
See Table below.
Prof Ernest Ojukwu, SAN
23RD January 2017