KUNLE Olasanmi unravels why male lawyers dominate the cadre of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, while their female counterparts continue hold the shorter end of the stick.
For every lawyer called to the Nigerian Bar upon his/her graduation from the Nigerian Law School, the dream is to get to the peak of the career, which include earning the position of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN.
There indeed worries among both male and female lawyers over the highly disproportionate ratio of male lawyer SANs to that of women.
The first woman in the Nigerian legal profession to be conferred with the title was Mrs. Folake Solanke, decorated in 1981. Since them, only very few women have been conferred with the title.
Every year, while more than 20 male lawyers are awarded the rank, only about one or two female lawyers make the mark.
According to one of the member of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee LPPC, which awards the honour, more male lawyers apply for the title than their female counterparts.
“The women folk need to step up their game. They should apply more. And if I may add, it is just not enough to apply, they must step up their game in order to meet up with the criteria,” he said.
In this year’s selection by the LPPC, only one woman made the list of 30 lawyers awarded the title.
Mrs. Oluwatoyin Bashorun, emerged as the only female lawyer, approved for the legal honour among just only four female lawyers that applied.
According to the chief registrar of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the secretary of the LPPC, Hadizatu Uwani Mustapha, only four women applied for the rank this year. She further revealed that156 candidates applied for the prestigious honour this year, out of which 123 qualified for the first round of interview. According to her, 72 candidates proceeded to the final stage and 26 were admitted from the inner bar, while four were from the academic community.
She said those from the academic community included Prof. Adedeji Adekunle, the director general of the National Institute for Advanced and Legal Studies.
Barrister Wuma Abdullah, a women’s rights advocate, said the LPPC should consider more women for the award of SAN.
Abdullah notes that, “Very few women have been conferred with the rank since inception. I am also challenging the women to do more in their legal practice so that they can be qualified whenever they apply for the title.
”I may want to agree that women in the legal profession need to do more, if they are to be reckoned with. If I may also say, they should not also hide their good works. They should showcase it so that people will know that they can also compete favourably with their male counterparts.”
While there are concerns that female lawyers in the country may not be doing enough to be reckoned with for the award of SAN, it is observed that they have numerical preeminence in the magistrate positions of the bench. This presupposes that Nigerian female lawyers obviously have more liking to work for government than sweating it out in the field against their male professional colleagues.
The SAN elevation is annually conferred on Nigerian lawyers, who have distinguished themselves in the legal profession and have been practising actively for not less than 10 years and must have argued cases at the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land.
It is an honour conferred by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC), headed by the chief justice of Nigeria, CJN.
Other members of the committee are the attorney general of the federation, AGF, president of the Court of Appeal, chief judge of the Federal High Court, five SANs among other people) in line with Section 5(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act of 2004.
According to Section 5(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act, for a lawyer get the award, he must have achieved distinction in the legal profession in such a manner as the committee may from time to time determine.
The award started in 1975, modeled after the Queen of England’s Counsel rank, with its first conferment on Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams (popularly known as F.R.A. Williams) and Dr. Nabo Graham Douglas.
According to record, there are more than 70 000 lawyers in Nigeria as at last year. Out of this number, only 450 are Senior Advocates of Nigeria, including the 30 that was appointed this year. About 70 of the 450 SANs are, however, dead.
The number of the entire lawyers in the country and the 450 lawyers that have been conferred with the rank shows how coveted and prestigious the award is.
The criteria for meriting it are too strict for a vast majority of lawyers to meet, no doubt, the privileges that come with the position are enormous and appealing.
Some of the benefits a lawyer gets after becoming a senior advocate are more respectable and juicer briefs which lawyers in the lower rung of the ladder get. Senior Advocates of Nigeria earn much more respect among fellow lawyers in the bar and the bench and get to always present their case first in court when the opposing counsel is a junior lawyer.
It is worthy of note that the award can also be conferred on academics in law who have distinguished themselves and have made meaningful contributions to jurisprudence through research, teaching and published works in any reputable Nigerian university, research institute, Nigerian Law School and other recognized institutions.
Further considerations by the LPPC for the award of SAN are that the applicant must be a citizen of Nigeria; he must have a post-call standing of at least 10 years or if not a lawyer yet, read: ‘How to Become a Lawyer in Nigeria;’ must be of good character and of impeccable integrity; an applicant must register for the award with a non-refundable fee of N300 000 (Three hundred thousand naira).
Others are that he must submit to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee a list of 10 judges of superior courts of record before whom he has appeared and argued important cases. (The committee will select any three of those judges to give testimonial statements about the applicant.); he must also submit a list of colleagues with whom he has handled cases, (three of whom will be selected to give testimonial statements about him.); an applicant must submit the particulars of contested cases in which he personally handled: eight judgments of the High Court, six judgments of the Court of Appeal and three judgments of the Supreme Court; where he appeared only before the Supreme Court, he will be required to submit six judgments of the Supreme Court.
Others include that an applicant must show evidence of payment of practice fee and membership dues to his local branch of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for at least 10 years preceding the year of applying for the award of SAN; he must also show evidence of the payment of income tax for at least three years preceding his application; an applicant must show evidence of having rendered pro bono cases to indigent clients as a form of community service; for academics in law, at least 20 copies of outstanding published legal works must be presented to the committee; academics must also show that their works are published by reputable publishers whose reputation shall be assessed and determined by the academic sub-committee of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC).
Also the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) has a duty to inspect the applicant’s firm to assess: the size and quality of his library, the number and competence of staff and the space and quality of other facilities in the firm. From all the criteria, it is obvious that without hard work and discipline, it is difficult to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Every year, hundreds of ambitious lawyers apply but only a handful gets the honour.
It is obvious that the LPPC aims to preserve the prestige of the SAN honour and the profession at large by imposing stern restrictions.
After becoming an SAN, a lawyer can still be stripped of the title for misconducts pending the determination of any disciplinary action.
One of such cases is that of Chief Ajibola Aribisala SAN, who was suspended in 2013 from using his title for 20 months on allegations of flagrant breach of professional ethics and acceptable conduct. Former attorney-general of the federation, Chief Mike Aondoakaa and a few others have also been suspended from using the title for a period of time.