A distinctive feature of Legal Practice in Nigeria consists in the fusion of practice. Thus, unlike their British counterparts, who may only practise as either solicitors or barristers, Legal Practitioners in Nigeria may practise both as solicitors and as barristers.
Legal Practice in Nigeria is governed chiefly by the Legal Practitioners Act CAP L11 LFN 2004 and the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007, a subsidiary legislation made thereunder.
Section 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act 2004 enacts in succinct terms that a “legal practitioner means a person entitled in accordance with the provisions of this Act to practise as a barrister and solicitor either generally or for the purposes of any particular office or proceedings”.
Flowing from the interpretation hereinabove reproduced, it becomes clear that a Legal Practitioner in Nigeria may either practise generally or for the purposes of any particular office or proceedings.
To be entitled to practice generally in Nigeria, one must be duly called to the Nigeria Bar after presenting his qualifying certificate and must in addition have his name enrolled in the Supreme Court. One can also practice generally in Nigeria on being enrolled by virtue of the regulation made by the Attorney General of the Federal pursuant to Section 7(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act. A fortiori, to be entitled to practice generally in Nigeria, one must be enrolled in the Supreme Court.
The second category of Legal Practitioners in Nigeria encompasses those who are entitled to practise for the purposes of a particular office or particular proceedings. In the former sub-category, Legal Practitioners employed by the government as legal offices fall within this mould. It equally embraces persons who are not necessarily Legal Practitioners but who are occupying some offices and who are permitted to represent such offices only in legal matters including judicial proceedings. Here, Section 2(3)(b) of the Legal Practitioners Act authorizes the Attorney General of the Federation or of a state to by order specify such offices in the civil service of the Federation. In this regard, see Entitlement to Practise as Barristers and Solicitors (Federal Officers) Order 1963 made pursuant to Section 2(3)(b) of the Legal Practitioners Act. This category of Legal Practitioners are however hardly seen today in the Nigerian legal space.
The latter sub-category viz persons who are entitled to practise for purposes of a particular proceeding envisions persons who may by warrant of the Chief Justice of Nigeria represent a litigant in a specified proceeding in court. Such a proceeding is normally stated in the warrant. See Section 2(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act.
The point to be noted before we proceed is that persons entitled to practice by virtue of Sections (2(3) b and 2(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act must not be enrolled to be entitled to practice.
The Supreme Court however in the celebrated case of Okafor v. Nweke (2007) 10 NWLR (Pt 1043) 521 wherein the apex court decided on the propriety of signing a court process with the name of a firm made some pronouncements which in our humble view do not represent an accurate restatement of the law.
With the greatest respect to the Learned Justices of the apex court who were empanelled in Okafor v. Nweke (Supra) it is respectfully submitted that the Supreme Court did not state the law as it stands when it held that a person whose name is not on the roll of Legal Practitioners cannot practise law in any form in Nigeria. In the said case, it was stated per Onnoghen JSC (as he then was) thus:
“The combined effect of the above provisions is that for a person to be qualified to practice as a legal practitioner, he must have his name in the roll otherwise he cannot engage in any form of legal practice in Nigeria”.
As observed earlier, persons entitled to practise by virtue of Sections 2(3)(b) and 2(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act must not be enrolled to practise.
Under Section 2(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act, a Legal Practitioner who is thereunder entitled to practice for the purposes of a particular proceedings by warrant under the hand of the Chief Justice is only required to pay a sum not exceeding N50 (Fifty Naira) to the Registrar.
Persons who are entitled to practise by virtue of Section 2(3)(b) of the Legal Practitioners Act are not even required to be Legal Practitioners let alone have their names on the roll.
Those who must be enrolled to practise are those entitled to practise generally pursuant to Sections 2(1) and 7(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act.
It is our humbly submission that the position taken by the apex court in Okafor v. Nweke (Supra) cannot be applied to exclude those who in law are entitled to practise as Legal Practitioners in Nigeria. The decision in Okafor v. Nweke should only be understood to apply to persons entitled to practise generally in Nigeria.
Napoleon Umoh Esq
Writes from Lagos