Fred Ogundu-Osondu LLB (Nig.), BL.
“Since assumption of office, the Attorney-General of the Federation has continued to go rogue, from his disobedience to court order, to his lackluster prosecution, to his outright failure to prosecute, to allegations of corruption and bias against his person, to usurpation of office, to shielding of suspects, to his general dereliction of duty. This time, the AGF has decided to take his imprudence to top notch by unilaterally deleting the provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct which provide for stamp and seal as well as bar practicing fee for government lawyers. The AGF does not have such power. Section 12(4) of the LPA gives the General Council of the Bar power to make such amendment and make other decisions concerning the NBA. There is no record of any meeting convened by the Attorney General of the Federation who is the president of the Bar Council. The AGF took the decision alone and his actions constitute a threat to the rule of law. His action is totally shameful and is undeserving of a lawyer in the rank of a Senior Advocate, let alone, a Chief Law Officer of the Federation.”
With keen interest I watched as this proposition by a colleague of mine has circulated since its publication, as a “petition” to strip the HAGF, Abubakar Malami SAN, of the hallowed rank of SAN for his latest unlawful act of unilaterally amending the Rules of Professional Conduct for legal practitioners.
First of all, if the facts stated in this petition are true, then I am of the firm position that the Honourable AGF has erred in law and in his official capacity as the Chairman of the General Bar Council. That is to say, if the Honourable AGF unilaterally amended the RPC without doing so in concert with the General Council of the Bar, his actions are ab initio, wrong in the eyes of the law, and any Judge who knows his onions would not waste a minute in moving the entire document to the judicial crematorium, as it is dead on arrival already; except if the AGF does the needful by promptly withdrawing the said amended version of the Rules of Professional Conduct and passing the same through the required procedure of AMENDMENT or change under SECTION 12(4) of the LPA.
The justified fight for the Rule of Law in Nigeria is one of the most important agitations in Nigeria, as we have helplessly witnessed a lot of unchecked usurpation and abuse of powers, especially by the executive arm of the government and its agents in very recent times. However, in reacting and attempting to check these excesses, we must do so, riding on the wings of the law, or else, the effect of our efforts might be the same as throwing a pebble in a lake- ripples that disappear as soon as they appear.
I acknowledge that the idea of incorporating technology into activism is one which is welcome all over the world, and has been vital to several societal changes all over the world, from Europe to Middle East to Beijing and many other places. As a matter of fact, the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement received so much support, despite the global pandemic, due to the role technology played in the agitation to get justice for Gorge Floyd and the entire black community in United States of America as a whole. Therefore, it is certain that our agitation for the rule of law in Nigeria and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) specifically would immensely benefit from the use of technology and the social media.
However, it is unclear how the petition started by my learned friend, Izu Aniagu will affect the validity of the new Rules of Professional Conduct 2020 or the discipline of the error of the Attorney-General of the Federation. I would therefore categorically state that the said petition would at best, have a persuasive effect against the actions of the HAGF. Now, persuasion is good, but it is not final. It cannot reverse the current Rules of Professional Conduct 2020 to the status quo ante or strip the HAGF of his title/rank as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
The right thing to be done, especially by the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association is to file a suit for a judicial review of the actions of the Attorney-General of the Federation, praying for a Declaration that the purported amendment is void, as it was made without recourse to due process. If his actions can be interpreted as an abuse of the powers vested in him as Attorney-General of the Federation, then an actual petition can be lodged against him before the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. If the LPDC finds him guilty of professional misconduct, then the LEGAL PRACTITIONERS PRIVILEGES COMMITTEE may withdraw the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria from him. This was clearly stated in No. 5 of the GUIDELINES FOR THE CONFERMENT OF THE RANK OF SENIOR ADVOCATE OF NIGERIA, 2007. However, let us keep it in mind that the HAGF is the Chairman of the LPDC. The only other ground is if he is convicted for any offence that in the opinion of the LPPC is incompatible with the honour and dignity of the holder of the rank of SAN as an offence relating to breach of trust, theft or other offence involving fraud or dishonesty. Again, the HAGF is the Chief Law Officer of the federation, and may not allow such prosecution to see the light of day, as he is clothed with the constitutional powers of nolle prosequi.
What is worth doing is worth doing well, and so I suggest that if a petition is to be lodged, it should be lodged at the appropriate quarters, OFFICIALLY. This online petition, though well-conceived, may only produce persuasive results. Still, I congratulate my learned friend, Izu Aniagu for the bold step; it may not yield the change we need, but it is an identifiable part of the process, especially in modern times.