The NBA President’s Trial: I See No Attack On the Legal Profession, By J. S. Okutepa
We must stop whipping up sentiment. The legal profession is a noble one. It does not encourage conduct that aids or abets wrong. The charge I read does not attempt to regulate the fees charge… The charge seems to question the propriety of a lawyer being paid from government coffers for a brief done for a private citizen.
I read the news being circulated on social media by Mr. Olakunle Edu to the effect that the planned arraignment of Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN) will be an assault on the unity and nobility of Nigerian lawyers. He wrote thus:
“ASSAULT ON THE LEGAL PROFESSION MUST STOP.
Good morning colleagues.
Is the EFCC’s persecution of the NBA President not an attempt to test the unity and brotherhood of the bar? Of course there is a bigger issue here: policing the fees lawyers charge clients. Therefore, the persecution is not primarily targeted at the person of Paul Usoro, SAN. It goes beyond the President. It is an attack on the sanctity of the age-long immutable and judicially established doctrine of lawyer-client privilege.
The NBA President represents an institution and it is that institution that is being targeted. It happened to the Judiciary and we thought we were spared. They tried it with Mike Ozekhome, SAN and E.B. Ukiri (former NBA 1st Vice President).
No government agency has the power to regulate fees charged by members of any profession. Lawyers have the right to take up briefs pro bono or also charge any amount. It is equally the right of the client to reject or accept the terms of engagement. Third parties have no locus standi in contractual matters. They are meddlesome Interlopers.
Should we allow EFCC to continue this persecution? Today, it is the NBA President; tomorrow it may be used as a precedent to launch criminal investigations into fees charged by members of the Nigerian Medical Profession, ICAN, NSE and other professional bodies.
Do we stand aloof or sit on the fence and allow such brazen intrusion on our privileges? Do professionals now allow external regulation of professional fees or we should investigate the sources of fees paid to us by their clients for services rendered, before accepting the fees? Do we continue to say, as lawyers, we are not individually affected?”
The issues involving Mr. Usoro (SAN) have been turned over to the judicial arm of government. We should and must have confidence in the judicial process. Taking to the social media to campaign as it were, that Mr. Paul Usoro SAN is being persecuted, with respect, amounts to interference with the judicial process.
With the greatest respect to Mr. Olakunle Edu, his write up is ladden with sentiments and the whipping of emotions and it failed to address core issues of law and ethics of the legal profession. First, there is no attack on the noble profession. We must stop whipping up sentiment. The legal profession is a noble one. It does not encourage conduct that aids and abets wrongs. The charge I read does not attempt to regulate the fees charge. The charge does not try to intrude into client-lawyer relationships. The charge seems to question the propriety of a lawyer being paid from government coffers for a brief done for a private citizen. Whether that is right or not can only be decided by the court to which the matter has been turned over to.
The charge wants to know whether what was done was right or wrong. I believe what is wrong is wrong and no amount of baptismal colouration can give a wrong the the true meaning of right. We must be ready to learn and get precedents. The only institution that can set binding precedents is the judiciary.
I get worried when as lawyers we play to the public gallery and ignore the real issues. I am not going to allow myself or any other right thinking members of the Bar to be dragged into purely what is Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN)’s personal issue with security agents. The issues of fees he allegedly collected for the alleged briefs he did for his clients are or were not done in the cause of his duty when he started occupying the seat of the president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). This issue was there before he put himself forward for NBA election.
Even the election that led to his being declared NBA president is still subject of both ethical and criminal controversies. As lawyers, we must avoid sentiments. Sentiments command no place in legal proceedings. I have said before and I say here again that as lawyers we must live above board. As lawyers, we have no immunity in our clients-lawyers relationships if and when crime is alleged to have been involved in the cause of that relationship. As lawyers we must respect judicial process.
The issues involving Mr. Usoro (SAN) have been turned over to the judicial arm of government. We should and must have confidence in the judicial process. Taking to the social media to campaign as it were, that Mr. Paul Usoro SAN is being persecuted, with respect, amounts to interference with the judicial process. The court before which he has been arraigned is the only competent authority that can make the pronouncements. Those who believe in his innocence can join the legal team to present his case in court. I do not see his arraignment as harrassment of the Bar or Nigerian lawyers. Nigerian lawyers have to obey the law of the land.
The only persons who, by my limited knowledge of law, have immunity from criminal and civil prosecution, while in the office, are the president, vice president of Nigeria and governors and deputy governors of the states in Nigeria. As lawyers, we owe a duty of respect to and obedience to the rule of law and due process. I say no more.
J.S. Okutepa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), wrote from Abuja.