The President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN), on Wednesday apologised to the Supreme Court on behalf of some lawyers who criticised the apex court for halting the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki on charges of false assets declaration before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Alegeh tendered the apology during his address at the valedictory court session held at the Supreme Court complex in Abuja in honour of retiring Justice John Fabiyi, who attained the mandatory retirement age of 70 on Wednesday.
“We apologise on behalf of our colleagues who have been criticising this court in the media. We have written letters to the lawyers concerned to say it is unacceptable,” Alegeh said while ending his address at the occasion.
Some prominent Senior Advocates of Nigeria, including Prof. Itse Sagay, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo and Mr. Femi Falana, as well as another Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Jiti Ogunye, had led the debate on the ruling of the Supreme Court granting an order of stay of proceedings of Saraki’s trial before the CCT, describing the apex court’s ruling as illegal.
They faulted the ruling of the Supreme Court panel, which was led by retiring Justice Fabiyi, on the grounds that it contravened the provisions of sections 306 and 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, which abolished granting an order of stay of proceedings in criminal matters.
In their reaction to the apology tendered on their behalf by the NBA president, Sagay, Falana and Ogunye, said the apology was not for them as they had done nothing wrong to the Supreme Court.
Sagay said, “I have not got any letter from him. I don’t know what he himself has done. Definitely, I have not done anything for which to apologise. Again, I don’t want to be unfair to him, since you are reporting it.
“If he actually said he apologised on my behalf, I’m saying that may be he is making a mistake, he is apologising on behalf of himself. I have done nothing for him to apologise on my behalf.”
Also, Falana expressed surprise at the apology tendered on behalf of the lawyers by Alegeh, saying it was baseless.
He said, “I am flabbergasted to learn that the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Austin Alegeh, SAN, has apologised on behalf of those of us who have had cause to criticise the ruling of the Supreme Court on stay of proceedings. There was no basis whatsoever for the apology. I never offended the Supreme Court or any of its individual members for whom I have my profound respect.
“Instead of bellyaching over this matter, Mr. Aleghe ought to have tendered the apology on behalf of his friends who recently walked out of the Code of Conduct Tribunal after they had openly accused its members of engaging in “judicial rascality” for rightly dismissing the illegal application for the indefinite suspension of the trial of the defendant in the case of FRN v Dr. Bukola Saraki. Even though he is not a member of the Disciplinary Committee of the legal profession, Mr. Aleghe gave them a clean bill of health.
“Mr. Alegeh has never written any letter to me, either as the President of the NBA or in his personal capacity. If he eventually does I shall let him realise that in criticising the revered members of the Supreme Court I drew inspiration from the epochal words of Fabiyi J.C.A. (as he then was) in the case of Ekwenugo v. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2001) 6 NWLR (PT 708) 171 where his lordship observed inter alia:
“Nigerian judges do not operate in utopia. We operate in Nigeria. And no Nigerian judge can rightly claim he has not heard that Transparency International rates our nation-state as the most corrupt in the whole universe in the year 2000. This is ear-aching.”
Also, Ogunye described Alegeh’s apology as rather unfortunate.
He said, “The apology credited to the NBA president on this matter is rather unfortunate in so far as I am one of the lawyers that commented on the ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of Saraki and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“I want to believe that he didn’t have me in mind. Maybe he was talking about other lawyers and if he did have me in mind, the apology is for him and not me. And if I knew the other persons too well, I will also say that that the apology will not apply to them.”
Meanwhile, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim, who spoke on behalf of the Body of SANs at the valedictory court session, charged judges to report lawyers who tried to unduly influence them to appropriate authorities, saying such erring lawyers would be kicked out of the legal profession.
He said the body rejected any plan for the establishment of special courts to try corruption cases, saying that it would not solve the problems unless “judges who know the law and are conscious of their public functions” were in place.
Abdullahi said, “There are stories of counsel going around trying to influence the bench. I think the time has come for the judiciary and its members to stand up and be counted in the fight against corruption.
“I do not see any reason why judges should not report to the appropriate body any lawyer who goes beyond his professional calling and engages in acts calculated at perverting the course of justice.
“I am sure that the bar and the entire legal profession will not hesitate to show the counsel, irrespective of status, the way out.”
“I do not believe that we need any special court for corruption cases. The existing courts can effectively handle corruption trials if there is compliance with the practice direction made by the Chief Justice of Nigeria in 2013 and the new Administration of Justice Act.”
“One is tempted to ask, if we create a special court for the purpose of trial of corruption cases, are we going to create special judges, special investigators, special prosecutors and special defence lawyers? Will those sets of investigators, prosecutors, judges, and defence lawyers be from the moon? Does delay in criminal case only?” he asked.