Globally, lawyers are a set of respected people, not only for their knowledge of law, but for ensuring that rule of law and justice becomes the grundnorm of any civilized society. Nigeria is not exempted, especially in the array of eminent and distinguished lawyers it has produced over the years, even before independence.
Nigeria, which attained her independence in 1960, produced the first lawyer in Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams on November 17, 1879. This was followed by the father of Nigeria’s first Senior Advocate, the late Chief Fredrick Rotimi Williams and his uncle who were both called to Bar in 1927.
Chief Williams was called to the Bar in 1943. Over the years, the country has had eminent members of the Bar like the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Sofolas, Chief Richard Akinjide, Dr. Nabo Graham-Douglas and many other distinguished lawyers, who practiced law with finest and best tradition required of a profession described as noble and custodians referred to as ‘learned.’
It was unheard of in the days of FRA Williams, who was reverend as ‘Timi the Law,’ for lawyers to engage in criminal activities, ranging from forgery to stealing, including offering gratification to judicial officers with a view to corrupting the Bench.
For instance, this year alone, over 20 lawyers have been caught in criminal web while scores are facing one form of criminal offence or another before their umbrella body’s disciplinary committee contrary to their constitutional role of upholding rule of law, protecting the law and representing people in court.
In today’s practice of law in the country, caution has been thrown to the wind as respect and reverence hitherto accorded law profession is gradually waning following atrocities being committed by lawyers. One of these is the prevalence of fake lawyers.
There are scores of cases establishing the fact that many practitioners, who today claimed to be lawyers, are fake. Although lawyers’ umbrella body – the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) – did not claim ignorance of proliferation of fake lawyers, it has nonetheless put in place various mechanism to rid the body of fake and impersonation garb. But while this challenge is being addressed, there appears a fresh one in forged judgements.
Although the CJN did not name the lawyers, he said: “I have to point out the fact in the just concluded exercise. Some applicants were found to have engaged in dishonourable conduct such as forgery of judgements, resulting in their being reported to the police for investigation and possible prosecution.”
This detestable practice was yet to abate when Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke, drew the nation’s attention to another discovery in her jurisdiction. In this case, mastermind of the alleged forgery was identified. He is Edward Oseghale.
Oseghale allegedly engaged a property owner in relation to a case involving a landlord and a tenant. Instead of allowing the due process to take its course, Oseghale, a lawyer of over 10 years post call, allegedly resorted to forgery of a judgement to satisfy his client’s interest.
Lagos State Chief Registrar, Taiwo Olatokun, on September 25, 2018, accused Oseghale of altering a judgement he earlier obtained in a separate case with similar suit number, but different year and presented it as the judgement in the new case.
The lawyer was, however, exposed when the defendant, who was sceptical about the authenticity of the judgement, went to the court to ask for a true copy of the judgement, only to discover that the said judgement did not exist.
The Registrar said forgery among lawyers was not new. We also want both the NBA and the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee (LPPC), the body saddled with conferring the SAN title on deserving lawyers, to rise up to this painful development and its damage to the profession and the society if allowed unchecked.
The two bodies need to review whatever measure put in place to curb the detestable trend with a view to making it more stringent, otherwise, it would get out of hands as lawyers may be tempted to adopt such practice as the norm.
Above all, there is urgent need for a concerted effort by major stakeholders in the legal profession to address this challenge. NBA should take the lead with a view to ensuring that its members deploy the required finesse into the practice of law.