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Falana calls for new rules to democratise SAN rank

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Femi Falana

Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) has advised further review of the guidelines for the award of rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) to ensure that all qualified applicants are awarded.

Delivering the dinner speech at an event to mark the 90th birthday of foremost activist and Life Bencher, Pa Tunji Gomez, Falana also commended the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lagos Branch for “celebrating Pa Gomez while he is still very much with us.” 

According to him, the dinner/lecture, which was held at the MUSON Centre, Lagos is also a challenge to all lawyers to live a good life so that they can be celebrated in their lifetime.

Falana noted that Pa Gomez’s anti-SAN rank stance “is borne out of his commitment to equality before the law and equal rights.  As far as he is concerned, a lawyer is a lawyer. And if we are running a truly democratic system like in America, there should be no ranking of lawyers.”

Falana however observed that since Nigeria “inherited the British tradition of having a club of lawyers to act as a shining example for others, we are retaining the rank of Senior Advocate.”

He said: “It is undeniable that the rank has been mired in controversy just like any honour given in Nigeria.  It ought to be pointed out that the campaign for the abolition of the rank is not limited or peculiar to Nigeria.” 

He observed that the rank was abolished in Ghana in 1988 following a court judgment, adding that the attempt by the abolitionists in Nigeria led by Pa Gomez to replicate that feat was truncated by the Federal High Court on a “technical ground” of lack of service.

He however, noted that former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed had advised the abolitionists to seek an amendment of the enabling law in their bid to sound the death knell on the rank.

Falana stated that he owed a debt of gratitude to the Gomez-led abolitionists for the award of the rank to him “and for keeping up the struggle,” adding that without Pa Gomez’s struggle, “it would have been impossible to open the floodgates as it were” to accommodate more applicants.

“Today, large-scale reforms have taken place. And when I stand before you and l am described as SAN, I think it was the struggle that pushed the legal establishment to expand the frontiers to accommodate those who were otherwise said not to be fit and proper persons to be Senior Advocates of Nigeria.” 

He observed that late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and himself were listed consistently for 10 and 8 years respectively before they got frustrated, adding that “it was the system on its own” that invited him to take silk.

He said the new guidelines also sought to strengthen the award mechanism and ensure that more people are admitted to the inner Bar, adding that the guidelines equally place emphasis on the conduct of the awardees as they may now be derobed.

Falana however warned that the legal establishment of a conservative profession is not going to abolish the rank of senior advocate. 

“What the authorities have settled for is to reform the process,” he said. He therefore advised better case management by judges to accommodate non-SANs, adding that senior advocates should play more leading roles in the affairs of the Bar at the branch level.

Falana suggested that the awards should be democratized, saying: “There is no way you can justify giving the award to only 21 lawyers in a year where you may have shortlisted over 200 applicants. It gives room for a lot of discretion, and this has to go.”

Instead, he said Nigeria should emulate England, Jamaica and Canada where all qualified applicants are awarded the rank.


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Mr. Femi FalanaSAN
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