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All lawyers are activists

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Tunji Gomez. PHOTO: Newswire Law

I will first like to make reference to Mr. Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams, the first indigenous Nigerian lawyer, called to the English Bar on November 17, 1879. He defined the appropriate role of lawyers in these golden words:

“The legal practitioner lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country.” This reference is informed by the life and times of the person for whom we have gathered today, Pa Tunji Gomez, as they both share a lot in common, for the advancement of the cause of humanity.

But perhaps both Sapara Williams and Pa Gomez share more in common with another icon. On January 30, 1948, on the very day he was assassinated, Mahatma Ghandi spoke to his grandson about the Seven Blunders of the World, which he stated to be: 1. Wealth Without Work 2. Pleasure Without Conscience 3. Knowledge Without Character 4. Business Without Ethics 5.Science Without Humanity 6.Religion Without Sacrifice 7. Politics Without Principle.

To all the above I will of my own add: Law Without Justice. And this is why we have all gathered here today to talk about Pa Gomez, whose principle in life is: It is a matter of conscience.

As an advocate, Sapara-Williams clearly distinguished himself in many areas of law and was greatly concerned for the society at large.

On the January 30, 1888, he joined as a member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and on August 30 1888, he enrolled at the Supreme Court, Lagos as the first Nigerian barrister.

On January 30, 1888, he joined as a member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and was its Chairman from 1900 to 1915. He was actively involved in the struggle for independence, along with Sir Herbert Macaulay and other nationalists.

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN SAPARA WILLIAMS AND PA GOMEZ
Sapara Williams died on March 15, 1915 and was buried at the Ajele Stadium (which was then used as a burial ground, other people buried there include Bishop Ajayi Crowther). Then something strange happened long after his burial.

There was a case against the military governor of the state over Ajele Stadium and the government decided to exhume the bodies of those buried there to make way for other constructions and no one was willing to challenge the khaki boys until Pa Gomez took up the challenge with the late lawyer’s daughter, Madam Sapara, who was around 70 years at the time and feared for Gomez’s life.

They were successful in getting an injunction restraining the Lagos State government from exhuming the bodies. So, we gather here today to celebrate Pa Gomez, a true activist and a rare breed.   

What Pa Gomez has done and he is still doing, is nothing new to his generation at all, given that the Chairman of this occasion himself, Alhaji Femi Okunnu (SAN), had travelled that route quite very often.

At the height of military adventurism in Nigeria, the Babangida regime promulgated the Land (Title Vesting) Decree of 1992, by which all land within 100 metres of any national waterway became property of the federal government.

Alhaji Okunnu challenged this law at the Federal High Court and secured a judgment, which nullified the decree.

As we can all very well remember, the Abacha junta had concluded plans to sell the land hosting the Nigerian Law School, in Victoria Island, Lagos. Mrs. Hariat Balogun and Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), took an action in court and secured an injunction to stop the sale. This is our motivation today, to keep up the good work of Pa Gomez and many other activists of the noble profession.

On February 12, 2018 during the monthly meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos Branch, the Chairman, Mr. Chukwuka Ikwuazom, informed the congregation of lawyers at the meeting that Pa Tunij Gomez will be 90 years in the month of March and as such the Branch must celebrate the old man.

The Torch Bearers took up the challenge and put together this wonderful gathering. I commend the efforts put together to honour the living legal icon of our time.

Anytime the name Pa. Tunji Gomez is mentioned at the branch meeting the chorus you hear from the members is “It is a matter of conscience”. Pa Gomez’s life should be an inspiration to all lawyers, on ethics, love for the profession and the common good.

There is no way we can separate law and its practice, from the society. In this regard therefore, a true legal practitioner is the one who deploys knowledge for the advancement of the cause of his society, as Sapara Williams, Pa Gomez and indeed Pa Femi Okunnu (SAN), have all done, admirably.

It is my firm belief that all lawyers are by nature and profession, activists.

The NBA motto and Constitution are very clear on this issue by stating clearly that all lawyers must promote: the Rule of Law; the integrity and independence of the Bar and the Judiciary; the right of access to court at reasonably affordable cost; and the promotion and protection of the principle of the rule of law, respect for the enforcement of fundamental rights, human rights and people’s rights.

So, I urge all lawyers to x-ray all contestants to the various offices in the NBA by their pedigree and vote in genuine activists, remembering the times of Chief Alao Aka-Bashorun, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Chief Priscilla Kuye, Augustine Alegeh, (SAN), etc.

And this is why I commend the Chairman and members of the NBA, Ikeja Branch, for the courageous protest embarked upon on Monday. We need more of such from lawyers, to speak truth to power.

The Bench too should embrace judicial activism, as was done by the Honourable Justice Bairaman in the landmark case of Madukolu v Nkemdilim, where he laid down the golden principles guiding jurisdiction, without citing a single authority and precedence.

So too our noble Lords and judicial officers must be pro-active to interpret our laws in favour of the rights of the people, as was done by Lord Denning, Honourable Justices Kayode Eso, Chukwudifu Oputa, Samson Uwaifo, etc.

There is no better way to honour Pa Gomez than the gathering of his own constituency, acknowledging him as such a great Bar man or great Bar activist, whilst he is still alive and kicking.

So, I join the Premier Bar and indeed all lawyers across Nigeria, to salute Pa Gomez and to urge all lawyers to emulate him as a worthy ambassador.

Adegboruwa, a Lagos based lawyer presented this at a symposium in honour of Pa Tunji Gomez at 90.


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