“MY STATUS IN THE NIGERIAN BAR: NEED TO MAKE A STATEMENT
This evening, upon my return to my hotel after a long day, my staff drew my attention to a letter from the Deputy Registrar of the Nigerian Supreme Court, which has been trending in the Nigerian social media.
Upon seeing the letter I observed the following points:
(1) The letter stated that there was no appeal filed by me in respect of a decision of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee in May 2017.
(2) That due to the absence of such appeal, my name was struck off the roll, meaning that I will not be granted audience by the Nigerian Courts, if I were to dress in the lawyers’ wig and gown.
I have not been able to ascertain exactly what happened. I thought of calling the lady that signed the letter in question. I knew her because she signed a different letter earlier in February stating the opposite. I however felt there was no need to deal with her personally on the matter. So, I avoided calling her phone tonight.
I contacted my lawyers. They all expressed shock because there is an appeal pending before the Supreme Court. We do not think there could have been any secret disposition of the appeal. There ought not to be a secret decision on Supreme Court Appeals.
I have been aware of an intense pressure from a number of sources to stop me from arguing cases in Nigerian courts. This pressure has grown since I opened law offices in Nigerian 4 years ago. Nobody who has been my opponent in a court would want to see me back in court. However, nobody who has been my client in court would want to leave me for anyone else. That is a thing for which I have always felt proud. The pressure against me became messy and highly political since the end of 2016. But I always wished and hoped that the Nigerian Bar would be above politics.
The first shock in my experience with the Nigerian Bar was in May 22, 2017. There was an out of the blues decision of the Bar Committee against me. The storm the news of that decision caused in Nigeria was a big shock to me. I never knew that any one lawyer would be capable of generating such intense passion as I have been able to generate in Nigeria. Then I took prompt steps the ward off that initial blow. I continued my practice of law because that was the right thing to do. Then another shock came on November 13, 2017, when the Bar Committee published its already highly publicized decision of May. Again, the outpouring of public interest was exceptionally intense.
The third shock came on January 29, 2018, when a court in Abuja informed me of a circular that my right of audience before the court was terminated. I was surprised because that could not have been right. I then went to the Supreme Court of Nigeria and demanded that my status be clarified. The Supreme Court issued me a letter dated 5th February, 2018 showing that my right to practice was in tact. And today, I learned of a letter stating that my right to practice was removed.
The strange thing in today’s letter was the stated reason – that no appeal was filed (when in fact an appeal was filed and we have all the evidence of that).
I think it will not be proper for me to cast aspersion on the motives behind all these back and forth from various places and people. I will wait until I learn more before I could of the role anyone has played in the confusion.
The most important thing at this point is my message to the members of DPA in response to these things.
Since, I undertook to challenge abuses and injustice in Nigeria, I knew I was stepping on toes and I knew it was a matter of time before there would be an all out effort to block me. Various measures have been taken against me, including arrests and detentions and criminal prosecution. It is obvious.
So, at every point in time, I anticipated these problems and I prepared ahead. Since 2017, I had asked myself: what if they take away my license to practice law in Nigeria? An intelligent person in my circumstance would have foreseen that as a clear and distinct possibility. Therefore, I designed and operated my activities within DPA in accordance with my perception of this risk.
DPA is a corporate organization, which administers various interventions for assistance in the sector of rights and humanitarian services, legal information and the media. Within that context, we have tackled domestic violence on massive scale, we have sought to stop scam activities, we took on human trafficking and various other forms of injustices in our society.
My role in these areas remains UNSTOPPABLE. I am unstoppable. If you recall, I began to use the word “unstoppable” in describing my work as far back as last year. I had all these things in mind for that conscious choice of word.
Even in the worst case scenario, little or nothing will change in the work of DPA. With over 300k membership, DPA never depended on my personal right of audience in any court for its work. For sometime now, I have been too busy to attend courts because I have been saddled with most demanding administrative/executive decisions of the corporate entity called DPA Organization. DPA has had a plan to hire 50 lawyers in Nigeria this year. We can hire 51 instead of 50, if there is need for that.
I therefore urge all DPA members to stay focused on our work. All those people who are receiving services from DPA have nothing to worry about. Indeed, DPA’s success and growth will continue just as expected.
Thank you very much