90 SANs: How to win a court case in Nigeria

NB: For powerful men only.

There was subtle drama yesterday as a Nigerian lawyer, Ricky Tarfa, allegedly stormed a High Court in Lagos along with 90 SANs (Senior Advocate of Nigeria), to defend him in a case against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Mr. Ricky Tarfa was accused of an obstruction of justice (when he sheltered two accused persons from EFCC arrest, by hiding them in his car) and colluding with a Federal High Court Judge to “pervert justice”. The head of Ricky Tarfa’s legal counsel, Adeniyi Akintola, a SAN himself, managed to secure bail for his client, despite the protest of the EFCC’s counsel. However, the trial judge objected to the number of lawyers in court yesterday, saying it amounted to harassment and intimidation of the court.

Coincidentally, or not, the judge’s complaints bear resemblance to what the EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu, said yesterday. He claimed lawyers and journalists in Nigeria subvert justice in Nigeria and frustrate the war on corruption. He also said some lawyers are paid with money gotten from corruption. Magu’s claim is an echo of Buhari’s statement last month when he said the judiciary “was his main headache in the war against corruption.” Back then, it looked like he was trying to intimidate the judiciary, but now it appears as though he was justified. Mr. Ricky Tarfa must have forgotten that he being a lawyer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and a member of its legislature comes first, while acting as legal counsel of the people targeted by the EFCC is secondary.

In their defense, supporters of Ricky Tarfa in the Nigerian Bar Association claimed they came with 90 lawyers because the EFCC was trying to influence the rule of law. However, if that were true, how does storming the court with 90 lawyers in a bid to intimidate and harass the trial judge not constitute making a mockery of the rule of law too? Do two wrongs make a right? That number is absurd, especially if Ricky Tarfa is eventually found guilty of what he is being accused of.

However, it seems they are not an exception but the norm. Bukola Saraki, Nigeria’s Senate President, currently under indictment at the Code of Conduct tribunal, is usually followed by his own “convoy”. Once, in an appearance at the tribunal for false declaration of assets, no fewer than 84 senators appeared with him. Perhaps, these Senators have forgotten that they would not have gotten to the Nigerian Senate if their ward members had not voted for them. What if Senator Bukola Saraki is found guilty? Would they recant their pledges of solidarity? Because it would mean they pledged solidarity with corruption. Saraki did not elect the Senators, their ward members did. Why not focus on what they were sent to do and proclaim support for Saraki from the confines of the Nigerian Senate.

Events like this are not allowed to be seen as a show of shame, rather, these people, who are seemingly abusing their position of authority, would want it to be seen as fighting the system (lawyers fighting the rule of law, Senators fighting a politically-motivated court case). Ironically, they are closer to the zenith of the system than the average Nigerian who can’t afford a lawyer to defend him, or for a Senator to tweet on his behalf, when he allegedly steals a powerful man’s belongings.

This culture of Nigeria’s powerful men is the real mockery of Nigeria’s rule of law and it has to stop. Though it is debatable that 90 Senior Advocates of Nigeria were under one roof in a court case, it is a farce to even think that 90 lawyers escorted a fellow lawyer to a simple hearing for an alleged obstruction of justice, especially if Ricky Tarfa is as innocent as he claims. If the case is that they were all 90 Senior Advocates of Nigeria, then the whole process of appointing one a Senior Advocate of Nigeria ought to be questioned.

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