6th November, 2015
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) says it will investigate the action of the senior counsel who represented the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Thursday.
NBA General Secretary, Mr Afam Osigwe, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday in Abuja that the association would undertake the investigation to ascertain facts of what transpired at the tribunal before taking a position.
“We got different accounts in the media and would need the correct details to allow the NBA to react from an informed position.
“From the accounts we got through the media some said the lawyers walked out while others said they withdrew.
“So, due to the inconsistent choice of words, we cannot speak on the matter until we get the full and accurate details,” he said.
The lawyers, Messrs Mahmud Magaji (SAN) and Ahmed Raji (SAN), had withdrawn their services as lawyers representing Saraki at his trial on allegation of false asset declaration before the tribunal.
They had also staged a walk out with the junior lawyers who appeared with them before the tribunal concluded the case.
The lawyers openly announced their withdrawal following their perceived dissatisfaction with the ruling of the tribunal on their application for stay of proceedings.
They said that they were displeased with the decision of the tribunal refusing the application to stay proceeding in the trial pending the determination of an appeal they filed before the Supreme Court.
Specifically, Magaji had said: “This is a judicial rascality and I cannot be part of this process. I therefore withdraw my representation as the respondent’s counsel.”
Speaking in same vein, Raji said: “We have pending application before the supreme court.
“I believe that in the hierarchy of court we have the tail and the head and the tail cannot dictate for the head as we have seen here.
“I also withdraw my services as lawyer to the respondent.”
Meanwhile, a cross section of lawyers in Abuja has condemned the “walk out’ by the senior counsel, describing it as a “disgrace to the bar”.
Some of the lawyers who spoke to NAN said the action of the lawyers was unethical, while some blamed the judge for not taking appropriate action to charge them for contempt.
Mr Nnanna Oketa said young lawyers were highly disappointed with the conduct of the senior advocates, adding that the action was more political than judicial.
“The truth is that what transpired yesterday at the Code of Conduct Tribunal is to say the least degrading of our profession; it was terrible and should not be associated with lawyers.
“Lawyers are expected to conduct themselves appropriately with the highest level of decorum when they are in court.
That is not how we are trained and we hope that does not happen again.
“The truth is that, if your prayer is not granted by the court, there is a window of appeal if you are not comfortable with the ruling of the court,” he said.
Oketa stressed that lawyers and citizens alike must be properly guided by the rules of court in their conduct before the court and a judge.
Another legal practitioner, Mr Anthony Ekuma, said the action of the senior lawyers was “most unruly”.
“What they have done is a violation of Section 30 of the Rules for Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 as amended.
“With due respect to the learned seniors, they should know that notice of appeal does not constitute a stay in the hearing of a trial before a court,” he said.
Ekuma also condemned the action of the tens of Senators who accompanied Saraki to the tribunal.
The Senator had reportedly raised their voices in support of the lawyers when they walked out of court thereby disrupting the proceedings of the tribunal.
“The law is in no respecter of anyone, no matter how highly placed therefore you are expected to conduct yourself orderly while in court.
“There must be maintenance of decorum in the conduct of anybody in the court during proceedings no matter who the person is,” he said.
NAN recalls that Saraki, who is standing trial in the tribunal on allegations of false asset declaration, had appealed to the Supreme Court seeking to stop the trial.
The lawyers had applied to the tribunal to stay proceedings in the trial pending the decision of the apex court.
The tribunal presided by Justice Danladi Umar, however, in its ruling upheld the argument of the prosecution that staying proceeding would hamper speedy trial.
In his ruling, Umar relied on Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, which states that: “An application for stay of proceedings in respect of a criminal matter before the court shall not be entertained’’.
Similarly, he said that Section 305 (1) of the Act allows the trial court to exercise its discretion on stay of proceeding if an issue on the interpretation of the constitution is raised before an appellate court.
The section reads: “Where a question as to the interpretation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria arises in the course of trial and is referred to the Court of Appeal under the provisions of the constitution, the court before which the question arose may in its discretion:
“(a) adjourn the trial until the question has been considered and decided
“(b) conclude the trial and postpone the verdict until such time as the question has been considered and decided, or
“(c) conclude the trial and pass sentence but suspend execution until such time as the question has been considered and decided,
“And in any such case the court in its discretion shall commit the defendant or convict to prison or admit him to bail in accordance with the provision of Part 19 of this Act”.