In this piece, legal practitioner Lawrence Nnoli, Esq writes in response to the interview granted by Dr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN to The Nation Newspaper on the 3rd September 2017. Read here. Nnoli maintains that the Senior Advocate made some scathing remarks about lawyers and wishes to correct the ugly views about lawyers which Agbakoba made in the interview and to disabuse the mindset of the general public on such misguided comments of the learned silk about lawyers.
A REJOINDER ON “WHY LOOTERS ARE BEATING EFCC HANDS DOWN”
I write in response to one of your answers on “Why looters are beating EFCC hands down” which is contained in a press interview you granted THE NATION Newspaper and which was published on its website on the 3rd day of September 2017.
Among several reasons you gave for the defeats suffered by EFCC in its war against corruption, you attributed same to the agency’s usage of “penny-penny lawyers” in prosecuting its cases. Your exact words as published by the newspaper are:
“You can’t fight corruption with penny-penny lawyers. The looters have stolen trillions and you think you will be paying lawyers peanuts and they will beat us who are paid in millions? So, those are part of the problems with the anti-corruption war.”
While I agree to those other reasons you gave for the defeats that EFCC suffered in court in its fight against corruption, I humbly disagree to this reason mentioned above.
At the risk of sounding immodest, I dare say that this particular answer you gave to the topical question is not only derogatory to professional colleagues of yours (of which I am one) but also to a large extent amounts to a fallacy.
No one is left in doubt that your expression of ‘penny-penny lawyers’ in the press interview you granted refers to lawyers who cannot charge expensive legal fees and who do not charge so much money for their legal services.
With due respect sir, your answer constitute an unabashed admission of the popular misconception (making rounds within Nigeria and overseas) that once a crime suspect pays millions or even billions to certain lawyers in Nigeria, he is sure of getting legal reprieve as such can be obtained for him by those handsomely paid lawyers either by hook or by crook.
Your answer has also lent undue credence to the lie that high quality legal services cannot be gotten at low fees or even at no fees thus disparaging the efforts of sincere public interest lawyers who charge little or no fee to pursue the course of justice for the common man in Nigeria.
Your answer is also a negation of a well known fact that lawyers and even Senior Advocates who charge very expensive fees lose cases too. Infact, it is on record that the EFCC under its former chairman, Farida Waziri contracted various high profile cases to many Senior Advocates of Nigeria to prosecute on its behalf of which these lawyers were paid millions of naira and yet no qualitative result (commensurable to the millions of naira received by them) came out of those retainerships; the cases of Erastus Akingbola, Francis Atuche, Bode George, Okey Nwosu etc come to mind.
As a former president of the Nigeria Bar Association, it behoves on you to always ensure that aspersions are not unduly cast at the legal profession and that legal practitioners are not vilified unnecessarily in the public.
EFCC may not have done very well, but given the resources they have at the moment, they are not doing very badly. With due respect sir, EFCC’s problems do not include the lack of competent lawyers as you averred in your interview but rather the paucity of competent lawyers. There is a difference between the two.
You are an eminent member of the legal profession in Nigeria (having been a member of the National Judicial Council, former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, and recently shortlisted by the Nigerian Bar Association to be appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria), hence your comments have a far and wide reaching effect in Nigeria especially in the legal industry. The susceptibility of some lawyers losing their clients to expensive lawyers like you just because of those comments is high; also other lawyers whose clients’ cases were lost in court for reasons not based on competence of counsel will overlook the real reason for their losses and would wrongly ascribe the reason for such losses to their inability to hire expensive lawyers like you just because of those comments of yours. Moreso, your comments have thrown a dirty blanket over commendable efforts and expertise of many bright young lawyers in the legal profession whose clientele base have not yet grown and therefore cannot afford to charge expensive fees. It is undeniable that the successes of very expensive lawyers are actually the results of great efforts and exertions of hardworking young lawyers who are in the employment of these expensive lawyers and who most times are even underpaid by these expensive lawyers.
Moreso, your comments have actually worsened the plight of the Nigerian masses who have no access to ‘expensive lawyers’. The impressions conveyed by your comments that unless the legal fee charged by a lawyer is astronomical, the quality of his legal service is in doubt and that it is only expensive lawyers that can deliver high quality legal service is dangerously misleading. The effect of these statements could lead to unnecessary widespread of loss of confidence in the legal skills and abilities of non-senior advocates and young lawyers to handle cases of consequential nature. You were once a young lawyer who after being called to the Nigerian bar had just one year’s stint at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs and Intelligence Department before setting up your law firm. You had no law practice experience before then and yet you excelled competing with big and older lawyers. If you could do that in those heydays of yours, there are more than a handful of young lawyers that are currently doing that even within the EFCC and in private legal practice.
The hard fact remains that your response to the question have done more harm than good not just to the EFCC but also to the legal profession, the judiciary and to the image of Nigeria.
Thank you Sir.
Lawrence C. Nnoli