Speech Presented by Hon. Justice Mustapha Akanbi, at the Occasion of Call to Bar Ceremony Held at Nigerian Law School, Lagos on Thursday 12th October, 1995
I stand before you on this memorable day, a very happy man indeed. I am happy because it is my singular honour and privilege as the Chairman of the distinguished Body of Benchers to admit you, on behalf of the Body, to the Nigerian Bar as legal practitioners. Again, I am happy because I share with you the joy, which comes with a sense of achievement. I rejoice with your parents, your guardians, your friends, relations and well-wishers who have come to witness this ceremony and rejoice with you.
I know that you are all very happy because your faces radiate joy. Your happiness, I believe, stems from the knowledge that today is your day – a day of triumph, a day of fulfilment! It is the long-awaited day – a great day indeed. Great because it marks the culmination of your ambition, your determination and indeed your aspiration to be counted and numbered among members of the most noble and honourable profession of law.
It is also great, because from now onwards, after the rituals of Call is over, and a few preliminaries gone through, you will like any other lawyer before you, be recognized and addressed as a “learned friend”, by your colleagues at the Bar. More importantly, upon payment of the necessary fees, you will, after being enrolled, be qualified to practice as a barrister and solicitor. Once enrolled, you will be free to establish and practice law in any part of the country, and appear in the various Courts of the land.
Section 4 of the Legal Practitioners Act (Cap.2070 expressly states:
Subject to the provision of this Section, a person shall be entitled to be called to the Bar, if, and only if:
He is a citizen of Nigeria; and
He produces a qualifying certificate to the Benchers; and
He satisfies the Benchers that he is of good character.
Having successfully gone through the Law School, I can safely assume that the first two criteria present no problem. So, I intend to dwell on the third – good character. That is a precious jewel that you need to carry throughout your life as a man and a Legal Practitioner. It is important to maintain a good name and image as a practitioner of the law. Do not do anything that will spoil your name and reputation. Always bear in mind the wise saying of the sage:
He who steals my purse steals trash. It’s his. It’s mine. But he who takes away from me my good name robs me of what does not enrich him. But makes me poor and sad indeed.
If you are a bad character and have managed to pass through the proverbial eye of the needle, in spite of the thoroughness of the screening exercise, I ask you to mend your ways and from now, on, go straight. It is important to note that there are provisions under the law for disbarring shysters and dishonest lawyers once they are found out. Only recently, the Body of Benchers set up a powerful disciplinary committee to look into all sorts of complaints made against erring members of the profession with a view to bringing them to book. Many of you may not know that quite a number of students have been refused admission to the Bar, because of allegations of impropriety of one kind or the other made against them.
In 1990, two students were banned for life from being called to Bar. This was the result of dishonest acts they committed while in their universities. Their several pleas for clemency and review of their cases have not yet been found with distinguished Benchers. A committee has, however, been asked to re-examine the entire situation with regard to the nature and type of punishment to be meted out to those who fall foul of the standard expected of them. Benchers are determined to see to it that only decent and honest men and women get admitted into the profession. Indeed, no effort will be spared to restore the Bar to its former position of pre-eminence and dignity.
I sincerely hope that as you leave the portals of this institution, you will be firm in your resolution not to let down the profession, not to engage in or do anything that will drag your name and the profession in the mud. I charge you to strive to be counted among the most decent; the most honourable and well-behaved members of the profession.
Need I remind you that in the Law School, you had the unique privilege of dining with some distinguished Benchers. At each, behave and conduct yourself as a member of the profession. As you leave this institution, it is fit and proper that you always have at the back of your mind the pieces of advice given to you on ethics, comportment, decorum, candour and transparency, personal appearances and the expectations of society from you generally. Society expects much from you, for as the saying goes, to whom much is given, much is expected. I dare say that that statement is as true today as when it was first uttered.
Your parents and families have invested so much in your education, and they are entitled to expect a rich reward. As you went through the four critical stages of your educational life – Primary, Secondary, University and now the Law School – their minds knew no peace. They had very anxious moments at each stage, especially whenever the examination period was around the corner. They shared your hopes and fears. Thank God that like you, they can now heaven sigh of relief. You cannot afford to disappoint them.
You owe it a duty to yourselves, your parents, friends and relations, and the Nigerian nation, not to do anything that will, after today’s event, smear your character or cause a jar or jolt in the minds of all your well-wishers. Let not the efforts of those who, by their toil and sweat, contributed to making you what you are today be in vain.
You joining a profession in which others have blazed the trail and set the pace. Your duty is to work to uplift the profession and maintain the highest standard of professional discipline and ethics. My prayer is that God be your helper and guide.
As you go out into the world to pursue this profession of your choice, it is extremely important for you to remember the one great lesson you learnt in the Law School, and that is, there is no royal road or shortcuts to success. It pays to work hard. That is the lesson of the experiences you went through. The scheduled programmes of the Law School and the examination pattern teach a lesson in the endurance tests. Some of you must have come to realise probably a little late in the day that you needed more than a good university degree to be able to cope with the peace of work in the Law School. Now that the lesson has been learnt and you have succeeded in crossing the Rubicon, let it remain a lesson of life that can be no gains without pains. For those who want to succeed at the Bar (and perhaps the same is true of other professions), I say it pays to be hardworking. For, as the writer, Samuel Smiles said: The men who have much moved the world, have not been so much men of genius, as men of intense mediocre ability and untiring perseverance. Not so much the gifted of naturally bright and shining qualities as those who apply themselves diligently in their work in whatever sphere of life it might lie.
Therefore, as you make your exit from this School, again, I advise you to be resolute in your determination to work hard and strive always to scale great heights.
The legal profession no doubt is pre-eminent and is the envy of many. The reason for this is obvious. Human being cannot do without one kind of problem or the other. Lawyers are problem solvers – at least that is what they are expected to be. Their friends need them in times of trouble; they are still needed to offer advice and direction. Even their adversaries would not want to do without them, just in case something happens. So he tolerates them.
I think it is not too much to repeat once again that the legal profession occupies a position of pre-eminence. It offers many bright prospects and opportunities. It is the only profession that has a permanent seat in the Cabinet of any Government – be it Military, or Civilian. The office of the Attorney-General of the Federation or a State is the exclusive domain of the Lawyer. The Attorney-General has his one foot in the Executive Arm of Government and the other remains where it really belongs – the Bar.
It is also noteworthy that the legal profession is the one profession from whose ranks members of the third arm of Government (the Judiciary) are drawn. No one can aspire to the exalted post of the Chief Justice of Nigeria if he is not first and foremost a Lawyer. The Chief Justice is a Life Benchers, the Chairman of the Advisory Judicial Committee, Chairman of the Privileges Committee and the holder of many other preferments.
There are other attractions and offices of dignity and power within outside the Public Service to which you may aspire. There is the office of the Solicitor-General of the Federation and the Director of Public Prosecution (and in the States) for those who may want to make a career in the Ministry of Justice.
If you elect to go into private legal practice, as is most likely to be the case with many of you, the distinguished rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria should not be beyond your reach. And who knows? You may one day be a distinguished Bencher yourself enjoying this singular honour and privilege of admitting in your own time students to the Bar. For now, all these may sound like a midsummer night’s dream, but they are possible. They are attainable provided there is the will on your part to be numbered among the “greats”. And there is no reason why you, like anyone, should not aspire to greatness. The sky is the limit for those who try. Therefore, march on.
Finally, I congratulate you all and severally on today’s achievement. The day marks the end of one more chapter in the success story of your life and coincidentally the struggle for beginning of yet another stage in the continuous struggle for survival in a not too easy environment.
I round up this address by charging you all learned gentlemen to sally forth into the world with confidence in yourselves, with faith in the Almighty, the bestower of all favours, and with a determination to strive to do what is right at all times. May the good God be your helper and guide you in your journey through life.