VIVIAN OKEJEME writes on the stamp and seal policy of the Nigeria Bar Association targeted at fake lawyers, asking how far it has gone in eradicating quackery in the noble profession.
Th e pervasiveness of fake lawyers in the country has clearly shown that the legal profession is not immune from the hydra headed ills affl icting the society. Law is collectively commended to be a noble and honourable profession guided by a code of conduct which every practitioner is expected to abide by. But today, the code is being abused by quacks that have permeated the profession. Fake lawyers now handle cases in courts and, in some instances, off er legal advice to unsuspecting clients. Some have lost millions to these quacks. Th e ease with which these fakes do their business in courts is extraordinary, and sometimes keeps one wondering whether the judiciary is closely knitted enough to ward off the activities of fake lawyers in the country.
Although a number of these fake lawyers have been arrested, arraigned and jailed, the development has not stopped those who earn their living through illegal acts from perpetrating the act. Bold move to stamp out fakery In a bid to checkmate the activities of these fake lawyers, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), on April 15, 2015, inaugurated a stamp and seal policy by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed. Th e concern arose out of the growing number of fake law fi rm websites that are scamming clients, using real attorneys’ profi les. Th is major was conceived by the Austin Alegeh (SAN)-led executive as a means of verifying the authenticity of legal documents prepared by lawyers and to fi sh out quacks in the profession.
How it works Under the policy, lawyers are expected to have personalised adhesive stamp/seal with the type of security features found in currencies. Th e features, which include individual lawyer’s number, can only be seen under ultra-violet light. Th e stamps are categorised into two diff erent areas of practice, which are represented by green and red colors. Lawyers in litigation and private practice are to attach the green seal in their documents, while lawyers employed by establishments like ministries, parastatals, agencies, MDAs, banks, corporations, associations and among callings outside regular practice, are to affi x the red seal. In furtherance of this rule, the offi cial release of the NBA clearly states that from April 1, 2015, the possession of the new seal and stamp will compulsorily supersede even the payment of annual practicing fee to the NBA by qualifi ed lawyers who seek to engage in legal practice in Nigeria. Inaugurating the committee, the then CJN stated that the stamp has “breathed life into the provision of Rule 10(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
“Th e provisions of Rule 10 of the Rules of professional conduct 2007 make it mandatory for every lawyer to sign and fi le only documents which have the seal and stamp of the NBA. “Th e seal and stamp policy is a top-notch one which is essentially aimed at restoring sanity to the legal profession. After engaging lawyers to prepare documents, some non-lawyers reproduce the precedents in subsequent transactions without seeking the lawyers’ approval. Can NBA’s stamp and seal policy stamp out quackery ? NBA is not serious in checking the activities of fake lawyers. The stamp and seal is not enough, they are so many of these fake lawyers. How many of them have been prosecuted? Sometimes, it is not fake lawyers per say, clients connive with paralegals “Th ere are even instances where clients would connive with paralegals, get precedents of legal agreements and execute same without the knowledge of the legal practitioner whose name is on the document. “Also, non-lawyers around our court premises engage in preparing legal documents. With these at the back of our minds; this policy is a commendable one.” Fake lawyers still thrive However, even with this policy on ground, the activities of fake lawyers masquerading in the profession remain unabated. A visit by Blueprint to the Magistrate Courts in Wuse Zone 6, saw some ‘lawyers’ moving towards this reporter, asking her, if she needed a lawyer’s services. Th is conversation ensued between this reporter and one of them at Zone 6. Lawyer: Good morning, do you have a case Reporter: Yes, I need a lawyer to do a small case for me. Th e lawyer I engage initially has not been doing the case to my satisfaction and his fees are high, so, I want to take it away from him and give it to another lawyer. Lawyer: Come let’s sit down and talk. (Th e lawyer took this reporter to a corner beside the court where the discussion continued.) Lawyer: Oya, what’s the case about and like how much do you have? Reporter: A client gave me the N750, 000.00 interior decoration job to do and I did the job for him. But about a month ago, he came back to my house with police to say that I did a very bad job. I was arrested and detained before First Information Report (FIR) was fi led against me. Th e case is coming up in two days from now and I need to change my lawyer because I don’t understand the way lawyer is handling the matter. I feel he is intimidated by the police. Lawyer: Don’t worry, it’s a small matter. We will exchange contact now and I’ll call you tomorrow so that we can map out strategy on how to go about it. Further fi ndings revealed that that this ‘lawyer’ is an impostor by every indication. Lawyers react Some lawyers who spoke to our correspondent, said the impostors cannot go far in their shady acts in the legal profession, considering the various measures put in place by the NBA. Others, however, see the acquisition of seals by the NBA as not only a move which can properly regulate its members, but also regulate the practice of law in the country. According to a legal commentator, Ayomipo Olaminikan, the stamp and seal policy of the NBA, in collaboration with the Supreme Court, goes to the root of every lawyer called to the Nigeria Bar. “It is so unfortunate that some people fall for these fake lawyers. Anyway, they cannot go far with their cunning ways with the stamp and seal policy on ground. I think, the NBA should come up with other measures in collaboration with the Supreme Court to nip these ugly trends in the bud. It is actually denting the image of the noble profession.” In his reaction, a legal practitioner, Uchenna Ogueli, said although the measure is halting the trend, the fake lawyers still circumvent it and scam unsuspecting victims. He therefore proposed that the NBA should go as far as educating the people on the stamp and seal measure and how to identify a fake lawyer. Furthermore, Edidem Umoh, a communication expert and legal practitioner said, “the NBA is not serious in checking the activities of fake lawyers. Th e stamp and seal is not enough, they are so many of these fake lawyers. How many of them have been prosecuted? Sometimes, it is not fake lawyers per say, clients connive with paralegals to get their papers and other legal agreements attended to.” Also in his submission, another legal practitioner, Ahmed Usman, expresses shock at how the impostors still go round the NBA measures. “As a lawyer, before you can fi le any case, you must have the stamp and seal of the NBA and before you can get the seal, you must be up to date in the payment of your annual practicing fees. Aside that, your record as a barrister of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, must also be verifi ed. So, it is diffi cult for fake lawyers to operate in the country now. “Fake lawyers have their days numbered because they can’t hide for too long, giving all the measures put in place by the NBA.” Whether the use of practice stamp alone can stamp off fake lawyers or whether the NBA needs to evolve other methods and strategies to identify genuine lawyers, is solely dependent on if the profession wants its image undefi led.