• NBA says 1000 quacks on the loose
In July 2013, the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, inaugurated a 13-man committee to enforce the Stamp and Seal Policy of the association with a view to differentiating between the authentic lawyers and the fake ones.
The then President of the NBA, Okey Wali, said one of the roles of the association was to explore means of regulating its members’ activities through various ways of identification.
Mr. Wali said the committee was mandated by the association to publicise and educate members, who had fulfilled the requirements to operate as lawyers, on the Stamp and Seal Policy.
He said the committee also had the mandate of identifying fake lawyers through identification by seal and maintaining an accurate members’ directory through the information contained in the application form for the seal.
The committee is also mandated to ensure that lawyers in practice paid their practising fees annually, adding that the seal would be renewed annually upon proof of payment of practising fees, the statement said.
It said the significance of using the seal was underscored by the provision of Rule 10 (1), (2), & (3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for legal practitioners. The rule states that a lawyer acting in his or her capacity as a legal practitioner, legal officer or adviser of any governmental department or ministry or any corporation, under Rule 10 (1) shall not sign or file a legal document unless there is affixed on any such document a seal and a stamp approved by the Nigerian Bar Association.
The provision of the rules of professional conduct further state that the NBA shall interface with the judiciary to include the compulsory usage of seals by legal practitioners in their practice.
Two years later, the NBA has raised yet another alarm. The matter this time is an old one: fake lawyers. Fake legal practitioners have been in existence for long. True, every profession has its own quacks. Take for instance the medical profession that only few months ago a quack doctor was identified and arrested and prosecuted.
No, he was not only allegedly a fake doctor; he rose through the ranks and even headed the NMA as branch chairman. And for nine years, he threw away his true identity, opted instead to bear another person’s name and thus credentials. He had allegedly stolen the copies of his friend’s academic credentials and got employed at the Federal Ministry of Health, from where he became the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, branch chairman, actually worked hard and even participated as Ebola volunteer.
Martins Ugwu Okpeh, a native of Ogbadibo Local Government Area of Benue State in 2006 was the best man to his childhood friend, Dr. George Davidson, a medical doctor practicing in Jos, when he allegedly stole the academic credentials and used same to secure employment at the federal ministry.
About a year ago, a suspected fake legal practitioner, Daniel Ikhidenor Ikhuoria, a native of Ekpoma in Edo State, was arrested at Lagos High Court, Igbosere, Lagos Island, where he had gone to attend court proceedings.
The suspect was nabbed by a police orderly attached to the Appeal Court, DCR Office, Lagos who suspected him. When the Chairman of the state branch of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, was contacted he instructed the police orderly to take the suspect to the nearest police station. There he confessed.
In his alleged confessional statement to the police, the suspect allegedly admitted, “I have been practicing as a lawyer since 2011 and I have represented clients at the Magistrate, High Court and Federal High Courts, without any problem.
“But I have never attended law school or any institution to read law in my life but I was called to the bar through a source at a high court in 2011. I bought the gown and wig in the open market and wore it and started practicing as a lawyer.
“I did not know that it is an offence to practice as a lawyer without authority. I promise to change if I am set free,” he said and was given a three-count charge of impersonation and unlawful possession of law wig and gown.
The offence the accused committed, according to Inspector Chidi Okoye, are punishable under Section 378(1), 78(b) and 327 of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State, 2011.
Interestingly, both confessed. Take Okpeh for instance, he said, “I never opted for clinical services to avoid damage that may occur. I went into administration and research. It is in the health services, research and statistics that all the fraud in the health sector is found.
“Severally, there were biometrics verification, but I survived them, I was the NMA chairman in 2008. Federal Ministry of Health, I don’t think has the mechanisms for that. The ministry is porous.”
According to the Deputy Force Public Relations Officer, Abayomi Shogunle, “what was perceived as unprofessional conduct and unwholesome behaviour of inciting trouble, blackmailing and misleading by the self-acclaimed medical doctor, Martins Ugwu prompted an anonymous petition against him to the Federal Civil Service Commission in May 2015.”
So without anonymous petition even the NMA would not have been able fish him out.
In spite of the ripples that incident caused, there are still quacke on the prowl to the detriment of the members of the larger society who are often victims of quackery.
That came to lamelight early in the week when the NBA claimed that no fewer than 1,000 fake lawyers are currently practicing in the country.
The Vice President of the association, Akintokunbo Oluwole, who revealed this in Akure, during a Special Sitting of the NBA to mark the opening of the 2015/2016 legal year, said that the fake lawyers were discovered after the inauguration of the association’s Stamp Policy, which was introduced to curb the operation of quacks in the legal profession.
Oluwole explained that the issue of quackery in the legal profession has been a pain in the neck of the association. So far, the NBA Stamp Policy has been able to revive the system and has increased the revenue stream of lawyers across the country.
“It has improved the authenticity of documents which are now being filed in court registries since all legal documents must now bear the stamps of lawyers to be considered valid. The persons (quacks) have also devised various means albeit unsuccessfully, to scuttle the smooth implementation of this policy. ”
The implication of this revelation is better imagined than experienced. Little wonder one sees and hears of all sorts of injunctions and delayed justice. Like Oluwole said, the prevalence of charge and bail lawyers has not only risen but has become a phenomenon and more is the pity for the Nigerian judiciary.
He called all stakeholders in the profession to assist the association in actualizing the vision of restoring the integrity of the legal profession.
In his remarks, the state Chief Judge, Justice Olasehinde Kumuyi, said the state judiciary has been able to checkmate all forms of malpractices in the state’s third arm of government.
Justice Kumuyi said that some dubious individuals have carved out personal stamps, which they used in issuing illegal affidavits to unsuspecting members of the public.
One of the ways used to curb the malpractices in the state judiciary, the CJ explained, was the prohibition of affidavits by proxy, irrespective of the respondent’s status, explaining that a special Seal of Oaths and peculiar serial were affixed to all affidavits while hard and soft copies were archived.
It seems despite the efforts to tame illegal practice of the law, fakes have continued with ease to do their business in courts in a manner that’s amazing and definitely a huge dent on the image and integrity of the Nigerian judiciary.
True, fake lawyers have been duly arrested, arraigned and jailed, yet the phenomenon continued in what many say is largely because our society is a loose one that cares little about integrity and moral vim.