Lawyers Are Not Traders, The Legal Practitioners Act Is The Only Authority That Allows Practice of Law In Nigeria.


-Dr. OluKayode Ajulo, OON, SAN, FCIArb. UK

The purported signing of the Enhanced Trade Investment Partnership (ETIP) Agreement between the Nigerian and United Kingdom governments has garnered significant media attention. This agreement aims to foster collaboration in various sectors, including finance, trade barriers, healthcare, investment, customs and trade facilitation, agriculture, intellectual property, creative industry, and legal services. Speculations have arisen regarding provisions that may permit UK lawyers to engage in legal practice within Nigeria.

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), has strongly criticized the provision allowing UK lawyers to practice in Nigeria, following the announcement of the agreement by the Minister of Industry, Trade, and Investment. While the Minister has maintained that no such provision exists in the agreement, it is essential that we examined the legality of this alleged provision within the framework of the Nigerian law.

It is important to note that the legal profession in Nigeria is regulated by statutes and subject to specific regulations. Sections 8(1) and (2) of the Legal Practitioners Act Cap L11, LFN, 2004 establish that a “legal practitioner” has the right to represent clients in all Nigerian courts, contingent upon the payment of annual practicing fees. However, certain enactments may restrict the right of representation in specific courts.

Section 24 of the same Act defines a “legal practitioner” as an individual entitled to practice as a barrister or both as a barrister and solicitor, either generally or for specific purposes. The Act clarifies that an individual can practice as a barrister and solicitor only if their name is listed in the roll. Inclusion in the roll requires that a person, whether Nigerian or foreign, be called to the Bar in accordance with section 4 of the Act and provides the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Nigeria with a certificate of their call to the Bar as mandated by section 7(1)(a) and (b) of the Act.

In the case of Tijani v. F.B.N. Plc (2014) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1387) 57, it was held that :
“Section 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act defines a legal practitioner as a person entitled in accordance with the provisions of the Act to practice as a barrister or as a barrister and solicitor……….” (P.74, paras. F-G)

Also in the case of Oketade v. Adewumi (2010) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1195) 63, it was held that:
“By the provisions of the Legal Practitioners Act, a person is entitled to practice as a barrister and solicitor if, and only if, his name is on the roll. And “legal practitioner” means a person entitled in accordance with the provisions of the Act to practice as a barrister or as a barrister and solicitor…………By section 2(1) of the Act, the only person in the legal profession wearing his professional name to practice law in Nigeria is a legal practitioner and the definition of a legal practitioner in section 24 of the Act does not include a firm”.

Furthermore, in the case of F.B.N. Plc v. Maiwada (2013) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1348) 444,
“By virtue of section 24 of the legal practitioners Act, Cap. L11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, “legal practitioner” means a person entitled in accordance with the provisions of the Act to practice as a barrister or as a barrister and solicitor…..Only legal practitioners, human beings called to the bar, can practice by signing documents.” (Pp. 482-483, paras. G-A; 506-507, paras. H-C; 532, paras. E-F)

Section 4(1) of the Act stipulates that a person may be called to the Bar if they are a Nigerian citizen and meet the necessary character and qualification requirements. Similarly, non-Nigerian citizens can also be called to the Bar if they fulfill the requisite qualifications and character criteria. Furthermore, the Act allows for the possibility of practicing as a barrister authorized by warrant, subject to specific conditions.

Under section 2(2)(a) and (b) of the Act, the Chief Justice of Nigeria may grant authorization to practice as a barrister in specific proceedings to individuals qualified to practice as advocates in countries with legal systems similar to Nigeria. However, such authorization is contingent upon the payment of a fee specified in the warrant, and legal practitioners whose names are listed in the roll take precedence over those authorized by warrant.

Based on the aforementioned provisions, it is evident that the practice of law in Nigeria by foreigners cannot solely be facilitated through agreements or memoranda of understanding (MoUs) signed by the Nigerian and UK governments or any other foreign nation. The rigorous processes outlined in the Legal Practitioners Act must be diligently followed, and unqualified individuals cannot gain admission to the Bar through unofficial channels unless the legislation is amended. Any attempt to contravene these regulations will be strongly opposed.

Overall, the essence of this discussion, pertains to certain personalities being more devout in their adherence to Christian principles than the Pope himself. This observation arises from the fact that the Attorney General of the Federation, who holds the highest position in the country’s Bar Council and the Chief Legal Officer has not made any statement or press release regarding the signing of the Agreement. Instead, we have only heard voices such as the Minister of Industry, Trade, and Investment championing and expressing strong support for the Agreement, seemingly focused on the economic benefits while disregarding the potential negative impact on the legal profession in Nigeria.

However, it remains clear and indisputable: lawyers are professionals, not traders. Our profession has its own boundaries and should not be interfered with by unqualified outsiders for any reason, as they may lack the foresight to comprehend the risks this Agreement poses to the legal profession and the erosion of its professional standards.

John J. Parker, a former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit in his address to the student body of the University of South Carolina Law School, Columbia, eloquently distinguishes the aforementioned subject matter. He argues that “the practice of law is a profession – not a business or a skilled trade. While both involve elements of profit and service, the fundamental difference lies in this: the primary objective of a trade or business is personal gain, whereas the primary objective of a profession is public service.”

One finds this proposition rather puzzling, as it is not difficult to imagine a future where, through a simple decision from a trade minister or any other government official, a non-Nigerian citizen could potentially gain the ability to run for a position in our National Assembly, the Office of the President, or even become a Governor of a State, all through a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

Conclusively, as a legal practitioner with a proven track record in Nigeria, I firmly believe that our noble profession consists of honourable men and women who should not be subjected to interference based on trivial matters, unrealistic or theoretical approaches, as it is already built upon solid foundations that remain unblemished to this day.

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