Friday, April 11, 2014
WHY I FIGHT ON EVEN IN OLD AGE - PA TUNJI GOMEZ
QUESTION 1: BACKGROUND, EDUCATION, CAREER, CALL TO BAR, WORK EXPERIENCE
Answer: My background was in Lagos, I was born and I grew up in Lagos. My parents are from the prominent Doherty and Gomez family. I attended several schools. CMS Grammar School, then I went to Grammar School at Abeokuta then from Grammar School Lagos, I went to Kings College Lagos in 1944, that is where I got the European spirit and fighting spirit from. I remembered that a prominent lawyer named Alex Taylor inspired me back then in Kings College to become a lawyer, when went to defend our seniors then in Kings College in court when they were charged for going on strike and he represented them free of charge.
I was the leader of the 1948 strike in KC too, which turned round the fortunes and prestige of the school, we had to go on strike because, things were bad, sleeping conditions, food, water, students were living in deplorable conditions so we went on strike to improve the college and standard of living although we had just few months to leave the school but if we don’t do it, no one would.
I was called in England, there was no law school in Nigeria when I came back in those days, as a junior, you attach yourself to a firm and I was lucky to attach myself to the firm of M.A.ODESANYA & CO, Mr. Odesanya was lead counsel in the Awolowo treasonable felony trial and I learnt a lot of things. There were three of us at the firm, Simon Olakunle, SAN, Fola Shasegbon and my humble self.
The trial showed me how important it is for lawyers to co-operate and make adequate preparation for their case. Although to my mind that particular trial was more political than Legal hence Chief Awolowo should not have gone to prison. After my tutelage, I did a few notable cases on my own but when I was still with Mr. Odesanya, I did one of my most fascinating case it was in the Cameroons in those days Southern Cameroons was still part of Nigeria. There was a Minister in the government of Cameroon (Minister Zonah) he was charged in the Magistrate court, there in Cameroon for an offence allegedly committed in his Ministry and because it was a political trial, the Magistrate was instructed (so we learnt) to convict him at all cost. So in other to challenge that judgment, they had to come to Lagos to look for lawyers, I was fortunate to be available, as all the top lawyers they were looking for where not available. So when I got to Cameroon, I was able to upturn the conviction. I remembered we made so much noise about coming from Odesanya & Co chambers, the same one that handled the Awolowo trial and they had to change the prosecutor from the DPP to the Attorney General, but I guess I did brilliantly well with some help from my friends Shasegan and Olakunle, they didn’t go with me, but they were helpful and so the conviction was overturned.
Another interesting matter I handled was that, against the military government of Lagos State. Madam Shapara v. Lagos State Government where the fearless and incorruptible JIC Taylor granted an injunction restraining the government from exhuming the dead bodies from the Ajele Cementry Lagos now campus stadium. I was the first ever lawyer to do that (take Military to court).
Question 2: What is the motivation for the Movement For the Abolition of Senior Advocate of Nigeria title?
Question 3: How far with that struggle because some people believe it has petered out?
Answer: We can never compromise, it’s the truth, and I can never compromise the truth. The rank of S.A.N whether we like it or not will eventually be abolished because it is not only oppressive, it is against natural justice, it discriminates among lawyers, it creates a dichotomy in the profession. If discriminates against poor clients who can not afford the services of SAN’s to represent them, it impoverishies junior lawyers who can not get good cases, because they are not SAN’s. it gives the impression that if you are not a SAN as a lawyer, then you are a charge and bail lawyer. How then can we correct this impression, the only way is to abolish the rank of SAN is a creation of a monster, if you don’t kill the monster, it will kill the profession.
Question 4: Please tell us about the Practising Fee case we understand there is an appeal against the Injunction you secured?
Answer: Not to my knowledge. They said they would appeal but am yet to receive any process in that regard, but let the appeal, we will be waiting for them. You see that Judgement has saved the bar from the hands of the leadership that does not care about the welfare of it members you can go round and ask any junior lawyer how they feel about the injunction. Furthermore, the leadership of the bar has gotten the message that they can not just impose anything on its members, hence they ca not just increase the fee any time they like, they have to consult first.
Question 5: At 86, what’s keeps you going this strong?
Answer: First let me see the Nigeria method, Nigerians will always tell you it is God. So I say it has been God all the way, secondly Yoga exercises, I will show you some of the exercises and I keep my self fit by eating healthy and I don’t indulge in exertive eating, some people eat and live healthy and treat people well, for me it better you give than be given. Its better to serve than to be served
Question 6: What is your advice for members of the legal profession-judges and lawyers, particularly young lawyers.
Answer: Young lawyers have an obligation to maintain the rule of law, and in performing that obligation, they should not be agreed, they should respect the judges, but not frightened by them above all they must prepare there cases well including their authorities and maintain the reputation of the profession as the rock of the legal profession to defend the bar without any fear or favour.
I must add however, that we have to create an avenue for junior lawyers to earn money and get good jobs, the Bar.