In the field of law, being conferred the title, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is as best as it can get. The title Senior Advocate of Nigeria is a title that may be conferred on legal practitioners in Nigeria of not less than ten years’ standing and who have distinguished themselves in the legal profession. It is the equivalent of the rank of Queen’s Counsel in the United Kingdom, from which Nigeria became independent in 1960 (Republic 1963), as well as in South Australia, the Northern Territory, and Canada (except Ontario and Quebec). Several countries use similar designations such as Senior Counsel, State Counsel, Senior Advocate, and President’s Advocate. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria is said to have been admitted to the “Inner Bar”, as distinguished from the “Outer”, or “Utter”, Bar, consisting of junior advocates.
In Nigeria, the title was first conferred on April 3, 1975. The recipients were Chief F.R.A. Williams and Dr Nabo Graham-Douglas. Of the two, the former was the most prominent and influential and therefore, this article will highlight a bit on him.
Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams, QC, SAN who was born on the 16th of December 1920 was a prominent Nigerian lawyer who was the first Nigerian to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. His father and uncle were both lawyers and were called to the bar in 1927 and 1892 respectively. He entered primary school in the 1930s, at the Methodist Ologbowo School, then went to C.M.S Grammar School, Lagos for secondary education. Despite being given a full scholarship to study mechanical engineering at Yaba Higher College, he chose to become a lawyer. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1942 and was called to the bar at the Gray’s Inn, London in 1943. He set up the first indigenous Nigerian law firm in 1948 with Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode and Chief Bode Thomas. The law firm was called “Thomas, Williams and Kayode”
In the 1950s, he was a member of the Action Group and subsequently became the minister for local government and Justice. He was the president of the Nigerian Bar Association in 1959, the association is the leading body for lawyers in the country. Throughout his career, he was involved in some memorable and important court cases, such as Lakanmi vs the Western Government of Nigeria, which set the precedent that a military government could not use its power to make laws that will appropriate an individuals property. The Oloye Williams himself died on the 26th of March, 2005.
At the moment, the conferment of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria is made in accordance with the Legal Practitioners Act 207 Section 5 (1) by the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee, headed by the Chief Justice (as Chairman), and consist of the Attorney-General, one Justice of the Supreme Court (chosen by the Chief Justice and the Attorney-General for a term of two years, renewable on one occasion only), the President of the Court of Appeal, five of the Chief Judges of the States (chosen by the Chief Justice and the Attorney-General for a term of two years, renewable on one occasion only), the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, and five legal practitioners who are Senior Advocates of Nigeria (chosen by the Chief Justice and the Attorney-General for a term of two years, renewable on one occasion only).
Taiwo Fakoyede (ed.), “F.R.A. Williams: Through the Cases”. Longman, 2000