Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has criticised the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for exhibiting “crass ignorance and incomparable low level wretched illiteracy” in its assessment of Dr. Livy Uzoukwu's qualifications, in the petition challenging the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the February 23 election.
In a counter-affidavit, INEC had challenged the choice of Uzoukwu as counsel in the petition, claiming the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) was not on the roll call of lawyers called to the bar and therefore ineligible to practise in the country.
The counter-affidavit specifically referred to documents signed by the learned SAN as Dr. Livy Uzoukwu as against one Dr. Livinus Uzoukwu, which INEC acknowledged to be on the roll call yet argued that both names could not be referring to one and same person.
Reacting to the claim, Atiku said INEC exhibited “crass ignorance” as the use of abbreviations by counsel has been settled by the Supreme Court.
In a statement signed by Phrank Shaibu, Special Assistant on Public Communications and Strategy, the PDP flagbearer said as in the case of the dubious WAEC certificate paraded by Buhari, the APC and INEC has assembled a team of lawyers intent on misleading the courts and Nigerians in general.
“It's either INEC is not aware or chose to maintain a blind eye as far as this issue is concerned,” he said. “How can you say a former Attorney General of Imo State and a SAN is not qualified to practise law in Nigeria? This is a clear case of crass ignorance and incomparable display of low level of illiteracy intended to mislead the court and Nigerians."
The former Vice President referred Nigerians to a judgment of the Supreme Court permitting counsels to use abbreviations as well as their full names, adding that the use of Livy as against Livinus in the roll call of lawyers called to the bar does not in any way diminish from the qualification of his counsel.
To cement his argument, Atiku reproduced a previous Supreme Court judgement on the matter as follows:
In the case of DANKWANBO v ABUBARKAR (2015) LPELR-25716(SC) the Supreme Court in a unanimous judgment comprising of a full court of 7 Justices( normally the number is 5) held:
Whether an abbreviated name of counsel is permissible for endorsement on court processes I must say clearly, that an abbreviated name is legal and permissible. It does not cease to be a person's name or render it to lose its juristic personality. In other words, an abbreviation of the ﬁrst name of any person whose name is on the Roll of Legal Practitioners does not render the abbreviated name to become unregistered or unknown to law as argued by the appellant. This is a diﬀerent situation from the use of two names that are on the role as a Legal Practitioner's name to ﬁle processes in court. There is no doubt that two persons or personalities cannot become, except in marriage when the Statutory law of marriage treats husband and wife of two diﬀerent personalities as one as far as the relationship exists.? In Amos Oketade Vs. Olayinka Adewunmi & Ors (2010) NWLR (Pt.1195) 63 at 74, this court opined as follows: "There is a big legal diﬀerence between the name of 3 ﬁrm of legal practitioner and the name of a legal practitioner simpliciter. While the name of Olujinmi and Akeredolu is a ﬁrm with some corporate existence, the name of a legal practitioner is a name qua solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria which has no corporate connotation. As both carry diﬀerent legal entities in our jurisprudence of parties, one cannot be a substitute for the other because they are not synonyms. It is clear that Olujinmi and Akeredolu is not a name of a Legal Practitioner in Nigeria..... There is no such name in the roll of legal practitioners...."There is no doubt that the court came to the above conclusion in that case because it was not disputed that the name Olujinmi and Akeredolu are two diﬀerent names of two distinct personalities. The two names with the conjunctive word cannot make it one name of a legal practitioner on the roll of Legal Practitioners. Such name cannot be found on the roll. But the name of Samuel Peter Kargbo which is on the roll remains a legal practitioner who is entitled to practice law in the Nigerian Courts by that name either with abbreviated ﬁrst name or initials of his other names other than the family name - Kargbo. It cannot be said that the name "Sam Kargbo" is either a ﬁctitious or false name. I agree that it is the same name of Samuel Peter Kargbo - a Legal practitioner on the roll of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. I agree entirely with the court below when at p.2226 of the record the court, per Ogunwumiju, JCA stated beautifully, inter alia, as follows: ".......The purpose of Sections 2 and 24 of the legal Practitioners Act is to exclude anyone from practicing as a Barrister and Solicitor who had not been called to the Bar and whose name had not been enrolled as a Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. There was no doubt that the counsel who appeared before the tribunal was a Barrister and Solicitor duly enrolled to practice law before the courts in Nigeria. Counsel's aﬃdavit to that eﬀect was never countered." I cannot agree more with the court below. The trial tribunal was wrong to have held that the counsel to the petitioner who is the 1st respondent herein cannot practice law with his abbreviated name. The court below was perfectly right and put the point straight.There are many Senior Legal Practitioners and Judicial Oﬃcers whose ﬁrst name as it appears on the roll of legal Practitioners of the Supreme Court of Nigeria has been abbreviated as it stands today, yet that abbreviation has not robbed and could not rob them of their status as legal practitioners nor can it be said that they have contravened the Legal Practitioners Act. Many ﬁrst names such as Oluwole, Olukayode, Akinlolu, Christian, Okechukwu, Joseph, Samuel, Emmanuel, Omotayo, Olajide, Oladele, Olabode appear in the Roll but today stand abbreviated as ﬁrst name of legal practitioners as Wole, Olu, Akin, Chris, Okey, Joe, Sam, Emma, Tayo, Jide, Dele, Bode. Until the contrary is proved, abbreviated ﬁrst name or initials before family name used on documents for ﬁling processes in court or announced as appearing for litigants remain valid and proper forever." Per ARIWOOLA, J.S.C. (Pp. 66-70, Paras. E-A)