Samuel Atung SAN is the Principal Partner, Gatekeepers Consult, a Kaduna-based law firm. In this revealing interview with Gurara Accord the recently elevated legal luminary to the rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, speaks about his early days as a young lawyer and the attributes that make him thick. Excerpts:
How can we meet you?
My name is Samuel Atung SAN, I was born on the 23rd November, 1968 in Kaduna South Local Government Area of Kaduna State to the family of Laraba and Atung Vivan.
I’m happily married to a loving and caring wife, Mrs. Dorcas Atung and we are blessed with five lovely Children: Precious, Prudencia, Paula, Prosper and Peter.
Can you please tell us your educational background, from your elementary to tertiary level of education?
I began my academic journey in 1974 at LEA Primary School Polytechnic Road Tudun Wada, Kaduna. I was later transferred to Yerima ‘D’ Primary School in Dutsin – Ma in the present Katsina State where I concluded my primary education in 1980.
Between 1980 and 1983 I was at Government College, Kaduna and in 1983 my Dad was transferred to Kafanchan and during the de-boarding policy of the Kaduna State Government I was transferred to Government Secondary School, Kafanchan. And I passed out from there in 1985.
From 1985 to 1987 I was in College of Advance Studies (CAS), Zaria and from 1987 to 1990 I was in the Faculty of Law, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. And from 1991 to 1992 I was at the Law School, Lagos when I was called to the Nigerian Bar. I subsequently went to the University of Jos where I backed my second degree in Law (LLM) and currently a PhD student at the University of Jos.
When exactly did the idea of becoming a Lawyer came to your mind or, is being a lawyer a coincidence?
No! It is not. There is this story that is always been told by my Mother that even as a kid I kept saying that I wanted to be a lawyer. I was basically a science student, starting from Government College Kaduna, there was this policy that they had, placing their best students in science classes, followed by the Technical Department then the Commercial Department. In my first term in form 3, I was placed in the science classes and when I was transferred to GSS Kafanchan I was also a science student up to GCE/WASC level. My Dad actually wanted me to read Medicine. My foray into the legal profession was destined by the Almighty, even though a science student but, I found myself reading law.
We want to know about your early days as a young lawyer. How did you fair?
Of course, in my family I’m a first generation lawyer and coming into the profession of law for me was very challenging because there was nobody to really guide me as such. After Law School, I started my practice with Charlse Mafua (had a brief stint with him) and thereafter I moved to Kafanchan and joined LM Jema’a & Co before I joined Emmanuel Toro & Co in 1995.
The challenges I faced then are still the same challenges been faced by younger generation of legal practitioners. First and foremost, most law firms are reluctant to pay junior lawyers a wage that is in commensurate with the work they do. All through I was never on salary except for Charlse Mafua & Co. when I eventually met my mentor, Emmanuel Toro (SAN), even though I have never being on salary with him, he made sure that he took care of my personal interest, my welfare (more than how I would ordinarily have done). It was quite challenging, at least financially but, the benefit that accrued to me in-terms of experience, getting to learn the ropes is what I’m reaping today, I believe.
Since you started practicing as a lawyer, which case do you think stand you out?
There are so many of them that I cannot point at a particular case. I know that under my former principal, Emmanuel Toro & Co, he gave me the platform that I really expressed myself professionally. We have handled so many cases under his tutelage. For instance, we have handled numerous election petitions, we handled landmark cases like that of Gamuyari which went up to the Supreme Court came to trial denovo for the Plateau State High Court. Just before I left him there were these cases that went to the Supreme Court (Pre-election matters), the case: Usman Vs Modibbo which in a way is a Locus Classico or pre-election matters in Nigeria.
Well, looking back, I have every cause to be grateful to the Lord Almighty because there is actually no aspect of law that I didn’t have the opportunity of handling matter in. my sojourn with Emmanuel Toro & Co have revalidated the saying that if you want to go fast go alone but, if you want to go far work together with others. Since my early days in the profession I had my eyes on the bigger picture, it was not so much about money in the immediate, I wanted to learn about the profession. To know the basic rudiment of the profession and, of course, what is happening today is the manifestation of my yesterday in the profession.
Have you ever regretted reading law or being a lawyer?
Wow! Not a single day. I often ask myself if not the profession of law then, which other? I’m not only in love with the legal profession, I’m passionate about it. Apart from the everyday Court situation, it is really very, very fulfilling when you fight the cause of others, the cause of justice.
As a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, what do you have to tell young lawyers who are aspiring to become SAN?
My advice to junior lawyers is to have their eyes on the bigger picture. I have often tell them that your tomorrow is substantially the function of today. So, if you work hard today definitely your tomorrow will be better secured. Don’t think about money in the immediate. There may be many challenges but, my advice to them is not to be despair. Remain resolute and focused. In the legal profession integrity is key, very fundamental. In a nutshell, they should be very professional in all they do. Don’t cut corners. The profession is noble, try to maintain those time honoured traditions: decorum, respect, and professionalism at the Bar. That way I believe that they will be able to ultimately achieve their goal of becoming either SAN or tested professionals in the field of law.
Do you have a role model in the Nigerian legal parlance? If yes, who is he?
I have so many in Nigeria, legal luminary like Rotimi Williams was a role model to virtually every legal practitioner. Subsequently I have some illuminating and leading lights in the legal profession such as Emmanuel Toro (SAN), Yunus Ustaz (SAN), JB Daudu (SAN), so many of them too numerous to mention. They have paid their dues as far as the legal profession is concerned. And for me, the way they conduct themselves (both in and out of the Bar) have been very, very inspiring. They are imminently qualified to be called my role models: indeed they are.
Now that you are SAN, do you still have any feat you aspire to attain?
Well, to the glory of God Almighty, my target is to always work hard to improve myself on a daily basis. To become a better lawyer, set example for our younger colleagues, of course, to contribute my own quarter to the advancement of the rule of law in Nigeria against the cause of justice. One of the bane of this country is the failure to adhere to the rule of law, which has given rise to the culture of impunity. If I can contribute my own quarter towards entrenching the rule of law and I will, at the end of the day, be fulfilled.