Are we legal or public relations practitioners?
I recall that in 1992 following our sell-out to Ibrahim Babangida’s military presidency, I went on a lone protest in the newspapers through three articles namely, ‘Lawyer’s culpability in executive lawlessness’, “The lawyer as a mercenary” and ‘Dashing the last hope of the common man’.
I have watched ever since to see how we grow and react to challenges of our time particularly since our new democratic experience. I am sad to observe that sixteen years into our democratic experience since 1999, we have not changed. Just as we sold out to the military, we have sold out to the politicians. You will agree with me that with Babangida coming out in the ‘TELL’ Magazine of December 1998 that ‘Every military regime is a fraud’, I couldn’t be more justified in my protest of 1992. Something tells me that if we do not change our ways now, a time will come when the politicians themselves, like Babangida, will laugh and confess that lawyers are the problem. At that time, the coming generation will ask us to account. The effect of our sell-out to the politicians is that many of us do not have real legal practice.
We are more of Public Relations Practitioners than legal practitioners. A society in which patronage of lawyers is based on their knowledge of the Judge rather than of the law is not progressive for national development.
Today, after many years a sitting Attorney-General of the Federation lamented at a conference in Ibadan, Oyo State that “law has failed in Nigeria”, we can no longer pretend we are not seeing it. Recall that the U.S had said Nigeria would fail in 2015 and we can no longer pretend we are not heading there. My quip is what is law doing to revive this nation and save it from imminent perdition? What are we contributing today, through our legal practice, to the programme of finding solution(s) to our national problem of insecurity, economic squalor and under development?
Judging by my experiences in legal practice and the judicial process, I can say that the history of the failure of Nigeria as a State will not be complete without looking at the role of the lawyer. Indeed history will be lying if it does not record the lawyer as the primary culprit. By ‘the lawyer’, the Judge is included. And if you ask why, I will tell you that the lawyer’s lack of professionalism in the practice of the profession has not helped in the envisioned national development.
Relationship with the Court Registrars
It is time for lawyers to be self assertive: what exactly is our position in the scheme of administration of justice? The current state of affairs wherein lawyers are entirely at the mercy of the judge and court registrars is totally unacceptable. Among the issues of the moment that we must look into here are:
File chasing should not be part of the lawyer’s business; once a case is filed, it becomes the business of the court through the registrars to move the file in the usual course of business as a civil servant. For lawyers to be chasing movement of files from table to table, bribing from point to point, is totally unacceptable. We should be seen to be moving with the age of technology.
The current situation where lawyers get to court after wading through stressful traffic to be told the court is not sitting is totally unacceptable. It saves us a lot if we are notified ahead of time through our GSM or e-mail that we supply in our court processes. What are these media of communication for?
‘Bread and Butter Practice’,
What are we practising for, just for bread and butter? My learned colleagues, we cannot fold our arms, practising as we like, as we currently do and expect a miracle of a national growth or development. Nigeria is today at a very low ebb. Only righteousness even in our legal practice and the judicial process can revive Nigeria as a nation.
We must change to avoid catastrophe.
I speak from shame, that for over 30 years at the Bar, I cannot point to what I have used law to do for my country. And I know if any of us is asked the same question, the fellow will not have anything to say beyond the guarantee of a daily meal ticket. And since that is the primary consideration, anything can be done to get that meal. But what about coming generations? I want to believe that if as in Professor Wole Soyinka “wasted generation’, we can courageously fix ourselves within that circle, having failed to apply the law to achieve our national objective, then we should begin to consider generations coming behind. What will they practice, law of oppression and injustice as of today?
I sincerely believe that, to build a great nation and prepare a future for coming generations, we must carry legal practice and the judicial process beyond the current bread and butter level. It is because we operate at this level that we lawyers and Judges are now easily associated with Corruption! We must change this.
Let us accept that the failure of Nigeria is not just that of the politicians. It is more of the failure of all professionals in Nigeria, but more particularly the lawyers, because we have compromised the standards envisaged by the ethics of our profession. Nigeria has failed because we failed to defend our constitution. We have failed because we have failed to protect democracy and the rule of law but have placed bread and butter higher than any other consideration. Our laws are made to promote hooliganism which is foundational to the terrorism and other militant or violent activities challenging the peace and security of the nation today.
In our current state of insecurity in which fellow human beings are being killed daily, and many of our colleagues are satisfied because they can rent Police Security from ill-gotten wealth, with which they go around everywhere, I will be failing in my calling if I do not speak up. This is the only opportunity I have, being alive by the grace of God, to speak up now. I cannot pass here a second time. And what I want to be remembered for is what I said or did against oppression and injustice of our time arising from our failure rather than the bread and butter I acquired through legal practice.
Law’s failure as boost to official hooliganism.
Let us look at some acts of official terrorism that we lawyers watch perpetrated in modern Nigeria under a written constitution. What is the difference between an armed robber who snatches a car at gun point, using the gun, and a traffic warden who, with the use of law, pushes me off my wheels and drives away my car to an unknown government dump yard if not that one is ‘official’ by being executed under law and the other outside law? What difference does it make from kidnapping when as against pushing a man out of his car, government agents hedged him in and drive him to Alausa where he might be killed inside a container where he is detained. What is the difference where a hawker gets abducted into a government Task Force Van and dumped somewhere both his/her goods taken away from him?
What is the name for government officials sealing up a citizen’s business premises or demolishing his property for a mere contravention when in actual fact it is a failure of cooperation in a corrupt practice if not terrorism? All these are beside the unwholesome practices conducted within legal practice and the judicial process.
These include brief rigging and client swapping.
In modern Nigeria, we are quick to blame Obasanjo for seizing Lagos State’s Local Government Fund. We are quick to hail the Supreme Court decision declaring the action illegal. But the action was defended by the lawyer in the Attorney-General where the litigation could have been avoided by the Attorney-General advising and settling the matter administratively.
It should be stated perhaps for the first time that one danger in the likes of that action by ex-president Obasanjo is that if for any technical reason, the case had been lost to the other side, then illegality would have been endorsed. That is one effect of the subversion of our judicial process.
Role of Attorney-General.
All Attorneys–General in the Federation of Nigeria do not operate in the full plenitude of their duties to the state. As a barrister and solicitor, both roles are combined in Nigeria as against some other jurisdictions, an Attorney-General should be seen to be advising Government rather than defending every action of Government. This state of affairs has turned Governors in the States into emperors with the threat of becoming out-laws or security risks in the States. It was this attitude that suckled Babangida to an absolute despot and late Abacha to what Professor Wole Soyinka called ‘averter’.
Unwholesome involvement of lawyers in Government.
Many of our colleagues of the inner Bar – the Senior Advocates of Nigeria, are now more of recruits of government or government agencies than legal practitioners. On the aphorism that “he who pays the piper dictates the tune’, many of these colleagues do not advise sincerely, but do so in protection of legal fees. In other words, the quality of advice is poor. And with this state of affairs, the quality of judgments of our court is not left out. I am wont to suggest that a quality control process should be set up by law to x-ray the quality of advice of the lawyer and judgments of courts.
On our constitution as the problem.
I have heard it said over and again that our constitution is faulty. Some say ‘it is a fraud’ because of the terms of its preamble. Others say, certain provisions are this or that. As such every problem of ours is blamed on the faulty constitution. But I wonder how the constitution is the problem. In so far as no constitution or any other provision can be perfect, the problem must be traced to other causes.
We are the problem, we lawyers.
I recall that in our early study in jurisprudence, the Professor gave an illustration of how five blind men defined an elephant from the different perspectives they touched the beast at. Let us look at two events that have agitated the nation since the return of democratic rule. The late Yar’Adua left the country and abdicated the thrown for medical treatment abroad without observing the provisions of the constitution. Rather than take the right step, the politicians went politicking. And we joined them.
Today papers, have reported cases of Governors jetting out at will for medical treatment for as long as they want with nobody not knowing where they are. Is the constitution the problem here? Similarly, the immunity clause that has become an albatross to constitutional democracy in Nigeria, what does it take to interpret this provision? I have heard again and again that the solution lies in amending the constitution. And I say this can be so only in a country where there are no lawyers or where there are lawyers who talk politics rather than law.
The citizen’s forum for Constitutional Reform, a coalition of NGOs falsely “maintain that the constitution is essentially flawed and does not guarantee sustainable democracy and democracy”. But I posit that this is a product of a bending spirit. Nigeria needs men with a mending spirit, men who will see the positive out of every circumstance. For example, with a mending spirit, from a positive thinking, we can look at a provision and interpret the law, not from our encumbered Supreme Court’s view of its “right to be wrong” and say parliament could not have intended unreasonable conclusion on the provision on immunity for the governor.
Esezoobo, a lawyer wrote from Lagos.