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Lawyers’ show of shame over bags

By Sylvester Udemezue
28 August 2022   |   2:41 am
While the TCCP for NBA-AGC 2022 should have done better in terms of planning and logistic arrangements, nothing appears to justify the shame some lawyers brought upon the NBA

[FILES] Lawyer

While the TCCP for NBA-AGC 2022  should have done better in terms of planning and logistic arrangements, nothing appears to justify the shame some lawyers brought upon the NBA and the entire Law Profession by the behaviour exhibited on Tuesday, August 23, 2022 — fighting over conference bags.

See: (1) “Lawyers Go Rogue At NBA-AGC 2022 Over Non-Distribution of Conference Bags, Destroy Registration Booths” (August 24, 2022: TheNigeriaLawyer); and (2).

“Lawyers Stage Violent Protest at AGC over bag Collection, Overpower Bouncers, Loot Conference Materials” (August 24, 2022: BarristerNG).

Now, if the TCCP had promised conference bags and didn’t deliver in good time, there were many other (lawful and honourable) options for affected lawyers to have enforced their right to have those bags given to them. Behaving as thugs, common street louts and urchins, doesn’t tell a good story about an otherwise gathering of supposedly noble, honourable and gentle men and women.

By the way, what is a Conference bag, that a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria fight for, loot and destroy conference booths, and other materials. Reminiscent of the October 2020 post #ENDSARS palliative-looting protests in Nigeria during which Nigerian youths became something else.

In my paper, I talked about a group of protesters I preferred to call “The Reprisal-Inspired Protesters” who unleashed a round of brutal mayhem and wanton destruction of properties, public and private. This set of protesters had targeted public facilities for destruction, arson and looting and vandalization. I wrote about yet another set: “The Possess-Your Palliatives Protesters”. This set of protesters targeted mainly properties/warehouses housing any form of COVID-19 palliatives meant for the masses, as well as houses/properties belonging to some public office holders.

The target of this set of protesters was mainly to possess what they saw (rightfully or wrongly) as their own possessions, their belief being that palliatives meant for the masses had been hijacked and stored away by selfish, self-centred and insensitive politicians and political office-holders. See: “A Catholic Cogitation On The Freeze Order Against Bank Accounts Of Alleged #EndSARS Protest Promoters” By Sylvester Udemezue (November 9, 2020: BarristerNG).

Find time to read the paper and see the attributes of those protesters and then, tell me if there’s any difference between their conduct and what was witnessed on August 23, 2022, at the NBA-AGC 2022 ground among lawyers. What then is the difference between lawyers and hoodlums, if lawyers could conduct themselves, at a slight provocation, as hoodlums?

Meanwhile, I was not surprised by what happened on August 23, 2022. Anyone who has closely followed up on social media about how lawyers behave during NBA national elections, would not be shocked at what happened last Tuesday. Go on social media during national elections to see the level of cyber-thuggery and animalistic behaviour playing out among supposedly learned gentlemen. Once you are not on their candidate’s side, come and see insults, abuse, malignant personality attacks, and false campaign of calumny they’d wage against you. Even if you raise issues, supported by verifiable facts and evidence, for discussion, no one wants to discuss ideas and issues. The only way to stay out of their way is to keep mute. Once you write an article on any issue, come and see insults, unprintable, unfortunately false, things being said about you. To shut you up! To silence you!

Gentlemen, it appears some area boys, thugs and louts have found their way into the Law Profession in Nigeria. How they got in, I don’t know. They just pretend to be gentlemen in the universities and in the Law School. The moment they become lawyers, paam! They start behaving as street louts. A colleague said to me, “(Udems,) I think you have to express this concern strongly at the Law School. The legal education process should be able to fish out those who have no business becoming lawyers at that early stage”. I said to him, that the Nigerian Law School was doing marvellously well in inculcating ethics and responsibility in aspirants to the Bar. Yes, as a Teacher, you can only teach a horse the way to the stream and the benefits of drinking from the stream.

As of the time of teaching, the horse pretends to be listening and following. But, you see, after the horse leaves you, the teacher, you can’t follow the horse around to force a horse to go there and take water from the stream. I mean, after Call to the Bar.

In a published commentary, I wrote, “In my humble opinion, Nigerian Law School Lecturers are much more than Teachers; they’re mentors, inspirers, motivators, comforters, life-builders, counsellors, and partners-in-progress, comrades-in-arms with their students…It must however be pointed out (and this is the way I personally see it) that the principal object of education at the Nigerian Law School, is to prepare Bar aspirants to educate themselves throughout their lives… At the Nigerian Law School, the teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself”. (See: _” Nigerian Law School Program Is Not “Self-Taught”; But Teacher-Taught, Teacher-Driven In Line With Contemporary Benchmarks And International Best Practices”(12 July 2021: TheNigeriaLawyer).
 
Accordingly, no one should blame the Law School for ugly conduct of any lawyer. In Act 1, Scene 4 of William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, King Duncan while enquiring about the execution of the incumbent Thane of Cawdor, had told Lennox, Malcolm, Donalbain and the attendants that “there’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.” What Duncan meant is that you cannot see through to what a man is thinking or has in mind, or the stuff he’s made of, just by looking at his face; there’s no way of telling what’s in a man’s mind. Hence, Duncan said he had misjudged the old Thane of Cawdor because “There’s no art / To find the mind’s construction in the face”. What is ironic about Duncan’s assessment of Cawdor and Macbeth? Macbeth turned out to become Duncan’s ultimate betrayer! Such is life!

Back to the issue, in fairness to the NBA TCCP for AGC 2022, the roguish and animalistic behaviour displayed by some lawyers at the NBA-AGC 2022 on August 23, 2022, has only little to do with any lapses (if any) on the part of NBA Leadership or of the TCCP. Supposedly responsible lawyers should have expressed their grievances in an orderly, gentlemanly manner, bearing in mind that the general public was watching.

Thus, in my paper titled, “An Appraisal of Professional Legal Ethics and Proper Conduct for Lawyers In Nigeria”, I had written, “It is therefore not surprising that quite often, the public judges the legal profession by the standard of its erring members, hence the need for members of the Bar to be fully alive to these duties and responsibilities in order to check the falling ethical standard in the profession, be examples to the society in which they find themselves and ultimately promote the honour and nobility of the profession.

Discipline at the bar is very essential. This is because offences, to which the police attach no
significance when committed by a medical doctor, may be attended to with humiliation and embarrassment when committed by a lawyer.

“Similarly, a simple act of breach of the law by an accountant, which may not be considered as anything, may form banner headlines in newspapers and magazines if committed by a lawyer. This only stresses the fact that society views lawyers as custodians of a high moral value and distinguished members of the society, whose conduct and activities should serve as a light to the rest of the society”. (see: Udemezue, S.C., “An Appraisal of Professional Legal Ethics and Proper Conduct for Lawyers In Nigeria” (2021) Vol. 21, No. 17, Jun 3, 2021, Legal Ethics & Professional Responsibility eJournal.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no doubt that I put a measure of blame on NBA TCCP 2022 for not making sufficient arrangements and early enough, to ensure relevant conference materials got to delegates in good time. As we did during the NBA-AGC 2019, all Conference materials should have been completely distributed no later than Monday morning, on the first day of the NBA-AGC plenaries.

To achieve this, the TCCP must ensure conference materials arrived long before the previous Friday and distribution ought to have started from the previous Friday, in this case on 19 August 2022. If it were so, there would have been little or no issues. In 2019, we ordered over 12,000 conference bags, etc. And they arrived more than a week before the start of the Conference.

However, in a situation in which this is not done, because of some ill-planning, or other unforeseen logistic challenges, the question is, should lawyers who are supposed to be Gentlemen, Honourable and Noble, now throw caution to the wind and begin behaving as untrained animals and ill-mannered area boys on the streets?
Nothing can justify such gross misconduct among lawyers.

I, therefore, suggest that the video of that ugly incident be thoroughly examined. Anyone identified to be among the perpetrators of that shameful act should be dragged before the LPDC without any delay.

Section 12(2), LPA, Cap L11, 2004 covers such gross misbehaviour by people who should know better: Infamous conduct not in professional respect but incompatible with the status of a legal practitioner. It’s one of the types of professional misconduct for which a lawyer may face disciplinary actions before any of the disciplinary organs of the Bar: (1). Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), (2). The Supreme Court: see section 13(1) LPA; or (3). Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN): see section 13(2) LPA.

Section 12(2) provides: “Where a person whose name is on the roll is judged by the disciplinary committee to be guilty of misconduct not amounting to infamous conduct which, in the opinion of the disciplinary committee, is incompatible with the status of a legal practitioner, the disciplinary committee may, if it thinks fit, give such a direction as is authorised by paragraph (c) (ii) or (iii) of subsection (1) of this section; and any such direction may, where appropriate, include a provision requiring the refund of money paid or the handing over of documents or any other thing, as the circumstances of the case may require”.

Rule 1 of the RPC, 2007, is also relevant: A lawyer should not engage in conduct unbecoming of a legal practitioner. Part of Rule 1(1) provides: “A Lawyer shall …maintain a high standard of
professional conduct, and Shall do not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner”.
 
Sylvester Udemezue (Udems).
mrudems@yahoo.com.