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Politics and law

By Alade Rotimi-John
02 June 2023   |   4:12 am
Even as politics is many lawyers’ tangential interest outside the law, its allure for them is more than cursory. Indications are that many practitioners of the law have realised that a term in the legislature or as the chief executive of their State...

politics and law

Even as politics is many lawyers’ tangential interest outside the law, its allure for them is more than cursory. Indications are that many practitioners of the law have realised that a term in the legislature or as the chief executive of their State would enhance their reputation. Lawyers generally become logical candidates for nomination through one form of civil society advocacy or another. Most times their nomination is for spitting or thwarting a rival party’s expression of interest or for it to be used as the cat’s paw to pull out chestnuts from a raging fire.

Such nominated candidates self-gratifyingly consider it embarrassing to refuse the call of their party. They conclude it unwise if any favours are to be hoped for in future. Their morals, ability, and social standing are in the meanwhile put in abeyance as they “answer” the call of the party or as they become beholden to the party totem. For them and their party, the fundamental issue is the control of power. Many other politicians who are not lawyers generally defer almost totally to their lawyer colleagues as is often witnessed in the perceived importance that some of them attach to their opinion on legal questions.
To give an indication of the unique interplay of politics and law, we go to no more illustrative source than the performance of politicians in the First Republic and more particularly in the Western Region of Nigeria. Contrastingly, politics or its practice today is now completely mired by a narrow perception involving parochialism, bigotry, corruption, nepotism, cronyism, etc. even as the practitioners of the law have not been spared of the leprous effect of these manifestations. This is essentially true of the manner in which the otherwise pivotal intellectual and cultural leadership of lawyers have been sacrificed on the altar of unmitigated alienation away from the reality of a pervasive despoliation which ought to ginger a radical intervention.
Lawyers will seem to have fundamentally departed from the kernel of their comprehensive, synthesising calling. There is a requirement to interrogate the untold abandonment by lawyers of an ordained socialising role. A radicalisation of consciousness which ought to be inscribed in the emergence of a new curriculum in aid of a necessary radical current in the Nigerian law practitioner has become a desideratum. It is to be observed that lawyers over time have become execrable due to participation in or shocking support for political charlatanism or as part of a prevailing atmosphere of racketeering.
The general public is outraged even as practitioners of the law have become infamous in taste, in style, and in everything that ought to redound to the upliftment of the morality of the law. The law for most part is derided as the language of certain decisions reached oftentimes does not seem to be the language of the law. It is common ground that certain laws are enacted to meet the difficulty disclosed by earlier laws or to avoid its continuing mischief. Most times, they are prefaced with the words “For the avoidance of doubts”. They are clearly designed to provide machinery for reinforcing the social or political goal of their intendment. A construction which will achieve this object is consequently to be preferred to one which will fail to do so.
The verbiage of the law most times does not in any way compel a lawyer’s arrival at an awkward or inappropriate result. Rules of construction that provide a guide for commonsensical result ought to be followed for the resolution of matters a propos the issue at hand and need not be construed in a manner which brings it unto conflict with even the rules of grammar. Words or phrases that have sensible and distinct interpretation need not be construed as to render the chain of cause and effect ineffectual even as the facts in issue themselves are indistinguishable. Putting a construction on statutory words which they cannot reasonably bear will of necessity defeat the course of justice, bring the law to lamentable ridicule and render its practitioners otiose or irrelevant.
Even as lawyers sitting as judges over a wide range of affairs are imbued with extraordinary powers – so wide and most times unquestionable – they are enjoined to exercise them judiciously. The powers have presumably been given to sane, mature and patient persons. It is right that a judge whose representative of the people he is, should give the public the assurance of his intention justly, diligently, impartially and openly. He must be scrupulously even-handed, courageous, tactful and discreet, and should be learned. Above all, a judge ought to avoid being classified as a government judge or lackey.
The Nigerian political landscape is visibly changing, shaped, no doubt by the slow-paced development of the country and the growing domination of her politics by men with questionable formal education. Many of them in the legislature, for example, are a paragon of political inactivity due to lack of cognate learning. The people have come to have a low opinion of them as lawmakers. What a specimen to be at the head of our affairs, the people seem to be saying in grim resignation.
Presentations in parliament are so slipshod or so puerile, not only in literary construction but in the ideas, or in the sentiment expressed, etc. Mediocrity has become the simple qualification for admission into the “hallowed” chambers. While the people are in desperate need of social intervention programmes, their government in the legislature does not seem to be able to do anything, except for its members to look on as they chew groundnuts and kolanuts.
Lawyers in politics are supposed to be above the quagmire of political indiscretion. The bestial nature of the indecent horde of wet-sponges, tattered washing on the line, soured bean soup has become pervasive. It is so bad that even a sort of grandeur creeping into the picture by way of lawyers’ participation has ironically resulted in a balder and dash. The performance of the present dispensation has elicited the greatest disdain for politicians as their stock-in-trade is generally observed as the blatant non-performance of vows or manifesto. Their meandering words mean nothing and have left the people frustrated and hopeless. Modern-day media will seem to have removed all traces of preoccupation with language even as the fine-tuning of words is no longer an instinct.
As Disraeli dominated the British House of Commons in the 19th Century, so Winston Churchill dominated it with words in the 20th, although for much of the time he was a political voice in the wilderness. Our local example is captured in a compendium aptly entitled Voice of Wisdom, Voice of Courage, Voice of Reason, in which Chief Obafemi Awolowo, first as Leader of Government Business, and subsequently as Premier of Western Region, and Leader of Opposition in Nigeria’s Federal Parliament showcased the importance of “the opportunity of pricking the bloated bladder of lies with the poniard of truth”. As it was with Churchill so it may be said of Awo that he “never spared himself in conversation. He gives himself so generously that hardly anybody else is permitted to give anything in his presence”. Viewed today as systematic liars, swindlers and beggarly cheats, our politicians have lost the confidence of the people they profess to lead.
 Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote vide   

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