By Sylvester Udemezue
The law profession in Nigeria is in a serious mess and in urgent need of help. However, this is not the main problem; the main challenge is that there appears to be no one working to help the lawyer and his law profession to overcome their challenges. In other words, the lawyer’s problems persist and of course keep increasing because everyone everywhere appears to have abandoned lawyers and the law profession. Lawyer appears to have no one and nowhere to turn to, for help . Or, what do you think, please? Tell me I missed it! Check these out:
1. Policemen and women, EFCC, ICPC, etc are victimizing Lawyers by brutalizing lawyers, although (truth be told) some lawyers are contributorily blameful in this. As I plan to show in my next piece, lawyers and the police (law enforcement agents) share the blame 50-50.
2. Judges and justices (including of the highest courts in the land) and courts oppress lawyers. They feel no qualms in publicly abusing, insulting, and denigrating lawyers, and in some cases, without even affording the lawyers an opportunity of being heard. Without giving particulars of the “professional misconduct” allegedly committed by the lawyers, the judges/justices sometimes call these lawyers unprintable names making lawyers to feel hopeless, useless, fruitless, hapless, helpless, and manner-less, although, indeed, some lawyers are. But what’s the use of due process if judges can convict lawyers for “professional misconduct” without any opportunity of a fair hearing and without giving particulars of the charge against them? With due respect to my Lords, it is a violation of rule of law and due process to convict a suspect without a prior charge (ie, without giving him/her the particulars of the offence or professional misconduct allegedly violated) and without offering him/her and opportunity of a making a defence. Further, judges and our courts create serious holdup for cases pending in their court thereby making the cases to stay and remain in court for up to 25 to 30 years in most cases, thereby making Nigeria’s administration of justice system the slowest (and arguably the most debased) in the world. Lawyers are equally guilty with the justices.
3. Custom officials, NSCDC officials, NDLEA officials, and other law enforcement agencies frequently victimize lawyers by always, openly beating up and brutalizing, and locking lawyers up, just for doing their professional (lawyers’) jobs. Look at the latest scenario where in a viral video, some brainless custom officers are seen rough-handling, assaulting and molesting a lawyer who had gone to the custom office on behalf of his client whose car was (allegedly) impounded and detained by the customs. Even the admonition by a fellow custom officer to his colleagues, that “this man is a lawyer; this man has done practically nothing” could not deter or dissuade the irresponsible, scatterbrained and power-drunk custom officers. This is how low the law profession has sunk in Nigeria; no one has any regard or respect anymore for lawyers! Anyone can do just anything against lawyers and the law profession and get scot-free. Yes, why not? If ordinary non-lawyer policemen could be allowed to take the job of lawyers in criminal prosecution, why would they not disregard lawyers? Whatever a lawyer can do, (policemen think) we too can; so what is the need for lawyers anywhere? And the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is there issuing useless and needless public statements — statements that are never taken seriously by anyone (not even by lawyers) anywhere. Yes, because everyone now sees the NBA as an association whose leadership is only a toothless bulldog — a barking dog that never bites, full of noise and no action. The more annoying part is when one sees lawyers everywhere chanting “The Bar has spoken; The Bar Has Spoken”! Of what relevance is it that the Bar “speaks” without action? Majority of the members of the Bar are jobless, hopeless and therefore hungry, frustrated and disillusioned. And you are going about shouting “The Bar Has Spoken”! Empty-stomach speeches. Dear, NBA please stop speaking, and start acting and performing; let people hear you more in action, than in speeches. This is what your members want now! Your empty public speeches no longer moves anyone anywhere! The era of “The bar has Spoken” is in the past already; stop living in the past, in past glory. Face reality! Wake up from your slumber now, lest the profession get finally destroyed while you go about “speaking”!
4. The general public constantly and unrestrainedly mistreat lawyers by calling them “liars”. Look, Mr. Man and Mrs woman, lawyers are not liars. Assuming but not conceding that lawyers are, I can tell you that non-lawyers are even greater liars — indeed the most mischievous and barefaced lies are told by non-lawyers who also are the worst hypocrites. Hypocrisy of the highest order! Check out: (a) you call lawyers liars and you still turn around to send and sponsor your own favorite children or wards to go and become lawyers. Does this mean you sponsor your kids/wards to be liars! (b) you call lawyers liars and you still turn around and begging lawyers to come and work for you. (c) If lawyers are liars, then since you (clients, non lawyers) are the ones who pay them to tell lies, your are sponsors of lies and accordingly the principal liars! Put differently, if lawyers are liars, then clients and non-lawyers are accessories after-and-before the fact. Hence, non lawyers are partners in the lying business and therefore equally guilty with the lawyers. Why then the kettle call pot black? Why, Mr. Kettle? How market? Or,Tell me this is not true, assuming lawyers are indeed liars!
5. Law firms (yes, most of them) oppress lawyers by treating them as slaves and rags, good only to be used and dumped. Most law firms are unscrupulously selfish, collecting huge doll from clients but paying lawyers peanuts and still joining in persecuting lawyers.
6. NBA Leaderships are oppressors of lawyers — extorting lawyers, playing with the lawyers’ intelligence, and shortchanging lawyers, by collecting annual Bar Practice Fee (BPF) but refusing, failing or neglecting to do anything to promote the welfare and economic advancement of lawyers. The BPF paid by lawyers in Nigeria is total failure of consideration. NBA Leaderships have so far been the greatest enemies-of-progress to lawyers. Leaderships in the NBA constitutes mostly in clueless grandstanding, egoistic shenanigans, and hypocritical play-to-the-crowd. NBA leaders are purveyors of bad governance, enablers of lawlessness, promoters of impunity and condoners of rot. NBA Leaderships do not have any pity for the pitiable plight of lawyers in Nigeria. How have they shown any concern? They carry on as if nothing is happening even when all is not well! Imagine bad leaders (in the NBA) condemning other badly leaders, instead of working hard to correct your own iniquity! NBA, first remove the log of wood in your eyes, so you can see clearly to correct others. Charity begins at home!
7. All governments in Nigeria oppress and cheat lawyers by making lawyers the most poorly paid and unfairly badly-treated professionals in Nigeria’s public service. Imagine posting lawyer-NYSC members to secondary schools to go and teach. Imagine refusing to establish law departments in local government areas in Nigeria. Section 66(3) Nigerian Police Force Establishment Act 2020 which requires that every Police Station in Nigeria must have posted to it, no fewer than one lawyer whose job is to monitor compliance with human rights at the police station. Imagine that the government has refused to implement this section. Imagine!
8. Lawyers oppress fellow lawyers in Nigeria. Imagine that a lawyer would employ his professional colleague in his office, and then refuse to pay salaries, or refuse to impart experience or allow his professional colleagues; allow his colleagues to wallow in abject lack and penury while their employers are engaging in extravagant spending. Imagine that a lawyer would refuse a brief on grounds of gross inadequate fees only for a colleague to accept to do the same job for less than gross undercharge! Imagine for example that a non Lawyer would prepare a Deed of Assignment (for land sold for N100,000,000) and hand over to a lawyer to sign and seal for a consideration of N10,000. Further, imagine a lawyer engaging in charge and Bail9️⃣ The lawyer’s family, relatives, friends and dependants constantly, although ignorantly, oppress the lawyer. First, they all believe the lawyer is rich, well-to-do and that everything is already well for the lawyer. So, when they expect the lawyer to offer financial aid and the lawyer does not because he’s unable to, they believe the lawyer is stingy and selfish. The more the lawyer tries to explain, the higher their anger against the lawyer goes —they believe without justification, that the lawyer is lying to them and thereby compounding his already “bad” case. How I wish they have an idea what horror most lawyers go through economically. How I wish they are aware of the oppression many lawyers face in the hands of the other members and segments of society as discussed in this commentary! They don’t know and they don’t care to know. All they care about is financial help from the lawyer. The lawyer either offers the help or, (s)he is seen as selfish, insensitive, stingy and lying to cover up!
10. Clients oppress and victimize lawyers by refusing to pay lawyers’ earned fees, after the lawyer has faithfully rendered services or by refusing to pay adequately or by refusing to give the lawyers law jobs that are truly theirs (Lawyers’). Further, imagine that lawyers’ clients now prefer to take Lawyers’ jobs to EFCC, police, OPC arewa Youths, IPOB, massob, omo n’ile, NURTW, old SOJAs, ex militants, area boys and louts, etc.
11. Outsiders (non lawyers) oppress lawyers by stealing lawyers’ traditional jobs and and thereby leaving majority of lawyers jobless, money-less, hopeless, disenchanted, disillusioned, disappointed, and frustrated. Unfortunately, lawyers and their professional Leaders do practically nothing to stop these non-lawyer thieves of lawyer-jobs.
12. Regulators in the law profession oppress lawyers by neglecting lawyers, subjugating lawyers, and ignoring and refusing to tackle the pressing challenges of lawyers in Nigeria. They are only concerned about disciplining lawyers for professional misconduct. They don’t appear to give a hoot about why some lawyers engage in unprofessional conduct and about what can be done to halt the ugly trend. Why not try to find out what can be done to improve on the condition of lawyers? Punishing lawyers for “misconduct” is not a bad idea, but you should be also interested in investigating into why lawyers take to misconduct, and in lending a helping hand to halt the ugly trend. Adopt the criminology-approach, in addition to the criminal law approach! When the cause is removed the effect reduces! Improving the welfare and economic advancement of lawyers would reduce the high rate of misconduct among lawyers.
14. Law education providers and institutions in Nigeria are also oppressors of lawyers; they continue to train and to produce more Lawyers even while doing little or nothing to help improve the economic plight of the readymade lawyers and the Law profession. Law education institutions should pause, take a deep thought about the fate of their products; how are they faring in the society? Should we continue to pump more lawyers into society, or should we tune down until there is some hope for the existing ones? Further, imagine that a university assigned a quota to admit not more than 100 law students, would go ahead and take in over 400 only to turn around to start lobbying for all the 400 to be admitted to the Law School at once. And when the Law School refuses on grounds of no-adequate-facilities-on-ground and you-overshot-your-quota, these universities and their quota-overshoot graduates would turn around and begin to publicly castigate the law school and making the Law School look bad. Then a Senator Smart Adeyemi would kickstart an un-smart establish-a-Law-School-in-every-village-in-Nigeria campaign.
To be continued!*
Sylvester Udemezue (udems)