Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Keep Off our Turf!

Law School was tough – the lectures were long and boring; I actually had to read rather than cram; the person sitting next to me loved cigarettes but apparently thought mints were overrated; and horror of horrors: there was no decent ice-cream store near the school. Everything went wrong - it was really bad. The only thing that kept me up during those hard times was the thoughts of the rewards at the end of the tunnel.

Having grown up on reruns of American law offices on NTA, I knew Law offered everything to its adherents. With this knowledge, I quickly decided that the money lawyers made was worth the insane jealousy commoners felt towards them. The lawyers on the NTA soaps were pretty smart and revered – like Enahoro beneath a wig or a beardless Soyinka with a law degree. The soaps also assured me that lawyering was most of convincing twelve people of the innocence of their clients – easy like they did it. Never mind that I suffered a terrible stutter at that time, I knew that the law was the profession for me.

I had it well figured out. I would be a ‘good’ lawyer and rather than tow the Johnnie Cochran route, my skills would help win morally upright cases. Justice would be done while I reaped the truckload of money at the end of the law rainbow. For years at the university and Law School, I withstood the indignity of the facelessness of the penguin uniforms which we wore for lectures. After all, there was the guarantee of the sartorial splendour of the wig and gown. ‘Patience comes before reward’, I told myself. Had I known, I would have added a fair dose of good luck.

Whichever the case, I knew that I along with a few thousands would be distinctly learned and better than the rest of the world. The only things I didn’t really think through were the impracticalities of layering in the tropics and the sheer inconvenience of balancing a wig over weaves. Those were mundane and far from pressing in my brilliant mind. Instead, I used my ‘thinking time’ to worry about the how to manage the trust people would have in me and my expertise. I decided that I would work hard so as not to let them down – the perils of saving the world.

Like best laid plans and naturally aided by ‘the wicked ones’ (which are the rather more convenient culprits in our scuttled plans), real life turned out differently. Everything went wrong. Theory was so different from the legally themed soaps and an 8 – 6 job. Practice was before judges whose rulings sometimes depended on what they had for breakfast. The shock at the realities of law practice comes second only to what ‘non-progressive’ Edo State plebeian indigenes must have felt as they watched their ‘man of the people’ rub shoulders with the ‘traitors to democracy’ at his electoral reform rally.

Being a lawyer is far from what it says on the tin. I suggest that there should be a warning label on law faculties – ‘Law Practice Bears No Analogy with Ally McBeal’. While there is the general automatic conferment of erudition, dignity and distinction from mere mortals (oh well, amazing is easy!), law practice is not much more.

Worse still, our skills don’t count for much as pretentious hijackers seem to have stolen our roles. Nigerian lawmakers for one. Besides some Houses of Assembly that have consistently worn the wig and gown for ceremonial occasions, some Senators have now assumed our roles. They want the benefit without the burden!

Someone should tell them that lawyers, and no one else, get away with lying and using precedents to justify the rightness of our actions. Lawyers also have the sole discretion to use religion for our own gain. That is why we have incorporated oath-taking into the justice system to scare the witness into telling us what we want to hear. Unfortunately, one Senator has not only usurped our position but extended the use of precedents as grounds for legality of underage marriage. I think we should sue for theft of professional identity or something.

Law is strictly mine, well, I, along with a few thousands in Nigeria

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