The Role Of Lawyers In Nigeria: Defining The Relevance Of A Legal Practitioner In Nigeria
This essay attempts to examine, outline, appraise and appreciate the person of a lawyer in nation building in Nigeria. A Lawyer is one who is knowledgeable in law, one who studied and practices law as an advocate or solicitor.
The word Lawyer is a conative from the word Law. Law has been defined differently. It could mean a filed of study, it could mean a profession or an authoritative rule guiding and governing the affairs of people in the society. In this context, we refer to it as a PROFESSION.
It is one enviable, honourable, revered, admired and reputable profession that leaves a person who studies or studied it with an experienced, well groomed and learned mind. It does not stop at doing this but it also sharpens, moulds, and grooms a person in character.
The reason why it is referred to as one profession that builds those who study it in learning(mind, intellect, cognition) and character(demeanor, behaviour, conducts and act). Law as a concept is a rule that exists to regulate conducts of men in the society. Law makes not only the nation but the world a better place. It is the hope of every common man.
It leaves the society in a state of orderliness, peace, tranquility free from anarchy, lawlessness and savagery. The importance of law in the society cannot be overemphasized, as law initiates order, law institutes order which brings peace and aids an efficient running of the society, school, churches, organizations etc. You can find laws, different rules, Rules of Profession, customs and even moral codes guiding and directing the affairs of men in the society as they live their lives and operate in such place, profession etc.
If there was no law, the society and its components will suffer owing to the fact that every man has an interest, such an interest might be good or bad and 95% of this specie called Man can go to any length to satisfy his needs, desires and interest. This idea was well buried in Thomas Hobbes’ Theory, an English philosopher who in his popular and influential work; LEVIATHAN gave a descriptive picture of what life will look like without law “LIFE WILL BE SOLITARY, POOR, NASTY, BRUTISH, and SHORT”.
A lawyer is one whom people seek legal advice from or make consultations as to what obtains or does not obtain, what is proper and improper, what is right and wrong, what is legal or illegal, what is legitimate or illegitimate.
People approach a lawyer when making agreements, when venturing into a business, when taking decisions etc. People see lawyers as demi gods, as everyone believes a lawyer to know it all and to always be right owing to the fact that a lawyer knows what is right thus, you won’t find such a person doing what is wrong.
The conferment of the status of a lawyer on a person who studied law and has been called to the bar is an ancient practice that has existed long before this time; it is as Old as the biblical days owing to the fact that we had sound lawyers who were referred to as Scribes in the Bible(People who are knowledgeable in law).
We had the likes of Ezra, Apostle Paul and Zenas The first Christian recognized lawyer. The World at large had it’s first lawyer in Cornelia Sorabji (15 November 1866 – 6 July 1954) an Indian lawyer, social reformer and writer who became the world’s first lawyer. Also In Nigeria, The first Nigerian to study law and be called to the English Bar was Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams (14 July 1855 – 15 March 1915).
The first indigenous Nigerian lawyer, called to the English bar on 17 November 1879. These persons flowing from Zenas the biblical lawyer who always represented Apostle Paul using his knowledge of the law to protect Apostle Paul, Christians and the gospel of Christ to Cornelia and to Sapara Williams all played a key and vital role in nation building. They made useful impact and made sure Justice is upheld as that is the primal focus of the law.
Who is a Lawyer?
One who lectures is a lecturer, one who teaches is a teacher, one who sings is a singer, one who plays football a footballer this also applies to regarding or referring to one who studied and practices law in court or anywhere; a lawyer. A lawyer is one knowledgeable in the theoretical and practical aspect of law.
A lawyer is one who knows the law. lawyer, one trained and licensed to prepare, manage, and either prosecute or defend a court action as an agent for another and who also gives advice on legal matters that may or may not require court action. A lawyer is a learned mind. A lawyer is a counsel.
A lawyer is one who can define what is legal or illegal. In Nigeria, Lawyer is the general name for someone who studied law and has been called to the Nigerian Bar. Such a person who is a lawyer can be an Attorney or Advocate as he will advise and represent people (clients) in legal matters in court.
He can also be a Solicitor with the traditional role of offering services to clients without representing them in court, they usually practice out of court, they do more of documentations and corporate practice.
They are not the “Court going type of lawyers”. Nigeria as a country has produced good, sound, active and outstanding lawyers who have sound mind and reasoning, lawyers who have died in course of doing Justice, lawyers who upheld the Cardinals of Justice, lawyers who have made useful impacts in the legal profession and have by their acts imprinted their names in the sands of time.
The role of Lawyers in Nigeria and nation building can be evidently seen as Nigeria has produced and is still producing quintessential lawyers who made and is making useful impacts in the legal profession either at the academic area, at the bar and at the bench.
A lot of persons have made useful impacts in the academic area of the legal profession we have the likes of Prof. Damilola Olawuiyi, The Youngest Professor of Law and The Youngest and first person who attained the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria at age 32. Olawuyi has practised and taught law in more than 50 countries across five continents (Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North America). He has served as a visiting professor at Columbia Law School, New York, US and senior visiting research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, UK.
The jurist was also a visiting professor to the China University of Political Science and Law. In 2015, the scholar was promoted to the rank of full professor of law at Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, at the age of 32 years, making him one of the youngest full professors of law in Nigeria. His law career began at 21 when he was awarded overall best graduating student at Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo state, in 2005.
In 2006, he proceeded to the Nigerian Law School where he obtained first-class honours after which he obtained two masters degrees from Calgary and Harvard.He bagged a Doctor of Philosophy in Law degree at Keble College, University of Oxford, the UK, in 2013.
And was later made a professor of law. he is the current Deputy Vice Chancellor of Afe Babalola University. The jurist has published two books; Extractives Industry Law in Africa (2018) and The Human Rights-Based Approach to Carbon Finance (2016). The scholar is currently the vice-chairman of the International Law Association. his epoch and commendable feats in the legal profession moved alot of students to success as they all wished to be just like him. He played a key role in Nigeria and even outside Nigeria by making useful and positive impact in the legal profession.
At the Bar, we have the likes of Chief Ganni Fawehinmi(SAN) A sound Human Rights Activist and Lawyer. Fawehinmi gained prominence when he took on the case of a factory worker, Bala Abashe who alleged that the Secretary to the government of Benue-Plateau State, Andrew Obeya had an affair with his wife. Abashe then sued Obeya for assault and damages for adultery.
Fawehinmi took on the case as a pro bono lawyer for Abashe while the state government stood behind their official. Efforts were made for Fawehinmi to drop the case, when that failed, Obeya was forced to resign. However, Fawehinmi was detained for nine months. The publicity of the case improved the exposure of his law practice. From 1971 to 1973, he was the national publicity secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association.
However, in 1981, Fawehinmi was queried by a disciplinary committee and told to explain himself within fourteen days why he was touting himself through advertisements in a weekly publication contrary to the ethics of the bar. In the case, Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC).
Chief Gani Fawehinmi (1985) the Supreme Court upheld the Appeal Court judgement rendering the LPDC’s proceedings against Chief Fawehinmi ineffective on the basis that the constitution of the LPDC with the Attorney-General as Chairman made him accuser, prosecutor and judge at the same time which breached the principles of natural justice and therefore Chief Fawehinmi’s right to fair hearing.
The judgement led to an amendment of the Legal Practitioners’ Act 1975. How so also the founder and puboishedr of Nigerian Weekly Law Reports . Chief Ganni was hated by politicians for his guts. He stood for truth, Justice and equity, he was never a tool for societal destruction or a tool to be used by politicans but he was a tool for social restructuring.
An eminent lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria who was also a human right activist, who stood for wat was right and shunned what was wrong. For reasons of this nature, he was detained but he kept on fighting for the good of Nigerian citizens and the nation. Ganni was one lawyer who imprinted his name in the sands of time and he can never be forgotten in yearsz decades, centuries and till the end of the world.
Nigeria’s Legal Profession is made up of two sets of people who practices law in a court setting. They comprise of the Bar(Lawyers, Advocates comprising of the Attorneys General, Body Of Benchers, Senior Advocates and Esquires) and the Bench comprising of (Magistrates,Judges and Justices).
In Nigeria, it is trite practice that a person who desires to rise from the bench must have had a good strolls or perusal through the bar. He must have first practiced as a lawyer before he can be made a judge. Nobody is called to the Nigerian bar and is made a judge the next day after call to bar.
Such a person just have had a good practice as a lawyer before he can be made a judge as there are numerous requirements to be fulfilled by one who desires to be a judge. In Nigeria, one who desires to be a Magistrate must have practice as an advocate in court for 3years and after. One who desires to be a judge at the high court level must have practiced as an advocate for 10 years and after. One who desires to be a justice at the court of appeal level must have practiced as an advocate for 12years and after. One who desires to be a Supreme Court Justice must have practiced law for 15years and after.
Nigeria has produced eminent and revered justices and judges but there is one Justice who even in death is still touching lives, one whom his dictums lifts the spirit of every law student and lawyer and connects them with the law, one who his dictums is a mixture of philosophy, wisdom, scriptures and the law. One who gave key judgements and introduced new principles of law in well celebrated cases. One who is the best amongst the best. He was referred to as the SOCRATES OF THE NIGERIAN COURTS. The Igbo Born Learned Silk; His Lordship, The Late Hon.Justice Chukwudifu Akunne Oputa (JSC) OFR.
He was one judge who spent 6years at the Supreme Court Of Nigeria as an Adjudicator before his retirement, within these little space of time, he made a difference, he did alot that his predecessors and his peers were unable to do. He gave sound judgements, upheld the cause of Justice, made positive impacts in the legal profession and in Nigeria. One of his sound dictums is evidentially seen as buried in the well celebrated case of JOSIAH .V. STATE where he described Justice in a Triplate form.
Justice Oputa’s works and doings was seen and commended by every reasonable man to the extent that even after his retirement.
The then President Olusegun Obasanjo who was elected in 1999 created a panel called The Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission of Nigeria, also known as the Oputa Panel, a commission that was developed following the collapse of the military dictatorship that controlled Nigeria until 1998.
Its mandate was to investigate human rights during the period of military rule from 1984 to 1999. In terms of reconciliation, the commission also worked towards unifying communities previously in conflict. This panel was headed by Late Hon. Justice Chukwudifu Akunne Oputa (JSC). No doubt, every law student and lawyer is a lover of OPUTA (JSC).
The big question, WHAT IS THE ROLE OF LAWYERS IN NIGERIA suggests the duties of a lawyer, the positive changes a lawyer can effect into the Nigerian society through his knowledge of the law.
Generally, the role of lawyer is to interprete the law as he is a part of the judiciary as LORD BACON stated that the role of a lawyer is JUS DICERE and not JUS DARE (to state and interprete the law and not make them), another role is to represent counsels in court and profer legal advise to them. Moreso, The role of a lawyer is beyond this general role, The role of a lawyer is NATION BUILDING, SOCIAL RESTRUCTURING, SOCIAL ENGINEERING through the knowledge of the law.
DEAN ROSCOE POUND; The Key Proponent of the The Sociological School Of Law describe Law as ” A Tool for Social Engineering”. Thus, A Lawyer is a Social Engineer, A Social Restructurer and A Nation Builder. This is evidently seen as numerous lawyers have changed alot of misconceptions, stood for truth, upheld the course of justice,fought for the good of people and the nation.
In the well celebrated United States Of America case STATE OF CONNECTICUT .V. SPELLS where a black Negro was wrong accused of rape and lawyers like Sam Friedman and Thurgood Marshall represented the accused Spells who was later acquitted and found innocent by he jury.
Spellas who have died for a crime he knew nothing of but these layers saved his life. Also in the case of BROWN .V. THE BOARD OF EDUCATION TOPEKA ; Thurgood Marshall fought earnestly in court as he used his knowledge of he law and expertise in practice to protect a black negro who was discriminated by the whites on grounds of his skin colou.
He made them outlaw any form of discrimination in public schools. Thurgood Marshall made useful impacts and played key role in the legal profession to the extent that he was made a Justice of United States Of America Supreme Court and became the first African to assume that position.
He was the best lawyer and legal giant at that time, he was even recognized by the African activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. telegrammed him writing “You have proven to be a giant in your profession, your landmarks has been our significant epochs of our time”. Lawyers makes the world a better place. They register businesses, fight against injustice etc.
The role of a lawyer are numerous, inter-alia, a lawyer is that one person who makes the world a safe place for the efficient running of activities, the efficient running of the country and the protection of human life and rights from any form of violation.
A lawyer aids people in making the right decision, decisions that will not be disastrous to them or the society. The role of a lawyer in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized as they play a key and vital role in Nation building as evidently shown and proven in the body of this essay.
Image Credit: Businessday NG
Miebaka God’slight Koko Jr is a Law Student, Public Speaker, Author and Children Teacher.