Question: How does an attorney sleep? Answer: First he lies on one side, then he lies on the other. Question: How many lawyer jokes are there? Answer: Only three; the rest are true stories. Question: How many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: Three, One to climb the ladder. One to shake it. And one to sue the ladder company. Question: What are lawyers good for? Answer: They make used car salesmen look good. Question: What do dinosaurs and decent lawyers have in common? Answer: They’re both extinct. There are searing jokes about every profession including journalism, but it is not often that one is confronted with a situation where prominent members of a profession comport themselves in a manner that reduces their calling to a joke. If the custodians of the disciplinary machinery of the legal profession in Nigeria don’t wade in and do the necessary reining in and weeding, very soon the general public will define their profession as part of the problem confronting the country. In an all-systems-go quest to amass wealth, some lawyers collude with the thieving elite to pervert the cause of justice. As recent revelations have shown, they sometimes bribe judges, tamper with evidence and assist in laundering illicit funds for their clients. That kind of behaviour is not peculiar to Nigerian lawyers alone. In the UK, a lawyer was jailed for helping Nigerian convict, James Ibori, launder money. It is debatable what the result would have been if that same lawyer had been indicted in Nigeria. In many professions, including journalism (I have written about the ‘brown envelope syndrome’ in the past), there is a steady decline in standards of ethics and practice. While that is condemnable in every instance no matter the profession, it is doubly so in the legal profession because that is one profession that goes to the very core of civilised human conduct and helps to sustain law and order. Without the rule of law (and lawyers, yes – l-a-w-y-e-r-s!) we would all find ourselves back in the jungle where self-help is the norm for survival. Society needs the legal profession. That is why there is always much attention directed at it. Surveys are regularly carried out to gauge the public’s perception of how the practitioners carry out their trade. In faraway Australia, a professor of Law, Peter MacFarlane, reviews the result of such surveys: “Surveys tell us that in terms of ethics and honesty only building contractors, politicians and car sales-people have lower ratings than lawyers. In a study done in the United States, funeral directors rated more highly. The fact is that lawyers have been ‘on the nose’ for a long time now.” I dare say that a similar survey in Nigeria would not return a different result. Whatever the temptation, no matter the attraction of filthy lucre, lawyers have to remain steadfast in allowing ethical considerations govern their practice because the opposite will spell disaster for them, their profession and the society at large. If the law falls into disrepute, people will resort to alternative means of resolving conflict. In MacFarlane’s view, “The Rule of Law will fail with a rise of public discontent… A profession’s most valuable asset is its collective reputation and the confidence which that inspires. The legal profession especially must have the confidence of the community. “ The legal profession has been instrumental in helping Nigeria attain great heights in the past. Right from the time that Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams (the first Nigerian lawyer) was called to the English bar on 17 November 1879 the legal profession has consistently played an influential role in the politics of Nigeria. Even now, there are many lawyers who have stayed the course and refused to sell their souls to Mammon. It is difficult to imagine how the human rights community would have fared without the involvement of lawyers. Some Nigerian lawyers number among the best in the world. We are not oblivious of those facts. Indeed it is because of those great strides that the relegation of ethics to the background by some lawyers is all the more condemnable because it drags a glorious profession in the mud. When a lawyer helps to pervert the cause of justice, he is poisoning the fount from which we all must drink – including the lawyer and his descendants. Since we outwardly profess to be a nation of religious people, one wonders where all the greed and avarice that bend a lawyer to criminal acquisition comes from. The Bible says, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly” (Leviticus 19:15) The Quran 4:135 admonishes: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it is against the rich or the poor…” In African traditional religion, perversion of justice is viewed with the same severity as murder. Those who administer justice in the local communities are therefore constantly under scrutiny to ensure that they remain true to their calling. Go to the villages and get an education in how communities pass on the credo to every generation that what is bad cannot be good at the same time. Perversion of justice is against the laws of God, no matter one’s religion. It is therefore ungodly for any lawyer to sabotage the current war against corruption in Nigeria in any way. The current economic situation is biting hard on Nigerians – Muslims, Christians, animists or whatever other faiths they profess. It follows necessarily that the fight against the cankerworm of corruption which is killing our nation must be our collective endeavour with lawyers who are ministers in the temple of justice in the vanguard. Any lawyer who subscribes to anything less ennobling is a licensed liar.]]>

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