(Being a paper presented by Ekemini Udim, Esq at the 2018 Bar Week organized by the Uyo Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association)
I was in court on the 23rd day of June, 2018 when my learned friend and sister, Utomobong Inyang, the Welfare Secretary of our Branch served me with a letter inviting me to participate as a discussant in today’s ceremony with a specific mandate to discuss the above-mentioned topic.
I consider this a great privilege and I remain thankful to our highly respected Association for keeping this time-tested tradition of the Bar and for reminding us of the need to pause for a moment from the hectic practice of law and converge with our fellows for purpose of discussing the issues that affect us as lawyers and as citizens of Nigeria and of the world. It is my prayer that God may continue to bless the men and women of our profession who sacrifice their precious time and resources to organize events of this nature for the benefit of all of us and for the growth of our profession.
The Legal Profession
If there are five highly cherished professions in the world, the legal profession is certainly one of the first three. It is one of the professions in the world whose origin is traceable to the pre-medieval times. Though very old, the legal profession is like the proverbial old wine – the older, the merrier, and the better. What is today known as the modern day practice of law, where professionals earn their living by fees paid to them for legal services became clearly visible in the Roman Empire. The practice later spread to Europe including England and later spread to other continents of the world, including Africa. In Nigeria today, we are beneficiaries of the ingenuity of the founding fathers of this noble profession as the legal profession is deeply entrenched in the entire Federation of Nigeria.
The history of the world is replete with great men and women who did great things in politics, economics, the bench and every other strata of life because of what the legal profession imparted in them. In this category are, Abraham Lincoln and Barrack Obama of the United States of America, Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of international maritime law, Mahondas Ghandi of India, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Lee Kuan Yew the legendary Prime Minister of Singapore, Sir Udo Udoma, Akinola Aguda and Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria and, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain, to name but a few.
The legal profession has always been one of the most cherished and loved, although Nathaniel Hawthorne, a renowned American novelist and short story writer, said in 1804 that: ‘I do not want to be a medical doctor and live by men’s diseases, nor a minister to live by men’s sins, nor a lawyer to live by men’s quarrels’, yet, it is an incontrovertible fact that every family wishes and prays to have a lawyer in the family. This underscores the importance of the legal profession.
The practice of law has witnessed several epochs and has evolved from the most rudimentary to the highest level of sophistication as seen in most parts of the world today. With the emergence of the computer, the practice of law has witnessed an explosion. New legal grounds have been broken in the aviation, maritime, banking and the information and communication technology sectors and many other uncountable sectors.
Today, a Nigerian lawyer can be briefed from London through the internet and such lawyer can keep his client fully updated in split seconds through emails and other forms of modern communication. In essence the practice of law has witnessed tremendous and unprecedented transformation in the last couple of years. I dare say that today’s lawyers are better off in many ways than the medieval lawyers who had no sufficient resources to work with and who were barely paid for their services.
The Contemporary Threats
While basking in the euphoria of the unprecedented transformation of practice of law, we must not lose sight of the contemporary threats to lawyering, with Nigeria as a case study. It is for this reason that I personally remain thankful to the Bar Week, 2018 Planning Committee for choosing this topic for today’s discussion. There is no smoke without fire and therefore, circumstances may have prompted the Committee in choosing this topic.
The truth is that, the legal profession has become an endangered species in Nigeria and the earlier we rise to the occasion to save our profession, the better for all of us and the better for our children who aspire to join us in the legal profession.
The Threats –
- The Police:
The Nigerian Police Force has become a serious threat to lawyering in Nigeria today. A typical police man sees the lawyer as an intruder and as a meddlesome interloper. When the lawyer visits the police station to first of all inquire to know why his client is kept in custody and to solicit for his bail, the initial reaction of most policemen is to rebuff the lawyer and query why he has come to solicit for a ‘criminal.’ The criminal here is a mere suspect who has not been arraigned in any court of law nor convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for the commission of a known offence.
Some policemen also get angry that the presence of the lawyer in the police station will rob them of the opportunity of getting what they would have gotten from the suspect.
In recent times we have read stories of lawyers being molested and outrightly assaulted at various police stations across the federation. Others have been arrested, locked up and arraigned in court on phony charges for daring to come to the police station to solicit for suspects. The instances are indeed numerous.
On the 14th day of June, 2018 the Sun Newspaper carried a story of a female lawyer who was beaten, brutalized and assaulted by policemen attached to the ‘33’ Police Station in Nkwele Ezunaka, near Onitsha, Anambra State. The lawyer’s name is Chiamaka Nwangwu, Esq. Her story is that she received a call from a lawyer colleague who stays in Abuja who beaconed on her to go to the police station and solicit for her brother whom she leant was arrested by the police and detained at the behest of his landlord. On arrival at the police station she sought to know what the issue was so as to solicit for his bail. The DPO of the station – Regina Jane Mbanefo, a Chief Superintendent of Police emerged from her office and started abusing her specifically and lawyers generally and ordered her to leave the station with immediate effect. The DPO advanced towards her ferociously and slapped her severally until she was joined by other policemen on duty. Her clothes were torn, her medicated gasses destroyed, her phone smashed and her middle finger broken. Her parents, principal in chambers and the NBA Chairman rushed to the police station and took her to the hospital in a bid to save her life. The police looked the other way and even threatened to charge her to court.
In a similar report contained in the Premium Times of 10 June, 2018, a Warri based lawyer, Bernard Oyabevwe was beaten till he fell into coma by armed policemen attached to the ‘A’ Division Police Station, Warri, Delta State. The lawyer narrated that he was at the Magistrate’s Court II, Warri where his client was scheduled to be arraigned alongside his wife. He also had a matter at the High Court and rushed to take date and return to the Magistrate’s Court. On his return, he saw his client being whisked into a vehicle by men of the EFCC with the assistance of armed policemen. He approached the vehicle and sought to know who the leader of the EFCC team was. They ignored him and drove the client to the nearby police station. He (the lawyer) then moved to the police station with the case file and his wig and gown in his hand.
At the police station, he was threatened by policemen who said he should leave the station or risk being slapped. He was informed that the police station was not a court and that he should leave the police station and go to court ‘where lawyers specialize in moving motions.’ Before he could utter a word, he was dragged to the gate by armed policemen and thoroughly beaten with fist and butts of gun. His offence was simple; coming to enquire about a client. Expectedly, the NBA, Warri was enraged and therefore petitioned the IGP and called for the sack of the DPO in charge of the alleged station.
Very recently, a young lawyer – Olakunle Kareem – was assaulted in his exboss’ chambers at No. 28 Macarthy Street, Lagos by men of the Nigerian Police. In the video which has gone viral, one could see two men in police uniform repeatedly beating the young lawyer.
There are more unreported cases of police brutality and assault (verbal and physical) on lawyers than the reported cases. The lawyer is seen as an enemy and, an intruder by most Nigerian Policemen. This is why most senior lawyers refuse to go to the police station no matter who has been arrested. They simply cannot stand the insult and humiliation. If the assault and brutality continue unabated, the worst could happen; the death of a lawyer as a result of police brutality may occur (God forbid). This is a major threat to lawyering in present day Nigeria.
2. Disobedience to Court Orders and to the Constitution
Nothing can be more frustrating for a lawyer who diligently prosecutes a case to the end and obtains judgment only to realize that the judgment of the court is treated with ignominy by certain persons in authority and the relevant agencies of government. The court is also frustrated in such circumstance. Some years ago, it was an anathema to disobey court orders. Today, it is about the easiest thing to do.
There are instances where injunctions are granted by courts of law of competent jurisdiction for the stoppage of demolition of property by a government agency pending the hearing and determination of a suit filed to determine the adequacy or otherwise of compensation. Even after the service of such orders on the agency, we have seen instances where the property is pulled down, notwithstanding the valid order of the court. Such situation frustrates the court and frustrates the lawyer as the subject matter or res is already dissipated, leaving the court with a situation of fait accompli and complete helplessness.
Today, in a constitutional democracy, Ibrahim Yaqoub El Zakzaky (a Muslim Cleric and leader of the Shiite Movement of Nigeria) and his wife Zeenah have been detained by agents of government for about three years now
(having been arrested in 2015) despite the order of court releasing them from custody. Colonel Sambo Dasuki has also been in custody since his arrest on December 1, 2015 by agents of the State till date, despite being granted bail by not less than four Nigerian Courts and the ECOWAS court. Only a few days ago, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court, Abuja also granted bail to the same person. Till date, these Nigerian citizens are still in custody, in spite of the clear provisions of the Constitution and in spite of the valid and substantive orders of court.
The recurring disobedience of court orders and the flagrant disregard of the Constitution are serious threats to contemporary lawyering. The situation simply reduces our efforts to mere exercise in futility and our victories in court as empty and unenforceable victories. This is a sad reality for the Bar in a democracy.
3. Negative Perception by Anti – Graft Agencies
In an interview granted to the Punch Newspaper, published on February 17, 2016, the Acting Chairman of the EFCC is quoted to have said the following: ‘When we have corruption cases, cases of people who have stolen food from the mouth of our children; when we have cases of people who have stolen money meant to build hospitals and buy drugs; when we have cases of people have stolen all the money meant to buy guns for our soldiers to fight Boko Haram; when we have all these cases of wicked people who have stolen Nigeria’s money, they run to senior lawyers, give them part of the stolen money and mobilize them to fight us; to delay us in court and to deny Nigerians justice. These are the people who do not want justice for the common man.’ 
In an earlier meeting in Lagos at a lecture organized by the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADL) with the theme ‘’The Role of
Nigerian Lawyers in the Fight Against Corruption’’ Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman of the EFCC said that the Commission will no longer tolerate lawyers that frustrate the fight against corruption through the filing of what he termed, frivolous applications. It was at that gathering that the acting Chair was quoted to have described lawyers as ‘rouge elements’.
In a related development, Kazeem Oseni, Deputy Head of the Ibadan Zonal Office of the EFCC, addressing the 13th Biennial Conference of Obafemi Awolowo University Muslim Graduates’ Association (UNIFEMGA), Ibadan Chapter, in a paper titled ‘Corruption in Nigeria: An Overview and the Effort of the EFCC in Fighting the Scourge’ stated that the fight against corruption is being delayed by Nigeria’s slow judicial system and delay tactics by defence lawyers.
The above quoted instances represent the perception of anti-graft agencies about lawyers. This is a major threat to contemporary lawyering. Until the anti graft agencies begin to see lawyers as professionals doing their jobs and as partners in the administration of the criminal justice system, this perception will not change. Whether an application is frivolous or not is not for the anti graft agency to say; it is for the court to decide. If the Bar is also wanting in some of the observations of the EFCC Acting Chair, there is need for us to look inwards for the good of the Bar.
4. The Increasing Rate Of Poverty In The Land
The success or otherwise of legal practice is a reflection of the economic realities of the locality from where the lawyer plies his trade. Law practice in a booming economy will certainly be financially rewarding for the practitioners. On the other hand, practicing in an environment where citizens can barely feed let alone drive good cars and send children to good schools will certainly reduce access to justice and negatively affect the lawyer’s income and zeal for practice.
In the most recent time, Nigeria has witnessed an increasing rate of poverty in the land to the extent that litigants can barely pay for legal services let alone pay enough.
The above scenario negatively affects contemporary lawyering. Good cases are left unprosecuted for want of resources. For those that have been commenced, the lawyer can barely push them to the end and for those that have been decided by the trial court, the litigants can barely challenge them at appeal, if dissatisfied. These affect modern day lawyering in numerous ways – lawyers are still living in poverty to the extent that some cannot afford basic needs for themselves and family members, cannot afford cars which are necessary tools for lawyering, cannot attend conferences owing to paucity of funds and cannot pay practicing fees as and at when due.
5. Computer Literacy
Most of our colleagues are not computer literate and this is a problem to modern lawyering. We cannot undermine the place of the computer in the modern world and yet, most of our colleagues are still computer shy. Some of us cannot do without our secretaries, even for one day and if the secretary (a human person) becomes ill, our law practice is almost brought to a halt. We hear lawyers, while making application for adjournment, informing the court that they could not file a particular process because their secretaries took ill and did not come to work. This should not be heard of the modern lawyer. Today, the Supreme Court of Nigeria has embraced the computer and the technology around same and most of the recent judgments of the court are now characterized by repeated reference to
electronic law reports, principal of which is the Law Pavilion Electronic Law Reports. Yet, most of our lawyers do not have gadgets or computer skills to access these electronic law reports whose benefits can only be imagined than explained. Most of us, especially our most learned seniors and some Judges, do not still belief in the electronic law reporting revolution.
It was Blair Janis, an American lawyer and Director of the WealthCounsel Companies of America and an adjunct at the Brigham Young University Law School, US where he teaches courses in legal technology that noted as follows: ‘While the technology around the legal world advances at an exponential rate, the technology within the legal world, especially as it relates to lawyering (i.e., providing legal services as opposed to running a law business) is much slower.’ The attitude of some lawyers to the computer is also not helping matters.
Computer literacy reduces the load of practice on the lawyer. By frequent use of the computer, precedents are saved and can be relied upon from time to time without having to write them afresh as was done in the days when the late Sir Udo Udoma, was practicing as barrister and solicitor in Aba, the commercial nerve center of the East. For courts where Judges make effective use of the computer, records of proceedings, rulings and judgments are not difficult to obtain from such courts and for the law offices where the computer is given its pride of place and seen as an indispensable practice tool, such law firms are better placed to move with the speed needed for modern day lawyering.
6. Conflicting Judgments of Courts
This is another threat to contemporary lawyering. In recent times we have witnessed conflicting judgments, especially of Federal Courts (mostly the
Federal High Court and Court of Appeal). We have had conflicting judgments in election matters and garnishee proceedings to the embarrassment of the justice system. In garnishee proceedings for instance, some judgments have said that the judgment debtor is not a party to the proceedings and should therefore not be heard. Other judgments of the same court have held the contrary to the effect that the judgment debtor is a party to garnishee proceedings and should be heard.13 These regimes of conflicting decisions do not guarantee consistency in the contemporary practice of law in Nigeria. Most Nigerians and foreigners do not have confidence in the system anymore. This is a serious threat to contemporary lawyering as no serious businessman wants to invest in a country where its legal system is notoriously insistent and unpredictable.
7. Incompatible filing procedure 8. Difficulties in getting the Stamp and Seal 9. Poor attitude of Lawyers to health Matters
As lawyers, we do not joke with our cars. We go for routine maintenance. We keep dates with our mechanics for regular change of oil for optimum performance of the engines of our cars. In essence, we consider our cars to be indispensable tools in law practice. But, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished colleagues, how many times do we go for medical checks in a year? How many times do we even stop by the nearby pharmacy shop to check our blood pressure? How many hours of sleep do we have in a year? How many times do we exercise? These questions have become highly imperative today in view of the deaths the legal profession has recorded in the last couple of years. We hear of lawyers collapsing in courts across the country and most of them being unable to recover. We hear of sudden deaths of our colleagues and we get so surprised because ‘the last time we saw them, they never looked ill.’ Most of our colleagues that have passed on were not sick; they just died suddenly. Something is wrong with our attitude to health matters.
If we as lawyers were to maintain our health and go for regular medical checks the same way we maintain our cars, we would not have lost most of our colleagues. What kills most lawyers is not the juju in the case but the neglect of the health aspect of lawyering. Law practice is a very hectic and intellectually engaging endeavor. We run a rat-race and when we return to our offices, we sit down for hours and barely exercise our bodies. Our carefree attitude to health matters is a serious threat to contemporary lawyering and the time to change this non-challant attitude and develop a culture of routine medical checks in our best interest is now. Every lawyer needs a personal physician and every lawyer needs to regularly exercise to keep fit. We must love ourselves more than we love our cars.
10. Increasing Rate of Professional Misconduct
This is one area that we have shot ourselves in the foot. The truth must be told; some of our colleagues have not lived up to their billings. Day-in, dayout, the Bar is confronted and in fact, embarrassed with reports of one malpractice or the other against our colleagues. In a lecture delivered in March, 2017 by Professor Nsongurua Udombana in honour of the then retiring Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Hon. Justice Stephen Okon, with the title ‘The Noble Profession in the Dock’, the learned professor of International Law, lamented the increasing rate of misconduct at the Bar and at page 26 of his lecture under the sub-head ‘Dirt at the Bar and Temple’ noted thus: ‘The unthinkables of yesterday have become realities of today.’ While I was preparing this paper, the news broke that the Legal
Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association has sanctioned 11 Nigerian Lawyers and disbarred one for professional misconduct.
Today, lawyers collect rent from tenants and fail to remit same to the landlords, their clients. Today, lawyers broker negotiations for sale of property and convert the proceeds to their personal use. We’ve had cases of our lawyers being accused of tampering with Wills (last wishes and testaments of deceased persons). Very recently, I have heard of some lawyers who liaise with court clerks to remove and destroy exhibits tendered by the opposing lawyer in an ongoing trial, all in a bid to outsmart and win at all cost. The instances are many (and we know them) but I am minded not to put all in print. But, ladies and gentlemen, this is a soul searching issue.
In the Minutes of the General Meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association, Uyo Branch held on Friday 28th April, 2018 at the Bar Center, Uyo at paragraph 6 sub 3 sub f, Martins Effiong, Esq (the representative of the EXCO in the Disciplinary Committee of the Branch) lamented, (and I quote) ‘the declining integrity of lawyers in dealing with their clients, bearing in mind the several petitions against lawyers.’ As an active member of the EXCO serving in the capacity of Provost, Martins is like the nurse in the maternity ward; he has seen so many things and we have no option than to believe him on this issue. One is however encouraged that in the said meeting, the house agreed that erring lawyers should be punished and not shielded in any manner.
Law practice must be rooted in confidence and trust. The increasing rate of malpractice by few lawyers among us is not doing the Bar any good. It de-markets the Bar and robs us of potential clients. Together, we must fight this menace and safe the soul of our highly cherished profession from extinction.
The threats are many but time will not allow us to go further. It is my belief that the above listed instances will engender further discuss on the many threats to contemporary lawyering with a view to repositioning the legal profession for optimum benefits.
- The police must change their attitude towards lawyers. When a lawyer goes to the police station to inquire about his client who has been arrested and detained by the police, the police should realize that the lawyer is only doing his duty as an advocate. The culture of verbally attacking lawyer and recently, physically assaulting them at the police stations must end. The NBA must continue to champion the interest of lawyers and should seek to hold regular meetings with the higher echelon of the police with a view to reminding the police of the need to see lawyers as partners in the administration of criminal justice.
- Court orders must also be respected by agencies and parastatals of government. When a court rules for instance that a Nigerian citizen should be released on bail, such order should be obeyed and the citizen released without much ado. No country can grow when the decisions of its courts are not respected. The provisions of the Constitution must also be respected especially on issues of fundamental rights.
- We have also noted that a robust economy will give birth to a robust law practice. The NBA should repeatedly hold economic seminars and bring in experts to discuss ways of rejuvenating our ailing economy and thereafter draw up communiqué and forward them to the President and State Governor for implementation.
- The anti-graft agencies such as the EFCC must also see lawyers as partners in the anti-graft war. It will be wrong to use one brush on all the lawyers in Nigeria. While we agree that there are few bad eggs here and there, it is also important to note that there are so many good lawyers who stick tenaciously to the tenets of the legal profession and will never compromise the expected standards for momentary gains. It is lawyers (our leaned colleagues) who risk their lives to prosecute cases for the EFCC. We also assist the EFCC in fighting graft through the writing of petitions too their offices for our clients. We are therefore partners and this wonderful partnership and synergy should not be overshadowed by predetermined negative perception.
- Lawyers must also commit time to computer literacy. The world is moving on a daily basis and the driver of the movement is the computer. We must join this mass movement and jettison the anachronistic ways of law practice. In addition to this, I am yet to hear of a seminar organized by the NBA for computer literacy for lawyers. There is therefore the urgent need for the NBA to organize computer literacy programmes for members of the Bar and even the Bench.
- Lastly but not the least, there must be an end to the inglorious regime of sharp practices by lawyers. The image of our profession is plummeting by the day as a result of sharp practices credited to some of our colleagues who, like Caesar’s wife, should live above board.
At the just concluded 51st Annual Conference of Law Teachers held in Abuja, Nigeria from the 1st – 6th July, 2018 with the theme ‘Law, Justice and Society’, Yemi Candide-Johnson, SAN, delivering his lecture titled ‘Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility – The Foundation of Good Lawyering’ it was suggested that there is need to add professional ethics to the undergraduate curriculum of the Faculties of Law in Nigeria to train the students early enough about the import of professional ethics in the legal profession. This is a suggestion that the Bar can discuss further if it will salvage the image of our profession.
There is need for the NBA to rise to the occasion by enforcing the existing disciplinary procedures, but above all, re-awakening the consciousness of our collogues to the sanctity of the commandments of the legal profession.
Thank you very much for your time.
Ekemini Udim is a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He is in fulltime law practice and is the author of Principles of Garnishee Proceedings in Nigeria, Practice Guide on No Case Submission, Trial within Trial in Criminal Proceedings, Practical Approach to Effective Cross-Examination and, most recently, Application for Bail. He also doubles as Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of Matrimonial Causes Law Reports of Nigeria (MCLRN) and, Judgments of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (JSCN). He is reachable on:
email@example.com and O8131937282.
 See: Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, ‘’Challenges of Nigerian Bar Association in 21st Century’’ The Nation, October 8, 2012
 See: Aloysius Attah, ‘’Agony of a Female Lawyer: How I was Brutalized and Humiliated by DPO’’, The Sun Newspaper, 14th June, 2018
 Agency Report, ‘’NBA Wants Police Commissioner Removed Over Assault on Lawyer’’ Premium Times, June 10, 2018
 Evelyn Usman, ‘’CP Lagos Orders Arrest of Policemen Who Assaulted Lawyer’’, Vanguard Newspaper, July 5, 2018
 Kelvin, ‘’Top Lawyers Frustrating Anti-Corruption War, EFCC’’ Punch Newspaper, February 17, 2016.
 Lukman Olabiyi, ‘’EFCC Goes Hard on Lawyers Frustrating Corruption Cases’’ The Sun Newspaper
 ‘’Slow Judicial System, Lawyers Frustrating Anti – Corruption War, EFCC’’ The Guardian Newspaper, August 27, 2017.
 See: Stephen Wizner, Poverty Law, Policy and Practice, Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy, Volume XXII, Number 2, Winter 2015, page 448
 See: Blair Janis, JD ‘’How Technology is Changing the Practice of Law’’, GPSOLO (A Publication of the American Bar Association) Vol. 31 No. 1.
 Purification Techniques v. AG – Lagos State (2004) 9 NWLR (Pt. 879) 665. 13 Nigerian Breweries Plc.v. Dumuje (2015) NWLR (Pt. 1515) 536
 Nsongurua J. Udombana, ‘The Noble Profession in the Dock’ (Being a Lecture Delivered in March, 2017 in Honour of The Retiring Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Hon. Justice Stephen E. Okon) page 26.
 Chioma Unini, ‘NBA – SLP Advocates Addition of Ethics in Undergraduate Programme’ available at, http://thenigerialawyer.com/nba-slp-advocates-addition-of-ethics