I know a lot of lawyers. Every third person I know is either a lawyer, studying to be a lawyer, or went to law school (and now does something different). It surprises me that I randomly know so many people from the same profession.
Is it a happy coincidence or are there really that many people who want to be lawyers in Nigeria? And why?
Is it the wigs? Is there some prestige attached to it? Is it so they can use complicated language when participating in our national pastime of arguing? Why are so many people trying to become lawyers in a place where it looks like the law doesn’t work?
I asked one of my numerous lawyer friends and he said, “The law works, it’s just that Nigerians are not litigious people.”
Huh? Big word.
He explained that Nigerians do not like to use courts or like to sue people.
Well, that is one way to look at it.
But that’s like saying because we don’t use grid electricity, we are not an electricity-using people. Or that Somalians who have adapted to near famine are not a “food” people. That we like the darkness and our generators so much, and we’ve grown so attached to the chaos of a lawless land, that if we were provided with an effective system, we would turn it down.
The other way to look at it would be to admit we don’t use our judicial system because we don’t think it works.
Take the two popular recent cases: the UK sentencing of James Ibori and the Nigerian sentencing of Al-Mustapha.
Three years before he was finally convicted by a British court last week, James Ibori was acquitted of 170 charges of corruption by a court in his home state. The sad part wasn’t that he got away with it then, it was that everyone knew he was guilty. The court of the people he robbed, threw their hands up and said, “Nah, he’s cool with us.”
Meanwhile, the other ex-governor wanted by British authorities (also for money laundering), Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, is still actively involved in politics, seen campaigning for his party’s candidates after spending just one day in jail for pleading guilty to his crimes.
And 14 years after he was arrested, Al-Mustapha was sentenced to death by hanging early this year. While it would be nice to hold this up as an example of justice working, the case has already moved past that and has become too hot for the court’s ruling to be carried out without the threat of the country devolving into violence.
Whether or not my lawyer friend is right, I know that when shit hits the fan for me, I’ll throw down and fight or secretly burn something down. But what I won’t do is wait by the phone for him to call with legal advice telling me my case will be settled in ten years.
What can I say, I’m not a litigious person.