Johnson O. Esezoobo Esq
‘Give The First Woman The Living Child.… And In No Wise Slay It’ (1 Kings 3:27) By Johnson O. Esezoobo Esq
1. The Preamble. One lesson I have learnt over the years is that we can live without title. We can live without fame. We can even live without wealth. But we cannot live without character, for without character everything crumbles. That was the case of Solomon in the Bible whose “…fame was in all the surrounding nations”.
Bible records that apart from wisdom and understanding that God gave king Solomon, he also gave him “largeness of heart” (I Kings 4:27). It was the yarning of the first, ’Don’t divide the child’ that formed the basis of that great and wise judgment that made Solomon famous. The other woman had said “Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it” as is the attitude of many of us Nigerians.One of the things largeness of heart does is accepting a wrong and submitting to correction.
This is a way of acknowledging the sovereignty of God over self and submitting to correction as was the character of King David in the Bible. Confronted by Prophet Nathan with his terrible sin, “Thou art the man (2Sam 12:7) he wailed”, David said, ‘I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, “The LORD also has put away thy sin, thou shall not die” (2Sam12:13)
In Nigeria, our leaders do not have the largeness of heart to accept when they are wrong so that their sins can be forgiven them not only for their salvation, in spiritual terms, and praise for which God has formed them; also for the sake of the people they lead. Rather, they grandstand and like Adams Oshiomhole would want, congregate and devise how to use the law to forge ahead such as by amending it because as put by the Bible“…It is in the power of their hand” (Micah 2:1). But God has said in his word, “Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds!”.
2. The Nigerian code of law. The Nigerian code of law consists not only in the Constitution as the grundnorm, and statutes but also in moral laws all of which together evince a standard of judgment for correction of wrongs. Look at the law again, from the Constitution that enacts in its preamble that we will live together under God through S.6(6)(b) that speaks of equality before the law, the national ethics, the national Anthem and the national pledge.
The unique thing about it all is its egalitarianism by which the poor and the powerful are judged by the same standard and should receive the same punishment. The implication of the preamble to the Constitution is that all laws of the Country, private or public, ultimately rest on the authority of God. And what this implies is that we must have the fear of God as well as the love of God; this is the first law of restraint which is essential to character development, afortiori a disciplined society.
2. Character development. Developing a character is rooted in setting personal codes of conduct as to what to do and not to do. This is foundational to building a disciplined society. One man who exemplified himself amongst us all in this, not only in the legal profession, but as aNigerian was Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), of blessed memory. This sage had fame, had wealth and yet had character because he set boundaries for himself as to what he should do and should not do. So strong a character was he that he did not mind parting ways with his best friend Dr. Olu Onagoruwa (SAN), over principle shift. Once this great man took a brief from the Senate of the National Assembly for N7 million.
There was public criticism because people did not expect him to do so. He tried to explain it albeit unconvincingly. He saw that taking briefs from Government would contradict and corrupt his convictions afortiori his person and bring him down. He never took any brief from Government again till his death.
He also once refused ram gift from General Babangida, so as not to compromise his conviction that evil must be fought with rootless resolve in the interest of society.
Incidentally, Wemimo Ogunde (SAN), whose daughter is involved in the brief rustling saga that is tending to destroy the Bar through quick amendment of the law is a disciple of Late Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), who once told me in a casual discussion at the premises of the Federal High Court, Lagos ’That is one reason I will never do election petition. Gani never…What they do there…!’.
Thus, on the principle that an orange tree will not bring forth a mango fruit, it is reasonable to consider that the daughter couldn’t easily take after the character that has launched her into this controversy. I will leave this point here.
3. Evil of alignment with politicians. Many of us don’t even consider that too much closeness to Politicians particularly those with such bad character as rigging of elections and stealing of public funds tells on one’s character and is bound to bring one down. Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), of blessed memory recognised this and after that brief, he was never known to have taken any unlike the current practice the current generation has entrenched which has clipped our lips and made us yes men in the society.
Let me share this as example of corruptive influence of unguarded closeness to corrupt practices. Once, a colleague, Dixy Odiri, walked up to me at the Lagos High Court premises, tapped me and said: ‘This is…(client’s name) suit’. The suit was indeed fine, but it was a gift from a friend London. But it was easy for my friend, to assume it was from fees from the client he knew me with. Such is the corruptive influence of undue closeness to corrupt politicians as it is today where our court has even held that a lawyer has no business probing the source of his fees from a politician who is alleged to be involved in a corrupt practice?
One Senior Advocates of Nigeria I reasonably close to, once told me he had issues with his senior colleague over the propriety of charging as professional fees, a ten percent of the sum allegedly stolen by the politician. Thus, such closeness only exposes us to sudden ‘wealth’ that makes us ‘successful lawyers’ such as makes us buy private jets or bullet proof cars. It does not allow us play the role that is ours in society. That is why we are where we are.
A failed Nigeria that we hear about is all about a failed law and a failed lawyer. Inherent in the idea of egalitarianism is the fear of God and the love of God which if allowed to rule the heart will always give consideration for others as neighbor rather than self. In other words, God does not expect us, created in his image and for his glory, to be selfish but selfishless like Jesus Christ our Saviour. But the powerful in our society which unfortunately constitute the minority selfishly do manipulate the law to make themselves untouchable in the while rendering the poor perpetually vulnerable.
Babangida did it; Abacha did it, and they had good agents in the lawyers who, like them, have no fear of God, their god is in the money they make, the fame they bear, the power and influence they wield because of association with politicians. But there is a day of reckoning, and like my illiterate mother used to tell us, growing up, “It begins from here. We only go there after death to continue, without end”. It’s being so amazing remembering these things that an illiterate mother who didn’t have, much more read, Bible told us. It is as if she knew where we were going; that I was going to be in a contradictory society like ours where the common song is if you cannot beat them, you join them. If the Samuel Does of Liberia, the Idi-Amins of Uganda, the Abachas and Babangidas of Nigeria were to be asked their experiences, they would I believe confirm that indeed “Power belongeth unto God” (Ps. 62:11). One of us in this group who is a retired police officer once told me: ‘Johnson, when you are in power, you can command the sky to come down. But when you are out of power, the sky with return to its place’.
4. Now, the point. It is against the foregoing that I would like to implore all those who, so blessed by God with fame, with wealth and with influence not to amend our law, the Legal Practitioners Act, because people are raising issues of ethical conduct but to leave the law as it has been from the days of the Sapara Williams through Chief FRA Williams (SAN), Chief G.O.K Ajayi (SAN), Chief G.C.M Onyuike (SAN) at the bar, the Adetokunbo Ademolas the Elias, the Fatayi Williams on the Bench.
We are all witnesses to the evil of selfish amendment of laws during military regimes such as introduced secret trials of alleged coup plotters brought us to. We are also witnessing the evil that selfish enactments such as the AMCON Civil Procedure Rules, FIRS Civil Procedure Rules and other similar absurd provisions that in reality allow pre-filing judgment to the plaintiff, in a 21st Century Nigeria is wreaking on our society.
It is not a good thing to destroy what we cannot have so as to prevent another from having it. Since we still have something left we call Nigeria, let us see how we can rebuild it rather destroy it completely. Give the living Nigeria to the NBA. May God help us if we heed this advice.
Barrister Johnson Odion Esezoobo Could Be Reached Via +234 803 320 0595